Once you’ve jumped all the hurdles involved in starting a business, you have to make sure people know about the business you worked so hard to launch. Promoting your business is the next hurdle, but it’s an important one. Getting the word out about your services or product is obviously key to drawing people in—and, hopefully, becoming profitable. And finding the best ways to promote your business will make the whole process a lot easier.
Of course, sometimes you have to invest in order to see a return. But you’ll be happy to learn that some of the easiest and best ways to promote your business are actually free, or cost relative pennies. That said, you might want to spend a bit more on a really special and unique marketing tactic to draw in high-intent leads.
Either way, we’ve gathered some easy, free-to-low-cost options for how to promote your business.
Emailing your customer base is a great way to stay in touch, send reminders, promote sales, and offer coupons and other savings. If you have a brick-and-mortar shop or throw IRL events, you can collect your customers’ email addresses for the cost of a clipboard and a pen. Even with how prevalent social media is these days, email is still the most effective way to reach people and gain a customer base.
JP Wallhorn, founder and CEO of digital consulting agency Syntx, says:
Cold outreach is still one of the best ways to gain attention and get actual clients. Even though it’s old school it’s very effective. Most important is to find a good subject line. It doesn’t matter how good the email is if nobody opens it. From there, make it short and simple. Set up automated follow-up emails from there if they don’t respond. My favorite tool is Mailshake.
You’ll want to use an email client to look more professional, for one. Most offer templates for different occasions and allow you to link right to your site from a clean, custom interface. Services like MailChimp and Constant Contact are easy to manage and offer free, basic plans. (Premium plans come at an extra cost.)
Sending out the occasional newsletter or sale announcement keeps you fresh in people’s minds, and makes your product more accessible to them. Think about it: If a customer receives a coupon delivered straight to their inbox, they’re likely to click through to the site and try to use it. And even if they don’t take you up on your offer, sending that email didn’t cost you anything but some time.
Here’s another best email practice: Create an email signature that’s unique to you and has a call to action or a click-through button to grab people’s attention. Your signature will show up on any email you send, even if you’re just sending an update, like announcing holiday hours or a reminder of a new policy. Even if you’re not directly selling something in your email, that signature is a built-in way to remind people of what you do sell.
Wallhorn also suggests pairing your email blast with a personal touch—a phone call. “Call your list in addition to emailing them, especially if they are not responsive. When you call, you can refer back to the email you’ve sent, and you can make your way towards the decision-maker.”
If you’re not using social media to promote your business, you definitely should be. Alongside a small business website—which you absolutely need to have!—social media platforms are usually the first place prospective customers go to get a feel for who you are and what you do. And business accounts on the main platforms, like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Snapchat, are generally free.
An active presence on social media is a crucial way to let people know what kind of service you’re providing, and offer a snapshot into your company culture. Thoughtfully curated social media profiles—think well-lit shots of your products, fun and informative Instagram stories, and active Facebook conversations—are an easy way to elevate your business, and make people want what you’re selling.
Also, if you have an active social media presence, it’s easy to interact and communicate directly with your customer base. People like knowing there’s a person on the other end of the screen, and forming those personal connections with people encourages brand loyalty, making them more likely to become return customers.
Plus, if you have a social media practice that’s unique to you, like a hashtag or a filter (or simply great content) your customers will be more inclined to pin, tweet, and share with their own friends and followers. Essentially, free advertising for you.
As you probably know from your own Googling, you’re more likely to click on (and buy from) the first few links of search engine results from a query. It follows, then, that you’ll want to earn your own business a top spot within search results. SEO is how you get there.
SEO stands for search engine optimization—and it essentially dominates everything you read online. Good SEO tactics help control the amount of traffic that goes to your site, which, in turn, increases your visibility—and hopefully your sales, too.
Learning SEO best practices can be very do it yourself; if you do a little research, you should be able to optimize your site without spending any money. The foundations of SEO strategy revolve around finding and using the keywords that your audience is searching for, and using them effectively on your site so your page surfaces in top results. Being strategic and specific with your keywords is important, so that you stand out from the rest of the internet. (No small feat, we know. But it’s doable.)
If you do want a little professional help, there are services like Moz that can help you optimize your site and see the analytics, so you know how you’re doing. These do come at a cost, but it may be worth the increased traffic and visibility. Independent consultants can also help you audit your site, and might work with you on a sliding scale. It’s a worthy investment.
Google is a great resource for small business owners. Google Drive makes it easier than ever to keep all your staff on the same page, and once you’re part of the Google business family, all kinds of doors open up for you. For one thing, you’ll have access to Google Adwords, which is one of the best tools to use to promote your business.
You’ve seen Google Adwords in action—even if you don’t know it. These include search result ads (usually the first item that pops up when you do a Google search), video and display ads (in your sidebar and your YouTube videos), and in-app ads (for all your mobile users). If you use AdWords correctly, your business can be visible all over—without looking obtrusive. Plus, Google allows you to set your own budget, so you’ll be able to keep your finances under control while still getting the word out about your services.
AdWords offers users a library of resources you can peruse that offers everything from how to choose the best keywords to suggestions for visual ads—a helpful resource for beginners. Once you’ve learned how to make the most effective ads, Google AdWords will walk you through actually creating one, and you’ll be off to the races.
Keri Lindenmuth, marketing manager of the Kyle David Group, says that paid ads via Google AdWords has worked for them:
These ads give businesses a lot of control over the content they market and the breadth of their marketing efforts. Businesses can control the ad budget, allowing them to spend as much or as little as they want. They can also control times the ad displays and the geolocation of the audience seeing the ad … Your business has complete control over the content being shared, the audience seeing the content, and the budget you’re willing to spend.
Promotional incentives are a great way to get the word out, but also to encourage people to actually spend some money with your business. If people know all about you but never buy anything, their knowledge isn’t doing much good for your bottom line. Sometimes people need a little extra nudge before they pull out their wallets, and meaningful incentives can help.
You’ll need to do a little bit of legwork to understand your industry and demographic to know what kind of promotions or business giveaway ideas work for you. Sure, you can make T-shirts and keychains with your logo on them to give out to people, but that’s likely an investment where you’ll see little return.
Instead, consider offering coupons or discount codes for your products. Not only is there less upfront investment to create your promotion and advertise (see above about using email campaigns!), but you’ll be encouraging people to spend with your business. If you know that one product does particularly well for you, offer sales and coupons for that product—especially if you rarely do.
When planning an incentive campaign, it’s important to make sure you know what you want to get out of your campaign. Have a goal in mind so that you have something to measure your success against. Also try to target a specific customer group; not all of your customers are the same, so trying to market to all of them the same way won’t always work. By using different approaches for different age groups and other demographics, you’re more likely to be successful.
Flash sales sites succeed due to lots of factors: wide reach, low prices, big inventory. But chief among them is the sense of urgency they create—the idea that if a shopper doesn’t buy a product in the next few minutes, a great deal will disappear. To compete, try to offer similar deals.
Offering latent sales encourages return customers, sure. But if every coupon you send is valid in a few weeks’ time, your customers might forget they have it or put off their shopping trip. So, alongside your long-running deals, sprinkle in some flash sales (which you’ll promote across your social media channels, of course) that are good right in the moment.
Not only are generous sales great ways to promote your business, but they’ll encourage customers to buy right then and there.
Hosting parties and events is a great way to get involved in your community, engage with your customer base face-to-face, and get creative with the way you promote your business. But to host a successful party, whether it’s in your brick-and-mortar store or at a local event space, you need your customers to actually show up!
In order to drive foot traffic, consider your customer base and their needs. If, for instance, you know that the majority of your customers work 9-to-5 jobs, don’t plan an event in the middle of the work day. You’ll have a lower turnout, and you’ll have spent all that time and money to plan for little payoff. And if you run a family-friendly business, plan an event on a weekend so your customers can bring their kids.
If you know of a business in your area that complements yours but isn’t a direct competitor, team up with them for joint promotions. Wine stores can hook up with artisanal cheese shops, yoga studios can pair with boutique gyms, vets might want to link with local pet groomers… you get the idea. They all share a common customer base and benefit from each other’s traffic.
Keep each other’s business cards at your tills, link to each other’s sites, highlight each other’s products or services via social media, and combine your resources to throw that promotional party or event that you couldn’t finance on your own.
There’s so much you can get out of the buddy-system approach. You’ll reach a customer base that you don’t already attract, but which you know will be interested in your products or services—not to mention making some allies in your local business community.
Did you know that YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the United States?
YouTube is a great way to find customers, if you manage your presence there correctly. You can promote your business by publishing in-depth, informational videos that your potential customers might be searching for.
Publishing on YouTube and managing your profile there is free, but creating videos might cost some money. If you’re looking to establish a YouTube presence as a way to promote your business, you probably want to take time and invest money in a professional looking video.
Also, remember that YouTube is a search engine—meaning there are a ways to create video content that make those videos more likely to show up at the top of YouTube’s results. Be sure to read up on YouTube SEO strategies before diving into this business promotion.
There are more free advertising opportunities around you than you think—especially if you own a brick-and-mortar store.
Just getting your name out there in your community will go a long way toward promoting your business.
For instance, do you have a company car that you drive around to clients, or use for deliveries? You’re missing out on opportunities to promote your business if you don’t have your company’s name on that car.
It may seem gimmicky, but having a decal of your company logo on your car is a great way to get your name out there, and start promoting your business to new clients.
Press is a great way to promote your business within your industry and with potential customers.
Have you recently expanded your product line? Opened a new location? Send out a press release to see if your local newspaper or magazine might cover it.
The hard part of this business promotion strategy is that you actually have to offer some newsworthy content to get in local press pieces. If you are constantly bugging local reporters about press that might not be too interesting to their readers, they might get sick of hearing for you. Save the good stuff to send over infrequently so your updates seem more newsworthy.
Another similar way to promote your business is to seek out opportunities to get online press or mentions. One great (and free) technique is to use Help a Reporter Out (HARO) to respond to reporters’ inquiries. If they find your answer useful, you could land a mention in an online publication that’s relevant to your audience.
Customers love getting referrals from people who’ve used other businesses before. This can be from word-of-mouth, or online, on review sites. Making sure that your business is on those review sites and has favorable ratings is a great step towards promoting your business.
One of the biggest review sites for brick-and-mortar businesses or service businesses is Yelp.
Do you have a Yelp business profile? Are your customers saying good things about you?
A great way to promote your business on this massive review site is to claim your profile, add your location, upload pictures, and most importantly, respond to your reviews—both positive and negative.
Staying active on review sites will show your customers that you care deeply about customer service, which many people appreciate.
It’s easy to lose site of the importance of your existing customer base as you’re eager to promote your business to new customers.
But don’t forget about the people who’ve already worked with you! You’ve already invested in getting that first customer to your business, so securing repeat business can be incredibly valuable.
Take steps to show your existing customers that you care about their business. Start a rewards program or a customer appreciation promotion to get them to come back to you.
Plus, word-of-mouth and referrals is a great way to promote your business, so keeping your customers happy might encourage them to tell their family and friends about how great a business you are.
You could host your own event as a way to promote your business, but you could also piggy-back on someone else’s event to gain some extra visibility in your community.
Many organizations welcome sponsors to their events for a small buy-in price. In return, you might get your name on all the promotional information, a booth, or the ability to give away branded items at the event. This is a great way to get your name out there and promote your business.
Keep a special eye out for opportunities to sponsor or donate to charity events. This allows you to align your brand with organizations you and your community believe are important, and get your brand out there at the same time.
People are using the internet more and more to solve problems and find solutions. Places like online forums or social media platforms are a great stage for you to build an online presence.
Figure out where your customers like to ask questions and solve problems—whether that’s a Facebook group, Reddit, Quora, or an industry-specific online forum. A great way to subtly promote your business is to stay active on those platforms—answering questions or facilitating discussions.
The key on how to promote your business this way? Build trust.
Don’t spam online communities with heavy-handed business promotions. Provide value, and these users will begin to know who you are and recognize your business. When they could use you as a solution, they’ll remember to come to you!
If you can do all your marketing for free, that’s great! You’ll save yourself a ton of money, which you can contribute toward any number of costs attendant to running a business.
Sometimes, though, it’s worth investing in a blowout campaign, like an experiential marketing event, to engage your customers in a unique way. And sometimes small, inexpensive marketing materials, like custom mailers or unique business cards, can leave a big impression and get people interested.
Joy Gendusa, founder and CEO of PostcardMania, used a similar strategy:
I personally built my business mailing postcards. The main reason this strategy worked (I grew PostcardMania from nothing using no capital investments) is because I consistently mailed way more postcards than I even thought I needed. This idea of marketing in the “correct” magnitude is where I see small business owners struggle the most—they’re just not marketing in enough quantities, consistently enough! If you put your marketing message in front of qualified prospects in their homes, on their web browsers, and in their Facebook feeds, you’re much more likely to make a legitimate and lasting impression rather than relying on just online methods. This creates a sense of “being everywhere” and keeps your business top of mind with prospects as you continue to market.
And try to be as creative and unique as possible. Promoting your business in ways that stand out will make you more memorable to prospective customers, and they’ll be more inclined to gravitate toward you over competitors.