Running a small business is a lot like juggling fragile eggs when you've never juggled before. Drop one egg, and you might just have a mess to clean up. Drop multiple eggs, and your business fails.
One of the biggest reasons small businesses fail is money — about 82% fail because of cash flow issues. If you're already struggling to make a profit, you may not have a budget for marketing. At the same time, if you don't market your business, it's hard to grow.
Fortunately, there are ways to promote your business without spending any money. You don't have to hire an expensive PR firm right off the bat. You can do many things on your own or delegate them to your employees to reach new customers.
1. Set up a Website
Let's say you run a small food truck business in your hometown. You might not think you need a website, but 88% of consumers go online and do research before making a purchase — even in person.
While you may grow a bit from word of mouth, you'll miss out on customers if you don't have a web presence. You might think setting up a website costs too much money, but some options will work until you have the extra funds to create a truly stellar, SEO-driven site.
WordPress, for example, allows you to set up a free site on WordPress.com. While you won't have a lot of control over the look and features, you can use it to get basic information out.
Many businesses just create a page on Facebook to get the word out. This strategy is particularly attractive for pop-up type businesses, such as food trucks and bakeries that may have variable hours.
Krazy K's Snack Shack doesn't really need a full-blown website at this point. However, having a Facebook page listing where they are and what else is going on helps them draw a crowd.
Note that they also pin their location so that mobile users can simply click on the map and get directions to where they are. This page doesn't cost them anything but a little time.
2. Start a Loyalty Card Program
A great way to draw current customers back into your store time and time again is to give them loyalty cards. You've seen this method used at places like Panera Bread. Purchase so many dollars' worth of items, and you get a free cookie or drink.
A loyalty card program is a great free promotional tool because you can keep your loyal customers coming back, and they'll tell others about your loyalty program.
3. Get Involved With the Neighborhood
Whether it's by supporting the local school, contributing to a charity, or raising awareness of a certain cause, you can get on the community's good side by aligning your business with important movements in your local area and even beyond.
It's possible and even likely that customers will be willing to go out of their way to shop with you or use your services if they know you stand for something they're passionate about or interested in.
A step like this can be as simple as placing a bulletin board inside your business door and allowing certain organizations, nonprofits, charities, and other groups to post information and provide pamphlets and business cards to visiting customers. A little bit goes a long way when it comes to making a difference in the community.
4. Add a Pop-Up
Add a pop-up to your website to encourage visitors to sign up for your newsletter. Once they've signed up, you have a viable lead who's interested in what you have to offer. Email marketing is a powerful tool when you're sending offers to a highly targeted audience.
Your pop-up should offer something the consumer wants and have limited fields so that it's a quick and easy process for the site visitor to share their information.
Brothers Aluminum offers to let site visitors sign up for a list that will share promotions and specials they have going on at any given time. For frugal-minded homeowners, this offer is an opportunity to save a little money on their replacement windows, new roof, or siding.
This strategy is particularly effective because the company makes it clear what you get if you sign up for the list, and they offer it after you've been on the site for a few seconds.
5. Give a Speech
Contact local clubs and organizations and offer to give a free speech related to your field of expertise. Getting your name out in the community creates goodwill. The next time someone needs the product or service you offer, they'll turn to you for a solution.
You'll also further establish yourself as an expert in your field. If you were having work done on your home, for example, would you want to hire the person who just started or the expert who really understands electrical systems or landscaping?
6. Create Informational Videos
The statistics on videos are staggering. Those who use videos in their marketing average 66% more qualified leads a year. And fortunately, you don't have to own a production studio to create videos.
With advances in smartphone cameras, you can easily shoot your own simple videos and publish them online. YouTube is a good choice because of the high volume of users who visit the site every day.
Founders Brewing Co. does a good job of providing information about the company in a video that highlights the founders, what they do, and the types of beer they brew.
If you visit their YouTube page, you'll notice that they have a number of unique videos. Some create a challenge for the viewer. Some focus on a specific beer. Some are interviews. All of their videos have hundreds of views, regularly reaching new potential leads.
7. Get Involved on Social Media
Social media offers a great way to reach new leads without spending money. Post tips and memes related to your product. Comment on discussions about pertinent topics. Share photos of your product in action. When it comes to social media, you have to socialize with others.
The goal isn't just to shove your product in their faces. You must first develop a relationship by caring about their posts and what they care about. Then, they'll be more likely to share what you post as well.
8. Add Content
When it comes to drawing in traffic, content is still king. If you want people to visit your site, you have to offer something worth reading.
Take the time to research what keywords are ranking well, and then create posts around those keywords. You should thoroughly answer any question the reader might have, but don't add fluff just to have a certain number of words.
Take the time to edit your content so that it's free of typos and looks professional. If you consistently add content over time, readers will come to rely on you for solid information, and search engines will send traffic your way. This method isn't a quick promotional strategy, but it's one that builds over time.
Free Promotional Opportunities Are Everywhere
Be open to trying new things to get the word out about your business and reach new leads. Free opportunities will pop up from time to time, such as a complementary business asking to trade blog posts or share mentions in newsletters.
If something seems like it might reach even a few new leads, go ahead and participate. Over time, you'll build your customer base and soon be able to afford a marketing team instead of seeking out free promotions on your own.