Running a small business can be extremely rewarding, but it can also be really tough. Whatever industry you’re in, you probably have competition in your area who have been around longer and already have strong brand recognition. So, how are you supposed to build your business on razor-thin margins?
As a small business, you don’t always need to spend money to advertise. Using the internet and getting connected with your local community, there are many opportunities to increase your customer base for free.
Of course, it’s never possible to build a thriving business without spending money on marketing. Free advertising techniques should form a part of your overall strategy, and you’ll find plenty of affordable lead generation options that provide fantastic return on investment.
To grow a strong and healthy business, you’ll want to use a full range of marketing and lead generation activities. However, there’s no reason your local business can’t benefit from some free and low-cost marketing ideas too!
Want to get the best bang for your buck on small business advertising? Read on to learn some clever strategies to build awareness for your business.
Get Set Up Online First
Before you start your free advertising campaign, it’s important to make sure your company is ready for business. There is no point drawing in potential clients if your business isn’t ready to operate at a professional level. Remember, first impressions are so important.
Setting up your business is more than just making sure your website is online. All your social media accounts need to be active, and it’s worth making sure your branding is consistent across each platform. Make sure your website, social media pages, and directory listings all link to each other too. You need to ensure that anyone that gets onto your website or social media profile can see that your business is legitimate, professional and ready to help them out.
Other ways to boost your online presence include setting up Google My Business listing (learn more about that below) and getting your business included in the Yellow Pages online directory.
How To Advertise To Your Local Community For Free
Advertising is essential for any business. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how good your work is, you won’t be generating any revenue if no one knows your company exists. But small businesses just starting out don’t always have a big budget for advertising.
Just because you can’t fund a big letterbox drop or newspaper ad doesn’t mean you can’t get your name out there. There are lots of ways that you can advertise your brand to the public without spending a cent!
However, keep in mind that there are pros and cons of free advertising methods. One of the downsides is that leads through free platforms can be lower quality and lower value. If someone is finding your business on Gumtree, they may perceive your business as less professional than others, and may expect a lower price as well.
On the other hand, paying for leads through a trusted platform like Bizza can provide your business with high quality, qualified and premium leads. When you can expect a high return on investment, it’s one of the quickest and most effective ways to grow your business quickly.
Ultimately, a mix of paid and free promotional strategies is the best way to supercharge your business growth! When it comes to free local advertising, here are some clever tactics you can use:
1. Post On Free Online Marketplaces
Online marketplaces have completely changed the way we buy and sell secondhand goods – but it can also be a way to generate more business too. Your customer base will be browsing these sites from the comfort of your own home any time of the day.
Although not strictly created for this purpose, making a post for your business in an online marketplace is how many businesses advertise online.
Gumtree is one of the premier online marketplaces in Australia. If it’s something that can be listed online, Gumtree is the place to do it – and your business is no exception!
A Gumtree listing can fit in all the keywords people will search, images of your work, room to add additional information like your contact details, customer testimonials, and a fee. Because Gumtree was originally created for selling items, there is space for images and titles to be creative so you can best advertise your business on Gumtree. Best of all, the standard Gumtree post is completely free!
Similar to Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace is another stand out option for anyone wishing to buy or sell something online. Every Facebook account has access to the marketplace by default and it’s completely free to use. The benefit of using Facebook Marketplace to advertise a business is the overwhelming amount of people that already use the app. The customer base is there, you just need to tap into it!
In their simplest form, Facebook Marketplace posts allow you to choose a title, price and photo that anyone can see scrolling through the app. This makes it as easy to advertise a power washing business as it is to sell DVDs. A catchy title, good photos and a competitive price is all you need to catch the attention of people using Facebook.
2. Contribute To Local Subreddits On Reddit
Posting to your local subreddit is a great way to build your reputation while picking up extra work you might have otherwise missed. Reddit is an online platform that has separate ‘subreddits’ dedicated to everything from economics to carpet cleaning. In those subreddits, almost every city, town and province has its own dedicated subreddit.
While often used to share news and media, these local subreddits are also a great way to give and receive recommendations for local businesses. Posting and contributing regularly to the subreddits that fall within your service area help people recognise your company name, and when people are asking for recommendations for local businesses, it’s a great way to organically recommend yourself, or get recommended by people who have seen you posting!
Because there are so many subreddits, your account can also become your portfolio. If you are a carpenter, for example, posting on woodworking and carpentry subreddits is a great way to show off your work, and acts as an excellent free advertising tool.
3. Set Up Google My Business
Setting up a Google My Business listing is essential to any business, and should be one of the first things you do. You are going to find that it’s nearly impossible to convince someone to work with your business if nothing shows up when they Google it.
Google My Business is the information panel that shows up on the right-hand side when you search for a company or industry on Google. Your contact information, map location and reviews are all things you can add and edit with a Google My Business account. It also makes it easier for your business to get more Google reviews.
Setting up Google My Business is completely free. While you can invest money into it and help advertise your business that way, it isn’t a requirement. If you are starting a business, or currently have one you are trying to grow, setting up Google My Business is not only incredibly quick to do, but will really pay off.
4. Post In The Nextdoor App
Although this app is not as popular in Australia as it is in other parts of the world, Nextdoor is a great way to connect with people in your local community. The Nextdoor app has already considered how to help small business owners use their app with a range of Nextdoor Business features.
Making a business account on the Nextdoor app is free. You can use it to network with other professionals, local community members and businesses. There are paid options, but using only the free features for the Nextdoor app takes a small amount of time, and can help you reach more local clients.
5. Join & Post In Local Facebook Groups
Local Facebook groups are incredibly popular and are an excellent place to advertise your business locally for free. Towns and suburbs usually have large Facebook groups with thousands of members each. There is no cost or limit to posting and contributing to local Facebook groups – all it takes is some time and effort.
By commenting and taking part in conversations in a local Facebook group for your community or neighbourhood, people will quickly recognise you and your business. Because your business is already on Facebook, finding out more about your business is only a click away for your potential customers.
By having all of your business photos, branding and contact information on the same platform and linked to the same account that you use to interact with people in the community is extremely helpful. So many of the people you reach will need your services so Facebook groups can be a powerful local advertising medium.
6. Write Blogs For Your Business
You may not notice it, but every successful website has a section dedicated to blogs. Blog posts serve two primary functions. First, a blog post is a great way to show off your industry knowledge and help potential customers out with useful information.
Second, the primary use of blogs is to build authority on your website. A large range of blog posts with good quality information can help your website rank higher on Google. If Google can tell that people are coming to your blog posts and are leaving with all the information they need, it will rank your website more highly in searches – and everyone wants that!
7. Provide Discounts For New Customers
New customer discounts are a tried-and-true method of drawing in new business. Usually promoted via social media or word of mouth, providing a small discount with a ‘limited time offer only’ creates a sense of urgency, and will lead potential customers to buy your product or use your service if they feel like they are getting a deal.
Although offering a discount for a new customer means that you’ll be making less money than you normally would, a discount can draw in business that you didn’t have otherwise. Even a 10% discount is enough for some people to try a new business, and a great way to land long-term loyal customers.
8. Offer Incentives For Referrals From Existing Clients
Businesses across every industry have offered incentives and discounts for successful referrals to great effect. If a client is continuing to work with you, they more than likely enjoy your service enough to recommend it to another person. By offering a discount or incentive, they are more likely to follow through with recommending another person, increasing your customer base without spending money on advertising.
You lose a portion of your margins by offering a discount to the existing client, but as long as you only offer discounts to successful referrals, you quickly recoup that loss. Once your new customer sees how good your work is, it’s only a matter of time until they themselves become repeat clients recommending their friends. This small discount will allow you to exponentially grow your client list easily without spending money.
9. Donate Your Services To Charities, Auctions And Community Raffles In Your Service Area
Between schools, community groups and RSLs, there are hundreds of raffles each year in your local area. Every time an organisation has a raffle or a silent auction, the number one thing they are looking for is companies to donate coupons or gift certificates for their services.
There’s no financial cost to contribute a voucher to a community raffle or auction, and what you donate is completely up to you as a business owner. However, offering gift vouchers for services or products from your business is a great idea. You will get public recognition for your contribution at a community event, and if the winner receives a great experience from your business, you may earn yourself plenty of referrals too.
10. Contribute To Natural Disaster Rebuild Efforts
There’s nothing worse than a disaster in your area. Things like earthquakes, bushfires and floods can take a huge toll on communities that will take years to completely recover from. If you are a small business owner, and a disaster has occurred in your local area, do what you can to help. This may involve your team pitching in to help with rebuilding efforts, or donating your services to a local family struggling to get their life back to normal. This can be a great way to give back to the community and build rapport with your neighbourhood.
Carpenters and bricklayers aren’t the only people who can help, either. Even though disasters often revolve around construction and rebuilding, it doesn’t mean businesses in other industries can’t pitch in. There are never too many hands in recovery efforts. Even something as simple as going around and ensuring recovery staff have food and water makes an enormous difference.
While you are doing this primarily to help locals affected by a crisis, it’s also a great show of solidarity for your business. It’s a tangible way to show you’re not just profiting from your neighbourhood – your business is really part of the community.
11. Cold Call & Send Cold Emails
Cold calls and cold emails are an often-overlooked way to help drum up business if you need the work, but don’t have the capital to pay for advertising. The process of cold emailing and cold calling does not cost you anything but time and is quick enough to be done between jobs – although some people are more comfortable with cold sales than others.
Cold sales may have a negative connotation, but as long as your business provides a real, usable service, there will be people out there who need your services. When cold calling or sending cold emails, be honest and upfront. People rarely have negative opinions on small businesses, and if you can outline how you do high-quality work at affordable prices, people may just give you a try.
If cold calling isn’t your thing, though, consider a lead generation platform to help you pick up warm leads at a small cost. This way you’ll know the person you’re calling is already interested in your service, and all you’ll need to worry about is perfecting that first client phone call.
How Much Should I Spend On Advertising For My Business?
A small-to-medium sized business should expect to spend somewhere between 5% to 7% of their revenue on marketing to continue bringing in new clients. If you’re currently in a rapid growth stage, this may be higher, at up to 10 – 20% of revenue. With the right lead generation strategies in place, you should receive a generous return on investment for your marketing spend.