12 Free Marketing Ideas to Grow Your Business
Having a great product or offering a service isn’t enough to make a company profitable. You need to tell people about it — and in such a convincing way that people will pay money for it. That, in its simplest form, is a basic marketing strategy.
But many startups or small businesses operate on a shoestring budget and might not have set aside much — if any — for marketing expenses. Luckily, there are free or low-cost marketing ideas that can help grow your business. Here are a dozen marketing strategies to grow your business — and they won’t cost you a penny.
Free marketing ideas to consider:
Build your business network
Business networking is a free and powerful marketing tool. Done right, it can help grow your business and create new opportunities. For example, you might meet someone who owns a store and can sell your product.
Set specific, measurable networking goals to organize your time and efforts effectively. That way, you’ll have a plan in place to keep yourself accountable. People like to do business with individuals they know and trust, so seek out opportunities to expand your network.
Here are five free and easy ways to build your business network:
- Join trade associations.
- Attend Meetup groups in your area.
- Actively participate in business-oriented forums on social media.
- Attend conferences and trade events.
- Host an event, such as a fundraiser for a local charity or an association meeting.
Start an employee volunteer program
It’s important as a business owner — and as a good human being — to give back to the community. One free way to create awareness for your business is by starting an employee volunteer program. An EVP is a planned, business-sponsored program designed to motivate and enable employees to become involved in the local community through volunteerism.
Starting an EVP can be as simple as organizing a community volunteer day. These are the four “Ps” for organizing an employee community volunteer day:
- Partner. Select a nonprofit or community organization that aligns with the strengths of your business and its employees.
- Plan. Work with the organization to plan a specific volunteer event for your employees. Or, sign up to participate in a community-wide event.
- Participation. Encourage all employees to participate. If your budget allows consider offering incentives like paid time off or free lunch.
- Promote. Notify customers in advance that you will be closed for a company-wide employee volunteer day. Share pictures with customers and employees across the business’ social media sites. Encourage employees to do the same on their personal pages.
Businesses that encourage community involvement and volunteerism stand out among the competition. In addition, there are many other added benefits, including:
- Builds comradery
- Improves business image and reputation
- Enhances business visibility
- Encourages greater respect for the community and colleagues
Last, starting an EVP isn’t only beneficial for the community, it’s good for your employees. Seven in 10 employees who volunteer through their works’ EVP feel better about their employers, according to UnitedHealthcare’s 2017 Doing Good Is Good For You study.
Hire a marketing intern
Hiring local college students for a marketing internship provides them with valuable experience that sets the foundation for their professional success. An intern also can bring fresh ideas and give you valuable insight into your younger customer base. It’s also a great way to spread the word about your business, tap into future talent and help you run a more organized and successful business.
An intern’s responsibilities might focus on marketing duties, such as:
- Developing a social media campaign
- Analyzing competitor marketing strategies
- Promoting brand awareness through public relations initiatives
- Coordinating marketing and advertising campaigns
Of course, you’ll provide them with something in return — valuable experience, mentorship and training. It’s important to make sure the internship role and assigned responsibilities are compliant with local, state and federal laws.
Post more photos
The human attention span is only eight seconds, even shorter than that of a goldfish, according to a 2015 Microsoft report. Because of this, you’ll need eye-catching photos to grab customers’ attention on social media and your website. Use your smartphone to take relevant and interesting photos to share with your customers. It’s also a good way to keep them abreast of your new products and services.
Sharing creative, behind-the-scenes photos is also a fun way to keep them engaged. This is especially important for service providers. Share before-and-after photos of work you have completed, such as a bathroom remodel, or pictures of projects you’re currently working on.
Utilize social media
You might be surprised at how many small businesses don’t actively engage with customers or potential customers on social media sites. Or, even worse, don’t have a presence at all.
Josh Popichak, 40, owner of a small online media company in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, realized that many of the small, mom-and-pop shops in the community did not have a website or Facebook business page. Those that did have one weren’t utilizing it to its fullest potential. So, he offered to help them develop and manage their social media presence. He now has a dozen clients.
“All small businesses have to be open to innovation. Whether you’re four or 40 years old, successful ones stay true to their roots but are also adaptable to changing times,” Popichak said. “Those are the businesses that I like to work with.”
Popichak personally understands the importance of social media. Through a successful crowdfunding campaign, he was able to start Saucon Source, a local, independent, online news source. He has since expanded it to include social media content management for local businesses.
Every small business should have a website and social media presence, Popichak said. “It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive,” he said.
You also can do it yourself if you don’t have the budget to pay someone else. But if you don’t have time, consider whether you should have those platforms at all for now. A Facebook page with no new posts since 2014 can look worse than none at all, Popichak says.
There are plenty of free blogs and online courses that can teach you the basics of social media marketing.
Become a public speaker
According to CreditDonkey, as many as three-quarters of the population wrestle with some level of fear when it comes to public speaking. If you’re someone who isn’t afraid of speaking in public, take advantage of it.
Advertising or sponsoring a conference or trade show is expensive. Speaking or giving a presentation at one of these events, however, is often free. Public speaking engagements can help grow your business, build connections and serve as great publicity.
Seek out speaking engagements. Local groups, libraries, schools and network groups are always looking for dynamic speakers. As a speaker, effectively communicate with your audience to leave a lasting impact. Some key tips include:
- Offer tips and insight that the audience can use in their personal or professional life.
- Tell an impactful story.
- Interact with the audience.
- Have strong content.
- Be energetic.
Create a call to action
Call-to-action phrases are urge customers to do something “right now.” People typically use CTAs as part of a marketing strategy to get customers respond through action. You must create a strong and engaging CTA to convince people they need and want to do what you’re asking.
For instance, if you own a restaurant and have a signature dish, create a catchy hashtag, like #MileHighNachos. Print the hashtag next to the menu item to encourage customers to share the picture on social media with the hashtag #MileHighNachos.
More traditional CTAs often appear on a business website or Facebook page to generate leads, such as:
- Book my appointment
- Shop now
- Contact us
- Sign up
- Start your 30-day, free trial
Send handwritten notes
A handwritten note is a simple, but powerful, way to show customers that you care about them and value their business. It can be a simple thank you note with your business card or a more specific note, such as “congratulations on your engagement.” Whatever the reason, a personalized handwritten note can go a long way.
More important, it builds customer loyalty and increases engagement. Accenture, a global professional services company, estimates that 55 percent of U.S. consumers recommend brands or businesses they are loyal to family and friends. Customers speaking highly about your business to family and friends is better than any expensive marketing campaign.
Have an email signature
Sending and receiving emails is one of the quickest ways to correspond with customers, vendors and business partners. What’s written in the email, including the signature, is a direct reflection of your business and the brand you have worked so hard to build.
Many large companies have email signature templates to create standardized email signatures. Apply those same standards to your small business — think of it as your business letterhead.
Create a streamlined, professional email signature that includes your name, business name, title, contact information and a link to the business website, at the very minimum. You might also want to include a business logo. It’s a great way for email recipients to know where the email is coming from and increases brand recognition.
Respond to online reviews
Responding to online reviews isn’t only a good way to engage with your customer base, but it increases search engine visibility. The higher your business website shows up on a search, the more likely someone will visit it.
Take time to respond to the reviews. Consider these four points as you do:
- Personalize the response. “Thank you for the kind review, Michelle. We’re honored you chose The Sea Grille to celebrate such a special occasion. We look forward to seeing you again soon!”
- Sincerely respond to negative reviews. “Rob, we really appreciate your feedback. We are sorry our electrician was late. We would like the opportunity to make it right by offering 10 percent off your next service call with A+ Electricians. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or if I can be of any assistance.”
- Use the business name in the response. “Kelly, thank you for trusting me to find the perfect home for you and your family. KB Realty Co. is dedicated to finding our clients’ forever homes.”
- Have a call to action. “Chris, thank you for the glowing review. Next time you’re in town, stop by Doughnut Hut to try our newest flavor, the strawberry-lemonade doughnut.”
Host an event
Holding an event is a great marketing strategy to bring people into your business. Coffee shops can host open mic night. Restaurants can start wine clubs that meet on a monthly basis to learn about wine. A boutique can partner with a local group to host a mom’s night out.
All of these events have one goal in mind — to get new customers through the door. If you hold a large event or one that draws a lot of attention, contact local news media sites and invite them to your event.
Do really good work
The best free marketing idea is the simplest. Just do what you do really, really well. That way, customers will do the marketing and advertising for you. Think about the last time you needed a roofing company or handyman? Did you immediately search on Google? Or, did you start asking neighbors or friends for recommendations?
Two crucial things for service businesses include word-of-mouth advertising and repeat customers. A beautiful storefront can lure in customers driving or walking by, but service businesses or businesses without a storefront don’t typically have that luxury. That’s why the quality of the service you provide, coupled with unparalleled customer service, will get your customers talking and coming back again and again.