Traditional advertising costs money, sometimes big money. Printed ads, radio spots, magazine spreads, billboards and online banners are ubiquitous, but may not be as effective as marketing that doesn’t cost you a dime. Here are a few tactics to invest in, not in terms of dollars, just in terms of a little time.
1. An easy must-do: Claim your free directory listing.
Most people search online for businesses nowadays, making the old-time Yellow Pages a relic of the past. A plethora of online directories come up in search results – Google Plus, Yelp, Yahoo! and others – with data culled from telephone listings and Internet maps. Your business probably appears in many of them, possibly with customer reviews you didn’t know were there.
In order to respond to customer reviews, you have to claim your listing. It costs nothing to do so. What’s more, many online directory services offer features that allow you to post much more than your business address and phone number – creating an Internet presence for you that essentially works like a website.
With Google Plus, for instance, you can set up a group of pages with your own original content, including a business description, blog, photos and even videos. It’s also a place where customers can post reviews. Just be sure to check back periodically and update your listing if necessary.
2. Rally your customers to support you online.
The more people click on your online directory listing, the higher up on the page your business will appear and the more likely it will be seen in search results. So prompt your customers to go to your listing and click on it. That’s step one. If they’re so inspired, they might also post a positive review of your business. There’s nothing more powerful to potential customers than the perspective of existing ones.
3. Alert the local media.
Is there something newsworthy about your business? Did you just open shop, support a charitable cause, offer a new product line or expand your services? Media outlets are always looking for a story. Try pitching yours to local newspapers, broadcast news and similar outlets, or even newspaper columnists who specialize in business topics. You might get free coverage.
4. Be a subject matter expert.
Educate others on your specialty. Give a talk at a local center, write an article for a trade publication, participate in online forums or blog on your own or another’s website. Share your knowledge and advice freely, but avoid pitching your own product or service. That can turn people off. An advisory, non-selling approach will help you earn the trust of your audience and improve the chances that they’ll be willing to pay for your expertise later.
5. Network and socialize.
Join local chambers of commerce or business associations related (or not) to your line of work. Attend their meetings and events regularly, volunteer to serve on committees – anything to get involved and better acquainted. You’ll build friendships and hopefully gain some customers in the process. It’s always easier to do business with someone you know.
6. Collaborate with other businesses.
Form alliances with businesses in your area that offer complementary services and agree to refer customers to one another. For instance, if you’re a financial advisor, you might partner with a reputable accountant whose work you’re familiar with.
7. Use social media.
No list of free ways to market your business would be complete without mention of social media. The Internet is abuzz with people talking about every conceivable topic and social media is the driving force. If you have time to put into posting content on a regular basis, Facebook and Twitter can be great ways to stay in touch with your existing customers and expand your reach to new ones.