You’ve heard the old saying. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” And some would argue the same thing goes for small business advertising. But is it possible to advertise for free?
What about free social media and other sites where your business can get listed and gain visibility, for free? Can you really promote your products, services and brand for free online? Well, yes … and no.
Indeed, there are places where small businesses can advertise for free by getting free listings and free visibility, and we’ll give you a nice long list at the end of this section. But before we get to that list, it’s important to understand these five limitations when it comes to free business advertising:
Things to Remember if You Want to Advertise for Free
1. The more popular the free business advertising platform, the harder it is to stand out. Yes, you can advertise for free but some sites such as social media sites have so much noise that it may be hard to stand out. And some sites throttle back visibility to your own followers, unless you pay to “boost” your post. Or the site may not give much visibility unless you buy a “featured listing.”
2. You have to invest time to see results — and time is money. Social media is a perfect example of this. You may have to devote paid staff time or hire a contractor to find content, locate and customize images, post updates, monitor replies, and participate in conversations. While not a paid ad placement, it still costs you. Smart businesses get software tools to cut down on some of the labor, but even tools can cost money.
3. Free platforms may start out as free, then evolve into paid platforms. If you start out using the free service, eventually you may have to pay to continue to get the same features. You can’t blame the platform for wanting to get compensated for its technology and usage. Examples are content curation platforms such as RebelMouse and Scoop.it, which evolved toward the paid model especially for business users. So while you may not pay for advertising, you have to pay to use the technology tool.
4. Free business advertising platforms may perform so-so. Some free platforms may be great for building brand recognition and overall presence (all very valuable, albeit longer term). But if you need customers right now, advertising may be a more immediate and direct route to getting sales or leads. And some free listing sites and platforms may not be able to deliver the reach you need.
5. Free platforms may be more powerful when combined with advertising. In other words, don’t look at free sites or paid advertising as “either – or.” Think of them as complementary parts of an overall marketing strategy that often work best together. Paid and free options can amplify the effect of the other.
If you are looking for “free advertising sites,” look at the following:
Free Social Media
There are hundreds of sites that could be called “social media.” But the following are the most popular and good places for advertising your business free:
- Twitter offers a way to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry with super short posts.
- Facebook offers a way to promote your business with a Facebook page and frequent updates.
- Pinterest offers a free way especially for eCommerce businesses and brands with a strong visual element to tell their stories.
- Instagram allows you to post photos and short video to be shared with followers.
- Reddit offers a free way to post content but self-promotion could get you banned.
- Stumbleupon offers an easy way to market content to Stumbleupon users.
- YouTube offers the opportunity to post videos for your small business.
- Google+ is Google’s social channel and for that reason alone you should have your own presence there.
B2B social media
The following social media platforms are typically best for B2B (i.e., those businesses that sell to other businesses). Advertising your business free is possible on:
- LinkedIn is an important business networking site — especially for B2B.
- Slideshare is the place to share PowerPoints and other intensely visual content — mostly for a B2B community.
- BizSugar is a social bookmarking site that lets you share small business content. (Small Business Trends owns and operates BizSugar.)
- Quora is a forum that lets members share their knowledge on a variety of subjects to promote yourself as an expert in your industry.
Local Business Listings and Review Sites
If you own a local business — restaurant, motel or coffee shop — these sites will help you attract local customers and collect positive reviews. Consider these for advertising your business free.
- Google My Business offers local business listings on Google properties, including Google Search and Google Maps.
- Bing Places for Business is the Bing version of Google My Business and makes it simple to claim and verify your business listing.
- YP.com also offers free opportunities like creating a profile.
- Yelp is a consumer review site for restaurants and other local businesses.
- TripAdvisor is similar to Yelp but focuses on travel businesses like hotels, vacation, rentals and things to do.
The following sites are places that offer a way to advertise your business for free. Many also have paid or featured listings, but the basic, free business advertising listing is no charge:
- AMFIBI is a business directory for industries including advertising, marketing, consumer services and more worldwide.
- Better Business Bureau offers a directory searchable by business type and location for accredited businesses.
- The Business Journals offers not only business listings but also news and information updates. An account is free.
- Chamber of Commerce is another directory listing businesses by industry and location..
- Cylex operates 35 directories across 5 continents so you can market yourself just about anywhere.
- Dirwell.com is a single source of both business listings and information with listings reviewed by the site’s editorial team.
- EnrollBusiness is another directory offering a free business profile.
- EZ Local offers business listings and allows you to search for your business listing by phone first — before starting from scratch.
- Find It Now Directory lists businesses by industry: accountants, electricians, automotive with many overseas businesses.
- Find-Us-Here offers a global directory of businesses and community organizations with more than 13 million listings in the U.S.
- Hubbiz is a free directory listing businesses by category and also surfacing the latest and most popular listings in each of those categories.
- Jasmine Directory is a selective directory that can take up to 24 hours for to decide whether to include your business.
- Manta is a free directory claiming 1000 new business registrations by new businesses every day.
- Thumbtack lists local professionals ranging from carpenters and plumbers to life coaches and personal trainers. You will have to pay for some activities, but the listing is free.
For more free business advertising listings — including some paid — see: Business Guides: A Comprehensive Overview
For additional ways to get visibility online, see our list of PR Tools for Small Businesses. Some help you promote your business for free. And some require a fee.
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