11 cheap or free advertising methods

A small business owner celebrates advertising success

You don't need a big budget to advertise your small business. A strong online presence, strategic use of pay-per-click advertising and SEO as well as regular networking on social media can help to spread the word about your business at low cost

There are plenty of companies offering services to promote your business online. But with an effective advertising strategy in place you can do most of this promotion yourself at a very low cost, or even for free.

Here are 11 cheap and free ways to market your business online.

1. Build a great website

Every business needs a hard-working website. It’s the first place prospective customers go when they are looking for a business like yours. Your website needs to look fresh and inviting with clear headings, great images and simple navigation. Above all, it needs to answer key questions that website visitors may have and provide contact details to help them find out more. Calls to action and an effective ecommerce system will help turn browsers into buyers.

Once it has been set up, a simple website will cost you a few pounds per year for hosting and a domain name; an ecommerce site costs a little more but it will pay dividends by generating a regular stream of sales.

2. Online advertising

Any business can get exposure using online classified ads on sites such as Gumtree, Nextdoor or your local Facebook "Spotted" group. These can be very cheap - or even free.

You can place targeted ads for your business online every day, and people will find them via search. You can advertise anything from a one-day event to a service like photography, plumbing or gardening.

3. Search engine optimisation

If you can convince search engines like Google that your website is the most relevant site for your targeted keywords, you should get a consistent stream of traffic. Some of this traffic will naturally convert into revenue. You can do basic optimisation yourself for free, or you can pay a freelance SEO expert to do it for you. Remember, your negative keywords are almost as important as keywords as they help you avoid spending ad revenue on irrelevant search traffic.

4. Content marketing

A successful content marketing strategy will drive traffic to your website and help with search engine optimisation, and it can be completely free. However, writing can be labour-intensive, and you will need to be a competent (and quick) writer. AI tools can make content suggestions and help you create rough drafts. Just remember to check the copy first. Does the copy align with your company's identity? Is the tone and language right?

It may be worth employing a freelance writer on a site such as Fiverr or Upwork to create well-written blogs, case studies and other articles that showcase what you do.

5. Use social networks

Many businesses grow their customer base almost exclusively using social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and TikTok allow you to build a following and engage with your target audience by sharing news and ideas and by posting images and videos. Engagement is the name of the game. If you respond to comments, answer questions and reach out to followers and influencers on a regular basis, you can grow your business through word of mouth.

6. Share video content online

People love watching videos and they can be a great way to bring your brand to life and introduce the world to your products and services and the team behind them. Posting videos on sites like TikTok and YouTube - as well as on other social media sites - could send you a steady flow of website traffic.

These sites are free to submit to, and the potential traffic gain from them is astronomical. Make sure that you submit more than one video to maximise exposure. Use pay-per-click advertising

7. Online advertising

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can be costly but if it is well-targeted it can drive high-converting traffic to your site. You have to find a balance between cost and revenue to make the best use of PPC advertising but the good news is that you can set limits on spending so you don’t have to commit a lot of money to PPC in order to find out if it’s right for your business.

You can purchase PPC advertising on almost all of the major search engines, as well as on sites like Facebook.

8. Encourage customer reviews

Customer ratings and reviews can build trust and drive word of mouth sales, especially for local businesses. Bad reviews are obviously damaging but a lack of reviews can also raise alarm bells so it’s important to encourage customers to leave feedback.

You can provide reviews on your website using FeeFo or TrustPilot. Your customers will also leave reviews on platforms such as Google, Amazon, eBay and TripAdvisor. Always respond to reviews, good or bad, thanking people for positive feedback and dealing with any criticisms in a positive manner.

Consider creating a 'referal programme' that rewards existing customers with a discount or free products for themselves and friends when they recommend your business.

9. Email marketing

To create an effective and legitimate email marketing campaign, you need to build a list of contacts that have actively opted in to receive emails from you. You may need to give something away to entice people into providing their email address and permission for you to send emails to them. This can be something as simple as a report that offers genuine value.

After you have created your list, you can begin email marketing. You can build customer trust by sending email marketing messages with professional email addresses for team members or groups such as @yourdomain or sales@yourdomain with Gmail from Google Workspace.

It is important to allow your recipients to remove themselves from your list at any time.

10. Appear in local business listings

If you are promoting a bricks and mortar company, you should be taking advantage of local business listings like Google My Business. This will place your website on the first page of Google results with similar local services when someone does a search within your area. This can be a great way to get a fledgling business in front of thousands of potential local customers.

11. Join online directories

It's true that some online directories are losing their usefulness when it comes to search engine optimisation, but you can still benefit from advertising in local directories that target your area. You may get a small boost to your page rank, and some traffic from the directory itself.

Many online directories, such as Checkatrade and Rated People, allow people to advertise specific jobs and to connect with relevant local tradespeople. In return for a small fee, tradespeople can submit quotes for the jobs advertised.

Tradespeople can also add a profile about their business and the services they offer, and build up ratings from customers.

There are many different ways to get your business name out there. With very little outlay, or possibly for free, you can significantly increase your customer base by tapping into the huge pool of online customers.

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