For most small business owners, marketing ranks with taxes in terms of its potential to confuse, overwhelm, and intimidate.
Marketing, like paying taxes, is necessary to keep your business going, but it’s a lot easier to find affordable help at tax time than it is to find marketing help that won’t bust your budget.
The good news is that many of the things you should do to market your business cost nothing or very little beyond your investment of time.
We’re going to run through some of the best low- to no-cost ideas to help you kick-start or refocus your marketing efforts. These marketing hacks fall into four general areas, although some tips cover more than one category: demonstrating professionalism, courting the customers you already have, building connections with your target market, and sharing your expertise to build authority.
1. Look professional
Stand up straight and brush the lint off your jacket, digitally speaking.
Clean up your website
Is your website easy to read, especially on a smartphone? Does the copy use good grammar and properly spelled words? Small errors and readability problems erode customer confidence in your business.
Freshen up your portfolio or store
Your best work is your best sales tool. Make sure prospective customers see it. Spend an afternoon or two shooting great photos of your products for your site and your social media channels. If you sell services, include recent projects for your clients (with their permission) and update your service menu.
Spruce up your email image
If you have a business website, you have the tools to create a business email account. It takes very little time and generates a big boost in confidence among prospects and existing customers. If you don’t have a website for your business yet, what are you waiting for? Create one with HostGator today and impress customers.
2. Court the customers you already have
Don’t take them for granted.
Respond to customer reviews
Invest a few minutes each day or week to respond to customer reviews on Yelp, Facebook and other sites. Respond to both positive and negative reviews, and always act professional, fact-focused, and grateful for feedback. Your responses show existing customers that you’re listening to them—something that can win new customers, too.
Build an email list and use it
Put that professional email address to work by keeping in touch with your customers and fans. You can send email surveys, offer preferred-customer discounts, and promote upcoming products and events.
Reward customers for referrals
Let your customers know you appreciate their referrals. Offer a discount, freebie, or another perk when new referred customers buy from you.
Write thank-you notes
For the cost of some branded notecards and stamps, you can show your customers you appreciate their business.
Invite your customers to share
Customers who share their photos, videos, and stories on your social media channels and blog provide you with valuable social proof that people like your business.
3. Build connections with your target audience
Meet your customers-to-be.
Work your network
Word-of-mouth is the best source of referrals for many businesses. Mention your business to friends, family, and neighbors to get the ball rolling, but only bring it up when it’s relevant.
Attend events your target customers attend
This isn’t always free, but going to community events, networking lunches, and conferences that appeal to your customers can help you build word-of-mouth, meet prospects, and learn more about your customers’ buying habits.
Make friends with the media
Learn how to write an effective press release. When you launch a new product or hit a business milestone, send releases to outlets that reach your target customers.
Soup up your social media presence
Yes, you need to do social media, if your target customers do social media—and they probably do. Use the platforms they use, and focus on talking with and listening to your target audience rather than pushing your products.
4. Share your expertise
Offer value now to earn business later.
Speak at meetings and events
Offer to speak to community and business groups that include your target customers. Rather than pitch your business, share helpful information that shows your expertise. For example, a tree-trimming company owner might talk to the local garden club about caring for landscape trees during droughts. When the club members need tree services or know someone who does, they’re more likely to recommend the speaker’s company because she already shared helpful information with them.
Write a blog and update it regularly
A well-kept blog shows prospects that you pay attention to your business. Frequent updates give Google a reason to rank your site higher in search results, and visitor comments can help you learn more about your customers. Not a fan of writing? Try a podcast that you share through your website, or a series of short how-to videos posted to your YouTube channel and embedded on your site
Join the conversation on blogs, podcasts, and video channels that cover topics of interest to your target customers. Don’t spam up the place, but do offer thoughtful, helpful contributions and information when you can. Fellow commenters and other fans may remember your insight when they need something you sell.
Sign up for HARO
To really showcase your knowledge, the marketing experts at KISSmetrics recommend Help a Reporter Out, a free platform that connects journalists on deadline with the experts they need for their stories. Register as a source, check your in-box for opportunities, and be ready to pitch.
Now that you have a long list of free or cheap marketing options, here’s some bonus good news: You don’t have to do everything on this list. Your target customers may not be active on social media, for example, or there may not be trade shows and conventions relevant to them.
Know where your target customers gather in the physical world and online and base your marketing choices on that information. It’s better to do a great job on a few marketing tasks that reach your target audience than to spread yourself thin trying to reach everyone.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.