You’ve heard the old saying. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” However, when it comes to advertising for a small business that saying is not true. In fact, there are some good ways to get free advertising. You just have to know where to look.
Free advertising methods have three advantages:
- Cost. Obviously, free options can stretch a tight marketing budget making it go farther.
- Creativity. Free options inspire you to be creative. They are perfect for shaking up a tired marketing strategy with fresh ideas.
- Word of Mouth. Many “no cost” solutions involve community engagement, spurring others to amplify positive word-of-mouth. This not only drives new sales, it can powerfully counteract reputation management issues such as bad reviews.
Of course, there are trade-offs. For example, free options to advertise your business often require a larger time investment. However, that downside may appeal to you more than blowing thousands of dollars on paid ads.
40 Ways to Advertise for Free
Here are the 40 best ways to get advertising for free:
1. Google My Business
Google My Business offers free local advertising. Google My Business is an actual listing that appears in Google search results and in Google Maps. Your location, phone number, website, hours and directions are listed. Savvy businesses add additional content. Google says: “Businesses that add photos to their Business Profiles receive 42% more requests for directions on Google Maps, and 35% more clicks through to their websites ….” Complete your profile to get started.
2. Bing Places
Bing Places for Business is the Bing version of Google’s local business offering. Set up a profile and verify your company. Or you can import your Google My Business verified listing into Bing. How’s that for easy?
3. Other Search Engines
Other search engines give businesses visibility in local search results. For example, you can list your business in Apple Maps. DuckDuckGo does not have a directory; however, it uses Apple Maps data for local businesses. Yandex offers a business directory.
Aside from listings, the regular results in engines like Google are a source of potential buyers. Called “organic results”, don’t confuse them with search ads. There is no fee for organic search results. But you should optimize your website pages to be found prominently in searches. This practice is called search engine optimization (SEO). SEO requires skill, but by learning it you can increase your website traffic and lead flow. Tip: if you have a WordPress site, install the Yoast SEO plugin for guidance on how to optimize.
Facebook offers a way to promote your organization with a Facebook page. Make frequent updates to your Page. Also, use your Facebook cover image to promote something special. Experiment with Facebook Call to Action buttons, and participate in Facebook Groups related to your industry.
Pinterest offers a way for people to share images from your company website. Pinterest is great for brands with a strong visual element and for blog owners. Make sure you have one good shareable image on each key page of your website. Tip: Set up Pinterest boards by topic or category and “pin” your own content. People often search Pinterest for images on a particular topic and may find your website.
Instagram is one of the most popular social media channels for brand awareness. You can share photos and video with followers. Instagram is ideal for a “visual” company: food, fashion, furniture. Instagram is not great for driving traffic to a website. Typically you can only include one link in the profile field. But we have seen businesses link to an index page on their website established just for the products they highlight on Instagram.
Twitter is one of those social media platforms ideal for establishing someone as a thought leader. It is especially good for consultants, freelance journalists and subject matter experts.
Around half of all searches on YouTube start with “how to”. Build a sales funnel by setting up a YouTube channel. Then create how-to videos on topics related to your products and services. Add your website or email address in each show description so interested parties can contact you.
LinkedIn is one of the best social media channels for B2B (i.e., any business that sells to other businesses). People and companies should both have profiles on LinkedIn for brand recognition. Flesh out profiles with content to get better found in LinkedIn search results. Tip: If you are a freelance professional, try LinkedIn Profinder. Set up a no-cost profile to get leads from companies looking to hire an independent contractor. Also, Slideshare, another LinkedIn property, can be used to share Powerpoints.
Reddit has discussions on just about any topic. Entrepreneurs can post content but overt self-promotion could get you banned. Reddit is a good source of website traffic if you are part of the Reddit culture.
BizSugar is a social media bookmarking site that lets you share blog content. There is also a mastermind section.
Quora is a question and answer site. Simply find questions — and reply with answers in a way that informs and gives advice. Occasionally link to a blog post or articles on your site with more information.
Crunchbase is a database ideal for high growth startups and tech companies seeking funding. However, it’s open to any business. Founders can also set up a free profile. Read how to use Crunchbase for marketing.
15. Starter Story
This is a neat site where entrepreneurs get to tell their startup stories. There is no cost. Share your story here.
Medium lets you post long form, thought leadership content. A business is permitted to promote its own products and services – see the rules.
17. Guest Blogging
Publishing quality content on well-established blogs is a great way to widen your exposure to another blog’s audience. Some people do guest posts to get backlinks on sites with high domain authority. But smart marketers focus more on sharing insight for marketing exposure. Find blogs at Best of the Web or Blogarama. Choose a blog that attracts an audience of your potential customers. Locate the site’s contact information (name, email) and send a brief note asking if the blogger is interested in guest blog posts.
18. Conferences, Podcasts and Webinars
Speaking engagements are a way for small business owners to draw attention to their companies — and build a personal brand. Don’t think “hard sell”. Instead, be a thought leader who shares insights and expertise. Speaking can include industry conferences, virtual events, podcasts or YouTube channels with target audiences the same as yours. Compose a compelling title and topic, and send an email offering an executive for interviews or as a speaker. Or partner with another business to produce and cross-promote a webinar.
Got an advertising budget of zero? Fiverr is a popular place to sell professional services such as web site design and podcast editing. A business profile is free. You pay nothing out of pocket. You keep 80% of each sale; Fiverr gets the rest.
20. Local Listings and Review Sites
If you own a local business — restaurant, motel or store — review sites can help you collect positive customer reviews and attract potential customers. Claim and add your business information to the following:
- Yelp is an important consumer review site for local firms. Businesses can manage a listing at no charge. Yelp also powers Amazon Alexa voice search and supplies reviews for Apple Maps and Bing Places, according to the Local Marketing Institute.
- Merchant Circle
- TripAdvisor is similar to Yelp but focuses on travel businesses like hotels and vacation rentals.
Yellow pages sites like YP.com, Yellowbook, Superpages, CitySearch, Whitepages and Yahoo Local used to offer free listings. Most are no longer free to advertise in, or have partnerships with listing management tools like Yext and Thryve. Listing tools are great for managing local listings across the internet efficiently, but a business must pay to use the tool.
Graphic designers, photographers and others in the design world should check out Behance, now owned by Adobe. Think of Behance as a huge and amazing online portfolio to display your capabilities and creativity.
22. Amazon Handmade
Amazon Handmade is a place where artisans can set up a business profile and feature their crafts at no cost. Amazon deducts a 15% referral fee when something sells. See the rules.
23. Kindle Publishing
Amazon Kindle Publishing is the name of the game for authors. But other businesses also can use it for free advertising. We have seen entrepreneurs and businesses generate customer interest by publishing ebooks sharing niche business knowledge.
Etsy is an amazingly popular ecommerce place where consumers buy handmade items. As a seller, setting up a shop on Etsy costs nothing. But it costs 20 cents to list each item and you pay transaction fees when something sells.
25. Consumer Service Hubs
Do you operate a consumer service business such as carpenter or house cleaner? There’s been an explosion in sites where consumers search to find services. On many sites a business can set up a business profile at no charge. However, users wanting more benefits would need to upgrade, buy advertisements, or pay for consumer leads. Pricing packages vary. See:
26. Directory Sites
The following directories offer free business listings. Each directory listing businesses offers upgrade options, but the basic business listing is no charge:
- Chamber of Commerce lists companies by industry and location.
- EZ Local lets you search for your business listing by phone first — before starting from scratch.
- The Business Journals lets you list your company and post events, although it’s mainly a news site.
- Other business directories include Manta, Cylex, EnrollBusiness, Find-Us-Here and Hub.biz.
If you are willing to pay, there are more business listing sites, including the Better Business Bureau for accreditation. Related reading: Business Guides: A Comprehensive Overview.
27. Product Hunt
Are you a developer of a software product or app? Add it to ProductHunt.com. See instructions for how to launch.
28. B2B Networking Sites
29. Viral Contest Giveaways
Hold a contest online to give away products, services or a cash prize. Some businesses use a giveaway to promote a sale or special event, or grow an email list. Gleam.io is a tool with a complimentary plan letting you organize contests and competitions and turn them viral through social media.
30. Email Marketing
Email newsletters and marketing emails are great free advertising for sales and promotions. Think of an email newsletter as your own in-house advertising vehicle. The way to get started is to build an email list (i.e., people who subscribe through a signup form on your website). Select good email marketing software to manage subscribers, design messages and broadcast the emails. Mailchimp is an excellent starter tool with a free plan for up to 2,000 subscribers — plenty for most small businesses.
HARO, originally founded as Help A Reporter Out, is now part of Cision. Business professionals can enroll to become a source for journalists who need to interview someone for a story. You and your business receive free public relations. Get started by signing up to be a HARO source.
32. Newspapers and TV News
Approach local press directly. Newspapers, TV news and trade publications cover business news daily. They particularly love “local company makes good” stories. The trick for success is to do something remarkable or interesting, and then contact reporters on the business pages. Also, take advantage of almost-free classifieds in Craigslist and hyperlocal sites. See also: PR Tools for Small Businesses.
33. Referral Cards
Try this old-school technique. Distribute business cards with your contact information, email address and perhaps a printed discount. Give several cards to customers after each job. Satisfied customers often share word of mouth by passing along a card. This way is super for a maid service, home contractor, etc.
34. Nonprofit Donations
Sponsoring a nonprofit event can be pricey. Luckily there are cheaper ways to do good. You and your staff can volunteer time to organize a charity walk, with everyone wearing company-branded T-shirts. You could also donate excess swag left over from your last trade show. A local farm could donate to a food bank, donating excess produce that will just go to waste in the fields. Often the nonprofit will highlight on its website the companies that volunteer or give in-kind donations. Local news outlets may cover the event and your company. American businesses may be able to get a tax write-off for mileage and the value of goods donated (check with your tax advisor).
35. Yard Signs
Yard signs are like free advertising on real estate. Ask satisfied customers if you can leave a sign in their yard following a recent job. This is perfect for roofers, landscapers, etc. Similarly, retail businesses can place yard signs on the tree strip when holding a sale. Always check the city or HOA rules about signage.
36. Bulletin Boards and Pin-Up Cards
Many venues have bulletin boards where you leave a business card or tear-off strips. Look for these at retail stores, factories and community organizations. Ask friends and family if they know of boards, such as in the lunchroom at work. Give them a stack of cards to post if they would like to help.
Cafes, restaurants and coffee shops in your town may offer a spot to leave paper brochures and print promotions. Ask management for permission. Or you can canvass a neighborhood and leave a flyer at each house wedged in the door or mailbox flag (never in the mailbox).
38. Merchandise Displays
Offer items to another establishment on consignment. For instance, an art gallery might provide framed pictures to a local restaurant to decorate the walls. A crafts person might offer jewelry for beauty salons to display. Items should have a tag with your brand name and prices. The establishment may sell the art, clothing, etc. to consumers or simply refer interested parties to you.
Organize a complimentary workshop at a local community center, club, library or homeowners association. This option is great for consumer service providers like financial planners, fashion stylists — even plumbers. The organization will promote your workshop to its constituency.
40. Vehicle Parking
Finally, don’t forget the technique of businesses on tight budgets everywhere: park your branded vehicle in a visible spot! You often see company cars and trucks parked in a shopping center parking lot next to the street. The signage on visible vehicles is free advertising.
Tips to Maximize Free Advertising
We hope we have answered the question, “how can I advertise my business for free?” Use the following four practical tips as best practices.
Tip 1: Combine paid with free for bigger impact.
Improve organic results on social media sites by occasionally promoting content. Some sites throttle back visibility to your fans. When you pay to boost an update or video, it appears more often in other people’s feeds, increasing the potential for engagement (likes, comments, shares). With increased engagement, you often experience an overall boost in your organic (unpaid) social media presence.
- Example: Budget $200 per month to boost Facebook updates. Take advantage of the platform’s metrics and use data to experiment for best results.
Tip 2: Balance short term speed with long term impact.
One of the best things about paid advertising is the near immediate results. Free options, on the other hand, can take months. The mistake businesses make is to buy paid ads for instant impact, yet never take the time to build a longer term strategy. These businesses don’t take advantage of free options like social media because “they take too long.” Through lack of planning, companies get locked into forever paying for traffic and leads.
- Example: If you need new customers immediately, place pay-per-click ads on Google or buy visibility on other ad sites. However, concurrently invest time in free ads to build for the future and gradually reduce your paid ad spend. One free way to advertise a business offering is including it in your email signature. If you and your team use email signatures, you will generate hundreds of “ads” each week to potential customers.
Tip 3: Barter for cross promotion.
Forge partnerships with other businesses where it makes sense to cross promote. Look for partners who offer complementary products and services and are willing to give you visibility. No money changes hands – it’s all barter.
- Example: Imagine you are an SEO professional. You provide keyword research services to a Web design agency to make its website appear higher in search results online. In exchange, the agency recommends your services to its clients, giving you credibility. It’s like an advertisement with no out-of-pocket costs.
Tip 4: Cut costs with marketing tools.
Many free techniques are labor intensive. Your team’s time is worth money. The good news is, it usually costs less to use marketing automation or a marketing tool instead of labor. Not everything can or should be automated, but a smart marketer identifies what can and gets technology to reduce labor costs.
- Example: Calculate how much each marketing activity costs. For instance, how long does it take employees to update your Google My Business profile and other local listings? Multiply the monthly hours by the average hourly rate you pay. Then find a tool that costs less to do the activity.
Finally, remember that free ad sites go in and out of style. Last year’s hot traffic driver may be gone (like Stumbleupon). Some sites start out offering free marketing, then evolve into paid platforms. Always be on the lookout for new advertising opportunities to try.
Related reading about advertising:
- Introduction to Small Business Advertising
- How Can Advertising Help Your Business?
- What Is The Difference Between Advertising And Marketing?
- Where Can You Advertise Your Business?
- What’s The Cheapest Way To Advertise?
- How Much Do Small Businesses Spend On Advertising?
- How to Plan your Small Business Advertising Campaign (Checklist)
- 50 Small Business Advertising Ideas
- How to Advertise Your Small Business Locally
Images: Shutterstock; DepositPhotos
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