10 Free (or Nearly-Free) Marketing Strategies for New Entrepreneurs

by Briana Morgaine 8 Minutes

You don’t need me to tell you that creating a marketing plan for your business is essential.

We all know how important it is to market your business; the trouble is, marketing strategies—and the tools to put these strategies in place—can often be pricey.

That being said, there are plenty of free (or very low cost) ways that you can market your business. Plus, these strategies allow you to get creative, and really focus on adding value through your own voice and expertise within your industry—which is a win all around.

Read on to see my list of 10 marketing strategies that won’t break the bank.

1. Build your email list

If you’re looking for free or low-cost marketing strategies, email marketing should be at the top of your list—which is why it’s at the top of this one.

Email marketing is the bread and butter of a startup or small business marketing strategy, and for good reason: it’s a solid, basic way to market your business, it’s flexible, and it generally only costs time.

Drip is the gold standard for free email marketing tools, as it offers a free plan with advanced marketing automation capabilities (you can upgrade to the paid version once your list grows to a larger size). It’s the email tool we use at Bidketch.

There are tons of resources on how to build a strong email marketing campaign (this article by Drip is a good starting point), as well as plenty on how to build your email list. While the specifics will vary by industry, creating some type of lead-capturing initiative on your website is generally the first step. This could be anything from a download that collects emails, a popup where visitors can sign up for your newsletter, or some other type of content that involves the exchange of email for a free asset (we’ll talk more about what that could look like in tip six).

2. Try content marketing

In terms of free and low-cost marketing initiatives, content marketing still reigns supreme. While plenty of content marketing strategies might not be exactly free (it does cost some money to create a blog, for example), they tend to be one-time or low expenses that you can then take advantage of for an extended period of time.

So, while content marketing is perhaps more costly in terms of both time and money than some other suggestions on this list, no marketing strategy is complete without it.

The world of content marketing is vast and ever-changing, so I’ll just touch on a few of the can’t-miss aspects here for now:

Leverage social media

These days, having some type of social media presence is pretty much a given, no matter what industry you’re in.

However, when approaching social media from a content marketing perspective, it becomes clear that it’s less about just throwing something against the wall and seeing what sticks, and more about creating a cohesive strategy for your business via social media.

This might mean critically evaluating your business, and determining which channels align best with both your offering and your goals. Is your product, service, or branding highly visual? A channel like Instagram is probably a good bet. Is your goal to create an interactive community? Facebook may serve your needs best. Trying to reach a wide audience, engage in conversations, and position yourself as a thought leader in your space? Twitter might be right for your business. It’s important to also consider the demographics of your target audience, and see which platforms are the best match.

While you may have to do a solid amount of research at the outset, you’ll emerge with a clearer idea of which platforms are going to give you the biggest bang for your metaphorical buck. While free, social media marketing can be hugely time-consuming—so narrowing your focus from the get-go is ideal.

For more on creating a social media marketing campaign, this guide by MeetEdgar is a good starting point, as well as this one by Social Media Examiner.

Blog or create another web presence based around thought leadership

Creating a blog is standard advice for any new business owner, and for good reason. By having an SEO-optimized website and blog, you’ll be able to build a web presence, increase your placement in search rankings, and be found by more people.

However, if you approach blogging solely from this standpoint, it becomes a chore at best, and an ineffective, transparent marketing ploy at worst. Rather, think first about where you can best contribute to your space and position yourself as a thought leader by creating great content.

Maybe this looks like creating a traditional, written blog—or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you’d rather create a YouTube channel with educational videos. Maybe you’d rather bypass blog creation entirely and use Medium as a place to share your content.

The make takeaway here is that at this point, “start a blog” is such standard marketing advice that it starts to ring a bit hollow. The really important piece of advice is to remember that content marketing should be about creating valuable content first, and should be a place for you to share your expertise with a wider audience based on the value of what you bring to the table. Determine what that is, and how best to share it, and go from there.

3. Join local Meetup groups or networking organizations in your area

Networking can be hard, especially for those of us who are introverted. However, establishing yourself within your local community can be a hugely successful marketing strategy. Word of mouth is still one of the most trusted referral types, period—so even if you don’t directly acquire new clients or customers through a Meetup or networking event, you can get the word out about your business to people who may recommend you to others in their larger circle.

To start, Meetup.com is likely to have plenty of networking-specific groups in your area (and a quick Google search of “networking events near me” will also turn up dozens of options).

However, don’t feel confined to events that are strictly billed as for the purposes of networking. Attending events based around areas of personal interest can also be a good strategy, as you’re likely to have an opportunity to mention what you do and pass out business cards. It should go without saying that a light touch is essential here, but once you realize that every event is a networking event to some extent, you’ll be able to take advantage of the free marketing opportunities these types of events provide.

For more on how to use Meetup for networking, see this article by the Huffington Post, and this one by Shopify.

4. Use HARO for free, low-effort publicity

HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, is a fantastic resource for entrepreneurs looking to both build their credibility as thought leaders within their space, as well as increase links back to their website.

With HARO, you can answer questions posed by reporters, writers, and others seeking expert opinions or examples of personal experience (like yours truly), and in return you’ll be quoted and have a link back to your website included in an article, news story, or other publication.

It’s a great way to share your expertise on a subject with a new audience, and expose your website and business to new eyes. You can also add these publications to your own website or share them with your social channels, further cementing your reputation as a thought leader in your industry.

5. Contribute thought leadership outside your own avenues

Similar to HARO, consider contributing your own authorship to sites within your industry. As mentioned above, this enables you to build yourself as a reputable voice within your field.

Start by researching sites within your industry that publish articles from guest authors. You’re likely already familiar with some of them, as they may make up your current reading material. From there, see if the sites in question have a submission portal or process that you can follow.

Not only does this strategy expose you and your business to new eyes, as with HARO, but it is an even stronger way to demonstrate your expertise within your industry, as you can potentially have more of a role in the content creation process.

6. Create free resources

You have plenty of knowledge about your industry, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it this far. What are you an expert in? How can you convey this information to others?

Consider creating a free resource, like a downloadable tip sheet, an ebook, holding a webinar, and so on. Offering free assets like these help cement you as an expert in your space, and, as a bonus, work as lead capturing tools to help grow your network (and your mailing list).

7. Implement a referral program

Remember my earlier note about word of mouth? That comes into play here, too.

By creating a referral program for your existing customers, you’re both incentivizing them to bring in new business, and strengthening those potential business relationships by using social proof.

The great thing about referral programs is that the sky really is the limit; you can tailor your referral program to your exact needs. If you’re hesitant about using a referral program; read up on the seven common myths of referral programs (by Ambassador).

8. Use your branding to help market your business

I’m a major sucker for great branding.

Here’s an example:

Last year, I took a small road trip from my home of Portland, Oregon, up to Seattle, Washington. While there, I visited General Porpoise Doughnuts. The doughnuts were great, and I’m looking forward to eating them again—but what really struck me was the branding. I love everything about it, and I’d really love some merchandise with their logo—a t-shirt, coffee mug, sweatshirt, you name it. I think it’s cute, and I’d get a kick out of it. I’ve also told lots and lots of people about their shop (there’s that word of mouth again).

Does your branding cause a similar response? If not, maybe it should. Now, I understand if “cute” isn’t one of the notes your brand wants to hit, but this is merely meant to underscore the fact that if you position your branding in such a way that it is appealing to customers visually or on an emotional level, you may be able to get them to do some of your marketing for you.

This will obviously look different for different businesses, but it’s worth keeping in mind. If you can create a logo or similar brand imagery that is appealing to your target customer, and find a way to get it out into the world (via stickers, wearable merchandise, or a highly-Instagrammable store feature), you may be able to passively market your business via your customers.

9. Comment on other blogs, social media sites, and so on

Make sure you’re joining in the conversation.

This continues to build relationships within your field, but it also has an added bonus: by commenting on popular, high-traffic sites, you’re getting your name and the name of your business in front of new eyes.

So, you’re continuing to build yourself as a thought leader, as well as increase exposure. Moz has some great content on the subject of “comment marketing,” which cover the topic in more depth: Recommendations for Blog Commenting as a Marketing Strategy and Comment Marketing: How to Earn Benefits from Community Participation.

10. Build a cross-promotional relationship with complementary businesses

Strengthening your network is always a good idea, but consider leveraging your connections for a mutually-beneficial marketing relationship—or, reach out to new contacts.

This could look like a web designer partnering up with a copy writer and offering a bundled rate on services, and cross-promoting on each other’s social profiles and business sites. Since neither business competes with the other, and clients often are in search of both services at similar points in time, the partnership benefits both entrepreneurs.

What is your favorite free (or low-cost) marketing strategy? Are there any here that you have not tried yet, but plan to implement? Let me know in the comments!

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by Briana Morgaine
Briana is a copy writer, copy editor, and freelance writer, covering the various facets of the small business and entrepreneurship space. She can be found writing for Bplans, and also on Twitter.