Business owners generally think of marketing and advertising as expenses. After all, most marketing strategies (TV commercials, radio spots, billboards and direct mail, for instance) involve paid media. But as effective as these mediums often are, they are not the only – or the cheapest – ways to market your business. In fact, if you are willing to be creative and think outside the box, there are numerous effective and free ways to advertise the products or services your business has to offer.
That said, here are eight free places, online and off, that provide a practical but effective platform for marketing your business:
Craigslist is far more than just a way for city dwellers to sell off their old lamps and coffee tables. Properly utilized, this popular web community can be transformed into a valuable source of sales or leads for certain types of businesses. The deciding factor is whether your business (or what your business offers) is something people proactively search for with key phrases. If so, there is nothing stopping a clever business owner from posting in Craigslist forums or listings where prospects congregate.
Entrepreneur.com provides a helpful walk-through on Craigslist marketing, noting that “services like tutoring, car repair and real estate to products such as wholesale furniture, consignment goods and retail e-commerce” are effectively sold there. Small Business Essentials offers tips on how to track responses to your listings.
We know what you’re thinking – “Chatroulette is just a place where creeps and weirdos hang out” – right? Actually, that is not the case. Despite the admittedly “disturbing” nature of some Chatroulette conversations, the fact remains that many normal people do use this service every single day. Moreover, some of these people can be marketed to depending on what products and services you offer. A recent Flowtown article offers 9 specific strategies for marketing via Chatroulette.
Chatroulette marketing is most effective at promoting companies that can use shock value, or which have wide, mass-market appeal to the general population. If your product is highly specialized (such as hydraulic engine components), Chatroulette is probably an impractical choice.
Search engine optimization (or SEO) is another, more modern form of free marketing. No – we’re not talking about the paid advertisements on the top and right side of the search results. Rather, SEO involves structuring your website and running it in such a way that it naturally appears at the top of the results page when people look for what your business offers.
SEOBook offers a primer on the basics of SEO strategy, including link building, keyword targeting and more. If you can successfully boost your website to the top of natural search queries, it’s not just free exposure, but free exposure that does not look or feel at all like advertising.
If you are in a pinch and need to reach an extremely targeted audience without spending money, it’s tough to beat online forums. A quick Google search will generally produce dozens upon dozens of forums where people have gathered to discuss virtually any topic imaginable. Best of all, most forums are divided even further into sub-categories, enabling you to deliver a promotional message to the most laser-targeted group on the forum.
Beware of seeming shamelessly self-promotional though, as most forums are not intended for use as billboards. Instead, strive to build up a trusted presence on the forum before mentioning what your company sells.
Community Bulletin Boards
Most towns and cities have dozens of community bulletin boards where any local citizen can freely post just about anything. These boards can usually be found at grocery stores, libraries and senior centers. While it may seem “small time” or amateur compared to running a TV commercial, consider that these bulletin boards are routinely used to rent apartment buildings, sell tutoring services and announce tag sales.
That being the case, what stands in the way of a local entrepreneur creatively using this space for more ambitious marketing?
Train stations and bus stop terminals are another potentially valuable source of free advertising. Like grocery stores, these places generally have bulletin boards that are free for anyone nearby to use. Furthermore, the fact that these bulletin boards are at train stations or bus stops make them especially attractive certain types of businesses.
Used car dealerships, for instance, would be hard-pressed to find a cheaper or more targeted source of prospects. Frequent train and bus riders are people who (in many cases) dislike relying on public transportation, and some of them would no doubt pay attention to a dealership ad promising a way out.
There is a reason that families have always posted “Missing Pet” signs on telephone poles around town: it works! Motorist frequently “space out” while making their routine commutes, and a colorful or provocative sign can easily grab their attention. The key here, as with marketing on Chatroulette, is that your product or service must have broad appeal.
Because you cannot control which types of people happen to drive by a telephone pole, any ad you run there must stand a chance of being relevant to just about everyone.
Public Grass Dividers
The same principle applies to grass dividers on streets and highways. Most of us have seen bold, colorful signs on these dividers advertising work from home opportunities, home foreclosure services or other offerings with wide public appeal. One caveat: be sure to check with your local town hall regarding the legality of placing advertisements on town grass. The fact that this is such a widespread practice, however, suggests that most towns are fine with it.