Every small business owner has had to work within a tiny marketing budget at one point or another. But what happens when you have NO budget? Is there even such thing as free small business marketing?
There sure is! At Anvil, most of our own marketing methods require zero budget. And we embraced them from the get-go, because they’re the same methods our parent company, Forge and Smith, has used successfully for almost 10 years.
We know what it’s like to be a small business seeing all those trendy marketing practices with their massive tech, production, and ad spend, and feeling like you’ll never catch up.
Whether you’ve always had a tight marketing budget or your business was hit hard by the pandemic, having no budget doesn’t have to stop you from driving more website traffic, conversions, or foot traffic to your store.
That’s why we’re happy to share this list of small business marketing techniques you can use to grow your own business – for free!
- Is Paid Small Business Marketing Better than Free Marketing?
- How to Market Your Small Business with No Budget
- 1. Content Marketing
- 2. Infographics
- 3. Revising and Repurposing Content
- 4. Social Media
- 5. User-Generated Content
- 6. Local SEO
- 7. Business Listings
- 8. Contests and Giveaways
- 9. Appear on a Podcast
- 10. Guest Blogging & Republishing
- 11. Join Quora or HARO
- 12. Networking
- 13. Host a Webinar
- 14. Do a Live Stream
- 15. Be the First on Clubhouse App
- 16. Press Releases
- 17. Apply for Awards
- 18. Email Marketing
Is Paid Small Business Marketing Better than Free Marketing?
That’s one of those apples and oranges questions. All marketing comes down to technique. Your marketing will only ever be as effective as the research and work you put into it.
Let’s look at influencer marketing. One business might pay a big-name influencer $5,000 for a social media post promoting their brand. Another might pay $500, while a third might trade a service to an influencer.
If the big-name influencer doesn’t share a common audience with the brand, it doesn’t matter that they spent $5,000. The wrong audience wouldn’t use that product or buy from their brand, so it’s a waste of money.
The second brand might have found a more relevant influencer, but they posted about the product on a social channel that the brand’s audience doesn’t use. Bye-bye, $500!
The third brand could have found a niche influencer with a small but highly engaged presence on the platform where that brand’s dream customers are hanging out. That partnership could easily result in 10 new customers!
The same is true about ad campaigns, SEO, and content marketing. If you think about it, great marketing is exactly like the plot to the Reese Witherspoon rom-com How Do You Know. Owen Wilson is funny and flashy and rich, but Paul Rudd is always there and a good listener. Paul Rudd gets the girl.
If you listen to your audience, do your homework, and produce great work, you’ll get results.
How to Market Your Small Business with No Budget
You can get started on any (or all) of these small business marketing ideas right away! Some take more time and internal resources than others, but they are all completely doable – and completely free.
1. Content Marketing
Content marketing is our number one top pick of all time for free small business marketing.
You can use content marketing to capture leads. It can help drive conversions. It boosts your SEO. And a single piece of content can be used on your website, social media, emails, and ads.
Here are just a few examples of content you might produce:
- A branded graphic
- A blog post
- A case study or detailed project summary
- A video
- Gated content like an eBook or research paper (a person has to provide their email address to access it)
All of this content can be created for free! You can check out our favourite marketing tools, or Google free tools for whatever type of content you’re creating.
Blogs are the easiest way to create a steady stream of content for your website. We’ve already written a whole article with 20 winning blog topic ideas for small business!
Although infographics fall under the content marketing umbrella, they deserve their own category. Partly because they’re so awesome, and partly because they’re also misunderstood.
Infographics might just be the most shareable type of business content. A solid infographic can be popular for years on platforms like Pinterest, where users keep great content alive through re-pinning.
But too many businesses think they need a bunch of data and a design team to make an infographic. Not true! The best infographic explains something your customers care about, in a visual way. That might be data, or it can be tips, steps, or ideas.
Is your business an authority on how to perform a task, or to use or troubleshoot a product? Step-by-step instructions make fantastic infographics. And you can use a free tool like Visme to design your creation from templates.
3. Revising and Repurposing Content
No piece of content should be created for one purpose alone. You can always apply that content to at least one more area of your small business marketing. If you put in the effort (on paid company time!) to create it, you should stretch it as far as possible.
Here are five ways you could repurpose a blog post or case study:
- Turn it into a single graphic or series of images for a social media post
- Turn it into an infographic (see what we did there)
- Turn it into a video
- Talk about it on a podcast
- Create a roundup of links to related content that educates on a specific topic
You should also regularly audit your old content, and revise it. Check your posts and case studies for factual accuracy, changes to SEO, and new or missing information.
Read more: a complete guide on how to update and repurpose content.
4. Social Media
Every small business marketing strategy should include organic social media posting.
It’s free, it has huge potential to increase brand awareness and reach, and it helps you talk to your customers and learn more about them.
Here are seven awesome posts you can share on your social channels:
- A stand-alone image (which you can create using free design tools!)
- A carousel post using a series of connected images that tell a story
- A video (which you can film using your phone and props you already have)
- A team culture or at-work photo that puts human faces on your company
- A link to one of your own pages or posts
- A link to a third-party piece of content your audience would find useful
- Ask a question, then engage with people in the comments
Remember how at the top of this article I said you need to do your homework to be successful? That is definitely the case with social media!
Don’t just jump onto every available platform and start sharing the same posts across all channels. Take the time to find the best social media platform for your business. If you use multiple channels, be sure to have unique content on each and use a voice suited to that platform.
You’re not done there! You should also do hashtag research, to make sure you understand the most useful hashtags to amplify your posts on each channel.
You can check your competitors’ posts to see what hashtags they use, and visit your customers’ public profiles to see which tags they follow (or which other brands, and their tags). You can also search for a hashtag you might like to use, then examine posts using that tag to see what kind of content comes up under that tag – and discover even more usable hashtags on those posts.
Keep a list of the best hashtags, and try them out in different combinations paired with topical and trending tags. But always, always research a hashtag before using it. You don’t want to end up committing a major hashtag fail!
5. User-Generated Content
It’s a wonderful thing when your customers love you so much that they want to share their stories about your business.
The easiest type of user-generated content (UGC) to capture is reviews. When a customer leaves you a review on Google or Facebook, you can turn that testimonial into a graphic for your website or social media.
To get even more engaging UGC, try creating a unique, branded hashtag and promoting it on one or two social channels. This method will help you gather your customers’ stories and photos to use in your marketing:
Even when someone uses your branded hashtag, you should still reach out to them to get permission before sharing their photo and/or story.
6. Local SEO
Oh no, it’s SEO! You might have been hoping to escape this complicated, often convoluted part of digital strategy. But facts are facts, and SEO is still one of the best ways to promote your business.
Aside from your regular SEO, which helps drum up website traffic, there’s a lot you can do to improve your local SEO – the ranking factors that get you on the map when customers search for your products or services.
- How is your NAP? Google uses your NAP (name, address, phone number) from various websites to determine where you are, and how relevant you are to the person searching. Your NAP should be accurate and completed on your website footer, local business listings, social media, and any business directories. And when we say accurate, we also mean consistent: if you uses dashes vs. dots between your phone number, it should be the same everywhere you’re listed!
- Claim and fully populate your local business listings on Google My Business, Bing Places, and Apple Maps. This means adding your hours, website, email and phone number, and business category, plus branded photos. Business categories directly impact your ranking, so use as many as are applicable. Don’t forget to work your keywords into your company description!
- Solicit and respond to Google reviews! The number and quality of reviews contributes heavily to whether or not your business appears on the ‘local pack’, the three map results shown to a searcher above all other results. Providing great service and asking happy customers to leave a review (NOT asking for a 5-star review!) will definitely boost your ranking.
- Ensure your on-page SEO is on-point. Use local keywords wherever they’re naturally applicable on your website, such as headings, page titles, URLs, meta descriptions, image titles, and image descriptions.
- Create Google Web Stories. Like other social media posts, these are an opportunity to delight your audience. But in this case, they also get recommended by Google and can help you rank at the top of search results.
7. Business Listings
Every city and industry will have unique online business directories in which you can get your company listed.
This may seem kind of dull compared to the ‘real’ small business marketing initiatives, like creating content and being active on social – but it’s not. Business listings create valuable links back to your website, contribute to your local SEO profile, and get your name in front of people who are researching similar businesses.
8. Contests and Giveaways
Everybody loves free stuff. Heck, that’s why you’re reading this article – the promise of free marketing tactics!
Running an in-store contest, or one on social media, is a great way to grow your audience. Incentives like a free item after nine purchases, points toward a free item, or automatic entries with purchase to win a monthly prize are an excellent way to increase sales.
You might be thinking, “but if I give something away, that costs me money!”. There are a few ways to look at it.
You can give away something that only costs money you’d already be spending on company time:
- An eBook
- A consultation
- A personalized tutorial
- A tour
- Advanced access to a product, feature, or service
You can also give away actual products in exchange for potentially gaining several new customers through the leads or followers generated – which is like making money!
9. Appear on a Podcast
Does it seem like everyone and their dog now has a podcast? Your friends might have podcasts. Other companies in your industry probably have podcasts, too. But you don’t have to start your own podcast to get in on this popular digital space.
One of the biggest challenges for people who host podcasts is finding guests. If you or someone else at your company can provide engaging, expert advice or opinions on a topic that your customers care about, people will want to hear it!
You can search for relevant podcasts, listen to episodes to get to know their tone, and reach out to them through email or social media. Here are more tips on how to book a guest spot on a podcast, including websites that will help match you up.
10. Guest Blogging & Republishing
Giant media publishing sites like Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Inc. are driven by guest posts. This type of blogging gets your name in front of thousands of people, which maximizes the value of a single blog post.
You can also find more niche websites that share information about your industry, and reach out about writing a unique blog post for them. A smaller, more engaged audience is usually even more beneficial as far as generating brand awareness and leads.
Don’t forget about republishing your existing posts on sites like Medium and LinkedIn’s Publisher! These sites have the potential to reach many more people through algorithm recommendations than your original post on your own website.
11. Join Quora or HARO
If you’ve ever asked Google a question, chances are you’ve seen or even clicked through to Quora from the search results.
Quora is an online forum where people can ask questions, and get answers from a mix of regular folks and industry experts. By joining Quora and looking for people asking questions that directly relate to your business, you can literally mine the Internet for potential customers.
Just be careful to only promote your business when appropriate. If you immediately suggest your product, people will stop listening – and get angry.
HARO connects journalists and bloggers with niche experts to answer questions for articles. All you have to do is sign up and regularly check your email.
Networking has remained a popular marketing staple since the invention of marketing itself.
Chances are you already have business cards, but forgot about them because these days it’s all about digital marketing. Once it’s safe again to do so, grab your cards and get out there!
For right now, you can host or attend a networking event online in the same way you could host a webinar (see the next section).
If you run a B2B company, you can find industry events such as seminars, conferences, and exhibitions. For B2C businesses, be on the lookout for the types of events your customers would attend, whether it’s markets, conferences, or community events.
13. Host a Webinar
Webinars are more popular than ever in this time of remote work and social distancing. From larger conferences to more intimate seminars, your customers are open to (and expecting) to attend online events.
If your business can explain, teach, or otherwise offer insightful information on camera, a webinar is a great way to connect with your customers and generate leads. There are all kinds of free software you can use to host a webinar, like Facebook. This article shares a list of seven free webinar hosting tools.
14. Do a Live Stream
As with other types of video content, live streams are gaining popularity.
Every single social media channel, from Facebook and LinkedIn to YouTube and TikTok, has a live streaming capability. You can take questions from customers, demonstrate how your business or product works in real time, or talk about a specific topic.
Review your social media analytics to help choose the channel where your audience spends the most time, and host your live event there.
15. Be the First on Clubhouse App
Although it’s still in the private beta stage, everyone is talking about Clubhouse App. It’s an audio-only online hangout space where you can find large group conversations about a huge variety of topics.
It’s a great place to learn, which could make it another great place to educate potential customers.
When you join (which is currently by invite only), you’re able to see active rooms and join as a listener. When you’re ready to speak, you can become engaged in the conversation. Learn all about Clubhouse App from Social Media Examiner.
16. Press Releases
If your company regularly holds webinars or events, releases new products, or engages in community activities – why not solicit a little press?
By crafting a well-written press release that doesn’t require heavy editing to publish, you stand a good chance of appearing in at least a few digital news sources – and in front of their many subscribers.
17. Apply for Awards
Almost every industry has major annual awards that might feel beyond reach, but there are tons of lesser-known awards that your business could win. Awards help you build credibility.
Spend some time researching the possible awards for your industry or product category. The bigger ones might require an entry fee, but you can find hidden gems that accept entries for free.
If you win an award, remember to churn that announcement into multiple types of content: a callout or logo on your website, a blog post, social media posts, emails, and even a press release
18. Email Marketing
Email marketing is probably the most time-consuming entry on this list, but it has the potential for the biggest payoff. Email has a 3,800% ROI – but you don’t have to spend money to succeed with it.
You can use your content marketing, live events, and social media as well as your regular sales initiatives to gather leads. Then, choose a free email marketing tool to design attractive messages, plan enticing subject lines, send your emails, and manage your subscriber list.
Learn more: Email marketing tips for small budgets.
I hope this list has helped you discover at least one new small business marketing practice that you’re excited to try! Remember to pick a method and platform that are well-suited to your customers. Have an active presence on the platforms they use most, and deliver the kinds of content they love.