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23 cost-effective ideas for promoting your business

Finding more customers is typically a top priority of many small business owners, particularly those just starting out. But promoting your small business can take a lot of time and money – resources that are both hard to come by.

We’ve spoken with our small business customers, searched forums and the Web at large, and compiled some of the best ideas for promoting your small business. Whether you’re looking to get your first 10 customers or grow beyond that, these cost-effective ideas will help you succeed.

Here’s 21 cost-effective (and often free!) ideas for promoting your business:

1. First off, set aside time in your day

Promotion often feels like a tedious chore, but every business owner must do it if they want to attract new customers. Set aside a specific block of time (say 20 minutes to an hour) each day and make a conscious effort to think about getting the word out further. Hire an assistant if necessary, but be sure you’re in the driver’s seat so you know exactly what message your customers are getting.

2. Brand everything (without going overboard)

Check out our free mini-course on building your business brand. Every piece of communication you send from your business is an avenue for promotion and should reflect your business and branding.

Think about what “real estate” you have that’s not being leveraged to tell your story. Everything from emails to estimates, and invoices to payment receipts should have your business name, logo, contact info, and slogan on it. Also, look for opportunities to include any accolades or awards that help show off your experience. You can even include your mission to tell potential customers what you stand for.

3. Make your car your billboard

Sure it’s not for everyone, but we have to say – vehicle wrap advertising is a pretty smart tactic: it’s a fraction of the price of other types of advertising, it’s easy to pull off (all you need is a removable sticker), and for businesses that spend a lot of time on the road, it represents a potential daily reach of thousands. There’s no wonder it’s gaining in popularity again.

4. Commit to one social media channel, and run with it

Social media – whether it’s FacebookInstagram, or LinkedIn – is a must. But when you’re small it’s important to be super selective with your channels. Find out the top network your target audience gravitates towards and put all your effort there. Spend an hour a week preparing relevant posts ahead of time. Then use a platform like Hootsuite to schedule them in advance. Every day, spend a few minutes checking your social media so you can respond to comments, reviews and messages.

5. Create a simple customer referral program

The best kind of marketing out there is word-of-mouth referrals. Incentivize your customers to spread the word about your business – give them a reward when they send you new business, and give the new client something too. The most common type of reward is a discount on the next product or service (this helps encourage repeat business too).

6. Collaborate / cross-promote with complementary businesses

Network with other businesses. Set aside a small amount of time each week to reach out to like-minded businesses in your area and ask to network with non-competing, but complementary industries. For example, if you’re a residential plumber, network with a home remodeler, or if you’re a florist, collaborate with an events business. Be creative about how you can raise awareness and drive leads to each other.

7. Join the conversation on forums

Find relevant online forums with conversations you can join, or questions you can answer. Forums are not a place to plug your business, but you can demonstrate your expertise and position yourself as a go-to source by offering authentic insight. You can include your business name in your signature to offer a gentle touch promotion for anyone interested in learning more.

8. Email marketing

Send your customers a monthly newsletter that offers them value in the form of interesting content or special deals, and gives them the latest updates about your business. Try using an email marketing tool like Mailchimp to make it super easy. You can grow your email list by placing sign-up forms on your website and asking for emails from your new customers, but make sure to disclose that you’ll be sending out occasional newsletters.

9. Contribute articles to relevant publications

Write topics related to your business for free advertising and to build positive relationships with customers. Make sure it’s specific to something about your industry, based in your area and that it’s truly helpful and relevant to others. There are tons of blogs and websites and even local newspapers you can hit up to see if they’d host your articles. If time is crunched and your budget allows, try hiring freelance article writers to do it for you.

10. Become an expert source for media

Whatever business you are in, there’s likely someone in the media covering your industry. Establish yourself as an expert by reaching out to appropriate media and sharing interesting insights, trends, or opinions you have about your industry and where it’s headed. You don’t want to pitch your business, but introduce yourself as someone who’s willing to help with future articles. Getting quoted in an article will give you a nice awareness boost and further your position as an expert in your field. Sites like Help a Reporter Out can help you identify writers who are actively looking for someone like you.

11. Blog to be more discoverable online

Blogging may seem like a big commitment, but if you could carve out time to write just one blog post every week that integrates top keywords your customers are searching for, you can boost your visibility in search engines. With so much online content available, the way to get ahead is to appeal to a very specific niche, with long, high-quality content. Take a topic, and aim to create the best piece of content available on that topic.

12. Donate to a worthwhile charity or cause

Give a great product or service away to be auctioned or raffled off at a charity event. You’ll be helping a cause you believe in, and showing everyone who turns up what you have to offer.

13. Teach a workshop or class

Everyday people and other aspiring business owners may be interested in learning what you know. Use that to your advantage by teaching others new skills via a workshop or class. Search local organizations that host or promote events and find out how you can get involved. It will help you not only raise awareness but also show you really know your stuff.

14. Perfect and promote your online listings

You can get a free listing on both Google and Bing by going to Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. If you can budget for it, $29.99 a month can get you into Yahoo Localworks, which lists your business in 50 directories including Yahoo Local, Yelp, WhitePages, Bing, Mapquest and more. Put the time in to populate your listing in full so you look professional from the very first glance.

15. Make use of good old-fashioned community boards

Tried and true printed advertisements and flyers are too cheap and easy to pass up. Get some made up and hang them around town. Many businesses and community centers have bulletin boards. Just ask for permission first. You’d be surprised how many eyeballs stop to see the latest from around the community.

16. Get active in professional groups

Pick a couple of professional groups related to your business and join them. Check out LinkedIn groups or your local chamber of commerce. You’ll get your name and website on their website and can get involved in any cross-promotional or community events they plan. Plus, you can pick the brains of those who are more experienced, and mentor beginners.

17. Run a Contest

Running a competition is a great way to engage current customers and more importantly, create buzz around your business. You could choose to run your content online, on your social media platform of choice, on offline in your local community. Ensure you have a prize that is relevant to your business, and also enticing. To make it more budget-friendly, partner up with other businesses to buy a bigger prize or a prize pack that includes something from everyone.

18. Create quick videos

If you’re creating content – whether it’s for social media, a blog, or an email newsletter – snapping a quick video can do a lot to show your expertise and build trust with your audience. Offer DIY tips, show behind-the-scenes footage at your office or on a job site, or educate your viewers on something you’re an expert on. It doesn’t have to be professionally produced – use a simple video editing app to polish it up and post it online.

19. Ask for online referrals and reviews

Invoice2go, a Bill.com company, now makes it easier for you to collect customer reviews. Beyond that, from Angie’s List and Next Door to Google+ Business and Yellow Pages, there’s loads of places you can list your business to get in front of your local community.

Spend some time getting each profile right, and encourage happy customers to leave you a review on the review site they use most. Positive word-of-mouth advertising is still the most genuine way to get your name out there. If you don’t ask for it, your customers won’t necessarily think of it on their own.

20. Give away a free trial of your product or service

People tend to be more comfortable buying a product or service they’ve experienced already. Take away the unknown, and start the relationship off on the right foot but giving away something for free. You can show off what you’re made of, and potentially attract a customer for life.

21. If you don’t want to give it away for free, demo it

There may be creative ways to demonstrate your product, service, or your knowledge about a particular area. Can you offer a workshop to teach others your skills (and show off your offering at the same time?) This can be a great way to offer value to prospective customers, prove yourself as someone who knows their stuff and give them an idea of what you offer.

22. Send thank you cards

In today’s saturated marketing world, it’s the unusual things that stand out the most. Try sending hand-written cards to your most loyal customers letting them know you appreciate their business. You’ll likely get an immediate positive reaction, and a long-term benefit as well.

23. Make sure to listen to your customers

Listening to your customers and understanding how they make decisions, where they look for business advice, and how they heard about you, will ultimately give you the best insights into where you should focus your time and money. Ask plenty of questions, and take close note of what your customers are saying and you’ll be well on your way to building a successful business that attracts new customers at every turn.


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