By now there’s a very good possibility that you've set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for your business, right? Social media is an excellent way to grab attention for free. However, as more businesses get on social media and networks like Facebook start limiting the reach of your posts, what are you supposed to do?
Let’s start with the heavy hitter: Facebook. Unfortunately for marketers with small budgets it’s getting harder and harder to be noticed on Facebook for free. Fortunately, you can run Facebook ads that won’t entirely break your budget.
Aiden Rhaa owns and runs a wedding photography business in Boston. Rhaa suggests using Facebook ads because,
“I’ve seen much better ROI with Facebook ads than Google PPC campaigns and some other mainstream advertising options. This method can be really effective if you know who your ideal clients are. It allows you to set up specific parameters to focus on your target audience only, which means there is less money wasted on people who are not your clients. I've found that setting $5/day as the maximum cost is the sweet spot for my business, but you can do it as low as just $1/day.”
Network in Facebook Groups
While we’re speaking about Facebook, you can also take a page out of Nikki Reagan’s book. This California and Arizona-based Realtor suggests that you “Find a Facebook Group devoted to small businesses in your area, or buying and selling in your area. They generally have a lot of local people as members, and your posts will generally appear on their wall, without having to friend them, if they haven’t changed their notifications.”
Setup Advanced Features on YouTube and Twitter
Want to move beyond Facebook? Dana F. Tan, a professional SEO strategist, suggests using advanced (but free!) features on Twitter and YouTube. On Twitter you can implement free lead generation cards that will help you collect email addresses for a newsletter. For YouTube, you can use free call-to-action overlays on your videos to direct more attention to your website. This does require you to have videos on a YouTube channel and some compelling Twitter content, but if you have it, make sure that you are taking advantage of it!
But what about good, old-fashioned pay-per-click advertising – is that completely off the table? That can be expensive, but if you test and adapt, it can also be a really great way to see new customers roll on in.
When Gavin Lapidus started his company eShores, he found that PPC advertising was the most beneficial to his startup marketing. He cautions, “One thing with PPC though, it can spend your money very quickly so you need to research it well and understand exactly what you’re doing before you start.” (If you are new to PPC advertising, check out this guide on PPC Hero or this one at Search Engine Watch.
Lapidus’ biggest advice?
“… start with a smaller search engine to begin with, the smaller search engines generally convert at a similar rate so there’s no downside to doing this, but with the larger search engines you can spend your budget in a few minutes whereas the smaller ones, your budget is more likely to last for a longer period and it’s easier to keep control of your spending.”
Make sure that you monitor what’s working and what isn't so you can keep adjusting your keywords. Jon Kline, the founder of MKE Production Rental, also suggests that you make sure you have staff available to answer chats or phone calls around the same time that you’re serving the ads. “…it prevents us from spending money on clicks we’re not able to serve yet,” he said.
Claim All Relevant Directory Listings
If you’re a local business and/or you’re not ready to dive into the world of PPC advertising, then make sure that you claim all relevant directory listings on everything from Yelp to Foursquare. Sandro Galindo from Shoreway Media suggests paying $49/year to moz.com/local to let it push out your business to major data aggregators.
Scope out Daily Deal Sites
Rather have an option without any upfront cost? Don’t discount the daily deal sites like Groupon or Living Social. Sites like these are trafficked by thousands of people every single day. I’m sure that you've read dozens of Groupon horror stories about how a cupcake shop nearly went out of business after selling a Groupon.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Professional small business coach Jennifer Martin advises, “To help optimize the amount of money you make, create a special (that makes sense for your business) especially for the deals sites. Online advertising might be the hip way to promote your company these days, but it’s not the only way. Offline advertising is still relevant and can still bring in customers.
Direct mail is not dead — especially if you want to try postcard marketing. Postcards “are cheap to design, print and mail – unlike email, postcards have a 100 percent open rate (they are already open!)” advises Mitch Dowell who owns a one-man/solopreneur branding and design company.
Lisa Gleeson, the owner of Lisa’s Gift Wrappers, agrees, “My best idea was to make my business card and my direct mail piece as a 4×6 postcard.” She describes her cards:
“The front was a professional photograph of my service — gift wrapping services using multiple wrapped packages in all sizes with various papers and ribbons — and the “mailing side” with what I offered and an area to address to prospects. My photographer recommended a printing company that could produce what I wanted for about $0.50 a card and first class postage was less than $0.35 a card. The best part was that the photo told the story quickly, and for a start-up with a unique offering, I needed a quick way to say what I did.”
Don’t have the money for postage? “Ask to place information about your business in local salons, Laundromats, and grocery stores,” says Sharonda Ellis, a business consultant.
Ellis is also a fan of using promotional merchandise. “Have promotional T-shirts made. Wear them as often as possible. Recruit as many people as possible to wear them also.”
However, never underestimate the value of a good business card.Seth Peterson, the Co-Founder and CEO of All You Can Arcade, says “our best marketing spend has been on business cards. Whether you’re selling a good or a service, ultimately your brand is about you and having them to give to people you know can generate high quality leads for your company.”
Nikki Reagan encourages people to “place [business cards] in high traffic locations, leave them at restaurants with the tip money, gas stations on the counters, etc. Use both sides of the business card; they are small and really affordable.”
The same goes for flyers. “Flyers run us about 7 cents each, they are simple and effective. Black ink on brightly colored paper works fantastically. Full color and expensive glossy paper isn’t necessary,” advises Reagan.
Or you can go full-out like Lori Cheek did for her business Cheek’d. She’s placed branded flyers all over the city of New York and cites it as her most successful tool. She explains:
“My latest campaign involves NYC’s new Citibike Bike Sharing Program. I printed a batch of Cheek’d cards that read, “my bike likes your bike.” and I've strategically placed them on the baskets of as many bikes as I could. I’m getting tons of hits from the codes on those cards—it’s working as planned and driving traffic to my website.”
If you’re considering advertising in a local newspaper, then Reagan says to “run a small ad, frequently. If it looks like a coupon, it gets more notice.” Sharonda Ellis suggests pairing up with other local businesses to split the cost.
Nancy Butler, a business coach, recommends keeping an eye on local charity auctions. She says, “During [an] auction I bid on and won a $4,600 print and on-line advertising package from our largest local newspaper. I paid only $650 for the entire package and I love the fact that the money all went to charity.”
Networking can be – but is not limited to – cocktail events at your local country club. There are many creative ways that you can make an impact with your community and/or customers while bringing in some business!
Considering the large amount of clubs and organizations, it shouldn’t be hard to find places to donate your time, products, services, or goods. For example, an up-and-coming bakery may want to provide refreshments at the local library board meeting.
Jon Kline of MKE Production Rental says that he “[found] groups and nonprofit events we could sponsor at a very small cost to us, but with high value to the group or event. Even just loaning out the company projector for a community meeting can get a lot of goodwill and help get your company logo in front of more potential customers.”
Julie Austin of Speaker Sponsor suggests micro-sponsorship where small businesses pair up with artists or speakers. “For example,” she says, “a speaker gets a chance to speak in front of the small business’ target market. The small business pays the speaker a small amount and then they both use press releases, coupons, promotional products, and signage, etc. to reach everyone at the conference, plus a large audience offline.”
Join Local Organizations
There are pros and cons to joining a local chamber of commerce, but one pro is that you can meet other business owners; business owners who may just be the clients that you’re looking for.
Kevin Jordan from Redpoint Marketing Consultants recommends joining Business Networking International. It costs $500/year (payable in smaller installments). He says that “this is especially valuable for local service-based businesses, but is valuable for any business to increase referrals and find strategic partners.” There are hundreds of chapters in the USA alone, so the chance of finding a chapter near your business is pretty high.
Getting your own table or booth at a local small business expo is another way to gain some new leads without paying a fortune.
Mitch Dowell suggests smaller business expos because “They are usually very affordable to exhibit at (vs. trade shows), as they are usually sponsored by local business networking groups, rather than large associations or publications.”
Want to attend a larger trade show? Consider partnering up with other local businesses that share the same niche market as yours and sharing booth.
Now if speaking in public isn’t your strong suit or your target market spends a good time online, you may want to try networking in online forums instead. Forums consist of a large base of passionate fans.
Scott Sapire, the CEO of Sweetwater Spice Company, found that out on accident. He posted his recipe for brining his own smoked brisket on a Texas Football website. When he logged on after a game he discovered that a ton of people were talking about his recipe and boom – a business was born.
Online forums are a great place to drum up interest and drive traffic to your website (for free!), but you have to be careful. Says Sapire, “This marketing is entirely free, the only risk is misrepresenting my brand. I drive a considerable amount of traffic to my website through this type of community management. The key is NOT selling. People can smell a salesman online. They are there to discuss the topic at hand, not be pitched.”
If your marketing/advertising budget is really, really small or completely non-existent, there is still a way to generate word-of-mouth and business: your current customers.
Ask for Referrals Directly from Customers
Have you worked with some happy customers? Then all you have to do is ask them to refer your business to others. When it comes to asking for referrals, Kevin Jordan says,
“Sounds obvious, but many businesses aren’t very good about doing this, or do it the wrong way. It helps to be very specific about what type of referrals you want and why. For example, instead of asking my customers if they know any small business owners who need marketing help, I might ask them if they know any CPAs with small business clients who might be interested in co-sponsoring a marketing workshop for their customers. This type of request will get a much better response.”
Jessica Merritt from Snaptacular Photos agrees. “We’ve found that investing in earning repeat and referral business pays off,” she said. “Whenever possible, we try to give our clients a little extra something special to encourage them to continue utilizing our services. We also offer a credit-based incentive referral for clients who refer new paying customers.”
Ask for Referrals on Social Media
In addition to reaching out to customers directly, you should also engage them on social media. Photographer Aiden Rhaa suggests looking to your existing network for more referrals. In addition to asking directly you can “put up a status update on Facebook. It’s free and it’s definitely worth a shot.”
Partner with Other Businesses for Mutual Referrals
You can also approach a lot of businesses within your niche and partner up to send referrals to each other. For example, a wedding photographer, bakery, and catering service may all want to team up to recommend the others’ businesses.
Jennifer Martin offers the example of: “If you are a business coach then find some attorneys, bookkeepers, or website developers who are happy to refer you when they have clients who need what you have to offer. A nice 10% kick back will go a LONG way in the thank you department.” Not only will the referral be mutually beneficial, but it also helps in your networking efforts.
Heck, sometimes the relationships might not even be obvious! Melissa Irvine owns a yoga studio and retreat company in Florida. “We offered a free yoga class for places of employment and long-term clients to our yoga studio.” The business can offer their employees a fun perk and the yoga studio can snag some new clients. Win-win.
Treat Your Customers like Gold
This is a no-brainer, but merits repeating. The best way to get customers is to treat your current customers so well that they can’t stop talking about you. Best of all? This is free.
“For service-oriented businesses, it’s critical that you deliver your services with a strong commitment to excellence and treat your clients with white gloves. The best way to get more clients is to keep your current clients unbelievably happy, so they tell other people about how awesome you are,” recommends Susan Baroncini-Moe, an entrepreneurial and executive coach.
If you really want to take it to the next level of thanks then consider sending out thank you notes and/or coupons. Appreciation is reciprocated.
So there you have it: Actionable tips to help you market your business without having a huge advertising budget. If you have one to add or think that I missed something then please leave it in the comments section!