When you work at a small business with a limited budget, it’s not really possible to shell out $340,000 for a 30-second TV commercial or $10,000 for an email marketing campaign.
Thankfully there are plenty of avenues for online free advertising. It can be frustrating when your budget dictates how many people your business can reach. We’ve compiled some free and inexpensive ways to promote your local business:
1. Use Google My Business to optimize for local search.
One of the most powerful free ways to advertise your business is through Google My Business, which enables companies to manage their presence on Google Search and Google Maps. The tool can bolster your rankings in local search results.
Ranking high in local search shows you’re a legitimate and relevant company: you wouldn’t rank #1 in Google for “pizza places near me” if you’d closed down six months ago. Plus, if you rank high in local search, more consumers will choose your business over a competitor’s. In today’s fast-paced world, convenience is key.
Click here or scroll to the bottom of this post to learn how to advertise on Google for free.
2. Check out Yext.
The more places your business is listed online, the better your chances of showing up in search results, and the easier it is for potential customers to find you. To ensure great local SEO, the details of your listings on every website and online directory need to match up.
For instance, if your website lists your company’s new phone number, but Yelp lists your old one, this inconsistency could hurt your SEO.
Yext scans the web to find every place your business is listed, so you can tweak your listings to guarantee accuracy.
3. Attend networking events and mixers.
Connecting with fellow professionals at industry networking events is a great opportunity to meet potential consumers in a place where they are eager to discuss your business. The niche topics of networking events ensure you’re meeting high-qualified leads. For example, a “Best Technology Startups of the Year” event will primarily be filled with participants who are interested in technology and startups.
Particularly for small businesses looking to make their first connections, networking is a chance to get your name out there, meet potential partners, and find opportunities for growth. Plus, it’ll keep you up-to-date on trends in your industry.
4. Speak at an association or industry event.
Speaking at an event about a topic related to your industry is another way to exhibit your expertise. Giving a thought-provoking and powerful speech will draw attention to you and, by association, your business, which can increase brand awareness and prove your business is qualified to tackle consumer challenges.
To start, brainstorm different topics and volunteer at various upcoming networking events and trade association conventions. If you’re afraid of public speaking (don’t worry, a lot of us are), you could enroll in a local Toastmasters chapter to improve your game.
5. Offer locals-only promotions.
One way to build loyalty and camaraderie among your audience is to offer a discount to locals only. Exclusive offers create the impression that your audience is getting something tailor-made for them.
For example, my local coffee shop offers a small discount for customers that live in the neighborhood. It doesn’t have to be much, just a token of your appreciation for their continued support of your business. This kind gesture will encourage them to return, and bring you even more business.
6. Be active in your community.
Similar to the networking suggestion, stay on top of local events in your area, even non industry related ones. From fundraisers and charity events to local sports and community meetings — it’s an opportunity to make real connections with those in your community and build rapport. You never know where those connections will take you. Choose something that suits your interests to make it more fun. Being active in your community will make it easier for potential customers to put a face to your business.
7. Partner with complementary local businesses.
This strategy will require a bit of research and legwork but familiarizing yourself with other local business owners and what they specialize in can be very valuable if you leverage your connections right.
You’ll want to pay close attention to businesses that complement yours. Let’s say you own a local yoga or fitness studio. You could partner with an athletic brand in your area — running a contest where completing a certain amount of classes gets them a free item of merch and in return you could allow the brand space to sell its clothing in your studio. Maybe your local medical office offers programs centered on health and fitness in your area that you could participate in.
8. Put up brochures or flyers.
Putting up brochures or flyers in local libraries, coffee shops, and businesses is a unique way to market to offline locations where people spend a good deal of their time.
You can create free brochures and flyers on PowerPoint or Canva. Depending on your industry, it might even help you reach an ideal clientele: if you’re a physical therapist, for example, perhaps you could hand out brochures to local gyms or nearby hospitals.
9. Run geo-targeted Facebook ads.
Facebook has more targeted advertising capability than any other platform. In addition to being able to advertise to a certain type of consumer based on interests or job description, you can target people who fit that criteria in a certain location.
By putting a few dollars per day behind a geo-targeted Facebook campaign, you’ll build up a local following over time. Be sure to continue posting great content as well to keep this new audience engaged.
10. Invest in direct mail campaigns.
With direct mail, you’ll know that the right audience in your nearby area is receiving your promotions.
While a single batch of mailers may not be enough to drive tons of business, doing frequent distribution campaigns will increase the number of impressions you make on your audience, which in turn drives brand awareness and keeps you top of mind.
Surprisingly, there are also a lot of free ways to supplement your paid advertising efforts. By incorporating free advertising tactics into your strategy, you can remove some nonessential costs and dedicate your budget to deeper, more long-term plays.
In fact, we suggest some of these methods regardless of your budget. To help you spread the word about your business without breaking the bank, we’ve compiled a list of ways to get advertising for free.
1. Write guest posts for other blogs.
There are a few major advantages to guest posting for a well-established blog. You can benefit from connecting to that blog’s audience, and you can also start establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry.
Since guest posting on a popular blog allows you access to an established audience and high domain authority, this practice can sometimes be more beneficial than posting to your own blog. Plus, you can link back to your own website from your article, giving you an inbound link that boosts your domain authority and can increase your own website’s ranking in search engines.
2. Answer Quora questions.
Besides the large built-in audience, your business can answer direct questions from prospective customers. This lets you interact with high-quality potential leads and establish yourself as an expert in the subjects that matter most in your industry.
3. Stay active in industry-specific discussions and forums.
Want to get free advertising and position yourself as an expert in the field? If so industry-specific forums and threads could be for you. Many industry organizations will have online forums or blogs that allow you to answer questions or offer advice. One example is real estate investing organization Bigger Pockets which has its own forum where industry professionals and newbies can share ideas.
If you‘re not sure where to start, try browsing topics on Reddit to see if there’s an existing discussion or topic related to your area of expertise. Just be sure to offer genuine, valuable feedback and not come off as too salesy.
4. Publish content on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is a platform to connect with professionals, which is why it’s also a great place to share business-related content. LinkedIn’s blogging platform lets you demonstrate your expertise within your industry.
Your connections and other LinkedIn members will engage with your posts and share them, doing the free promotion for you. With almost half of all social media traffic coming to B2B company sites from LinkedIn, it’s a missed opportunity if you don’t publish and promote content on LinkedIn.
5. Offer to do interviews on business podcasts.
To figure out which platforms your team should prioritize, it’s important to diversify your promotion platforms to discover where your audience is already consuming content. Some of your audience might prefer listening to podcasts over reading articles. To reach those people, contact a few businesses with podcasts and pitch interview ideas.
6. Promote your website on your email signature.
With all the emails you send every day, it’s a shame if you aren’t taking advantage of the promotional potential of your email signature. Your email signature can also be unexpected property to promote a sale, contest, event, or even a new blog post.
Add a link to your business’ website on your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles, as well.
7. Send email newsletters.
An email newsletter can be a useful vehicle to promote content, share business-related news, and build deeper relationships with both potential and existing customers. There are plenty of free tools out there that assist you in designing, sending, and optimizing your newsletter.
With the right time investment, an email newsletter can be the perfect place to share quality content with leads and potential consumers, establishing your brand as helpful and informative.
8. Do a free product giveaway or contest.
A product giveaway or contest is an easy way to incentivize new viewers to check out and subscribe to your social media channels or website. Plus, handing out inexpensive branded products like t-shirts or mugs is a good way to spread your brand name.
Word-of-mouth is alive and well — and a little swag can go a long way.
9. Create YouTube videos.
Moreover, in a recent Oberlo study, 8 out of 10 people said they’ve been convinced to buy something after watching a brand’s video, and people reported being twice as likely to share videos with their friends than any other type of content.
Creating engaging, informative, and shareable YouTube videos is one of the most efficient ways to sell your brand. If done right, your YouTube videos will entertain viewers enough to share your content and seek out your website.
10. Encourage happy customers to give online reviews.
Word-of-mouth is still one of the best ways to market your product. Consumers trust the opinions of other consumers, especially when there are many great testimonies.
If you have happy customers, encourage them to write a review about their experience on popular review platforms like Google, Facebook, and Yelp. If you want great reviews on Facebook, be sure to create a Facebook Business page if you don’t have one already.
11. Leverage existing customers for referrals.
As mentioned above, word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool. Tap into the value of your existing customers by asking them for referrals. As an incentive you can offer them a discount or some other reward to encourage them to help you get the word out.
12. Take advantage of your partnerships.
Partnerships are an opportunity to offer supplementary services that you don’t provide. For example, a web design company and a copywriting agency might choose to partner together, so when a client requires written content for her web pages, the web design company can offer copywriting services from their partner.
This increases consumer satisfaction, and it also provides exceptional advertising opportunities. When your partner’s consumers need your services, your partner will point them in your direction.
13. Post on social media.
Nowadays, social media is crucial to most marketing strategies. Luckily, most types of social media platforms and posts are free — even to businesses. While many platforms will let you advertise, you can still post or tweet for no cost if you’re on a budget.
Pick the platforms that best suit your audience. Then, post links, photos, videos, or text posts about your company, product launches, or any other occurrence that you’d like to promote.
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are suitable places to start for most businesses. They all offer a way to share video, text, photo, and link-based posts and have large user bases. To learn more about other forms of social media, check out this post.
14. Engage with followers on social platforms.
It‘s not enough to just post. For your social media efforts to be successful, you’ll want to create a two-way street of communication between your followers and those interested in your brand.
If customers are commenting on your posts, respond by commenting back, liking their comments. Not only does it keep the banter and engagement up on your content, but it also helps humanize your brand.
15. Leverage user-generated content.
Since we’re talking about engaging with followers, using user-generated content for your advertising is a good way to get the word out on a budget.
Encourage your customers to create and share content related to your brand. This can be in the form of testimonials, reviews, or even user-created videos. It helps build social proof and can reach a wider audience.
16. Create highly shareable content.
Additionally, you’ll want to create enticing content that your audience will be motivated to share. Start by building a strong online presence.
Optimize your website and social media profiles to ensure they are user-friendly, visually appealing, and provide relevant information. Update your platforms with fresh content regularly and continue to engage with your audience through comments and messages.
17. Make sure you’re listed in online directories.
Google My Business isn’t the only game in town. List your business in the local Yellow Pages, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angi or another relevant directory. This increases your chances of being discovered by potential customers who search for businesses like yours.
If your industry has a directory, you should be on it. Your local chamber of commerce is also a great place to start.
18. Offer valuable content like an ebook or tool.
One of the simplest ways to get new customers and retain new ones is to provide value. This could be in the form of solving a common issue in your field or making a mundane or difficult task easier by providing a tool.
The real estate industry does this often with housing search sites offering mortgage calculators. Smart Asset offers an array of handy tax and paycheck calculators that helps visitors figure out roughly how much their income would change moving from one state to another.
If there are common obstacles or pain points in your industry that can be remedied by offering a tool, ebook, or helpful video content, offer those resources on your site. It will help establish your brand as a trusted industry export.
19. Don’t forget about SEO.
One of the key factors in free advertising is to make sure potential customers can actually find your business. You can have the greatest products or services but your growth will be stunted if you are not showing up in search engines.
Along with Google My Business, taking advantage of free SEO strategies can also help your website rise higher in search results. These tactics can be simple and easy to work into blogging, web design, or other processes.
20. Offer a free trial or consultation.
One obstacle that can prevent potential customers from making a purchase is trust. Offering a free trial of your product or service or free consultation can help break the ice and eliminate that barrier.
It‘s also a good way to get the word out. If a visitor uses your product with a free trial and enjoys the experience, they’re likely to tell others. As we’ve mentioned previously, word of mouth is a powerful advertising method.
21. Experiment with photo and video platforms.
While Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn could be great platforms to start on, expanding to platforms like Instagram or Pinterest will give you more opportunities to show product shots or embrace the heavily-visual strategy of influencer marketing.
Aside from spreading awareness with free images of your product or service, most social platforms, including Facebook, offer live video and story features which can allow you to create video promotion related to your products. For example, you might use Instagram Stories or Facebook Live as an outlet to publish tutorials of how to use your products.
Because these videos and photos are on social, you can also boost their shareability by hashtagging them, creating interesting captions, and encouraging fans to react with actions like “likes” or comments.
22. Write useful press releases.
This method is a bit trickier as a press release is not advertising just by itself. In order to garner interest from media outlets and journalists, what you’re announcing needs to be newsworthy. Making a press release that sounds too promotional can get it rejected from media outlets.
Like your customers, you‘ll need to offer media outlets something of value. Did you run a survey or study that yielded some interesting insights that would be of interest to your industry? That’s what you should include in a press release and increase the odds of the information being picked up by outlets. This could be about emerging industry trends or interesting statistics you found.
Once you have newsworthy information to share, submit your press release to industry publications, media outlets, and online press release distribution sites. This will help build a buzz around your brand.
How to Advertise on Google for Free
As mentioned above, you can create a free page on Google My Business which can help you rank higher or first in search results. Here’s how it works.
1. Create your Google My Business account.
First, you‘ll want to create a Gmail account for your business. Then you’ll want to register for Google My Business with that account.
Google will first ask you to enter the name of your business. Then, you’ll be asked to select a “Delivery Area.” In this form, note the mileage and area where your target audience lives.
2. Optimize your business page.
After your setup process is complete, you’ll be able to fill out your profile. As you do this, you ideally want to fill out all the information Google requests for the best search optimization.
A few key things you’ll want to include will be:
- Your address
- A phone number, email address, and other contact information.
- Your website
- Hours of operation
- Photos of your business and products
- A detailed description on what your business offers
- Pricing or menu information
- The year your company opened
- Other business attributes such as “free Wi-Fi.”
The above items are things locals might search specifically for. For example, if someone searches for a “cheap Mexican restaurant open after 8pm”, Google will examine the details in business profile and prioritize your restaurant if it seems like a great match.
Here’s an example of what it looks like when a Google business fills out all their information:
3. Verify and monitor your business page.
Once you‘ve created your Google My Business profile, be sure to verify your listing so Google knows it’s a real, legitimate business. There are a few ways to do this including email, postcard, and phone verification.
You can also download the GMB app to monitor how your business is doing on a smartphone. This post walks you through the different verification processes.
You Don’t Have to Blow Your Budget to Get Results
Don’t let your advertising budget dictate how many people your business can reach. Start putting together your advertising plan today.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.