Small Business Marketing:
How to Advertise for Free

Knowing how to advertise for free is something that many small business owners ask about, especially if they're in the new start-up phase. However, it basically all comes down to your definition of 'advertising'. Unless you are a charity or you offer products to the media companies in exchange for advertising you are unlikely to get it for free. Advertising doesn't come cheap but there are ways to get your message out there at little or no cost.  

Business Coaching Insight:

It's important to have a strategy and plan for promoting your business even if you have little or no budget

First of all, what do we mean by advertising?

There is a difference between advertising and marketing. In fact, if we talk about the 7 P's of marketing, advertising is one of the ways you can promote your business.

However, there are many ways to promote your business besides traditional advertising.

Realistically there are little or no ways to advertise for free. Media companies (who own TV and stations, publications etc) exist to make a profit just like you do.

But, if you are looking for ways to 'promote' rather than advertise for free, there are a few ways you can do this that will cost you time rather than money.

9 ways to publicize your business:

1. Publicity/PR

This may not work for every business but it's amazing how few small businesses make use of free PR.  

Editors and producers are always looking for new stories. If your business is doing something that is of interest to their readers, viewers or listeners there's a good chance they'll give you some publicity.

But you need to think like an editor. When you're writing your press release you need to really think about what makes you interesting and why are you 'newsworthy'. Why should they care about you?

The downside of PR is that everytime you send out a media release you need to have a new angle or story so it's not necessarily a strategy you can keep repeating.

If you're struggling to come up with a good media release another way to get free publicity is to offer free products to the media for them to use for promotional competitions.

They are always on the look out for good prizes to give away in promotions so if you have an appealing/high value product it should be pretty easy to organize.

2. Editorial Opportunities

If you are an expert on something, another great way to get exposure for your business is to write articles or be interviewed in the media.

This won't work for everyone but it works for certain professions, for example, if you're a financial planner, caterer, interior designer, nutritionist, personal stylist or something else that is of interest or relevance to readers.

Basically you need to be able to provide good expert content on a subject that is of relevance to their readers or listeners.

In exchange for this you'll raise your profile and get a plug for your business.

3. Free directory listings

When you’re looking at how to advertise for free one of the first things to do is make sure you’re listed in directories like the Yellow Pages and online directories so that people can easily find you.

It won’t necessarily drive business your way but at least if people hear about you they’ll be able to locate you.

4. Branding Assets

Any assets that your business has are potential free billboards - this represents one of the best opportunities in terms of how to advertise for free.

If you have staff out in the field, give them nice uniforms. If you’re got trucks or other forms of transport, make sure that it has great signage on it that includes a good description of what your business does and contact details.

Anything that will be seen outside of your business should be branded inc. stationery. This might seem obvious but it’s amazing how often business owners miss these opportunities.

5. Speaking & Networking

If you enjoy public speaking, this is a great way to promote yourself as an expert and make valuable contacts. However you’ll need to determine the time/benefit ratio for your type of business because it won’t be effective for every business.

6. Free email advertising

In this day and age it is essential that all businesses keep a database of customer and prospect contact details.

Once you’ve got permission to email people you can create a monthly e-newsletter to send out to your database, and it doesn’t cost you anything!

This should be one of your key marketing strategies and is an important tool in terms of how to advertise for free.

If you haven't got a very large database yet, find out if there's a way you can use another related businesses database. For example, offer to write them an article or offer a special deal to their readers. 

7. Social Media

The current conundrum that a lot of small business owners are talking about is ‘how to advertise for free’ using social media. Social media represents a great opportunity and many small start-up’s are using it successfully.

However, unless you are an active user you are probably best advised to outsource to a social media expert (in which case it may not be free!). It definitely lends itself to those businesses that have expertise or valuable information to share on an on-going basis or where you can create a sense of community.

8. Community/charity involvement

Supporting a cause can be good for publicity and it also surrounds your business in the ‘feelgood’ factor.

9. Referral marketing strategies

Last but definitely not least, building referrals is probably one of the strongest lessons in how to advertise for free. View every customer not just in terms of how much they spend with you but also in terms of how many other people they could refer to you.

Ask customers to refer business to you and have a strategy in place to reward them for dong so.

Business Coaching Questions:

  • Are you making the most of all the free marketing opportunities available to you?
  • How could your referral system be more effective?
  • How strong is your business' branding?

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