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When you start a business, whether it’s only, service-based or brick-and-mortar, marketing is essential.
Business marketing is how you get the word out about what you have to offer, differentiate yourself from others in your industry, and build your brand.
Without marketing, it’s fairly unlikely your business is going to grow and thrive.
Marketing can cost money, however — a lot of money.
How much money exactly?
The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending anywhere from 7 to 8% of your gross revenue on marketing and advertising.
What if you can’t do that, or maybe aren’t even at a point where you have revenue?
It’s important to consider ways to market a business with no money.
Options are available, but they do require work, dedication and creativity.
What Is Marketing?
In simplest terms, what is marketing?
Marketing is a broad term that refers to advertising and selling, as well as the delivery of products and services.
When you’re marketing, you’re working on getting the attention of audiences. You may use paid promotions to do this, but other elements of marketing can include slogans, endorsements, packaging, website design, and general graphic design.
Marketing is about not only developing relationships with a targeted audience but also maintaining those relationships.
Marketing needs to integrate past and current customers as a way to maintain loyalty.
The core function of marketing is to match your products, services, or other elements of your business with customers who need and want them.
The Benefits of Marketing
Some of the many benefits of marketing include:
Improves Brand Name Recognition
Brand name recognition is a way for audiences to remember your products and services.
You want them to not only recognize your brand but also associate it with a high quality level.
If people don’t know that you’re there and what you’re offering, it’s going to be difficult for them to become a customer.
A big, overarching goal of marketing is to create awareness either in general or among specific targeted audiences.
Helps You Be Competitive
When you’re trying to compete with other companies similar to your own, particularly if it’s a saturated market or your competitors are much larger, you can do so with effective marketing.
What a lot of startups and small businesses don’t necessarily realize is that with social media and digital marketing tactics, it’s possible to be highly competitive even with organizations that have much larger marketing budgets if they’re strategic.
While not the only purpose of marketing, increasing sales is a primary reason for marketing. Marketing can help you find qualified leads, and ultimately, that will increase your sales.
What Are the Different Types of Marketing?
Marketing is a broad term with broad implications. Some of the different types of marketing include:
- Branding-based marketing includes the choosing of different names, logos, graphics, and other elements of design, including website design. The goal of branding is to help people see certain colors and designs and associate them with your business instantly.
- Public relations is a form of marketing that typically surrounds a noteworthy event. Public relations might, as an example, include the creation of a press release announcing a new product or service your business will offer.
- Online presence is probably one of the most important ways to market for modern and especially new businesses. Having a presence online is a requirement, and it also affords many of the best opportunities to market your business without a lot of money. Online marketing can include digital marketing such as content-based ads, the creation of a website and social media advertising and marketing.
How to Market a Business with No Money
With the importance of marketing outlined above, you may be wondering how to make it work if you’re a startup or small business, and you don’t have a dedicated marketing budget.
The following are free or very low-cost ways to market a business.
Work with other businesses or brands that have overlapping audiences to your own and offer giveaways.
Partnered giveaways mean that you’re bringing together your own resources and marketing advantages and pairing them with those of another business.
You can then give away larger grand prizes.
When you do a partnered giveaway, all of the participants should pool things like followers on social media and email lists to promote the giveaway.
The benefits of partnership giveaways extend beyond increasing brand awareness or sales.
They can also boost your social media engagement, and they can be a valuable way to build links and increase the traffic to your website.
Things to keep in mind with giveaways include:
- Develop goals before you start planning and implementing a giveaway. For example, is it more important to you to drive traffic to your website, or are you more interested in increasing your social media following? Maybe your goal is to build your email list. Regardless of what it is, clearly define your objectives before you get started.
- If you’re working with partners, determine what you’re going to give away, and determine how long the contest will run. Whatever you give away needs to be enough of an incentive to build buzz and ensure that people want to participate in the contest.
- Set benchmarks that will help you decide how well your giveaway is doing. This will let you know what you did right this time, and perhaps what you could change for the next time. As an example, maybe you’ll measure success by the average monthly visitors to your site, or the number of new followers you get on Instagram.
Even beyond giveaways, a barter system is a great way to grow your business when you have little to no money.
You can find influencers, brands, and businesses willing to share your messages, and you can share theirs.
For this to work, both participants do have to feel like they’re getting something valuable out of the relationship.
Create a Customer Referral Program
Customer referrals are an excellent and free to market your business. When your customers are willing to provide referrals, it’s good from a loyalty standpoint and for finding new customers.
You want your customers to advocate for your business, and word-of-mouth referrals from existing customers tend to make up anywhere from 20 to 50% of buying decisions.
However, the hard part of a customer referral program is that you do have to develop just that—a program.
Too often, a business will think all they have to do to earn customer referrals is to provide a great product and great customer service, and it will take care of itself.
Customers are busy and often overwhelmed, and they need to feel compelled or like there’s a reason for them to provide a referral.
For that to happen, you need to have a plan.
To develop an effective customer referral program, keep the following in mind:
- What are your goals? Are your goals primarily focused on building a trustworthy brand, or do you want growth? Do you also want to make increased revenue a goal? Are you in a business that requires you to position yourself as an authority? If so, how can you do that with a customer referral program?
- If you know that any referrals for your business have come from existing customers, start looking at those first. See the customers who made the referrals, how they did it, and why they seemed to do it. It can be a good starting point to build the foundation of your larger referral program.
- Start thinking about key customers that would be a valuable contribution to your referral program.
- Consider timing—timing is a big factor in how successful your referral program is. You want to make sure you’re asking for a referral when you have a fairly well-established relationship with a customer. If you have a digital product, you may be able to ask for a referral earlier on, because relationship-building can be different in these formats.
- Once you’ve asked for a referral, you’ll also need to have a plan in place for how you’ll follow-up. Most people are not going to provide a referral immediately after you ask them.
- Be picky with who you target for referrals, particularly early on. Some people are going to be a better referral source than others, so when you’re working with little or no money and you’re just starting your referral program, ensure that you’re targeting the people who are going to offer the most value. At the same time, don’t make your referral program a burden to these individuals.
- Consider incentives. Since this is about marketing with no money, you’re not going to spend on incentives, but you can offer something like a discount off products or services for people who provide a referral.
- Promote your referral program. You want to include promotions for your referral program on your social media, newsletters, blogs, and your call-to-action. Make sure you include an easy link to provide a referral on your email marketing as well.
If you develop a strong referral program early on, it’s something you can continue to grow and use to expand your business indefinitely.
Give Your Brand a “Face” Online
With digital marketing, there are a lot of opportunities to reach audiences, but sometimes, these approaches don’t feel personal.
You have yourself, and you can use that as a way to give your brand a unique personality no other business is going to have.
For example, make regular YouTube videos where you aren’t trying to direct sell to your audience, but instead, are working to inform and engage your audience.
People form relationships with people, and you can be your own best asset.
Sit down and discuss elements of your business, and share it across not only platforms.
Along with YouTube videos or videos you share on Facebook, you might think about sharing stories on Instagram.
Audiences tend to love Instagram stories, and they spend a lot of time swiping through them.
If you’re regularly in your followers’ stories, then it’s going to lead to more brand recognition.
Instagram stories, in general, can be a really good marketing platform even beyond putting a face to your business.
For example, you can add a prompt asking people who view your stories to tap for more information or to see your next story.
You should also think about encouraging people to screenshot your stories, so they refer back to them later.
Another cool Instagram story feature is the ability to interact with your audience through questions and polls.
For example, you’ll see a lot of Instagram influencers using their stories to ask for feedback as to what they’d like to see.
Not only is this building your brand and helping you market your business, but it’s also helping you drive your content creation in the future.
If you’re using a free platform, email marketing is something you can use to expand your reach.
Email is one of the best ways to put yourself directly in front of your audience since most of us are connected to our smartphones and mobile devices at nearly all times.
Tips for email marketing include:
- Make sure you’re A/B testing everything so you can optimize metrics like open rates and conversions. You can use the data you gather during your split tests to inform other decisions in your business as well.
- Personalized, curated email content is invaluable. It takes time and effort to send personalized emails, particularly when you don’t want to spend money, but you’ll likely find it’s worth it. If you can send emails geared toward subscribers’ interests, then you’re going to improve both open and click-through rates in many cases.
- Make sure your emails aren’t getting stuck in spam.
- Offer valuable content when you send your emails. As with so many of the tips on this list, don’t just try to hard sell with the emails you send out. Give readers something that they’ll find valuable and be able to use.
Use Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is a powerful tool across many aspects of your business, and in particular, your marketing. SEO is how people are finding and connecting with your business, your products, and your services.
When you do keyword research and create optimized content, it’s something that can keep delivering well after you post it.
Blogs, including long-form content, are one of the best ways to incorporate SEO into your marketing strategy.
You can also research keywords and add them into your web content such as your product descriptions and your pages that describe what your business is and what you do.
Even the things you post on social media platforms like YouTube can be optimized, and if you sell on Amazon, your descriptions need to be written with keywords in mind also.
Incorporating SEO best practices into your marketing strategy doesn’t have to be expensive.
The following are some good free tools you can use.
- Answer the Public” This keyword tool offers free and paid options. You can type in keywords or topics you’re interested in, and get a visualized chart with possible keywords based on questions. Your keyword will be in the center, and from there, questions are divided into groups including when what, how, will, why, and who. It then builds out specific SEO-driven questions you can use to create your content.
- Google Keyword Planner: This free keyword tool is intended to be used to create Google Ads, but you can use it to get keywords for site content as well. To use this tool, all you need is a Google account. Ahrefs has a great guide to using the Keyword Planner for free because it is an option, but Google can make you jump through some hoops to do it if you’re not paying to place ads.
- Yoast SEO: If you have a WordPress site for your business, you should absolutely install and use the Yoast SEO plugin. The plugin can help you optimize all the elements of your on-page content, including your blog posts, meta descriptions and titles.
- WooRank Plugin: The WooRank Plugin is for Chrome, and it provides SEO analysis and website reviews. This free extension provides a deep-dive into the on and off-site data for any domains you visit. When you visit a site, the plugin will analyze it and provide an actional report to fix issues. It’s excellent for improving your marketing and website performance, and you can do competitor research as well. Marketers can use it to optimize for a campaign, or you could use it in sales to learn more about a prospect who you plan to pitch to.
Get Active on Reddit
Reddit is a place where people discuss just about everything under the sun, but did you know it’s a great marketing tool as well?
The site is not only incredibly popular, but the people active on the site are tech-savvy, so they’re more likely to share content they see and like on there.
A lot of companies and individuals with a high-profile are active on Reddit because it lets them see trends and get content ideas.
There are a few ways, in particular, you can use Reddit for marketing.
One option is to target subreddits, which are geared toward and dominated by specific audiences interested in a particular niche. You’ll want to look for those subreddit niches that might be in-line with the audience you target in your own business.
Another option is to try to aim for the front page of Reddit, although this can be quite a bit more challenging. For example, there are Reddit pages as broad as coffee, and these broad pages have tens of thousands of active users, but it’s tough to stand out in those situations.
To use Reddit for free marketing, you’ll first need to create a Reddit account.
You’ll also want to post a link that you feel like people will be interested in.
There are numerous people always submitting links and content, so if you’re submitting something sub-bar, it’s going to go away without people seeing it. You need upvotes, so keep that in mind.
Along with posting on Reddit, there are other ways you can use it for marketing. For example, look for conversations people are having about products or services similar to your own.
This can show you where their interest lies, which can help you develop further marketing campaigns.
It can also help you see where people might be happy with the products and services that currently exist, or where gaps in the market exist that you could fill.
If it comes off as too obvious that you’re trying to market or advertise on Reddit, you’re going to become very unpopular.
It’s much better to get a real feel for Reddit and start interacting organically.
Be A Guest Blogger
Guest blogging means you write for other sites, and you’re typically doing so for free.
You might be wondering what’s in it for you.
There are a few reasons people incorporate guest blogging into their marketing strategies, especially when they’re working with a small budget.
One reason is link building.
You can include links back to your own site, and that’s good for driving traffic, and it can also improve your SEO rankings.
Google will see your site as being one that is authoritative and worth people linking back to, so they’ll factor that into the algorithm.
It’s also a way to position yourself as an authority in your industry.
You’re putting yourself out there as someone who knows a lot about whatever industry you’re in, and you’re creating valuable content to demonstrate that.
The third reason to guest post is because you’re getting more exposure.
The higher quality site you can guest post on, the better for all three above goals.
Marketing is tough, whether you have a huge budget or not.
Even without a lot to spend, it is possible to develop effective marketing strategies, but it requires planning and a lot of work.
As you start incorporating strategies like the ones above, you can also start to refine your marketing plan as you see what works and what doesn’t.