Just the word “marketing" makes many small business owners nervous. Some people fret over coming up with brilliant ideas while others worry about having the cash flow to carry them through.
But marketing doesn't have to be scary, and you don't have to spend a lot of money to get the word out about your enterprise. With creativity and the right marketing plan, you can design effective campaigns that get the most out of your budget.
Here are 12 ideas for marketing your business for free or on the cheap.
1. Create a website.
Having an online presence means potential clients can find you through search engines. Your website just needs to cover the basics of who and where you are, what you do, and how to be in touch. A simple website shouldn't cost much, even if you hire a web designer or use a DIY service such as Wix. Just be sure to choose a clear, easy-to-remember domain name—ideally, [YourBusinessName].com.
Wix and LegalZoom have partnered to help small businesses expand their presence online. You can take advantage of the partnership by forming an LLC or corporation.
2. Be social media savvy.
Many businesses hire social media managers specifically to handle their online presence, which tells you how important social media can be these days. Simply put, your business needs social media marketing.
Developing a plan and strategy for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and others doesn't have to break the bank. Keep posts relevant to your brand, but don't be afraid to share your successes loud and proud. Targeted ads on social media can be highly effective in reaching potential clients. You can also focus on individual platforms. For example, if you have a product or service that lends itself to visuals, you may want to develop a marketing plan just for Pinterest or another image-centric site.
3. Offer coupons.
Everyone loves to feel like they're getting a deal, and that's never more true than when it comes to trying a new product or service. By offering potential customers a discount, you may snag people who wouldn't otherwise have been interested, which, through sheer volume of business, can help offset any costs incurred.
4. Create a promotional video.
A promotional video can go a long way in convincing potential customers to try out your product or services. You can cross-publish the video on YouTube and your company website, as well as post it on other social media networks—and encourage others to share it as well. With a bit more time and energy, you could even start your own YouTube channel.
5. Grow an email list.
Email keeps you in touch with your clients or customers, and having a list of contacts enables you to send out promotional blasts or other news and information, including a company newsletter at regular intervals, if you wish. Start an email list through opt-in forms on your website and, if you have a physical business, keep an email sign-up form on the counter.
6. Prepare an elevator pitch.
If you were with someone in an elevator and they asked what your business does, what would you say in those few minutes between floors? Stumbling over your words won't instill confidence in a potential client, so take some time to prepare your thoughts and get your spiel down.
7. Network in person.
Despite the importance of online marketing, face time can still be quite valuable. Research where you're most likely to find potential customers in your area—such as local trade shows and fairs—show up, and put your elevator pitch to work. Joining a local networking group, including a professional or business organization, can also help you connect with the right people.
8. Sponsor an event or contest.
Whether online or locally, this is a great way to get your business's name out there. Having your name and logo on promotional materials can get people interested and talking about your business while helping you build a presence in your industry.
Whether you run an event or contest on your own or combine forces with a charity or local organization such as a school, healthcare clinic, or another business, having your company name tied to something fun and positive is always a plus.
9. Create business cards, brochures, and more.
Online marketing can be incredibly powerful, but there's nothing like having something tangible to hand to someone. Well-designed and professionally printed business cards, brochures, and other promotional items are a great way to get your name on the tips of people's tongues.
Depending on your business and target market, T-shirts, tote bags, refrigerator magnets, notepads, and pens are other classic and effective marketing ideas. Get creative and make your promotional materials stand out: a clever tagline or graphic can mean the difference between your item being a conversation starter or simply getting tossed in the trash.
10. Offer free classes or webinars.
People love to learn almost as much as they love “free." If your product or service lends itself to a class or workshop, design one, get promoting, and then follow through with great content that ties back to your business.
11. Develop cross-promotions.
Working with other businesses can be a win-win for everyone involved as you pool ideas and resources. Cross-promotions allow you to keep costs down while also gaining access to each other's core audience, giving you both greater reach. Plus, having likeminded people in the same room (physical or virtual) and working toward a common goal creates positive energy—which can only help move your enterprise forward.
12. Be an expert.
One of the best ways to drive business is to have your name out there and linked to your industry. Whether it's contributing quotes to articles, answering questions on Q&A sites, or writing your own blog posts and articles, if you consistently add value to discussions related to your industry, people will notice—and want to learn more about your business.
Guest blogging, through which you contribute a post to another person's website, is another way to increase business recognition. Search for guest blogging opportunities in your niche—and don't be afraid to cold call if you have to!
Now that you have plenty of marketing ideas, the best time to start marketing your business is now. “Time is money" is more than just a saying, so the sooner you get moving on promoting your business, the better.