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.
Read the complete Small Business Advertising Guide:
- 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? 
- Where Can You Advertise For Free? 
- 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 
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