You've built a great product or perhaps opened a sleek, new store – everything is ready. The big question, however, is do your potential customers know that you exist?
One of the hardest aspects of starting a business is acquiring customers. Marketing is the practice of telling potential customers about your business and educating them about what you do until they become a customer. Traditionally, marketing involved expensive TV commercials and billboard ads. Further adding to the challenge is that these marketing tactics are difficult to measure and change. Once you spend thousands of dollars on a billboard, you can't rip it down every week to make adjustments.
Luckily, the new age of marketing has introduced novel strategies that anyone can start with, and, best of all, they are free. That's right: You can start marketing your product or service today with a budget of $0.
Let's examine some of the best free tactics to try.
In the old days, marketing was about "pushing" information to your target audience. Today, so many marketing messages are pushed on people that this tactic has become harder to pull off. Instead, savvy marketers use pull tactics to bring the target market to you. One of the most effective ways to execute pull marketing is through content.
Content refers to valuable information online – e-books, blog posts, infographics, etc. – that provide value to your target audience. Ideally, the content matches what your potential customers might be searching for on Google. For example, if you are starting a meal kit delivery service, you might create a well-designed guide titled "5 Delicious Recipes You Can Cook in 30 Minutes." People who are searching for recipes may also be interested in a meal kit.
The goal of your content is not to advertise. Instead, it is to educate. Your content needs to provide value to your potential customers, and they may read several articles on your blog (or e-books) before making a purchase.
Keep in mind, content strategy takes a long time and requires a lot of work. You need to be writing every day. You may need a graphic designer to help. If you can write and design yourself, then starting to market with content won’t cost you a dime!
In the mid-2000s, social media exploded as a new marketing frontier. People were purchasing smartphones and using new social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Today, these products are more mature and billions of people use them every day. As a result, social media has become wildly popular for advertising. You can start using social media platforms to engage your target audience for free. Here are some examples of what you can do:
- If you're a restaurant, post delicious food photos on Instagram.
- If you're a B2B software company, post how-to guides on LinkedIn.
- If you're a new product for moms, post childcare tips on Twitter and Pinterest.
Each social media platform appeals to different types of people; it's important to research where your target customers spend the most time online. For example, you will find more business buyers on LinkedIn rather than Snapchat, but if you're selling a product for teenagers, snap away.
Creating accounts and posting on social media is completely free. If you create compelling posts with stories and photos, you can certainly build a following without a budget.
The best marketing is organic. This means you don't have to do any additional work to get each new customer. Instead, your customers market the product for you. This typically happens through referrals: Customers tell their friends about your product. It could mean a customer inviting a friend to your restaurant because they tried it and liked it, or, perhaps, a customer is using your software and told a colleague about how helpful it was.
To make a referral program work, be sure you incorporate the following elements in your program:
- Make it easy: Have a button on your website for people to share and invite friends.
- Offer an incentive: Reward customers that refer the most individuals; perhaps the incentive could be a one-time discount.
- Congratulate success: Whenever a customer refers someone, reach out to thank them.
- Always ask: Don't expect people to make referrals automatically. Respectfully ask.
Webinars are online presentations where you teach listeners about a topic of interest. They have become incredibly popular and cost a fraction compared to a presentation at a trade show or other venue. Your potential customers from anywhere in the world can dial in and watch the webinar.
To create a good webinar, identify a topic that your potential customers might want to learn about. Create a presentation with slides and perhaps invite other experts (or one of your customers) to co-host the webinar with you. This will encourage them to promote it to their network and help you grow.
Webinars typically require a software program like GoToWebinar to host. Aside from this, there are no other costs, except your time.
Getting press can be an incredible way to get highly impactful, free marketing. In the early days, the best way to get press is to have a remarkable product or service. If your store has a unique product, or your software does something cool and new, it will attract attention from the media, who, in turn, want to write an interesting article for their readers.
If you are starting a local business, reach out to nearby publications to announce a grand opening special. Pitch them a compelling story about why you started your business. If you are building something that is not location-specific, you can contact bloggers and small publications to see if any would be interested in telling your story.
It can take a long time to build relationships with publications. The first step is to establish yourself as an expert in your industry by writing quality content, as noted earlier. As a result, you will have more credibility in the eyes of the press, and thus more opportunity to have your stories published.