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17 Free Marketing Ideas to Attract New Customers

Emily Kate Pope

Emily Pope is a writer and editor at Fundera. She specializes in all things small business marketing and financing.

Getting the word out about your business is one way to make sure it succeeds. Indeed, many aspects of your business may depend on it. And what better way than to come up with some free marketing ideas to attract new customers.

Overall, “marketing” can mean many different things: from advertising and public relations to promotions and sales. In other words, marketing is a process in which your business is introduced and promoted to potential customers. Sounds good, right?

But there are so many ways to go about that these days—with many varying costs and associated expenses. The cost of traditional advertising in a newspaper or TV slot could put you in the red, for example.

But not all marketing tactics break the bank. So if your marketing budget is slim or non-existent, be sure to check out the below list of free marketing ideas—or at least cheap marketing ideas—that can help you spread the good word about your business.

17 Free Marketing Ideas

free marketing ideas

1. Develop a customer referral program.

Word-of-mouth marketing is an often overlooked yet super-powerful way to market your business. There’s a reason why word of mouth is number one on our list free marketing ideas.  According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising.

Try offering your existing customers something—a free sample product, complimentary service, discounts, or some other low-cost reward—for referring new customers. Having your customers tell their friends and family about your business can be incredibly valuable.

2. Send out a customer satisfaction survey.

A customer satisfaction survey is not only a great way to learn about your customer base—it’s also a great way for customers to remember you exist! Surveys have taken there rightful place as number two on our list of free marketing ideas!

Consider it like rogue email marketing—though this can also be done totally analog in your storefront or on the street. Customers will feel invested in the results of the survey, which will translate into better loyalty over time. You might learn a thing or two about how your business might improve along the way. Win-win.

3. Tell a story with data or milestones.

This might be one of our favorite free marketing ideas.

Crunch the numbers on your business and see if any significant story comes through the data—maybe you’ve done business with over 1,000 clients in your area, or perhaps you provide your service at a percentage higher than industry standards.

Publish the results online or put a sign out in front of your store. People respond well to numbers—they’re an easily digestible data point. For example, “The community loves us” will be outperformed by “Over 2,500 satisfied customers in our area!” every time.

Conversely, say an academic study is done revolving around your industry. Use it to relate to the utility of your business by publishing it online and highlighting the most important parts.

4. Make your own infographics.

With all this data talk, it should be noted that infographics are super-powerful marketing tools—and relatively easy to make.

Infographics are visual and easy to understand, which is why many people love to share them. You can use online services right in your browser, such as Visme. No software or design skills required!

5. Publish distributed content.

Most people are familiar with the wonders of social media content marketing, but many sites—like Facebook and Twitter—are pay to play, often with steep costs to reach the audience you want. And while you can still invest in publishing on those sites, consider alternative content distribution networks when you’re searching for free marketing ideas.

For instance, Reddit is an old-school social network that bills itself as the “front page of the internet.” To market on Reddit, you need to find a niche—known on Reddit as subreddits, or message boards—related to your industry or business. There, you can find scores of people already interested in what your business has to offer—if you do it correctly. You don’t want to overtly advertise on Reddit without making it feel authentic to the community, so study your subreddit thoroughly before opting to post.

You might also consider LinkedIn—the business-focused social network is often overlooked but can have great impact. By joining professional groups, participating in industry conversation, and sharing your own content, you can reach the right kind of audience that will bring you business.

6. Engage in one-to-one marketing.

Sometimes referred to as 1:1 marketing, this is a customer relationship strategy aimed at boosting personalized interactions with customers. Examples run from sending handwritten postcards to valued customers or personalized birthday emails. The only thing this will cost you is your time, but otherwise, it’s a free marketing idea.

Personalizing interactions with customers can foster greater loyalty and better return on marketing investment. This is a quality over quantity tactic, for sure.

7. Hold an online contest.

Prizes don’t need to be extravagant—a couple of free products or complimentary services can be enough to get potential customers to invest a few seconds of their time in applying to win.

Contests are a great way to gather potential customer data as well—for example, emails—while also getting them to spread the word about the content to even more potential customers.

8. Develop an industry partnership.

Developing partnerships is a must have on any list of free marketing ideas.

Team up with a business that complements yours (one that isn’t a direct competitor, of course) for a joint project. You can do this by hosting a joint special event or online with a giveaway. They can be for a short period of time or extended. Either way, partnering with another business will give you access to their customer base and vice versa. This kind of access would cost you big bucks otherwise.

9. Try your hand at guerilla marketing.

It may sound scary, but it just takes a little ingenuity. Guerilla marketing uses public space to make itself known—a little sidewalk chalk and a good message can go along way at a well-trafficked intersection. Stickers and graffiti (with correct permits!) can also serve as eye candy for potential customers.

10. Host an event or class.

Plan an event to host or class to teach that will attract new customers to your business while educating them about your industry. The event or class will be its own form of advertising, as well as a good reason to advertise.

Print out flyers and post them on community bulletin boards at the library, a coffee shop, or other local establishments where interested pupils might hang around. Most community bulletin boards won’t let you post business advertisements, but they’re often more than happy to post a flyer promoting an educational event or class.

We love this free marketing idea because it’s offering great value to your current or potential customers.

11. Hold business card drawings.

This might not be one of our most innovative free marketing ideas, but it’s an oldie and a goodie.

Put out a fishbowl at your place of business and ask visitors to drop their business cards in it for a chance to win something—a free product or service, for example.

By the end of the month, you’ll have collected tons of business cards—likely with email addresses you can use to reach out to customers about joining your email mailing list so you can notify them of future giveaways and special offers.

12. Send email newsletters.

Email marketing is a great way to get new visitors engaged with your business, as well as maintain relationships with your existing customers. Not to mention one of our favorite free marketing ideas.

Even the most basic email marketing plans can have a big impact.

Consider these statistics from Entrepreneur Magazine: 72% of U.S. adults prefer companies to communicate with them via email, and 91% would like to receive promotional emails from companies they do business with.

Advertise your email newsletter on your website or in your store so people can sign up. It’s a great way to establish customer loyalty or nurture subscribers to become paying customers over time. Start your email campaigns with a free email marketing service like MailChimp or SendPulse—prices scale up as your business grows.

13. Help promote or volunteer your time for a charity event.

Charity events are a great place for brand visibility—and for a good cause! Potential customers will associate your business with a feel-good attitude, and you’ll just have to donate some time or possibly some product.

14. Join a professional organization.

A chamber of commerce or other B2B organization is a great way to engender camaraderie for all parties involved. Connecting with them will give your business more visibility to your community.

15. Create a business mascot to promote your brand.

Chester Cheeto, Ronald McDonald, the Geico lizard—these mascots extend market visibility to your customer base and make customers feel like they are in a relationship with a living thing rather than a soulless business. Have your 5-year-old help with the concept if you’re struggling to be imaginative—the more unique the better.

16. Take a stand on a controversial industry topic.

Last but not least on our list of free marketing ideas—take a stand.

Politics and business are more entwined than ever, and taking a stand on an issue important to your consumer base is a great way to get their attention.

Anti-smoking? Stop selling cigarettes at your store and issue a press release.

Care about the environment? Take the steps to make your business eco-friendly, and then write a post on a publishing site like Medium.com about the experience.

Take a stance, act on it, and then tell people all about it.

17. Create a Blog

A company blog filled with useful posts for your industry and customer base is a great way of connecting with current customers as well as generating new ones. For example, Fundera’s blog has thousands of articles on starting, growing, and managing one’s small business, making it a hub for growth-minded small business owners.

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As you can see, if you’re low on budget but have just the tiniest ounce of creativity, you can reach scores of potential customers who will help grow your business without breaking the bank. Try one of these free marketing ideas soon and see for yourself!

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Emily Kate Pope

Emily Pope is a writer and editor at Fundera. She specializes in all things small business marketing and financing.

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