Advertising for your business doesn’t have to be expensive. In today’s increasingly digital world, there are countless ways to advertise your business without running up a massive bill. You can also find cheap ways to advertise your business with more old-school tactics, as well.
Sometimes, the best ways to advertise your business don’t involve reinventing the wheel. Online stalwarts like Facebook, Yelp, and Twitter are simple but effective ways to get your name out there. And partnering with businesses in your area, hosting events, and even donating to charities or neighborhood initiatives are analog methods to advertise your business and support your local community. Once you get rolling, you’ll wonder why you didn’t learn how to advertise your business yourself sooner.
Free business advertising is about getting creative and utilizing every tool at your disposal, rather than underpaying for traditional methods. To spark your creativity for that next perfect marketing opportunity, consult this list of 44 ways to advertise your business for free (or for cheap), both online and off.
The best marketing plans draw on a multitude of strategies: social media marketing, email marketing campaigns, flash sales, in-store events, even experiential marketing—whatever your business has the resources to take on, take them. Use every opportunity you get to share your product or service with the world (and, ideally, turn them into paying customers).
Start your search with this list of mostly free, relatively low-lift, but definitely fun ways to advertise your business. Remember that each method for how to advertise your business comes with its own nuances and tricks. Business advertising is an art, not a science.
So, here’s how to advertise your business—specifically, how to advertise a small business—without breaking the bank:
It’s great to find new customers, but it’s also important to show your appreciation for those who are already loyal to your brand—especially if they’re willing to shout it from the proverbial rooftops.
Providing discounts to your followers who share your brand on social media rewards their customer loyalty, and gives you a boost. After all, word-of-mouth endorsements are still the best form of advertising around. Engaging with and rewarding your customers is a great way to advertise your business for free.
George Clooney probably fetches a pretty penny for his work as Nespresso spokesman, but there are other, more accessible methods for how to advertise your business with brand ambassadors.
Focus on social media influencers who might not be Clooney-level celebrities, but who have established themselves as prominent figures in a circle that relates to your brand. Gaining an endorsement from an influencer strengthens your brand’s presence and legitimacy in that world. If you go this route, though, make sure your social media influencer campaign is legal.
Your strongest advocates for your business might just be under your own roof. An employee willing to share positive things about the company on their personal social media accounts can grab the attention of potential new customers. Therefore, incentivizing that behavior is a savvy business move and a great way to advertise your business for free. Platforms like Dynamic Signal make it easy for businesses to encourage their employees to serve as brand advocates for their employers online.
Who can resist the allure of a clever internet quiz? Putting interactive content on your website, blog, or social media platforms is both fun and informative for your customers. And quizzes and surveys that encourage users to share their results on social media expands your brand’s reach further. This has the added bonus of converting your loyal brand followers into brand ambassadors on their own social media platforms.
Whether you use YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, share a behind-the-scenes video. This could be an interview with a member of your staff, a tour of a manufacturing facility, or a montage of your participation in a recent trade show or industry event. Giving your customers a sneak peak into what it’s like on the inside is another creative way to advertise your business for free.
Giving customers a greater sense of what goes into making your product is a transparent way to interact with your customers, which’ll give you a credibility boost. It also lets you show off your team and your brand’s personality, and define your company’s unique point of view within your market. That’s how to advertise your business in the era of social video.
Who doesn’t love free things? A giveaway of your product or service can grab the attention of those who might not usually think to spend their money with your business.
Alternatively, ask those who are already loyal to your brand to participate in a contest where they generate testimonials or share positive stories about your business online under a designated hashtag. That can generate a lot of buzz in a short amount of time.
CEOs such as Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs are inextricably linked with their brands. Customers feel like they know them personally, and that is part of the fabric of the brand loyalty that Facebook, Tesla, and Apple enjoy. Using live video through Facebook or other social media channels can humanize you and your business, and make any customer even more likely to become a loyalist.
If that adage is true, then Instagram lets you do a lot of talking in a very short amount of time. While Facebook dominates in terms of overall number of users, Instagram followers for certain brands—including titans like Nike and Starbucks—have surged lately. Certain industries, such as restaurants, have been transformed by the platform. And with younger demographics turning away from television and spending more time on social media, there’s a huge benefit to focusing your marketing efforts here. It’s important to learn how to advertise your business using this surging platform.
No longer just for the high school set, Snapchat has done a complete about-face to become a powerful marketing tool for some of the biggest brands around.
Use Snapchat to your business’s advantage: promote upcoming events, share exclusive “behind-the-scenes” content, or give followers access to special deals or coupons. Leveraging Snapchat’s ephemeral nature is the key—much like a flash sale, instant opportunities generate urgency.
In a world that is turning away from traditional print media and becoming increasingly enamored with its digital counterpart, Pinterest is essentially a curated magazine that your company should strive to grab a page in.
Beyond that, looking at other users’ Pinterest boards will help you identify trends that your customers are following and tailor your own product offerings to best fit in with, or outdo, the latest fad. Start pinning to meet new customers, drive more traffic to your website, and advertise your business for free.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, a Twitter chat is a moderated conversation on a specific topic. Twitter users join at a designated date and time, and respond with a designated hashtag.
Whether you’re hosting or participating, Twitter chats are an excellent way to network, share ideas, and gain new social media followers. If that sounds appealing to you, consider using tools like Tweetchat that are designed to optimize your participation. Chats like this let you explore how to advertise your business without leaving the couch or coming out from behind a desk.
The Groups function on LinkedIn is a great way to find like-minded individuals and other entrepreneurs who can provide you with advice on running your business. On the flip side, it also gives you access to a targeted group of people who you know are interested in your product or service. LinkedIn even curates a list of groups you might be interested in based on your profile and interaction with the site.
Wine and cheese, movies and popcorn, high heels and gel insoles—some things are meant to go together. Reach out to other business owners whose goods and services complement yours, and see if they’re open to creating a cross-promotional deal with you. This can be a great way for you both to tap into each other’s client bases, and advertise your business for free.
Partner with a well-respected local charity to increase brand awareness while doing good for others. When done right, you won’t think of it as how to advertise your business, but how to make an impact in your community.
Whether you choose to launch a campaign where donations are made based on the number of users sharing a certain message on social media, ask customers to donate a dollar to a given cause when they make their purchase, or use your business’ resources to boost awareness for an important social issue, there are lots of ways for your business to give back while also gaining awareness for your brand.
Flash mobs were all the rage a few years ago, because they were a lighthearted, eye-catching, and viral-video-inspiring way to gain brand attention. They were a master class in how to advertise your business if you rode the wave correctly.
You can do something similar on a smaller scale by creating a unique storefront display that will get the locals talking, or using a service like Moo to print custom stickers for your business. A chalk mural can be similarly attention-grabbing, and a fun way to advertise an upcoming sale.
Nothing stands out on the road quite like a vehicle covered in bright, bold lettering and designs. Auto wraps are typically made of vinyl, and they let you turn your car into a four-wheeled advertisement for your company. The cost of wrapping your car varies depending on vehicle size and whether you opt for a full wrap or partial decal.
If you like the concept but don’t feel comfortable with the honks and stares, you can use a site like Carvertise to find drivers who are willing to let you advertise on their cars.
For many small businesses, getting involved in community events can be a win-win. Donating your goods or services for a silent auction for a local charity, blogging about your staff’s volunteer work at a nearby soup kitchen, or sponsoring a music or arts festival in exchange for promotional material at the event will advertise your brand while supporting worthy, local initiatives.
It’s great to connect with your customers online, but sometimes it’s nice to see them in person, too!
Hosting an event can come in many different forms. Maybe it’s a champagne and canapé soiree at your store to celebrate the introduction of a new product line. Maybe it’s a Q&A with a respected thought leader in your field that your customers would love to meet. Either way, this puts you face-to-face with your brand’s loyalists, and gives you a chance to make a strong, positive impression.
The psychological principle called the mere-exposure effect dictates that people develop a preference for certain things merely because they’re familiar with them. This principle explains exactly why you want to be the first business someone sees when they relocate to your neighborhood. This is an ingenious method of how to advertise your business using college-level psychology.
Partnering with large businesses, realtors, or moving companies to offer discounts or participating in welcome packages for new residents will put you top of mind for your new neighbors. Then, when they drive by your storefront, they’ll be more likely to stop in—not just because of the discounts, but because of psychology!
Using email marketing is an easy, low-cost way to get your brand in front of your customers. Unlike blogging or podcasting, emails give you a way to reach out, rather than waiting for customers to come to you. And with services like MailChimp, which offers up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails monthly for free, it’s really a no-brainer.
Just be sure not to overdo it; only email your customers when you have something of real interest to share, or you might find yourself filtered into customers’ junk folders.
The overhead cost of starting a podcast is minimal—a high-quality microphone can be found for less than $100, and free editing software like GarageBand or Audacity make creating high-quality audio a breeze. Take those two tools, throw in a quiet room for recording, and voila! A podcast is born.
Creating episodes on a consistent basis will drive clients back to your website regularly to check out your newest episode. Plus, you establish yourself as an expert in your field and build the consumer’s trust in your brand. Technically this isn’t a way to advertise your business for free, but it’s still pretty cheap once you get set up.
If hosting your own podcast sounds like too much of a commitment, start by appearing on popular podcasts in your industry. Podcasts with an interview format are often looking for guests, giving you an easy opportunity to be featured in this format.
Research podcasts related to your business, and then reach out to the host with a well-organized pitch that fits with their target audience. This lets you tap into the podcast’s established audience and advertise your business at no cost at all.
Like podcasts, blogs give you a way to build a steady readership and drive visitors to your site on a regular basis while proving yourself to be a thought leader in your industry. Blogs are even easier to get up and running—all you need is a computer and internet connection.
With blogs and podcasts, consistency is key. Create a calendar for releasing material so that there aren’t gaps in content that cause your readers to lose interest.
Guest blogging is an alternative for those who aren’t able to commit to maintaining a regular posting schedule for their own blog. Look for opportunities to blog for those who write about your industry. Pitching a story idea to a blogger is an opportunity to reach out and expand your network.
“You should create a list of blogs that are bigger than you and pitch them directly. In the pitch, you should market yourself and let the person on the other hand know that a post from you is beneficial to their audience,” says Chhavi Daaku, co-founder of Mrs. Daaku Studio. “For example, if you are in the marketing niche, it would be idea to reach out to Neil Patel or Jeffbullas and see if you can bag an opportunity to write for them.”
Even if you don’t end up blogging for them, you’ve made contact with an influencer in your field and can establish a relationship with them moving forward—and, if you’ve read item number 2 on this list, you’ll know that influencer partnerships are perhaps the best way to advertise your business via social media and the blogosphere.
Most business owners hear the same questions all the time from their clients. Taking these questions and turning them into topics for webinars makes you the go-to source for information within your industry, strengthening your existing relationships and helping to forge new ones. And with a high-quality camera on every person’s smartphone, creating webinars and other video content is easier today than it has ever been. Not only is this a fun method for how to advertise your business, it’s a way to stop hearing the same questions over and over.
Like blogging and podcasting, public speaking opportunities let you brand yourself as a thought leader in your area of expertise. It also gives your company exposure, and gives you the added benefit of business networking opportunities with those who attend the event.
Finally, public speaking gets you and your business’s name on publicity materials for the event and allows you to capitalize on their marketing efforts. In all, it’s a tried and true way to advertise your business for free.
When a journalist needs a source, they often turn to Help a Reporter Out (HARO) to look for experts in a given field. Huge media outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters turn to HARO for sources, and connecting with journalists from these publications can get your name and your business out there in a big way. This is how to advertise your business, as well as your personal brand.
Yelp is often the to-go place for consumers looking for a particular good or service. Yelp’s reach is wide—you can find everything from hair salons to hardware stores to taco trucks reviewed on the site, so create a Yelp page for your business. With over 100 million reviews and counting, you can be sure that more than a few users will stumble across your business!
There are lots of industry-specific review sites that you can put to work for your business. For restaurant owners, there’s the old stalwart OpenTable, plus newer platforms like Resy and Reserve. Those in the home, yard, auto, and health businesses have Angie’s List. Focusing on an industry-specific site allows you to be found by those who are searching specifically for the goods or services you offer.
As a baseline, every company should create a Facebook Business page. They’re free to make, and with Facebook’s unmatched reach, it’s a vital tool in any company’s online marketing kit.
Next is Facebook advertising. With the Ads Manager tool, you can tailor your advertising based on your target audience, budget, and objectives. Once your ads are up and running, you get access to detailed metrics that reflect the effectiveness of your campaign so that you can tweak your efforts.
Participate in online trends—taking part in what’s hot online is typically a morale-booster for the team. And who knows? That video may go viral and give you tremendous exposure.
Keep in mind, though, that not all online trends are created equal: think carefully before participating, and be sure to steer clear of anything that could be controversial. Incurring digital wrath is not how to advertise your business.
We know what you’re thinking: “How can selling online be a form of free advertising?” Well, it actually costs no money to set up an account with a major ecommerce marketplace like eBay or Amazon. And once you’re there, it’s simply another destination where customers can find you. Setting up shop with major ecommerce marketplaces has worked well for Rizwan Girach, founder of the company Chessgammon.
“We are on both eBay and Amazon and we have found the best way to gain brand exposure is to include our logo in every listing,” Girach says. “We’ve seen a number of customers find our website through an ecommerce platform and this has worked very well for us.”
Next up on our list of how to advertise your business is guerilla marketing. Guerrilla marketing is a low-cost marketing strategy that aims to promote products or services in public spaces using creativity and ingenuity. Guerrilla marketing tactics are often unconventional and designed to help or entertain the customer. Examples include branded public art, plastering stickers with your business’s branding around town, or creating some sort of eye-catching storefront display.
Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics, says guerilla marketing is crucial for small businesses.
“This innovative marketing style is inherently more effective and less expensive than conventional advertising. When done right, it can humanize your brand, create a memorable experience, and boost brand recognition,” says Masterson. “For instance, some marketers grab the public’s attention through games, mascots, or by getting them to take pictures. This is especially important in the age of social media where one picture of your public guerilla ad can go viral in a matter of seconds.”
Having a business card on hand when you encounter someone you think could be a potential customer is a great way to drum up new business. What’s more, you can print business cards on the cheap using a service like Moo.
If you’re already going to be creating content like blog posts, you can optimize their effect with SEO. SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It’s a marketing strategy that attempts to improve a website’s rankings on search engine results pages. When executed properly, SEO helps your website show near the top of these pages when customers search for your business name or terms related to your brand, company, industry, products, or services.
You can boost the search ranking of your content by including keywords in your content that you want to rank for. Having good content structure and backlinks can also help improve your search ranking. Answering HARO queries, which is a tip we mentioned earlier, can also improve SEO because it will create backlinks to your website.
SEO is an important technique for any kind of business that produces content or has a website. That’s because SEO may have a greater ROI than a paid ad because an optimized piece of content will continue to rank at the top of Google (as long as you keep it updated), while the effects of an ad campaign are ephemeral.
Another method for how to advertise your business is Quora—a question-and-answer website where questions are asked, answered, and edited by internet users. For small businesses, this tactic is really only effective if your business has some sort of specialization, such as financial services or IT.
Business owners should find questions related to their area of specialization and answer them as thoroughly as possible. If you provide the best possible answer, there’s a good chance it will rank at the top of the page for that particular question. What’s more, the Quora page where you answered your question may also rank in Google when users search that specific question, yielding you even more readers.
This is another great way prospects can discover your business. Plus, you know they’re already qualified leads, because they were searching for a solution to a problem your business specializes in.
If you want to go old school with your advertising efforts, there’s always direct mail—which, at $38.5 billion, still accounts for the largest portion of US local advertising spend. To get started, create well designed postcards containing codes for free trials and discounts. Each postcard should contain a unique ID, allowing you to bridge the gap between physical advertising and digital analytics.
What’s more, a direct mail campaign can be done on the cheap. All you need to do is design a flyer, write copy, print the materials, buy a mailing list, and pay for postage.
Brian McGovern, who works as a magician for hire, says he partnered with other vendors to minimize the cost of his mailer.
“I partnered with a DJ, caterer, lighting/AV, photographer, videographer, limo, florist, bartender service, casino night as well as other performers (juggler, comic, musicians and bands),” McGovern says. “We split the cost, meaning I was able to include my insert for next to nothing.”
If answering HARO queries doesn’t get you featured in a publication, you can always try drumming up your own press by sending out press releases to local news organizations. A press release is a written statement issued to media outlets with information on a particular matter relating to your business. The goal is to have media outlets take the information provided in your press release and turn it into a news story for their publication or broadcast.
Try sending out press releases when you unveil a new product or service, make a key hire, host an event, receive an award, make a significant business change, or whatever else you think is newsworthy. Be sure that you share your press release with as many news organizations as possible. This may be tough at first when you don’t have many connections, but as you build up press contacts, it will be easier to generate publicity for your business.
Remember the coffee shop on your college campus that had a bulletin board with all sorts of flyers and ads? Well, this type of advertising is actually still alive and thriving, according to Andrew Helling, editor for REthority.com.
“You’d be surprised at the number of bulletin boards you’ll see around town,” says Helling. “I’ve found that locally owned restaurants, coffee shops, and even franchises love to promote other local businesses using bulletin boards.”
We’ve already mentioned that producing video is a great technique when trying to figure out how to advertise your business. But we haven’t discussed how you can use YouTube specifically.
As you might already know, YouTube is the largest search engine in the world behind Google (it’s also owned by Google). Many small business owners say producing videos for YouTube and optimizing them for SEO has been a great alternative to more traditional forms of advertising.
Matthew Ross, co-owner of The Slumber Yard, says his company has generated a considerable amount of revenue by posting videos to YouTube. “We’ve found that by creating short videos that are relevant to our core demographic, we can rank on the first page organically instead of buying ads,” Ross says. “All in all, this strategy has easily saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars that we otherwise would have spent on digital ads.”
Jeff Moriarty, owner of Moriarty’s Gem Art, leverages built-in YouTube tools to make sure his videos get maximum exposure. “We use Google’s keyword planner to find all the top keywords and questions related to our business that are searched on YouTube, and try to create videos around those topics,” Moriarty says “While not all produce tons of traffic, a good majority do. We even had one video that ended up going viral, currently at almost 4 million views, and we actually sold out of the entire collection.”
Once you’ve created your Facebook business page, you should join Facebook business groups. Tony Arevalo, owner of Carsurance, says this has been a great way for him to advertise his business.
“When I was starting out I joined local Facebook groups related to car insurance brokers,” says Arevalo. “I became an active member of the community, answering the questions posed by the members from the perspective of an expert—without being overly self-promotional. I would pitch in with my responses and be helpful. It gave me a boost of clients without paying a dime!”
While not exactly a free way to promote your business, giving out T-shirts, keychains, and other trinkets with your businesses branding on it is a great way to stay top of mind. This is what Joe Flanagan, lead project engineer at Tacuna Systems, does to generate advertising.
“The use of branded merchandise has proven to be a very effective offline advertising strategy for our company,” Flanagan says. “We gift our customers with branded T-shirts, key holders, pens, etc. These items are worn happily by our customers at various places, invariably advertising our company to hundreds.”
Next on our list of how to advertise your business is using Yext. Yext is an online brand-management platform that enables companies to manage all the information about their people, places, and products across their websites and mobile apps.
“The more online places your business has appeared, the better your chances of appearing up in search results, and the easier it is for your potential customers to find you,” says Jessica Chase, founder of Premier Title Loans. “Yext scans the web pages to find every place your business is mentioned or listed, so you can narrow down your listings to guarantee accuracy. For example, if your website lists your company’s new phone number, but Yelp lists your past one, this discrepancy can be resolved using Yext.”
Next on our list of ideas on how to advertise your business is to create a referral program. A referral program is a way to incentivize your current customers to spread the word about your business. This method can be highly effective, as 83% of consumers trust the recommendations of family and friends over other forms of advertising, according to a Nielsen survey.
Free advertising methods aren’t always the best way to advertise your business, but they can be incredible tools if you figure out how to make just some of these tactics work.
Most importantly, remember that finding ways to advertise your business should be an enjoyable process. If you’re having a good time and putting your best foot forward, your customers will have a good time right along with you.
Meredith Wood is the founding editor of the Fundera Ledger and a GM at NerdWallet.
Meredith launched the Fundera Ledger in 2014. She has specialized in financial advice for small business owners for almost a decade. Meredith is frequently sought out for her expertise in small business lending and financial management.