So you've started your own business and have a handful of customers or none at all for that matter, but you heard that digital marketing is the way to go. I mean everyone and their grandma is on the internet now with a laptop, tablet or Smartphone right? You would be correct in making that assumption but how do you get those people who are online now to pay attention to you, and more importantly how do you get the right people to start paying attention to your business and the service you offer.
I get asked this question often and my answer over the last five years has been the same, its a combination of content (writing skills), consistency (time) and amplification (money). Unfortunately, not many small business owners have the luxury of time to create a solid digital presence because other parts of the business require their attention or they do but simply do not have the capital to send on advertising.
It's not all doom and gloom, and the internet is still very much a place to grow your business, it has just become harder with time. So what can you do to build a business online without any money?
We'll follow our 7 step process and find out!
1. Have a Website/Digital presence
The first thing you'll have to do is set up a base of operation, someplace you can call your home on the internet. There are a number of places to list your business such as directories, free microsite builders or try out our service and list your business with us. You can sign up with nichemarket for free and take your first step into taking your business online. For detailed instruction on how to create a nichemarket listing for your business check out our tutorial here
Once you have your own little spot in the digital sun, we'll take care of all the technical stuff and get you indexed with search engines like Google.
2. Start Blogging
I know this one seems like a daunting task, and one many tend to avoid, but I can't stress enough the value of creating content. I was by no means a blogger four years ago when I started writing digital marketing tips for myself and a few friends. Since then I've created hundreds of posts and become more comfortable sharing my ideas and experimenting online to bring you sound advice.
So how do you start blogging for free? There are platforms like Blogger/Blogspot, WordPress.org, Tumblr, Steemit, Busy.org and Medium that all allow you to sign up for free and post content. Create your free blog and start writing articles to share with your potential audience.
When creating a blog post always make sure you have a strong call to action, for example, you wrote an article on how you created a bracelet for a client with some photos and described the process of making the item. Make sure that in the blog you include a call to action like contact us for custom jewellery and link to your website/nichemarket listing
Tip! If you're not confident as a writer and prefer speaking why not create a podcast on SoundCloud or a vlog on youtube and use that as your base for syndicating your content and getting your message out to the world. You can always pick up blogging later, the critical part of this tip is to create content, share your ideas and suggestions and get people to see you as an authority on a topic. Then make sure you link to your website/nichemarket listing so that customers can get in touch with you after enjoying your content.
3. Start using Social media
Social media may be saturated with content these days, and the algorithms make it harder reach as many users as you could have done but its still a great place to start marketing your business for free. Social media has begun to mature, and it's not just about posting every day hoping you'll strike pay dirt, if you're going to take the free social route it will be a grind.
Some of us will not become influencers overnight with follower counts in the hundreds of thousands and will need to be content with using the platform to reach users one at a time. To get eyes on your profile and gather followers, you're going to need to reach out to members; you can do this by searching social media for posts within your industry and commenting.
What most people don't realise is that every comment you post is a potential link back to your profile, the more comments you make, the more links you create, which opens up more opportunity for users to follow you. Since so many businesses rely on ads and bots, providing a personal touch and real social engagement can stand out online, and users will respond positively to it over time.
I'm pretty sure you're not the only one interested in the goods and services you provide. Joining sale groups, classified groups and regional groups can give you access to a host of potential customers but don't abuse this membership. Getting access to groups should be used wisely and not just as another place to spam posts and links.
Chat to the admins and the super users, find out what is allowed, use the group in moderation and engage with group members content and not just try to sell your services or products at every turn.
Posting has become a bit of a grind these days, but it doesn't mean you should quit it, posting shows that you're active and gives users who do visit your profile the opportunity to view your latest content. It's also a way to share the content you've created via your blog or vlog and helps you seem more credible as a source of information.
I would recommend taking a day to create all your posts for the week or even for the month and then scheduling them on your various platforms, so that's one less stress off your plate. For more on free social media management tools check out our post - Social Media Tools: 4 Free Post Management Systems
4. Start using Email marketing
If there is one tip, I simply cannot stress enough then its the importance of building your own database over time. You may be getting customers via search or social media, but it doesn't mean they'll be flowing in regularly forever. I would rather have 100 email addresses than 10 000 followers on social media that's how much I value the power of direct marketing.
So when coming into contact with potential clients or clients always ask for their contact details and if they would like to receive communication from you in future and add it to your database.
Aquisitons can be done online via sign up forms or offline. Once you've started to build up a little database for yourself and you have enough users, you can begin to send monthly emails. Your emails can be to used to notify customers of sales or promotions or just to remind them you're still around.
Sending regular emails at times around pay week is the ideal way to spike sales and turn one time customers into regular ones.
For more on free email tools check out our post - 5 Free Email Suite Options
5. Start taking advantage of CRM and ORM
Customer relationship and your online relationship can make or break your business, and I find it very strange that so many small companies tend to ignore the importance of showcasing their excellent service. Each customer you service is a potential marketing tool, primarily when you provide an excellent service. When you've rendered a service or sold a product to a client encourage them to rate you in several places online, like your nichemarket listing or your Facebook page.
Potential customers are often sceptic of what they see online so when they come into contact with information on your business, seeing customer reviews and ratings can help them get over their fears and encourage purchasing.
As you grow, you can also combine email with surveys and find out more about what your customers want, why they don't purchase as often as you would like them to and use that feedback to improve your service.
For more on free survey tools check out our post - 10 Free Survey Tools For Small Businesses
6. Start getting referrals
You can speak about your business all you want online but your message will only carry so far, and that's when you need to open up to friends, family, complimenting businesses and services or industry leaders and experts. Ask them to share their experience with your business, you or your product on their social media, blogs, podcasts or vlogs which will help get your business in front of people in their network.
Networking doesn't have to cost you anything and if they are a bit of a tough sell perhaps sweeten the deal with a trade exchange offering them your services free of charge in exchange for the exposure.
For tips on how to get those referrals going check out our post - How Community Outreach Marketing Can Boost Your SEO
7. Start posting classified or marketplace ads
Posting promotional ads online is a great way to make the product or service the star of the show rather than the business itself. Using classified sites allow you to post promotional content for free and help you get more eyes on things like specials to deals you would like to push. You can use one or multiple sites and post your ad across Gumtree, OLX, Craigs List, Facebook Marketplace or niche marketplaces depending on the type of product you sell.
Tip! Since these ads don't have a very long lifespan as new ads are placed each day pushing you down the pecking order its a good idea to leave a link to a place where users can find you even once the ad has expired. This could be a link to your nichemarket listing or your website if you have one.
Bonus Tip. Start getting yourself in order
There you have it, seven ways to get the word out online and not spend a single cent. So now that you have the tools its time to plan out the tasks and make sure you're always covering your bases and making sure you don't leave a lead on the table. To help keep yourself in check, I highly recommend you and your team decide on a digital task planning tool.
Management tools can be used to keep track of all tasks, when they need to be done, how they need to be done, why it hasn't been done and keep the flow of work going.
There are plenty of free task management tools available for small business owners. So if you're in the market for a free project management tool check out our post - Free Project Management Tools For Small Businesses
Stay pennywise and stay the course
I encourage any small business owner to take advantage of some or all these tips to form a trusted digital presence online. As you grow your business, you can start with a more aggressive course of action like setting up your website or starting to leverage paid advertising.
Share your tips with us
Do you have any free digital marketing tips you would like to share with our readers and us? Share it with us in the comments section below; we look forward to some of your words of wisdom.