Question: I’ve recently started my own small business, and I have a limited budget for marketing efforts. How do I spread the word about my products?
Answer: There’s plenty of ways to find customers without draining your bank account. First off, make sure you know exactly who your ideal customer is (a surprising number of businesses cannot describe potential clients). Figure out what differentiates your products from your competitors. Come up with an education-based elevator pitch that you can use to demonstrate your expertise and how your product can help your customer base solve a particular pain point.
Keep in mind: Research has shown that women entrepreneurs in particular have trouble promoting their products or services, in part because they don’t want to be perceived as egotistical. Some women suffer from “imposter syndrome,” where they routinely underestimate their abilities and performance. If deep down you’re lacking confidence, remember that belief in your business (and yourself) is the No. 1 predictor of success, more than other factors including gender, years of experience or even number of investors.
[Related: Read about how to deal with self-doubt]
To promote your small business, try the following easy and affordable marketing strategies:
Attend professional events or business functions to get your company’s name in front of a wider audience. (Don’t like schmoozing? Here are tips for those who seriously dislike networking.) Work on simply building relationships, but have your elevator pitch memorized and ready. Make sure to follow-up with your new connections on LinkedIn or Facebook, or via email.
Ask existing customers who are happy with your product to post reviews on a platform of their choice. Explain that it will help prospective customers feel more confident in choosing your company. (Don’t offer incentives for customers to post reviews, as most platforms have rules against that.)
3. Social media
Pick the social media network(s) that makes sense for your target audience — and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with just one. For a broad reach, try Facebook. If you’re in a highly visual industry, consider Instagram. If you’re business-to-business, think about LinkedIn. Make sure to post meaningful “on brand” content. Be sparing with hashtags. If budget allows, pay a small amount to boost or promote your content.
[Related: 3 Tips for Creating Engaging Online Content]
4. “Refer-a-friend” campaigns
Research shows that peer-to-peer recommendations are a powerful way to boost sales. Offer an incentive for customers to refer friends your way, such as 50% off their next purchase. Promote your “refer-a-friend” campaign on social media.
5. Affinity groups
Identify non-competing companies that want the same customers as you, and figure out if your businesses can partner together on co-branded opportunities — such as special promotions, mailings, in-person events, product collaborations or even reciprocal website links — to reach an expanded audience.
6. Search engine optimization
Use digital marketing techniques to help customers searching for your product land on your e-commerce site. Work with an SEO consultant or use a number of keyword tools — SEMrush, SpyFu or WordStream — to help your site appear on the first page of a Google search.
7. Public relations
Even in today’s world, where everyone is a publisher, the editorial content of trusted media companies carries weight with readers. Make sure to send out regular press releases or alerts, identify individual journalists to cultivate, and offer your services to publications as an expert commentator. A growing number of small business owners are also writing books or hosting podcasts to increase their exposure.
8. Try email marketing
A newsletter is a handy (and inexpensive) way to stay in touch with customers and keep your company top of mind. Constant Contact and Mailchimp offer free or low-cost plans. Be sure to collect emails from current and potential customers — whether that’s through competitions, a loyalty program or the promise of discounts — and maintain an up-to-date, accurate database.
9. Offer freebies
Studies have shown that customers, when given the opportunity, will take a free sample. Grocery stores have reported that free sampling can increase sales of a product by up to 2,000%. (Not convinced? Think about how Amazon convinces customers to buy by offering free shipping.) But be strategic. Give away samples at events that target your audience. Or send items to bloggers whose readers are your potential customers.
10. Consider advertising as part of your marketing plan
Google Ads (formerly known as Google Adwords) offers plenty of ways — text-based search ads, graphic display ads, YouTube video ads, or in-app mobile ads — to reach your target audience. The average cost per click in Google Ads is between $1 and $2, but you can keep tight control over how much you spend.
Whatever marketing plan you try, think about what drove you to create your product or service in the first place. Your passion for your business will make your marketing efforts stand out — and that doesn’t cost a thing.
[Related: 5 Tips for Building a Brand on a Budget]