With all the talk about bootstrapping and growthhacking, it has become clear that more of us want to self-fund our businesses at least in the early stages of building them out.
In the old days, you mostly had to pay to advertise for any marketing benefits to come your way. Today, though, we have a wider range of paid and free options available to us.
Since many of us will want to start out with no or low cost options in the early going, we should all be aware of what we might do to move the needle without budget. Here are 16 things we have used to promote our own business.
Free Marketing Tactics for Business Promotion
While our service offering tends to focus more on online than offline tactics, this list goes beyond internet and inbound marketing. Entrepreneurs of nearly any business should be able to find ideas on this list that will help. So let’s get to the list.
Establish Your Social Media Brand Profiles
One of the most basic tasks to knock out in the early going is to grab your brand on all of the major social media websites. In fact, grab as many as you have time to handle.
A key pillar of online reputation management (ORM) is focused on owning your brand…everywhere. Start with the big websites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. You may very well find that someone has already claimed your ideal Twitter handle or LinkedIn company name, so this may require you to get creative.
No matter what you plan to do with the profiles, you need to own them. Early. Go make it happen.
Engage on Social Media
Once you claim your handles on the major social networks, start thinking about how you might use those platforms to build buzz for your brand. Even if it’s something simple, your only investment in social media marketing can be your time and effort.
There are many ways to engage on social media. The simplest form is to curate content you already read for self-education, and share it to your profiles. You can also get involved in various online groups, like on LinkedIn, and Q&A discussions, like on Quora, to further engage people on those platforms.
It’s mostly free, so take advantage of social media marketing as much as you can. I can say from experience that it has a ton of potential for helping build your brand and establishing you as a thought leader.
Start Blogging and Promoting It
Speaking of thought leadership, blogging is a great way to support that objective. It is also a killer way to frame the conversation around your key topics or positioning.
A lot of people blog. Be sure that you go about it in a way that will help you stand out. Think about your keywords and most important topics and start there.
But don’t just crank out a bunch of short pithy blog posts with little value add. Really dig into each topic. You’re better off writing longer, meaty posts than a bunch of short, shallow pieces which won’t earn links or rankings well.
Of course, now that you have your social media presence built out, you have a great vehicle to promote your own content. Promotion is a huge piece of success with blogging, so build it into your process from the start.
While You’re At It, Optimize Your On-Page Elements for SEO
For any content you are generating, or even for standard web pages outlining your offering, on-page optimization is something you should be thinking about.
Not familiar with how to do on-page optimization? No problem. Either find a provider like Return On Now to help you, or study up on how to do it yourself.
Aside from the art/science of picking topics and keywords to target, on-page optimization isn’t all that complicated. With dedicated effort, you can learn it pretty quickly.
If you don’t care to learn it, just hire a pro and get it done right. But you can absolutely do it for free with a little time to study and learn how to do it.
SlideShare is one of the more underappreciated social media / content curation platforms available today. Particularly if you are in a B2B market, you should be using SlideShare.
Most of us do presentations at one time or another. SlideShare is a great place to share those slides, build a network of contacts with similar interests, find slide content worth reviewing yourself, and generally engage. So if you build slide decks, you already have content. Sharing is a few clicks away.
Create / Claim Your Google MyBusiness Page
It is absolutely free to claim or build a Google+ / Google MyBusiness page for any business. There is a verification process involved, but no fees for doing so.
Not only does this establish your business as an entity on Google, it also provides a profile to link to as a “publisher.” AND, it can help you find your business location or office on Google Maps over time. All at no fee.
Earn Guest Posting Opportunities
Also following the thought leadership and content line of thinking, guest posting is a great way to establish your name and your brand on websites that your target audience frequents. It is also a stellar way to earn links to your website as well as referral traffic.
Once you are already established, these opportunities will start to come to you. In the early going, you need to put out the effort it takes to identify, pursue, and close these opportunities. Again, time and effort are all the investment you need to make in creating guest posting opportunities to promote your business.
Sign Up for HARO and Respond to Inquiries
If you are not familiar with the mailing list called “Help A Reporter Out” (a.k.a. HARO), go sign up for it now. Essentially, it includes calls by journalists, bloggers, and other content generators for sources.
HARO sends out the newsletter three times each business day. I have found at least 1-2 opportunities per week to chime in on a question being asked. In many cases, this has led to me being quoted and also earning a link back to our website. All at no cost to the business.
Speak At Local Meetups and Networking Events
I employed this tactic heavily in my early days running Return On Now. Find Meetups or networking groups who hold educational sessions aimed at your target audience, and approach them.
In many cases, the organizers will be ecstatic to hear from another potential presenter for the group. Keep in mind that most of these people manage the group in their spare time, so anything to save them time and effort can be positioned as beneficial to them.
While the main goal of these presentations is for establishing expertise and rapport in the market, you can also chance into overt leads at the event. Bring business cards and make sure to include all of your contact info (e.g. social networking profiles) in your presentation materials or “leave behinds.”
Start Your Own Meetup or Networking Group
Rather than making appearances at existing events, you may want to just go ahead and start your own meetup or group. If there is nothing in your local area that suits your key topics, the right answer is to create it yourself.
You want to be sure not to carelessly start a new group in a city where the market is already saturated in your space. In that case, it’s best to piggyback existing groups and save yourself the headache of managing event logistics and member recruitment.
Donate Business Services to Charities
When you think about charitable donations, don’t just think you need to break out the credit card to make a difference. In many cases, your time is worth as much or more than your money.
You and/or your company can donate time to helping in many ways. Perhaps you can donate a training to a local entrepreneurship group or incubator. I’ve done this myself by way of content marketing classes for the SCORE Austin chapter.
Or maybe you can help manage a charity event. Send people to help clean up after a natural disaster. Or create a nonprofit that helps raise money for something important to your industry. There are many options, so be creative when thinking about charitable giving.
Oh yeah, and you could also build in a percentage of your markup as a charitable donation. That could help drive incremental business while also giving back, without you taking money out of your budget to do so. Just another angle to consider.
Recruit Bloggers to Review Your Products / Services
If you have a good and unique product or service, find people to write about you. You can provide free samples or some other benefit. Or many they just want to write about it because they are interested.
Regardless, a third party review is worth the time, effort, and even cost if it applies, to make it happen. People like to search for reviews when considering a purchase, so this can pay you back in many ways.
Ask for Testimonials and Referrals from Customers
Do you ask customers for testimonials or referrals after they buy? If not, why not?
Sure, they may ignore the request or fail to come through for you, but why not ask? You would be surprised just how helpful a happy customer can be. Even if they won’t give a testimonial for whatever reason (sometimes legal departments can get in the way here), it’s not hard to refer you to others. Most happy customers will be more than willing to do so.
Compose and Distribute Press Releases
Press releases, although not the same animal they once were, are still absolutely worth composing and distributing. You can write up a PR yourself using a standard template, or get creative and use a unique approach.
Then distribute the PR once it’s finished. You can use free PR posting sites, also put it up on your website, and even email it to some highly targeted members of the press. None of this will cost you a dime.
Get on High Authority Niche and Local Directories
A few years ago there was a myth circulating that directories are inherently bad for SEO. That’s not true.
Sure, a scattershot approach to directories isn’t recommended. You want to avoid being found in places that don’t make sense, or that are known to be spammy directories.
But if you vet them out well, you can still post your company information to directories and reap benefits from links and referral traffic. Focus on niche and local directories, those that apply to your area of expertise and local market. Opt for directories that review submissions manually before approving them for posting to the directory itself.
Just another free way to get yourself on the map. Take advantage of it.
Partner With Other Businesses for Referrals and Joint Projects
One very effective tactic we’ve employed in the past is to partner with companies in related, but non-overlapping areas.
This can be done in one of two ways. First, you can refer people over to each other with or without an agreed-upon commission in place. Whatever works for both businesses is fair game.
Second, you might want to collaborate on pitches and projects. Return On Now partners with social media companies, SEM providers, branding businesses, design firms, and more on various efforts. We bring leads to each other, and we all benefit from the arrangement.
How can you work with partners to help grow your businesses together? It works, so give it a whirl.
Marketing can cost a lot of money, but there are ample free options to get your business on the map. Try some of these 16 tactics, and you’ll get yourself moving quickly without breaking the bank.
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