It’s too common for small businesses to have limited (and sometimes non-existent) marketing budgets. Although they realize marketing is an important part of success, they simply don’t have the funds to support it. When you’re faced with this situation, it’s easy to put your marketing plans on the back burner, but you don’t have to. There are plenty of free small business marketing tools at your disposal if you know where to look and you get a little creative.
Here are my top 5 free (or low cost) marketing ideas for promoting your small business or startup on a budget:
1. Collect an Email List
If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve probably heard this already, but it never hurts to hear it again. Email marketing is one of the most tried and true digital marketing methods out there. Although it may seem like an outdated method, a study conducted by Campaign Monitor found that email marketing generates as much as $44 for every $1 spent.
If you aren’t already building an email list, you’re missing out. Most website platforms either have the ability to allow users to subscribe built in or have readily available, free plugins that allow you to incorporate email capture. When you sync your list with an email marketing platform like Mailchimp (which has a free plan available), it’s easy to start sending marketing emails to your customers.
Be mindful though, that there are quite a few legal best practices you’ll want to abide by when engaging in email marketing – specifically the CAN-SPAM Act in the US, CCPA in California, GDPR in the EU, and the upcoming LGPD in Brazil. I’ll cover this more in depth in a future post, but the most important thing to know is that both of these laws require that customers opt in to your marketing communications of their own accord and have the opportunity to opt out at any time with complete control over the data you have collected on them.
2. Claim Your Listing on Popular Review Sites (Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Facebook, etc.)
At first glance this may not seem like much of a “marketing” tactic, but bear with me. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers. Whether they’re discovering your business for the first time or ready to make a buying decision, they’re likely to look for some assurance that you’re reputable and will serve them well. And where are they going to look for that info? You guessed it – review sites.
Today’s customers are most likely to be swayed by the opinions and experiences of friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers online. For this reason, review platforms like Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor are making an ever-increasing impact on the way consumers spend their money. According to a study published by Womply, businesses that claim their free listing on multiple review sites earn 36% more revenue on average. Stop and think about that for a moment – simply claiming a free online listing can increase your potential for revenue. What are you waiting for?
3. Respond to Reviews (Good and Bad)
Claiming your listings on review sites comes with the need to respond to those reviews. Customer service is still key online, and you need to be ready to put your best foot forward and be available to take compliments from customers, as well as complaints.
The same Womply study found that the “sweet spot” for ratings was between 3.5 and 4.5 stars. Yes, you heard me right. Having a rating between 3.5 and 4.5 stars was actually better than having a perfect 5 star rating. But if you think about it, it makes sense. Customers are savvy. They know that mistakes are bound to happen. They want to see that, even when problems do arise, you address your shortcomings and ultimately take care of your customers.
Bonus: If you’re running an online store, make sure you’re collecting product reviews and responding to them. Browsing a product’s reviews can make or break a customer’s buying decision!
4. Use Social Media (The Right Way)
You probably already have a presence of some kind on social media. Maybe you’re posting consistent, valuable content, and if so I applaud you! But, maybe you just post here and there when it’s convenient or whatever is on your mind at the moment without any real plan or goal driving your activity. If this sounds familiar, you have a huge opportunity to improve the way you use social media and turn it into a tool that serves your business.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few of the most common tips I share about the “right way” to use social media for business:
- Make sure your posts reflect your target audience. Write your posts with your audience in mind and make sure that what you’re sharing will appeal to them.
- Follow the 80/20 rule. This “rule” (which is really more of a guideline) says that 80% of your posts should be informative or entertaining and only 20% should be promotional. This ratio isn’t set in stone, of course, but you should be careful not to over promote.
- Don’t post “fluff.” Don’t post just for the sake of posting. If your content doesn’t serve your business or your audience in some way, don’t post it.
- Make authentic connections. Social media is all about connecting with one another, and your business is no exception. Spark conversations, engage with your followers, and be responsive to comments and messages.
- Schedule out your posts. It’s no secret that creating and following a social media strategy takes time. I recommend using a scheduling tool (my favorite is Later) to write batches of posts – maybe a week’s worth at a time – and schedule for posting at a later date.
5. Create and Share Quality Content
You’ve probably heard the phrase “content is king,” right? While I’ll admit that phrase has become overused and a little cliché, it’s more true now than ever. Content marketing is one of the fastest growing strategies, and it’s easy to see why.
The most common content platform is a self-hosted blog. If you already have a website, that platform you’re using likely offers blog plug-ins or extensions for free or at a very low cost. Blogging gives you the opportunity to engage your audience while increasing the time they spend on your site and creating added value that can help move them toward a buying decision. Other content might include videos, PDF downloads, emails, etc.
Once you start publishing content, head back up to step four and share it on your social media channels!
Need Some Help?
Don’t worry, the DIY marketing approach isn’t for everyone! These are just a few tips to get you started. If you’re interested in developing and implementing a marketing strategy that works for your business and fits your budget I’d love to chat with you! Be sure to check out the marketing and design services I offer or contact me directly to learn more about how I can serve your business!