We’re all looking to get the attention of our prospective customers and turn them into paying customers. While paid advertising can help, sometimes you just don’t have the budget for any additional spending.
If that’s you, then you’ll enjoy what we have lined up for you today.
We’ve scoured the web, shared our own ideas, and talked with other small businesses to compile what we hope is the ultimate list of free (or very cheap) marketing ideas for your small business. While “marketing” in general can have a number of different goals, we’re going to talk about both big ideas and small tweaks that you can make to help move your business forward.
Let’s do this.
1. Giveaway Your Product/Service
This works particularly well when you have a digital product like software, as opposed to a product that is very costly to produce. This is a strategy that we used at Long Tail Pro a couple of months ago, and shared some of the details in a guest post for Nick Eubanks.
Here is a brief rundown of the strategy:
Spread the word via your email list, social media, etc. about a giveaway of your product or service. The great thing about giving away what you sell is that when people enter the contest, they are basically raising their hand to say that they want what you sell. So make sure that your giveaway is very specific, not something generic like an iPad.
Once you get all of your sign-ups, announce the winner and also announce an “everybody wins” deal where you give a limited time offer to buy your product/service at a special price, or maybe with special bonuses that you’ve never offered before.
In our case, we didn’t spend any money on paid advertising and it didn’t cost us money directly to give a free license of our software. We spread the word to our email list, on our website, and asked friends in our industry to share it.
The result? A record month of sales and over 1,700 new leads. Click here to read more about this strategy.
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway” box_color=”#2477ce”]Think about what you can give away, and remember the more specific to your business the better. Don’t be too general. Promote it through every means you know how, and be prepared to make an offer they’ll love at the conclusion of the contest.[/su_box]
2. Help A Reporter Out
I first learned of Help A Reporter Out (HARO) a couple of years ago on Brian Dean’s blog. The idea is simple, you join a free email list and get a few messages per day of reporters and other journalists who are looking for sources for their story.
All you do is find relevant queries that you know something about, and respond directly to the reporter who asked for help and provide a great answer.
HARO has a pretty high standard for the people who are allowed to post a query, so virtually any reporter that uses you in their story is going to be someone that can give you a fair amount of free exposure.
In my personal experience, I’ve used HARO to get free marketing out of several different industries. I’ve had quotes on sites like Intuit, Fox Business, Monster.com, and more.
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway” box_color=”#2477ce”]I’ve had a lot of success with this, and I think the reason is because I give maximum value in my answer. I link to other people’s resources on the topic, and provide a well thought out and well researched answer. This leads to a high success rate because your answer will stand out from the crowd.[/su_box]
3. Answer Questions on Quora
In the Unbounce article mentioned above, they point out that “Quora allows you to create a profile with links back to your site or landing page, so answering questions in a useful way gets you direct exposure to leads who are asking about your solution.”
When you and/or your staff have some time, head over and start being a helpful member of the community. Search for questions relevant to your business and give the answer.
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway” box_color=”#2477ce”]Head over to Quora and start searching for topics relevant to your business. You can use the time frame links of “last hour” or “last day” to see the most recent questions being asked, and provide a timely answer. If it makes sense, feel free to link to a resource on your website that would provide more information on the answer you gave.[/su_box]
4. Blog Effectively
Notice that I didn’t just say to “blog.” Unfortunately many businesses have a blog (which is better than no blog at all) but they don’t have any plan to make their blog generate traffic and leads. An effective blog is cheap to do and can be HUGE for your overall inbound marketing success.
Since this is an enormous topic, I’ll focus on one of the big takeaways that we’ve found to be effective.
Focus your blog posts on specific keywords (Google searches) that you actually have a chance to rank for. If you are a personal trainer, don’t make your next post title “How To Lose Weight Fast” – that is way to general and way to difficult to rank for “how to lose weight” in Google.
Look for something more specific like “low carb diet grocery list” that still gets searched hundreds of times per month, but doesn’t have near as much competition in the top search results.
Targeting better keywords will make a remarkable difference in your inbound marketing efforts and it really is just a change in strategy, not in budget.
[su_note]Start Now: If you haven’t already, start finding these lower competition keywords with our software, Long Tail Pro. Click Here to Start For Free[/su_note]
5. Be A Case Study
Cory Brown of Pronto Marketing shared an idea that has worked really well for their firm. They reached out to just about every 3rd party service that they were using and volunteered to be a case study.
They started out by using this simple spreadsheet internally so they could split up the work amongst team members and keep track of who they had contacted and how:
When sending an email didn’t work, Cory’s team would find the company on Facebook and send a message there. They found that companies were generally quick to respond and often very receptive to the case study idea.
After all, who doesn’t love showing off a customer that is succeeding with their product or service?
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]Make a list of service providers you use and add them to a spreadsheet like Cory did. Reach out and let them know about your success with their product and get the ball rolling on some free PR and marketing opportunities.[/su_box]
6. Sell Services For $5
You may have heard of the Fiverr marketplace, where a boatload of services can be done for only $5. I’ve used it many times myself for small graphic design work, video intros, and more.
While you might be thinking that you would never sell your services for $5, consider this:
Michelle Cocco has used Fiverr as a service provider so she could get positive feedback and highlight “what customers are saying” for her primary business. So if you are just getting started and don’t really have any reviews or testimonials yet, maybe you should find some simple service you could offer on Fiverr and start building some fans.
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]While this isn’t a long term solution, it could be great for someone starting out. The service you offer doesn’t even have to be what you do full time, but maybe one small aspect of your primary business. Once you’ve collected some great reviews, put them to use on your website and other marketing materials. [/su_box]
7. Splinter Your Products
This is an idea that comes straight from the Digital Marketer team, and can be really effective for refreshing your marketing message. Product splintering simply means that you “splinter off” one popular function or feature of your primary product offering and sell it as a stand alone product at a cheaper price. For instance, if you sell a Kindle book for $14.99 maybe you offer your most popular chapter for only $.99.
The idea is, once you’ve converted that person into a buyer, they are a lot more likely to buy the rest of the product.
Ryan Deiss shared a success story about product splintering that may sound familiar to you. His client had a prospect list of over 100,000 people, but they only sold one product for $47. If people didn’t buy, they kept sending them auto-responder emails trying to find other ways to get them to buy the same $47 product.
The result was a list that was burned out from hearing the same basic offer over and over again.
So they decided to take a bonus report that they were bundling with their product and sell that as a stand alone report for only $7. Here’s Ryan’s breakdown of how the product splintering performed:
- $7 Sales: 9,926 in 30 days (8% Conversion Rate)
- 2,536 upgraded to the $47 main course
That’s $69,482 in sales from the $7 report and $119,192 in sales from the main course.
$188,674 in sales from a tired offer to a “dead” list!”
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]If you’re a one product company, what part of your offering can you splinter and sell by itself? Changing the marketing approach to a low dollar offer may give you a foothold with many colder prospects on your list.[/su_box]
8. Help Your Alma Mater
Universities and grad schools love to use success stories in their marketing. Often, they’ll feature notable alumni and people who are making a difference on their website and marketing materials. Here is an example from Bentley University.
Why not help your Alma mater by telling them what you’re up to?
Rasheen Carbin of Chicago-based nsphire suggests that “You should contact the alumni relations office of your high school, college, or grad school. Pitch them on writing a blurb about you and how being educated at ________ gave you the training you need to succeed in your chosen field.”
If you’re successful, this free marketing technique has a couple of benefits:
From an SEO perspective, getting a link from .edu site is a pretty big deal. So it helps your inbound marketing/blogging efforts. Secondly, it puts you in front of a new audience and gives direct exposure and publicity for you and your brand in your school’s network of influence.
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]Try this even if you don’t think your success is remarkable or “special.” It doesn’t hurt to get in touch with your alumni office anyway. At worst, they say “no thanks” and at best, you’ve got a really nice boost for your business and personal brand. [/su_box]
9. Join Strategic Directories
When you think of directories, you might be thinking of something akin to an outdated online phone book. However, some directories can actually produce leads at little or no cost to you.
For instance, one of the big email management companies, MailChimp has an expert directory. Brett Farmiloe of Markitors was already a MailChimp customer and found out about their expert directory because they seemed to always refer him there to get help with special projects and integrations.
Since Markitors offers email marketing services, Brett asked MailChimp “Can I be an expert?” and got approved for their list. Brett said this inclusion has provided a steady stream of new leads for their business every week.
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]Don’t spend time with directories that don’t make sense for your business. However, look for companies that have expert directories or lists of service providers and partners and see what it takes to join. You can start by searching for “YOUR SERVICES directory” and see what you come up with. [/su_box]
10. Start Social Listening
Social listening simply means that you pay attention to conversations that are happening on social media about your industry, brand, or field of expertise. Then, when the opportunity presents itself you join the conversation to show your expertise and provide assistance.
One way to work quicker is to save your “canned responses” and customize from there, since you’ll be offering advice or answering questions on very similar topics over and over again.
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]While this can be used as a marketing tool to get in front of your ideal customers and help them, it’s also a great way to provide proactive customer service if people are talking about your brand on social media. Click here to get a plan together for social listening. [/su_box]
11. Get Personal
While it can be fun and helpful to automate parts of your business, there are times when a personal touch can make a huge impact on the impression customers have of your business.
For Mike Doyle of Rent Like A Champion, a service which allows college football fans to rent homes near campus during game weekends, this means that anytime someone lists a home for rent or reserves a rental home they get a personal phone call. Mike admits that it’s been tough to keep up with as they’ve grown, but calling to say “thanks” and ask if there are any questions is something they see as both a customer service and marketing activity.
From the marketing side, having a personal touch helps new customers feel special and feel a connection with your brand. It can also get people talking, and spark the coveted word of mouth advertising.
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]Where can you add a genuine personal touch to your business? It doesn’t have to be costly – in this case it’s a simple phone call. However, the impact on connecting people to your brand can be huge. [/su_box]
12. Contribute to the Reddit Community
Steve Belk of Cut Cable Today, a site about alternatives to cable TV, has successfully used Reddit to drive traffic to his blog and increase readership. The cool thing about Reddit is all the subreddits, which are more narrow topics and categories that tend to have a passionate following.
In Steve’s case, the Cordcutters subreddit has over 79,000 readers who are interested in exactly what Steve writes about. While Reddit doesn’t take kindly to self-promotion, if you think about contributing to the community first you’ll often find opportunities to share your own content when it makes sense.
For example, Steve published an article called “5 Reasons to Hook Up Your Antenna to Your Xbox One Rather than Your TV” and received over 5,500 hits in just 24 hours. There is certainly an art to using Reddit as a marketing tool, so be sure to check out these tips from the Niche Pursuits blog.
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]Odds are that whatever you do, there is at least one subreddit on your topic of interest. Bring value to the community, answer questions, and be helpful. Then strategically include your own content and watch for the influx of targeted traffic. [/su_box]
13. Add a Pinch of Creativity
Lori Cheek, the founder of Cheek’d – “a mobile dating app that makes missed connections obsolete,” was able to make a big splash when she launched her business in 2010.
She recalls that “I simply mailed a lone black Cheek’d card that read, “this card could change your life.” in a plain black envelope to 20 of the main journalists in New York City. This stunt cost $12.50 and a few weeks later, we were featured on the cover of The New York Times Styles Section and coined as “the next generation of online dating.” That article lead to our site crashing for hours, orders from hundreds of customers all over America, inquiries from all over the world and finally this email from Oprah Winfrey’s Studio:
“Hello, ?I am a producer at The Oprah Winfrey Show. I am looking to talk to Lori Cheek about Cheekd.com. I can be reached at 312.633.**** Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.””
That’s quite an impact from a very simple, inexpensive gesture.
Lori encourages you to be creative and says “I’ve ended up on the news many times by just calling up the news channels and asking them if they’d be interested in featuring my business. It’s sometimes that simple. I would say the most crucial thing in getting Media Coverage is a subtle yet persistent approach.”
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]As Lori says, get creative. A black card in a black envelope that claims to have the power to change your life will certainly stand out from the other mail you receive, let alone the thousands of emails you receive. So if you’re trying to get free media attention, throw convention out the window and do something unique. [/su_box]
14. Send “Lumpy” Mail
Denielle Lue, owner of Stitch to My Lue Promotions, has found that spending a little on “lumpy” mail goes a long way. She defines lumpy mail as any traditional/snail mail that “clearly contains a “gift” inside, thus “lumpy” mail. The recipient can feel the item in the packaging, prompting them to open it! We’ve seen response rates jump from 1-2% to over 30-50% with this approach!”
Ideally your gift should be able to tie in to your overall message. An example Danielle gives is a USB car charger imprinted with your information and a tagline stating “We’ll super charge your marketing response rates and double your leads!”
Of course sending anything via snail mail isn’t free, but if you are going to invest a little money doesn’t it make sense to do something that people will actually open?
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]Maybe it isn’t a USB car charger, but what small physical item could you send out in an envelope that would evoke enough curiosity to get your prospects to open it? If you’re planning to spend money on snail mail, stand out by being lumpy. [/su_box]
15. Host a Benefit
Judy Crockett is a retail management consultant and owner of Manistee, Michigan based Interactive Marketing & Communication. She shared a fantastic idea and I’m going to share it in her own words:
“One highly effective technique I love to incorporate into a marketing plan is hosting an event that benefits a nonprofit organization. Host a week-long pet food drive in your store to benefit your local animal shelter.
Be sure to enlist the support of the shelter to get them to help you spread the word – free – through their sources… Offer a small discount or incentive to your customers who shop that week and drop off a donation at your store.
Be sure to write a short (under one page) press release to submit to your media….they will run the story for free. Include a photo if possible. Send the story one week prior to the event.
Follow up with a second press release sharing the results…and be sure to include a photo of you giving the donation to the shelter. Capture names and emails of those new customers coming into your store and continue to market to them.
I have used this several times with my clients….and it works well every time.
A variation that is fun…if time and staff in the store permits…is to give added incentive to customers who bring in a photo of their pet. If you have room, display the photos throughout the week. Then ask customers to come back in the following week to pick up photo…maybe have customers vote on the cutest pet picture. This engages customers…they will relate you and your store to a good, warm fuzzy feeling…people love their pets! It builds traffic in your store…and you will see new faces.”
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]Find a non profit that you can team up with in your own community. If it has a connection to your industry, that’s a bonus. You’ll be doing good work for the local area and getting free publicity at the same time. [/su_box]
16. Old School List Building
Building an email list can make an unbelievable impact to your business. In our case, we’ve built a nice sized email list that we are able to communicate with when we do special offers or have relevant announcements about Long Tail Pro.
Besides all the ways to build a list online, you can also use some old school methods to add people to your list.
For Laura Nunemaker, this meant busting out the paper in pen back when she owned a local bakery. She said “we put out a legal pad, pen and simple flyer in a plastic frame describing the benefits of our weekly email newsletter. There were no prizes or promised discounts for signing up but we still cleared about a dozen sign-ups a week.
[su_box title=”Key Takeaway:” box_color=”#2477ce”]If you have a brick and mortar location, think about ways you can collect email addresses in person. Maybe it’s just a legal pad sitting on the counter, or maybe it’s information you ask for at the point of purchase so you can tell customers about upcoming sales and special events. [/su_box]
17. Feature Your Customers
It doesn’t cost anything to feature your customers on social media, but it can prove to be a fantastic motivator to get those people promoting your brand. So having photo contests, choosing a customer of the week, or finding some other simple way to put the spotlight on your customers can go a long way. After all, we all love to be featured and be honored – so people see themselves as the customer of the week, or community member of the week, etc. they usually want to share that with friends.
One example of this was discussed in our post about getting more followers on Instagram. The Bouqs, a flower delivery service, reposts pictures they’ve found from happy customers sharing photos of their flowers.
Besides connecting with the customer, this also serves as a form of a testimonial as they are showing non-professional photos, submitted by customers, of their product in action. This helps make the Bouqs appear more transparent, since they are simply reposting what happy customers have already posted voluntarily.
As you can see, you don’t have to spend a fortune to market your business. In fact, some of the best ideas cost nothing at all – they just take some time and know how.
Hopefully this has inspired your creativity and has you ready to take action!
Have other free or cheap marketing ideas? Feel free to share below.