We won't sugarcoat it... 2020 was a rough year for small businesses! With everyone forced to stay home, online (digital) marketing became much more important. If your business wants to compete in this new world, developing and executing a savvy digital marketing strategy will be essential! But, it doesn't have to be expensive.
This article was written for small business owners who want to compete online without spending any money! Thankfully, there are quite a few relatively easy things you can do. We want to share our top favorites with you. Here is our list of 20 Ways That You Can Market your Small Business Online for FREE!
1. CONTENT MARKETING
Content marketing can broadly be defined as “creating, publishing and distributing content online to a targeted audience”. Content marketing occupies the first spot on our list for good reason; The long-term value of creating relevant, high-quality content should not be underestimated.
The best content for your business will depend on what products and services you offer. It may include writing blog posts or articles, producing short videos, or creating infographics and images. Regardless which type of content you focus on, it should do one (or more) of these four things: Inspire, Educate, Entertain, or Convince. It must also include a clear call to action so your audience knows what to do next.
2. ONLINE DIRECTORIES
Listing your business in online directories is crucial for getting found online. All major search engines have their own directory (Google’s is Google My Business; Bing’s is Bing Places), and there are also several smaller industry- and area-specific directories that may be relevant to your business (such as TripAdvisor for vacation rentals and local attractions). Listing your business in these directories will help you appear in search engine results pages when people search for the products or services you offer. Best of all, it is 100% FREE to do.
3. POSTING ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media offers a great way for you to connect with your existing customers and reach new audiences. Your social media pages are the perfect place to use the content we previously discussed. Establishing social media pages and posting your content is FREE to do. Using social media effectively needs an article of its own, but we will summarize six key points for you to remember:
4. EMAIL MARKETING
If you don't already use a third-party service to collect your customers email addresses, the time to start is NOW! When used effectively, email marketing offers an outstanding return on investment. There are a few services (such as MailChimp) that can automate this process for you and are 100% FREE to use. Once you begin collecting email addresses, you can send your subscribers newsletters to stay in touch with them.
A Word of Caution: In Canada, there are anti-spam laws requiring you to obtain consent from people before you can add them to your email list. Services like MailChimp understand these laws and make it very easy for you to comply with them.
5. INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIPS
Regardless of which industry you operate in, joining forces with a complimentary (but non-competing) business can be very beneficial. Industry partnerships effectively allow you to share your audiences with one another and double your reach. An easy way to establish partnerships is by brainstorming a few ideas that would be mutually beneficial, and then reaching out to some targeted businesses to gauge their interest in collaborating with you. There are many FREE ways to collaborate with your industry partners. One of the easiest methods is swapping links (you put a link to their website on your website, and vice versa), but a better (albeit more time consuming) method would be creating webinars or online events that appeal to both of your target audiences.
6. ANSWER QUESTIONS
Online forums like Quora present great opportunities for you to showcase your expertise. A good place to begin is by researching niche forums related to your business to find questions that your customers would want the answer to. From there, you can answer the questions on the site or use the questions as inspiration for your own blog posts. Answering on the site has the advantage of reaching a broader audience and getting your name some FREE publicity. You can also include a link to your website in your answer. Responding to questions online may seem like a waste of time, but you never know who may see your answers and hire you later on because of them!
7. REFERRAL PROGRAMS
A great way to get new customers is through your existing customers! People tend to associate with people who are "like them", which means that your existing customers' may have friends and family members who are interested in your products or services. Referral programs are a proven method for getting more business and are FREE to implement.
The best way to incentivize your customers to tell their contacts about you is by rewarding them for doing so. Rewards don't have to cost you money, but they do have to be valuable (such as one free hour of your services). The more valuable the reward is, the more likely people are to start talking. You can promote your referral program on your website and social media pages, or by sending an email newsletter to your customers.
8. APPLY FOR BUSINESS AWARDS
Most cities, industries and professional associations offer various types of business awards each year. While some of these will require you to have a paid membership in order to nominate yourself, others are FREE and are open to anyone. It is worth researching the different types of awards that might be available to your business (try Googling "business awards in [your city]"). If you win, you can post the awards on your website to impress your customers and increase confidence in your expertise.
9. SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)
Like social media, search engine optimization (SEO) requires an article of its own. SEO is a complicated topic that cannot be condensed into a few paragraphs... However, SEO must be included in this list because of the important role it plays in online marketing. Search engines are instrumental in helping customers find your business online.
If you're a little savvy when it comes to digital marketing, there are many FREE things you can do to help your website rank higher in search engine results. Some of the things you will want to check are:
Want more tips about SEO? We have written an entire article devoted to search marketing here.
10. GET VISUAL
The moment we go online, we are bombarded by ads and content from businesses who are competing for our attention. With the overwhelming amount of noise online, it can be difficult to get your target audience to notice you. The best way to stand out from the crowd is to ensure your content has a strong visual component. This is especially true on social media. People are less likely to pass over your post if it has an eye-catching image or video to draw in their attention.
While short videos are great for getting noticed, they must be engaging and high-quality. So, if you're not very skilled in video production, you may want to stick with images and infographics. There are a number of free online tools (such as Canva) that can help you put together beautiful, professional-looking images.
11. HOST AN ONLINE EVENT OR CLASS
One benefit that came out of 2020 is that many people were forced to learn how to use online meeting platforms such as Zoom. Digital meetings and online events have become much more acceptable (perhaps even preferable) than they were before. This change has created new opportunities for small businesses to capitalize on!
Depending on the nature of your business, you may want to consider putting together an online event or class. You can use Zoom to facilitate this type of event. With Zoom's FREE plan, you can host up to 100 participants in a single session for up to 40-minutes. Online events have the benefit to you of being less expensive to host (you don't need to rent a physical space), and the benefit of convenience for your attendees (they can attend your event from their living room with a glass of wine in hand!).
12. ASK FOR TESTIMONIALS
Customers trust other customers more than they trust you! If you want to convince new customers to give your business a try, consider asking your current customers to write testimonials or reviews. This is FREE to do and can work wonders for increasing new customers' confidence.
There are a few different options for where your customers can post their reviews. If you have a Google My Business listing established, your customers can post their reviews directly to your listing. Their reviews will be visible to the public, so it's essential that they are positive! If you do not use Google My Business (or any other online review sites), you can simply have your customers email you testimonials and then upload them to your website.
13. ONLINE CONTESTS & GIVE-AWAYS
People LOVE free stuff! Conducting an online contest that gives people the chance to win something free is an excellent way to get people talking about your business and sharing your posts. Social media is the perfect place to host such a contest because it has a large audience and it's FREE to do. Your prize doesn't have to be expensive, but it should be something that people value.
You have control over how your contest is structured, which allows you to align your marketing goals with how people enter your contest. For example, if you want to increase the number of people who Like your Facebook page, you might say "Like our Facebook page to be entered to win"; If you want to increase the number of subscribers to your email newsletter, you could say "subscribe to our newsletter to be entered to win".
14. BUSINESS CARD DRAWS
This is an extension of online contests and give-aways. Most of us have visited a business that has a fishbowl on the counter requesting you "leave your business card to be entered to win something". There is no reason why this strategy can't be implemented online! Consider creating a post on your social media page asking your followers to "leave their business card in the comments" (in other words, leave a link to their website or social media page in the comments). This is a fantastic was to engage your audience and get to know them! Best of all, it's FREE!
15. SOCIAL INFLUENCERS
Social influencers can be likened to a modern version of celebrity endorsements. Depending on what products or services you offer, this may be an avenue worth looking into. Essentially, anyone who exceeds a certain number of followers (usually several thousand) on social media is considered an "influencer" because when they post, thousands of people listen.
Just like celebrities, certain influencers will be better suited to certain products and services than others. If you think a particular influencer would be a good fit for promoting your brand, consider reaching out to them with a proposal to "collaborate". Collaboration usually means you give the influencer free products or services, in exchange for them posting about it on their social media pages.
Some influencers will expect monetary payment, but others may be willing to work for free products or services alone. If you can manage to strike a trade agreement, this is a fantastic form of FREE advertising.
16. YOUR EMAIL SIGNATURE
Every time you send an email, it is an opportunity to promote your business. Most email service providers (such as Outlook and Gmail) allow you to customize your email signature to include images, text and links. This is 100% FREE to do. You don't want to include too much information, but you should definitely include your logo, contact information, and a link to your website and/or social media pages. Your email signature is also an opportunity to ask people to subscribe to your e-mail list.
17. PRESS RELEASES
Press releases are brief (max. 400 words) written reports on something newsworthy about your business. After you have written your report, you submit it to local news outlets in the hopes that one of them will either publish it or contact you for more information. It is FREE to write press releases and to submit them; and if you manage to get published, it is awesome FREE publicity!
The downside is that press releases are hit or miss. News outlets get hundreds (if not thousands) of releases from businesses every day and must decide who makes the cut. To increase your chances of getting published, remember these Four Tips: 1) research journalists who might be interested, 2) make sure your press release is actually newsworthy, 2) triple check your spelling and grammar, and 3) follow-up with your contacts if you don't hear back from them within a week.
18. COMMUNITY NEWS WEBSITES
Every community has its own local news websites and some of them offer free marketing opportunities for local businesses. It is worth exploring some popular community news websites in your area to see if they offer free any types of free classified ads, business directory listings, or even feature 'spotlight' articles.
19. EDUCATE YOURSELF
Every small business owner faces a constant battle between time and money... If you're not willing (or able) to perform an essential task yourself, you must pay someone else to do it for you. If you are D.I.Y. entrepreneur who is inclined to learn more about digital marketing, you may want to check out the many FREE educational resources available online.
We highly recommend Google's Digital Garage. This is a FREE, self-paced online course that anyone can take. You have the option of learning only specific topics, or taking the entire (40-hour) course to learn a broad range of digital marketing skills. Aside from Google's resources, you can also find YouTube videos, blogs and articles on just about anything!
20. LEARN ANALYTICS
If you complete Google's Digital Garage course and are still thirsty for digital marketing knowledge, consider taking a course at Google's Analytics Academy. These are FREE, self-paced courses that teach you how to install and use Google Analytics to collect data about your website's activity. This data can tell you where your site visitors are coming from, the type of devices they're using, and which pages are most popular. These insights can help you take your online presence to the next level!
To summarize, here are our 20 FREE ways to market your small business online:
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Hi! I'm Danielle Harshenin. I lead the marketing team at OSBS. I'm an entrepreneur in Lake Country with a degree in Marketing and I LOVE to share my marketing tips and tricks with other small business owners!