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10 ways to promote and advertise your business - for free!

Promoting your business can be a costly exercise - but we've found some great resources that enable you to do it for free.

When looking for ways to promote your business, it's usually advised that you spend 9-12% of your overall budget on marketing. However, for small businesses, it may not always be feasible to allot such a substantial percentage of expenditure to one area.

Minimising costs is essential for small business owners and money saving advice can go a long way. With that in mind, here’s ten ways to promote and advertise your business – for free!

1. Charity

Getting involved with charity is a great way to help your local community and improve your reputation – and it can also serve as an opportunity for free business advertising.  For instance, if you run a coffee shop, you could give customers the option to reserve a beverage for a homeless person when they are purchasing their own. The idea of pre-paid coffees is great - not only are you integrating yourself with the local community, but you're also attracting positive attention to your business.

2. Local News

A good piece of marketing advice for small businesses is to get in contact with local papers. You could offer helpful tips in your business’s area of expertise by writing a regular column, providing actionable advice to your community each week. This helps build rapport and trust with your customer base.

3. Radio

Establishing where to advertise your business at minimal cost can be tricky, and advertising space on the radio is rarely cheap. However, you could volunteer to take part in a show where you'll get the opportunity to talk about your business, enabling you to generate publicity without having to pay any advertisement fees.

If you live in a smaller town – as opposed to a big city – you may have a better chance of getting airtime, especially if your advice will bring benefit to a radio's listeners, and maybe even attract more! You could suggest holding a Q&A session where people are invited to call to ask for advice and tips in areas where your business can help, enabling them to get real time answers and establish a connection with your brand.

4. Networking

Networking is as important as it is fun. When you get the opportunity, step outside, meet new people, shake hands and give out as many business cards as you possibly can – it can be more enjoyable and effective than sitting behind a computer or counter all day. By doing this, you'll help your business stand out – people will be able to put a face to the name of your company. You can create meaningful connections and engage with people directly, reaching a more captive audience than you would with other methods of communication.

5. Get found on Google

Google My Business is a great place to start. It puts your business information on search results pages, Google Maps and Google+ so that customers can find your business – even if you don’t have a website.

Listing your business on Google Places for Business is free, and with Google outperforming every other search engine out there, it’s something you should be looking at doing.

When you register, you can benefit from your business appearing in Google Maps - including directions straight to your door, as well as localised search results.

6. Get a website

If you haven’t already got a website - perhaps due to the costs associated - it’s useful to know there are a number of free options available using content management systems like WordPress and Wix.

A website is a great way to showcase your business, display what you offer and ultimately what you can do for your customers.

Check out this simple guide to setting up your first website with WordPress.

7. Social

Set up a profile for your business on social platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and use them as a way of engaging with existing and potential customers. Make sure you stay active on social media, posting and commenting on relevant content. For instance, if you run a salon it would be a good idea to share your advice or views on hair related products – or comment on interesting articles about new hair styles. This way, when people visit your social platforms, they can be sure to find relevant information - not only from you but from other reputable sources.  Each social platform has its own unique setup, which means it's useful to adopt a slightly different approach between the three social channels:  

  • Facebook can be used to share images of what your business has been up to and provide a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse of your activities. Giving potential customers a sneak peek into your industry can make you seem more human instead of a faceless business. The best time to post on Facebook is between 1pm and 3pm.
  • Twitter is a great platform for customer service, and by using this platform you can engage with customers in real time. For example, if someone interacts with you via a comment or complaint you can respond publicly with compassion and show your desire to resolve any issues. By doing this you are showing your Twitter following that you truly care for your customers. The best times to tweet on Twitter are 12pm, 5pm and 6pm.  
  • LinkedIn is a professional social site. Use this platform to showcase your skills, experience and expertise. The best time to post on LinkedIn is on Tuesdays, between 10am and 11am.

8. Free Directories

The Yellow Pages are slowly fading into the realms of legend, and more and more consumers are looking at online directories to find what they need. Every time you place yourself in a directory, your chances of being found online increase, so it’s important to be listed in as many as possible. The top four are:

9. Email Marketing

Email marketing has been around since emails were introduced to the mass market, and there’s a good reason for that - studies have shown that email marketing is 40 times more successful than Facebook and Twitter marketing combined. A great, free-to-use email marketing software is MailChimp, which is perfect for small businesses with fewer than 2,000 subscribers. When it comes to building your mailing list, it’s best to first determine your target audience, as this will allow you to funnel the relevant potential customers and target them with suitable emails.

Once you have established who your demographic is, you can learn how to capture prospective customer e-mails on your website. You can also capture your existing customer’s emails by asking your current customers if they would like to sign up for a newsletter – usually with an added incentive, be that winning a prize or entry to a competition. Using email marketing can be a simple and effective way to promote your business for free. A few tips to get you started with your email campaign are:

  • Grab the reader’s attention:
    Using symbols on your email subject lines are an effective way to achieve a higher click through rate.
  • Make the content relevant:
    Say you display a heart symbol to convey a love for coffee, it would make sense to be showing content about coffee beans in your coffee shop - rather than just using an attention grabbing subject line only to then deviate from the original subject.
  • Be brief:
    In your email, try to avoid writing volumes without giving any useful advice. If you’re not brief in your email people will lose focus and click off before you can get to the main point of the email, be that a sign up for a newsletter or exclusive discount codes. Play around with writing by testing emails to send to friends or family until you find the perfect combination of quantity and quality.

10. Customer reviews

Review sites can have a big impact on a consumer’s decision to buy or use your service. Surveys have suggested that 90% of potential customers are influenced by reading online reviews. With this in mind its worth checking out your business on review sites to see how you’re rated. If there are any negative comments, you can use the insight to reassess the way you do business. For example, if you are a pet shop and someone comments that you don’t sell a certain brand of parrot food, you could begin to stock said brand, let the consumer know you’ve done so, and hopefully win back their custom – as well as that of new customers – as a result.

You can also use review sites to interact with consumers, thanking them for good reviews or taking steps to appease the disgruntled. For example, if you receive a particularly good review, you could share this on your business website and social media. Responding to good reviews will make the consumer feel that their opinion was valid, and could encourage repeat custom. On the other hand, if you receive a bad review you can also comment, apologising for any mistakes in an effort to convey your commitment to meeting your customers' expectations.

By following these ten tips, or even picking and choosing those that best apply to you, not only are you advertising your business for free, but you can be sure that you’ll attract more consumers and hopefully meet some new and interesting faces along the way. Best of luck!