Marketing you can do for free

All business have to watch their costs, but as a small business you're going to be tightly squeezed on what you can spend on marketing. This guide suggests ways to market your business without having to pay a penny - though that's not to say they won't take some time and careful planning.

As always with marketing activity, close monitoring of results is essential to make sure you're focusing your efforts in the right places.

Word-of-mouth

  • Attracting positive word-of-mouth is much more difficult than attracting negative word-of-mouth.
  • But consumers listen most to other consumers' opinions, not to marketing messages.
  • Whether you intend it or not, customers will talk about your business, so you need to focus at least some effort on this even if it's not going to be a core element of your marketing strategy.
  • Word-of-mouth marketing relies on quality: quality service and a quality product. Even if you're cutting corners in places, you need to make sure the customer believes they're getting more than they pay for, or exceptional quality for the price.
  • So don't oversell yourself in ads - you want to match up to and hopefully exceed expectations, not fall short of them.
  • Giving customers a little something extra always helps, even if it's something small - think bread at the beginning of a meal in a restaurant and chocolates at the end.
  • Occasionally round prices down for them and tell them you're doing so.
  • Give them a little extra free of charge if you serve a portion of something (whether that means gravel or sunflower seeds) - again, saying you are.
  • Offer to giftwrap items for free.
  • Occasionally give discount cards to customers for the next time they shop with you - usefully boosting loyalty at the same time.
  • Good customer service is essential.
  • All staff should be polite, cheery and helpful at all times.
  • Ideally, they should have good knowledge of your business and products too.
  • Go out of your way to help a customer.
  • If someone complains, always apologise profusely and over-compensate when you rectify things - offer free products and a full refund if the complaint is serious.
  • Incentivise word-of mouth with deals and offers encouraging customers to refer friends to the business.
  • Closely monitor any online or press reviews of your business and take all feedback on board to improve your business.

Networking

  • Quite simply, the more people you tell about your business, the greater chance you have of them trying it out.
  • Always, always carry business cards.
  • Practise summing up your business in less than 30 seconds in an engaging way - you shouldn't need any longer than that to explain it to someone you've just met. If they want more detail, they'll ask for it.
  • Try Meetup.com for a list of events in your area, check papers, websites and industry mags, check relevant online groups through social media, and ask people in your industry abou relevant goings-on.
  • Treat everyone you meet as a potential customer or route to other customers.

Social media

  • Sites such as Smarta, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn can provide a bounty of opportunity for free marketing if used well, and if your target audience use them too.
  • Read more about how to use social media as a small business.
  • You should also talk to websites whose user base overlaps with your target customers - they can direct users or readers to your website in return for you doing the same.

Do your own PR

  • Writing your own press releases is a vastly cheaper alternative to using a professional PR company - however, PR professionals get paid well for a reason, and generating publicity as not as easy as it looks.
  • Find out more in our guide on how to get your business into the press.
  • Work on building a network of media contacts. If you attend large industry events and talk to as many people as possible, you're likely to bump into a journalist or two sooner or later. Once you have a friend or two in the media, PR gets a lot easier.

Email newsletters

  • An email newsletter is a simple way of keeping your business fresh in your customers' minds and, if you offer exclusive deals through a newsletter, readers will often send it on to friends - meaning you reach even more potential customers.
  • However, creating a good one can be time-consuming and you'll need either an eye for design and basic grasp of design software (such as Photoshop or its free counterpart, Paint.net) or to use a website that provides ready-made templates (a Google search offers options for that).
  • Keep newsletter design consistent.
  • The title of your newsletter/email should be something that's going to appeal to the customer - ideally a deal.
  • Use images, but be careful not to include so many the emails are too large to send out.
  • Don't use more than two different font types, and be consistent with size and colour - make sure it's not a headache to read.
  • Consider how you're going to email hundreds of people at the same time - you'll either need to be very organised with your lists, or you'll need to use a specialist site company such as sign-up.to (although it's not free).
  • Give customers an option to sign up to your newsletter on your website and on promotional material (though you'll probably need a web designer to incorporate that data collection function into your site if your web hosting company doesn't offer it already. You may also need to adhere to rules on data collection if you store names online.)
  • Send your newsletter monthly, including details of new promotions or products.
  • If you include a brief one or two paragraph directly from you about what the business has been up to, it may help give the newsletter a personal touch and give your customers a sense of belonging.
  • Remember to use the BCC field when sending the newsletter, to prevent your customers from receiving a long list of other people's email addresses - not only does it look bad, you're quite likely breaking data protection laws too.

Smarta Business Builder

To help you on your business journey, we've created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online tools package for growing your business. Website BuilderBusiness PlansAccounting SoftwareLegal Documents and Email - all in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out today.

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