No Budget? No Problem: 8 Free Marketing Ideas

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Starting your own business or working at a bustling startup can be thrilling. Every milestone is worth celebrating. Each success well-earned. Flexibility, following your passion, there are countless reasons to work for yourself or at a small company. But sometimes there’s a small business catch: an equally small marketing budget.

You need to make a major marketing splash if you want your company to succeed. But how do you do that when there isn’t enough cash flow for your dream marketing campaign? Luckily, you can “hack” your way to the top with free marketing resources. No budget? No problem.

Before we jump in, it’s important to note that some of the free apps, programs, or tools referenced are only “free” to a certain extent. Many of these programs offer advanced functionality for a fee. But we only included tools that offer free products and plans that provide great value. No free trials required.

1. Send a newsletter

Eco-conscious millennials have no interest in brightly colored mailers. They’ll dump those straight in the recycling bin. Want to save money on printing and distributing paper advertisements? Send out a digital newsletter instead. 73 percent of millennials actually prefer to receive communications from businesses via email. For free, you can make sure your clients or customers get your latest deals or company updates sent straight to their inbox. If you sell a consumer good, make sure you include lots of product links in your marketing emails so customers can start shopping. This is key as 59 percent of people reported that marketing emails influence their purchase decisions.

80 percent of business professionals believe that using email marketing increased customer retention. If improving retention is a priority for you, this could be a method worth trying. Many email providers offer easy to use templates, and they’ll let you send emails for free using their services until your audience grows to a certain size, so there’s little financial risk in giving it a shot.

Resources to check out:  SendInBlue (store unlimited subscribers), MailChimp (store up to 2,000 subscribers), HubSpot Marketing (store up to 1 million contacts).

2. Join Google My Business

Want to take your business to the next level? Sign up for a Google My Business account and make the most of it. This account is free to register and maintain and it allows you to promote your business online.

Once you’ve created a Google My Business account, you improve your chances of showing up properly in Google search and can ensure that potential customers see correct contact information about you in search results. You can make your business listing more attractive and valuable by uploading photos or videos. You’ll also gain access to analytics that will better help you promote your business to ensure your customers are finding you. Plus, you can create bookings for your business through this program and manage customer reviews. Essentially, you can promote your business, engage with customers, and learn more about your marketing efforts. Not a bad combo for a free service.

Resources to check out: For more free representation on the web, check out Bing Place for Business (the Bing version of Google My Business), Foursquare, and Yelp (social networks designed to connect people to local businesses).

3. Schedule away

You’re busy and chances are you have no desire to stop what you’re doing whenever an opportune moment to post comes around. Now is the time to check out some free social media scheduling tools. You’ll be able to schedule posts in advance for the times they are most likely to succeed. Remember the analytics that came with your business accounts? Use it to help you determine what times you should be posting.

Resources to check out: Plann (for Facebook and Instagram), Planoly (for Instagram), Recurpost (for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), Hootesuite (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). If you decide that you need more complete social media planning and scheduling resources, CoSchedule is a powerful tool to consider—but be warned, it’s not free.

4. Use your website to gain subscribers

Let’s say you’ve taken some of these tips to heart already: you’ve set up your email newsletter and you’ve been scheduling social media posts every day. Next, it’s time to make sure people actually subscribe to your newsletter or social channels.

Consider adding sidebar ads or pop ups to your website that encourage users to connect with you on these channels. On average, pop up ads have a conversion rate of 3.09 percent.

If you use a popup ad to promote signing up for your email list, you may see some growth to your email subscriber list as often as every day, with little to no extra effort on your end aside from the initial creation of the ad.

Note that if you use free versions of certain design tools, there may be a small watermark added to the designs. This may be a sacrifice you’re willing to make while you experiment with designs, or while you determine the value you gain from using those tools.

Resources to check out: Sumo, Over, Bazaart, MiloTree,

5. Partner up

It’s time to make new friends. Surely, your team isn’t the only one with a small marketing budget. Look for similar or complementary businesses to yours who may want to trade promotions for free. Can you write a guest post on a blog that shares a similar audience to you? How about promoting a blogger on your social media channels? But only if they agree to promote your company on theirs. Can you include a link to a similar brand’s website in an email blast if they do the same for you? Collaborating is more productive than competing any day.

Resources to check out: PubExchange (for content swaps), Bumble Bizz (for making new connections), Townsquared (for connecting local businesses)

6. Volunteer

Giving back to the community is a great way to make new connections and build brand awareness. Of course, you should only choose to volunteer for causes you sincerely support. But taking some time out of your busy schedule to volunteer can be a great marketing tool. You can even build new marketing skills by helping a charity with their promotional efforts.

There are a few ways you can create a win-win situation for your favorite charity and your business. Consider giving employees some time off to volunteer, or organize an annual “give back” day or week for the whole company.

Beyond the obvious goodwill that you might generate in your community by volunteering, your charity work can be a way to create a positive image for your business that improves your ability to attract top talent. 55 percent of millennials reported that working for a company who supports social causes is an important factor when deciding to accept an offer.

After hiring an employee, volunteering can also help you retain them. 89 percent of workers believe that companies who sponsor volunteer activities offer a better work environment than those who don’t. And 77 percent reported that volunteering is essential to employee well being.

Giving back to the community seems to lead to greater employee retention, higher levels of brand ambassadorship on the part of your employees, and helps encourage more enthusiastic employees, all of which are great reasons to consider it. While you may lose money and productivity during hours employees are volunteering, you may end up saving on employee turnover costs by encouraging them to volunteer and providing ways for them to do it.

Resources to check out: VolunteerMatch, Volunteer.gov, USA.gov

7. Survey your audience

Want to learn more about your audience and what makes them tick? It’s time to whip up a good old fashioned survey. Ask your customers or audience to take a quick survey (and perhaps offer an incentive like a discount code if you can afford it). Why? So you can gain some insight into what they like or don’t like about your company, industry, or products.

While not everyone wants to participate in surveys, those who do take the task seriously. 87 percent of survey-takers reported they want to have a say in a company’s future products and services. Their feedback could be invaluable when it comes time to fine tune your business.

Using certain survey platforms or running a traditional focus group does cost money, but there are a number of ways to get customer insights for less. You can use a free service or the free version of a service like Typeform, and you can promote your survey on organic social media, your website, or in your store. You could even put the survey link on your invoices and receipts.

Resources to check out: Survey Monkey, Google Forms, Typeform

8. Share your insights

Put pen to paper for some effective marketing efforts that won’t cost you a dime. It can even save you some money, content marketing helps gain three times more leads than paid search advertising does. Publishing content on a blog can help you establish your brand’s expertise. You can provide value to your consumer without asking them to make a purchase, which builds trust.

B2B customers particularly appreciate good content. When surveyed, the overwhelming majority (96 percent) of B2B buyers said they want content from industry thought leaders. Blog content can give you something fun to promote on social media, without pushing sales. And blogging can help drive traffic to your website. Basically, blogging rules.

The SmallBizRising Blog is designed to be an educational content hub pulling information, best practices and practical advice for the small business owner and features topics including accountingmarketingtechnology and more.  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with new content as it is posted.  The blog was created by The Neat Company and receives contributed content from a group of contributing companies that provide technology, services and solutions to small businesses.

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