Finding a product or service to sell is only half the story. Now you have to get out there and tell people about it. In the days before the advent of the internet and social media, promoting your business meant spending a fortune on advertising or PR, a crippling cost for a small business trying to get off the ground. Not anymore. Thanks to new technology, there are now lots of ways a small fledgeling business can tell prospective customers about their products or services – many of them free. Here are some tips on how to promote your business for virtually no money.
Most entrepreneurs and small business owners who are more directly involved in marketing their businesses should find this to be a useful source of information and ideas.
There is a variety of online and offline mechanisms to market your business such as social networking, advertisements, word of mouth, commercial material etc, though some of these can be a bit expensive and/or overwhelming. Here are 34 ways you can promote whatever business, product or service you have, whether it’s offline or online.
1. Create a brand & logo
Don’t be fooled by how simplistic this first tip may see, widespread brand recognition is your ultimate goal, and your business needs to inspire credibility and persuade others to spread the word about your work. You need to create a brand you can build on from the start, hiring a designer may be costly, but there are many free logo and image creator tools on the web that suit all tastes and needs (you don’t need to have a perfect brand from the get go but you need do need something your can build your business’s reputation on).
2. Create a website
Setting up a website is relatively easy. Making sure it’s attractive, functional, accessible and mobile-friendly can make your business look professional. There are many affordable website services to get your business online fast and with little cost. These services offer ready-made website templates with lead-generation features, free logos etc. Additionally, before marketing your website through any online channels, make sure your metadata is accurate and follows Google Webmaster guidelines.
Also remember to put everything on your website. If you take a stand at a trade fair, for example, get your team to wear t-shirts with your logo and phone and website details on the back. You could even paint your car with your company logo and put your phone number and website on it.
3. Engage with Google
Google has some pretty cool tools to help promote your business. You can create an account on Google Business, Google+ Local and Google Places. More people search for businesses online than anywhere else, and adding your website and company information to Google’s business directory can be helpful. Most importantly, it’s free and simple, so there’s really no reason not to. You can also manage your listing information including business description, product/service details, pictures, videos and offers. Being listed in local directories can also increase the number of trusted inbound links to your website.
4. Optimise! – Search engine optimisation
Your website will be of little use if nobody can find it with search engines. Simply optimising your website at the start is not enough. To get good coverage on search engines, you will need to work on your website regularly, monitoring your statistics closely and refining your website accordingly. You will also need to update your site frequently with keyword rich content and work on building quality backlinks to your site.
5. Go Mobile and create an app
An effective online promotion involves more than just a mobile-friendly website. Firms with a mobile app are ahead of the game when it comes to taking their marketing to the next level. Just to say, mobile apps increase visibility of your business to customers at all times, improve customer engagement, and turns them into the loyal lover of your product and/or service!
When setting up your business profile on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, make sure it includes a good description, keywords and a link to your website. Join groups or conversations that talk about your type of products or services and participate in the conversations but don’t spam them with constant promos for what you sell.
On Facebook, you can create a page for your business, on which you can post information, offers, photos, details of forthcoming events and so on. You can use Twitter to build up a following amongst potential and existing customers – the secret is to initiate conversations with potential customers rather than going on about how fantastic your product is. Linkedin is an online address book which you can use to connect to professionals in your industry. YouTube allows you to put videos about your venture for free so potential customers can see them. The best way to get your business noticed is to create a dedicated YouTube Channel for it – effectively a page on YouTube just for your business.
7. Start building your email list from day one
Many small businesses aren’t aware of the benefits of email marketing and fail to leverage their website or blog to build their email list. Having a simple email signup form on your website can yield great results and should be done from the very beginning.
8. Ask for reviews
Most local and national sites and directories allow customer reviews. Encourage your customers to write reviews about your products or services. Whether good or bad, reviews make your business more credible to future customers, and can be lessons learned for you.
9. Set up a blog
Setting up your own blog costs little and, so long as it is easily maintained, is an excellent way to engage with your customers (both existing and prospective ones), provide them with updates and create content that is useful for your search engine presence. Interviewing other experts from your field is always useful and can help you build trust with your audience and create good content that can be shared. If you need free editorial images for your blog, check out our free stock photos post.
10. Business directories
You can get free advertisement on various directories so you should use this offline source of promotion for your business. Yellow pages directories are updated and distributed to millions of households every year, but they also have online equivalents and offer small businesses discounts for buying advertising in both. There are also plenty of free and paid-for local directories.
Sending out press releases about your business or advertising in local or national newspapers, magazines and radio stations gets you the best reach. If you’re just starting out, your local newspaper may have a section in the paper just for that. Also, try printing out the URL of your website on your business cards or letterhead as they play a major role in business advertisement.
12. Google AdWords
Google’s paid advertising program is a very effective way to get your website listed on search engines for your desired search terms. It can be very useful particularly in the short term while you work on improving your organic rank in the free listings. Due to increasing competition, the cost per click can be high, but you can set a maximum monthly budget to keep your costs under control. You can also try free advertising vouchers and get some advertising for your business for free.
13. Learn to re-purpose content
Disseminating your marketing or blog content to promote your business is extremely important, but creating content takes a lot of time and effort. This is where repurposing may be useful. When you repurpose content, you use existing information and repackage it in a different format to distribute through new channels and increase your marketing reach. For example, a blog post can be converted into a podcast or a video.
14. Take steps to boost conversions
Your website may get a lot of traffic, but if you fail to convert them into leads, then website traffic is of little use because your data is not being converted into customers. An example of how to do this would be to use a good call to action on your website and in all your marketing material and make sure call to actions are prominently displayed throughout your website.
15. Distribute promotional merchandise
You can publish your business name on products like pens, pencils, erasers and other small objects because these things will market your products and services quietly. Distribute such products in schools and public places because they will promote your business.
16. Outdoor promotion
Outdoor advertising like billboards are seen as expensive for small businesses, but hiring one out strategically placed – in close proximity to your firm – can cost about the same as an advert in a newspaper, will last much longer and be seen by your potential customers. Using your own vehicle as advertising space is also a very good idea, and is very cost effective.
17. Don’t ignore the power of videos
Videos are very popular with consumers today and offer an excellent way to market your business. Displaying videos showing your product or making instructional videos is a very effective way to increase customers.
There are many ways a small business can use videos as part of their marketing strategy and being active on YouTube is one of them. YouTube is the most widely used channel and building your company’s presence on the site can get extra coverage for your business and help to attract new customers. Commenting on videos relevant to your niche is another way to engage with users and increase your brand visibility.
18. Use affiliates to promote your products
Affiliate marketing is a very effective form of online marketing where you essentially enlist several other people to help promote and sell your product in return for a commission on sales. It’s a performance-based system which means you only have to pay commissions when sales are made. There are many popular affiliate channels that your business can use, and these sites have tens of thousands of affiliates actively seeking products to promote, so it will save you the time of having to find affiliates yourself.
19. Join associations and attend meetings of professional groups
Groups such as your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, or civic associations are very useful and powerful networking opportunities to talk about your company. Meet-ups of local businesses and entrepreneurs have become common in most cities. Have business cards in a pocket where they are easily reachable and don’t forget to ask what it is that the people you speak with do, and to really listen to them. They’ll be flattered by your interest, and better remember you because of it.
20. Partner up
Network with other small businesses who are doing the same type of work you are and collaborate with them to offer a special deal to customers locally. The aim is that each business involved will make an offer which benefits the other partner’s customer and encourages them to take up both services. Between the businesses, you can save money on promotional costs and get valuable referrals.
21. Offer a free consultation
Offering non-obligational consultation to people you think could use your services is useful because it gives you the opportunity to offer some practical suggestions and ideas to the client, and possibly encourage them to request your services to implement those ideas.
22. Word of mouth
92% of people trust the recommendation of friends and family, and this can work to your advantage, particularly in a local community-based setting. Getting your first customers is probably the hardest work you’ll ever do. When you’re working with your first customers, don’t forget that you’re already marketing to the people they will talk to. Go the extra mile for your customers, and they’re more likely to tell other people about it. Also, make it easy for them to recommend you through referral and rewards schemes.
23. Teach classes in your community
If your business area lends itself to a lot of special knowledge, offer to teach some free classes at local venues. Or sign up to be a teacher for Community Education classes through a local college.
24. Donate a prize to a local fundraiser
If you make or sell hard goods, try donating some of your products, and if you have a service business donate a gift certificate for your services.
25. Offer to speak at a local event or meeting
This is much like the “Teach classes in your community” section but requires much less time and commitment. Not only does it showcase your knowledge and skills, but it can also be an invaluable place to network with people that may not generally attend actual “networking events”.
26. List your business on online marketplaces
There are many online marketplaces that connect buyers and sellers. Listing your business on these platforms is a great way to improve the visibility of your brand and promote your services.
27. Distribute something for free
Giveaways, freebies, prize draws or sweepstakes will generate a buzz around the business and the business will benefit from the extra exposure of the brand. Try to ensure the prize is something that is related to your business as well as something that can get the attention of users.
28. Corporate social responsibility
Make sure your business has a corporate social responsibility strategy integrated into your business model. Publicise your activities internally as well as externally to all stakeholders and encourage them to join you in your efforts.
29. Host events in your community
A few businesses have hosted scavenger hunts in their communities. All participants have to do is stop once at of the businesses involved, pick up a map and travel to other firms. The aim of the event is to make people realise what is available to them locally. Be sure to give the most zealous participants the chance to win prizes.
30. Last but not least – Don’t spam!
We all dislike content that is not relevant or far worse – boring! The simple way to avoid doing this yourself is to make sure you send emails that include an authentic announcement for a new product, new feature, new event, contest, etc. The number of people unsubscribing from email list will likely be far fewer!
31. Wear and use your products in public
If you ever bump into Graham Milton at a party, the chances are high that he will be wearing a tuxedo shirt with a flamboyant design on the back. That’s because his business Fluxedo Shirts sells them. Milton seizes every opportunity to show off his shirts, wearing them to all kinds of unlikely places such as the Notting Hill Carnival and music festivals where as the only one in formal attire he has really stood out from the crowd. As a result, whenever he goes anywhere in his shirts he gets lots of people asking him about them and finding out where to buy them.
32. Get talking
Every kind of occasion, whether planned or unexpected, represents an opportunity for an entrepreneur to promote their venture, so always carry samples of your products if practicable. Ali Wallace, who started up his own recruitment agency DNA, has found several new clients simply by getting chatting to his fellow travellers on the commuter train from his home in North Hertfordshire to London. Even if no immediate opportunity to do business presents itself, it is worth staying in touch with the people you have met, by sending them an email after the event and even introducing them to other people who may be useful to them, to keep the contact alive. That way they are more likely to remember you when something comes along that would be relevant to your business.
33. Get in touch with your local newspaper
See if they want to write about your business. Not only is coverage like this free, but it will also give your business and product far greater credibility than a paid-for advert could ever achieve.
34. Enter as many business awards as you can
There seems to be a new ‘Entrepreneur of the year’ competition popping up every week – someone has got to win them, and if you are creating something special, then it might as well be you. If you are shortlisted as a runner up, or even better, if you win, you will get lots of press coverage and recognition which is a truly fabulous way of promoting your business.
Case study of business promotion
Kate Jenkins is such a Twitter enthusiast she has effectively grown her business, Gower Cottage Brownies (gowercottagebrownies.com) through it. She started out in 2007 making chocolate brownies in the kitchen of her cottage in Llanmabog in the Gower Peninsula, Wales, which she sold in the local village shop. People loved them, and when she started winning awards for her brownies, she spent £200 creating a basic website and began to sell them online, posting out her brownies via Royal Mail in boxes of 16.
A year later a friend suggested that Kate joined Twitter to promote her venture. Initially, she was resistant. But she signed up anyway as @gowercottage and started running a competition each week, the prize being a box of her brownies. The competition was never actually about brownies – it would always be something funny or silly, such as suggesting the best chat up line for Valentine’s Day, or imagining what song might be playing in the changing room at a rugby match. The brownies would go to people tweeting the best answer. Her ‘Monday Mayhem’ competitions quickly built up a following, to the extent that Kate would often find herself trending on Twitter – in other words being one of the most popular topics.
More than 75,000 tweets later, Kate has more than 5,000 followers and the turnover of her business has risen to £120,000, of which she estimates £40,000 has come entirely via Twitter. Votes from her followers also helped her win The Observer Food Monthly award for Best Welsh online retailer two years in a row. Jenkins said: “It is not just that people are buying my brownies, they are also supporting me and doing PR for me because they are talking about my brownies. Twitter is my biggest word of mouth.”
Also, remember to be careful about promotion
Be careful who you chat freely about your business to, because you never know who they might turn out to be. If your business is not doing well, keep it to yourself because that stranger you are confiding in could well be a customer, or supplier, or potential investor, or even someone who works at the bank where your account is held.