44 free and inexpensive ways to market your business – efficient growth ideas
Growth is the key for any small business owner. You need to continuously fill the pipeline with new customers and grow your loyal base.
I think we all know that growing our loyal base for more repeat and referral business is key and is usually the most efficient type of marketing we can do. (Check out my article: 35 ways to grow more repeat and referral business).
But, things can get more challenging for the slower times. Most businesses have a seasonality effect, and this can vary by type of business. For my flooring business, we tended to be slower during the winter months and holidays. For other businesses, the holidays may be their busy time and the summers may be slow. It simply depends on your business, your location and your customers.
So, I put together this list of efficient marketing ideas to help you during the slower times. It will also come in handy for those starting new businesses and may be on a limited budget. And, of course, this should be helpful for any business just looking add some incremental growth.
These 44+ efficient marketing ideas should jump start your small business.
1. Ask friends and family to mention you to their friends
Tell your friends about your primary target audience and the key cues to watch out for. For example, if you’re looking for people who want to buy their first home, some key things that may lead up to this are 1) an engagement or upcoming marriage, 2) a pregnancy/addition to the family, 3) someone complaining about rent increases, etc. If they know what to look for and how to recommend you, they will be on the look out for you, and you can coach them on the right things to say.
2. Carry your business cards EVERYWHERE!
- Keep extras in your pocket and your car
- Make sure you business card clearly communicates what you do
- Even better if the color/design, etc is eye catching and memorable
- Bonus: include a picture of yourself
- Tactfully give them out after you’ve engaged and connected with the person
3. Leverage Social Media…pick one channel and become a master
Social media isn’t for everyone. But, when it’s done right, in a disciplined and consistent way, it can do wonders for your business. My advice to you is to choose just 1 social media channel to be a specialist in. Become a rock star in this channel – whichever one you choose. Depth over breadth. Quality over quantity. Don’t be a jack of all trades and master of none. Enough cliches….you get the idea.
Pick one and do it VERY WELL. After you master it, and after it’s growing your business, you can move on to a 2nd one. Pick this based on where your customers are, what you enjoy and where you see the biggest growth potential for your business. It could be Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Google +, Instagram. Whatever you choose. I know successful entrepreneurs that have killed it in each of them. The only consistent theme is that they concentrated their efforts to master the channel.
For me and my business, lately I’ve been focusing on Pinterest as this seems to be the biggest growth potential. It also seems to be one that I can do efficiently with my time. I love that pinterest acts more like a search engine and your pins have real staying power to create a steady flow of traffic.
I was astounded to learn that there are many businesses killing it with Pinterest – in fact, it has become their #1 traffic source with many getting 100,000-300,000 + clicks per month. There are easy scheduling programs such as Tailwind and Boardbooster . These will save you a ton of time and they each come with free trials. Give it a whirl.
Here are some great guides to help you jumpstart your success in different channels. Learn from the successful experts. It’s the most efficient way to do it.
- How I grew my Facebook Page from 2,000 to 100,000 followers in 5 months.
- 17 Strategies to 17,000 to 350,000 page views in 9 months
- 8 Insider Pinterest tips to drive traffic to your website.
4. Add your business info to the local online directories
I’ll be writing an in depth article on this soon. In the meantime, make sure you’re listed in google my business, bing places, yahoo local directory and yelp. More info to come soon. Bonus: google “town XYZ local directories” and then add your info (and ideally link to your website) to those directories.
5. Get Reviews from your customers.
Read this article for 10 ways to leverage online reviews. It includes where to have your customers write about you and how to amplify their impact.
6. Create an email newsletter.
Studies have shown that email marketing is often the most cost efficient marketing vehicle out there. You can start for as low as $9/month with ActiveCampaign (and you get a 15% discount if you pay for the whole year up front). Get your 2 week free trial here. ActiveCampaign is the most efficient one I’ve found. And, if you buy for the year, you save 15%. Within 2 weeks of using this, I saw an increase in my close rate and a shortened time frame on decisions. Oh, and you can test this for FREE for 2 weeks.
Click here for your free trial of ActiveCampaign.
7. Create T-shirts for you and your family/friends to wear
And better yet, if you have a dog, put one on the dog. It’s a great conversation starter. It’s even better if you can make the graphics bold and fun…so that it gets people to ask you, “What is that?” I used to wear my Flooring Girl shirt all the time, and lot of women would come up to me in starbucks or the grocery store and ask me about it. They were curious. And, yes, some of them needed flooring.
8. Join a local networking group such as BNI, or another local group, or create your own.
BNI stands for Business Network International, and you can look them up to find chapters near you. These work by just having one member of each profession in a group. The members get to know each other by meeting once a week and they refer business together. There are several other similar groups out there. These are especially helpful when your business is relatively new as it will both build your network quickly as well as teach you how to become a more effective networker. You could also join your local Chamber of Commerce.
9. Start your own blog
Yes, your website can do a lot to grow your business. My flooring blog brought in over 80,000 unique visitors a month and grew my business over 30% for several years in a row. And, it was one of my lowest marketing costs. Totally worth it. And, it probably costs less than you think. Check out this article which shows you how you can create your own blog in 15 minutes…and how to do it for close to free ($4/month).
10. Use your voicemail (or on-hold message) to publicize your message
This could highlight and upcoming event or sale, or a new product offering. It could also just promote your branding and point of difference.
11. Ask friends & family to mention you (and link to you) on Facebook and other social media
They could even write about the work you did for them and share a picture (and/or a review). Bonus: have them send an email to 10 of their closest friends.
12. Offer incentives for your past customers to refer a friend.
It could be a gift certificate for dinner or X dollars per referral or Y%. If you would like to do a gift certificate for dinner, I’d recommend Restaurant.com as you can get a $25 gift certificate for just $10.
13. Host an event or class
If you have a more “complicated” product/large purchase (e.g. buying a home), you may want to consider offering a free seminar for your target. For example, if you are a realtor, you could pair up with a mortgage broker and offer a 1st time home buyer seminar, or one for new construction, or one about downsizing your home.
14. Add car magnets or window decals
You could add these to your car, as well as your employees’ cars. You can even upgrade and do a vehicle wrap (although this is more expensive). Please check your local restrictions to make sure you are compliant with local laws (some areas may not allow this, or may not allow on certain parkways or may require commercial plates, especially for vehicle wraps).
15. Offer free samples or a free consultation
Free “samples” of any sort works. Everyone loves a freebie. But, more important, it gives someone a risk free way to try a product (or your services) and see if it’s something they may like. Think about the pools at resort locations where they will often give free 5 minute massages. Many guests will then sign up for the full session.
16. Guest post on a popular blog that gets a lot of traffic.
You could even try a local online papers (e.g. Patch.com), a local blogger or even try for The Huffington Post. Most of these are free and many will allow you to link back to your website. The more local you go, the easier it will be to get in and if you’re a local business, the more targeted your traffic will be. Alternatively, while it may be challenging to be accepted to the Huffington Post, if you are accepted, it will be great exposure (and potentially a lot of traffic). And, you can use this accolade on your website and newsletter.
17. Join groups on social media to expand your reach.
This could be for Facebook, pinterest or LinkedIn. If you only publish to your status page, you are limited by how many followers you have. If you also share your info to groups, you can dramatically expand your reach – in fact, you may get 10-50x as much reach. Look for topics that relate to your business.
18. Collect email addresses
Your database can be your largest asset. And, as I mentioned before, email is often your most efficient spending dollar for dollar. The more people you have on your list, the better. So figure out every way you can to get email addresses. Ask new customers for the email address, create a free download on your website (that requires people to add their email address), do drawings for a free something and collect business cards.
19. Create (or join) a mastermind group.
This is different than joining a large networking group. Rather, this is a small intense group of 4-6 people who all want to grow their businesses. This could be made up of people in the same profession (but in different non-competing geographies) or it could be different professionals with similar growth objectives. You could meet once a month and share business ideas and challenges (and how to overcome them).
20. Do a webinar and promote it on social media.
Importantly, the webinar can be replayed for years to come, so you can feature it on your website and social media over time.
21. Create a video about your business.
Include it on your website, youtube and share it on social media. The video could be about your business and what you offer and/or about a key question that many of your customers have. Or, it could even be a fun video. (You can do more than one). Dollar Shave Club is a perfect example of this where their out of the box video went viral.
22. Run a short term sale
Make this a short limited time only sale. You could make this around a holiday (e.g.Black Friday, Halloween) or even better around a less obvious holiday/event (e.g. Election day special, store anniversary, National ice cream day, etc.). These sort of sales work best with items that are consumed often or items that have ongoing purchases (e.g. sell a printer for less but get ongoing sales of toner, paper, etc.)
23. Get a laptop sticker
Years ago I purchased a laptop sticker (it only cost me $15). The sticker had my logo and a picture of flooring, so it was obvious what I did. I used my laptop in Starbucks and people would just come up to me and talk to me about my business. And, yes, some of them needed flooring.
24. Create a memorable tagline
Make it easy for people to remember who you are and what you do. You want it to be catchy and relevant and ideally tie in with your brand name. Make sure it’s distinctive (and not a tagline that could be used by anybody).
25. Network with local businesses that are complementary to yours
Find ones that could refer customers to you and vice versa. If you’re a realtor, pair up with a mortgage broker; if you’re a auto repair dealer, pair up with a rental car place, if you’re website developer, pair up with a designer, if you’re a decorator, pair up with a general contractor. You get the idea. You could put together an email for your database about the other person’s company and have them do the same for you.
26. Create a press release
This can be a free way to announce new news, such as a new product launch or new location. Be sure to look at this from the media’s perspective – make it a fun story and make sure it’s real news.
27. Apply for online for business awards
These could be industry awards or local awards (some magazines have their own awards). If you win one, you can generally use the logo/crest on for credibility on your website, local store, newsletter, direct mail and other communications. This can help create more awareness and improve your close rates.
28. Create lawn signs
You can leave these at your customers’ houses and even one at your own home. Permanent signs are generally better, but even disposable ones can work.
29. Write epic articles on your website
Create in depth articles about key questions your customers have – the types of questions they may type into google. If you write high quality content (and lengthy content), many can find your info on the search engines.
Balloons always create attention (and they are even better if you are targeting families with young kids). You could rent a helium tank and order customized designs with your name/logo and phone # (and tagline). You can hang these outside your store or at a booth (at a community event or home show). You can even go around and give out balloons to people.
31. Do a demo in a public location/busy area
If you don’t have a retail location, this can be a good opportunity to get some more exposure. Team up with a store that would love to get some more attention. Email your database, and have them email theirs. Have them add signs in their store to announce the upcoming event.
32. Write a book or an ebook
This is a wonderful way to establish credibility (as well as get your name out there). You can even autograph the book for your customers. I know several realtors that have effectively used this, as well as a high end custom home builder. I have 3 ebooks on my flooring site.
33. On a super cold day, offer hot cider and cocoa
Invite people in to warm up and give them a warm welcome. They won’t forget you. On super hot days, try lemonade and ice cream.
34. Donate books or magazines to offices with waiting rooms
This could be for hair salons or doctor offices. Be sure to staple your business card to them.
35. Join “HARO” (Help a Reporter Out)
This is a site where you can sign up for your areas of expertise. Then, when reporters are looking for sources for their stories, they may contact you for your expert opinion. You may be quoted as an expert and may even get a link to your website.
36. Create an exciting infographic
Share it on pinterest (and other social media). Make sure it’s relevant for your business and readers.
37. Door knock
Yes, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (and it’s certainly not mine), but I have heard of many times where new businesses have door knocked to introduce themselves to the community. You an give people an inexpensive gift or magnet so they remember you.
38. Facebook Ads
I’ve heard of so many people having success with facebook ads lately. This isn’t right for every business, but it can work. What’s great about facebook ads is that you can test this very efficiently for just $5-10 dollars. You can learn as you go and improve (e.g. improve the headlines, targeting, pictures). In fact, if you test multiple pictures, Facebook will optimize for you so that it’s showing the more impactful picture (pictures).
Facebook has amazing info on customers that allow you to target very well. They have the typical demos (e.g. age, location, home ownership, annual income) as well as purchase behavior/likelihood on many items. You can even target people that have gone to your website or even a “look alike” group that is similar to your past customers. You can keep testing and improve. Once you have a formula that works, rinse and repeat.
39. Get really good at asking for referrals
When a past customer is happy with your services and recommends you to their friend, you are in great shape. Learn and experiment with ways to do this better. You could ask your past customers after they’ve bought from you; you can ask them at the beginning or middle of the purchase cycle. Do it consistently and see what works best for you.
40. Offer free bonuses
Take it from the high end cosmetic companies and offer a free gift with purchase. Everyone loves bonuses. Find something that your target would value (and ideally something that doesn’t cost you much) and offer it as a free incentive. You may say, if you buy X dollars or more, then there is a free gift (tell them the gift).
41. Bundle items together
If you bundle items together (and offer a small discount), you can improve the value of your proposition AND increase your average transaction size. It’s a nice win win.
42. Look outside your industry for best practices
Yes, we often just look at the competition (and sometimes this is the worst thing we can do…you want to be different and better and not mimic your competition). Search and reapply ideas from other industries. It will give you some fresh thinking and make it easier to brainstorm out-of-the-box ideas. Some of these may be marketing ideas or product ideas; other ideas may improve your processes or reduce costs. Search and reapply.
43. Get branded promotional items
These could be pens, mugs, recycle bags or anything – basically anything that is relevant to your target customer and your brand/service. You can brand them with your name/logo, colors, phone # and tagline. It’s ideal if you find an item that will be used/viewed often and ideal if you target this to good customers and/or people that can refer you often.
44. Targeted Direct Mail
Direct Mail can be expensive…but, when done right, it can be both effective and efficient. If you have a very defined target (e.g. past customers (or gold star customers) or key referral agents), then sending them direct mail on a consistent basis (e.g. 4-6 times per year) and be very effective and won’t break the bank.
You could write letters or even cards (I used SendOutCards.com as it’s efficient and saves all the addresses. Remember, most people are not getting many letters or cards these days, so you can stand out. You want to make sure that you are sending useful information to them (make sure it’s not too salesy) and different info each time (e.g. you could tie it into the season e.g. tips for spring cleaning) – something that you feel is useful for your target but also fits in with your brand equity.
This is an area that you can scale up as you go. Each year (or each quarter), you may add some new customers to this list (it could be your top 10-20%).
Conclusion: 44 efficient marketing ideas
There you have it – 44+ free (or nearly free) marketing ideas for your small business. These are efficient marketing tactics that can help accelerate growth. Choose 1-2 that you feel will have the largest impact on your business. Bookmark this article and then revisit in 2-3 months and choose 1-2 more to implement.
- 35 Ways to drive more repeat and referral business
- How to start your own blog for close to free
- 8 Insider Pinterest tips to drive traffic to your website
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44+ Free and nearly free ways to market your small business | Efficient marketing ideas for your small business