I love small businesses.
As a small business, there are many opportunities for growth with a smart marketing strategy.
But you’ve probably noticed a problem. Most of the marketing tactics out there are expensive!
A simple Facebook or Google ad campaign can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
So how can a small business use online marketing without the massive budgets of multinational corporations?
I’ve launched a few startups of my own, and I can tell you exactly what works. Here are 27 free or very inexpensive ways to market your small business online.
1. Set goals and plan
Before you can start developing an online marketing strategy, you need to decide what your goals are.
This will dictate where you focus your efforts, where you choose to spend money, and ultimately how you define success.
If you have a low budget, you need to spend most of your time driving sales. Traffic is helpful, but it will only help your business grow if it leads to sales.
Decide exactly what you want to achieve in the next three to six months with your online marketing plan and write it down.
Do you want to get 50 new leads? Sell $100,000 in inventory? Make it clear so you can reach your target.
2. Build an email list
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: The money is in the list.
The simple truth is that an email list is the single most effective way to market your business online, and it doesn’t require a lot of time or money to get set up.
If you want a free option, you can start with MailChimp. You won’t have to pay a dime for your first 2,000 subscribers.
Grab the code to embed a simple opt-in box for subscribers. Even if you don’t have email marketing in place right now, you should get started with a list right away.
It will return huge rewards months or years down the road.
3. Start blogging
There’s a reason that 70% of B2B businesses plan on increasing their content marketing in the next year, according to the Content Marketing Institute.
Content marketing works.
In years past, small businesses couldn’t compete with the million-dollar advertising budgets of major brands. But today, that’s changed.
There’s a race for the most helpful content. If you’re passionate and knowledgeable about a topic, you should start teaching what you know.
This is a long-term strategy, but it pays huge dividends once you begin. Two years from now, you’ll be glad you started when you did.
4. Promote your content on Reddit
Reddit is an odd community, but you can drive massive amounts of free traffic and conversions through the platform if you know how to use it.
To get started, sign up for a Reddit account.
Be sure to use an email address that you have easy access to.
You can verify your email for a special badge, which is Reddit’s way of proving that you’re not a spammer, troll, or electronic bot.
Go to SnoopSnoo and search for your general topic.
Find a few subreddits that are relevant to your industry.
Click on the title.
Review the next page for details on the subreddit. If it looks like a good fit, click on the title again to go to the subreddit page.
Scroll down the subreddit until you find a subscribe button on the right-hand side. This will update you on posts in the community.
For the first few weeks or months, visit the subreddit once a day or so. Be helpful and friendly.
After you’ve established a presence as a helpful resource, post one of your most popular pieces of content. Ensure that it isn’t promotional, and you can get a ton of traction.
5. List your business on Google
If you haven’t registered your local business with Google, you’re not on the map!
Solve this problem by going to Google Businesses and selecting Start Now. Follow the prompts and register.
Google uses these listings when it delivers local results, and the money that comes from those local results is no joke.
If you register your business, you will acquire dozens of new customers and start establishing a solid web presence.
6. Create a video channel
If you haven’t started a YouTube channel yet, now is the time to work on it.
Most small business owners I know are reluctant to get started with video because they think the products need to be perfect. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Some of the most successful video campaigns by small businesses have been simple projects, like this one from animal trainer Catmantoo.
It’s simple footage of a cat on a skateboard, but it got millions of views!
Don’t worry about the videos looking homemade and authentic. It could be helpful!
According to Sprout Social, honesty is the #1 characteristic consumers want from brands on social media right now.
By posting candid videos of your business, you can build an audience of customers who believe in you and are interested in learning about what you’re doing.
7. Boost your best Facebook posts
Facebook Ads tend to be difficult to predict. While they sometimes work well, they frequently fall flat and fail to generate new conversions or customers.
These failed campaigns can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars before you realize the money has been wasted.
So, what’s the solution?
Boost Facebook posts that you know have already done well. To do it, find the Boost Post button at the bottom of your page updates.
If you’ve posted a piece of content with a call to action, like a link to your e-commerce store or email signup page, these are even more effective.
For just $5, you can promote this post to people outside your existing circle of fans and get even more traffic.
8. StumbleUpon advertising
Even the world’s best blog post might need an extra push before it goes viral.
If you’ve written a piece of share-worthy content, you can get the initial momentum going with some cheap StumbleUpon advertising.
StumbleUpon lets users load random pages across the Internet, based on what they’ve liked in the past.
For just a few dollars, you can pay for StumbleUpon to send you hundreds or even thousands of visitors.
If these visitors enjoy your content, they can upvote it in StumbleUpon or even share it with friends, pushing it into StumbleUpon’s free recommendation pool.
This small spark may be all your content needs to go viral and reach thousands or millions of readers.
9. Start a podcast
Podcast listening is on the rise for both men and women, according to data published by Salesforce.
Those who jumped into blogging when it just started gained early traction and became industry leaders as blogging became more popular.
You have the same opportunity with podcasting. Many small business owners believe their podcasts, like their videos, need to be perfect.
But with a basic microphone and free audio editing software like Audacity, you can get set up quickly and easily. A simple podcast now is better than a professional one in a year.
If you struggle for content, consider answering your customers’ frequent questions. Give an in-depth answer to each question on your first few episodes.
If you already have a blog started, you can simply read your blog posts (or provide additional commentary on them) for a steady stream of content on different platforms.
10. DIY infographics
As a small business, you have access to a lot of data that most people don’t know.
By spending a few minutes browsing company data, you can find out useful information that’s interesting to customers.
For example, what products tend to spike during the year, and why?
Many companies outsource the design and creation of the images to a design firm for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. But you don’t have to.
Just use Canva’s free tool to get started with your first infographic. Pull in a template and adjust it based on the numbers you have.
If you’re in the B2B space, you should be contributing to Slideshare as often as possible. Slideshare is a platform for distributing your slides and presentations.
It has a special place in the world of B2B, since SlideShare has five times the traffic from business owners of any other site, according to Artillery Marketing.
Unlike traditional article-based content, Slideshare contributions should be visual. Focus on impactful images, and avoid large blocks of explanatory text.
If you already have a few presentations, you can easily upload them to the site.
For a long-term content strategy, consider creating slides from other content, like blog posts, videos, or podcasts.
12. Run a giveaway
Giveaways and contests are lead generation strategies with massive potential. To get started, check with the regulations on giveaways in your locality.
Some states and countries have specific guidelines on what is allowed, so follow these regulations carefully.
If you’re in the clear, the possibilities are endless. The easiest option is to give away a free product.
This can either be something you produce or a related reward. Whatever you choose, make sure that it’s connected to the heart of your business.
Generic giveaways like Amazon gift cards and iPods make for fun gifts, but they are often unrelated to your company. Even the winners will soon forget what you’re all about.
Instead, offer highly related products, even if they’re small. Tiny rewards, like a one-month free trial or $10 item, can draw massive amounts of new traffic, leads, and customers.
The landing page for this campaign by Fatherly had a conversion rate of 85.94%, according to Wishpond. That’s insane!
Quora is where the Internet asks questions. No matter what your small business is, you have expertise that others are eager to learn from.
Quora is a free way to distribute your message and build credibility for yourself and your brand.
To get started, sign up for a free Quora account. Write down your business name in your short bio. This will help drive people to your site each time you answer a question.
You’ll need to select a few interests. Choose topics that are closely related to your business.
As people ask questions in these categories, you can reach out and answer them. Provide in-depth analysis and images when possible.
If you write high-quality posts, you can receive tens of thousands of views. Every view could be your next customer.
As you continue to post, you will eventually have people specifically request your answer to their question. This is a great way to build your authority and acquire customers by teaching.
14. Influencer outreach
Influencer outreach provides one of the best returns on investment in the industry. And while you can pay others to do it for you, it’s easy to get started completely free.
The important thing to remember about influencer marketing is that you need to deliver value before you ask for anything in return.
Start by contacting movers and shakers in your industry with a message that introduces yourself. It’s best to do this via email, through social media can work if you don’t have another option.
Tell them you value their work and appreciate what they do. As you build a relationship, find new ways to help them. Don’t ask for anything in return.
After you’ve communicated for a few months, you can start with a small request, like a share on social media.
As the relationship develops, you can continue helping them and ask for their help in return.
15. Ask for reviews
The single biggest factor that influences most purchasing decisions today is customer reviews.
According to Small Business Trends, reviews produce an average 18% uplift in sales.
While you can’t control what everyone says online, you can ask happy customers to post honest reviews of your business.
First off, identify the most important places for your reviews to appear. If you have a physical product, this may be a site like Amazon. For a local eatery, Yelp would be your go-to spot.
Whatever the location, send an email to recent customers (particular ones you know enjoyed what you have to offer) and encourage them to post a review.
If someone didn’t have a good experience, ask them to contact you. This allows them to get their problem resolved instead of posting a negative review.
16. Create a Facebook Group
The most powerful way to develop a brand is by building a loyal community around your product or service.
By appealing to a select group of people, you establish rapport and build a loyal following that wants to pursue what you have to offer.
This is how major companies have succeeded, from Apple to Pinterest. They started by building a community of loyal fans, then opened that community to others.
You can do the same with a Facebook Group. This can either be for your existing customers or for those who are interested in what you have to offer, even if they haven’t bought from you.
Provide extra resources and behind-the-scenes information for this group. As you build a loyal community, they’ll spread the word about your business.
17. Host a webinar
Webinars are a fantastic way to grow your business and earn more customers and clients.
To start, prepare a short presentation covering a topic your target customers would be interested in. Most webinars are in a how-to format, teaching attendees the specific steps they need to take to achieve a result.
Webinars are helpful for all businesses, but they’re most widely used by B2B marketers, according to data by Marketing Charts.
Once you’ve prepared your presentation, schedule a time for the session. Promote the training through social media and your email list.
While you can spend a boatload of money on software that will run the webinar for you, the easiest way to go about it is through Google Hangouts.
Send a viewable link to those who are interested in participating in the training session, and get started on time!
Before you finish, make sure to include a short plug for your company or service.
18. Create and promote coupons to your ecommerce site
No matter what you sell, you can easily set up functionality for accepting coupon codes.
Once you’ve prepared these bonuses, strategically distribute them across social media and to your email list.
The goal is not to get most of your existing customers to spend less money but to refer friends with the deals you’re offering.
You can also submit the coupon codes to deal websites for even wider promotion.
19. Publish an ebook
Publishing a book has long been a way for companies to build expertise in their fields.
Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller-Williams Realty, built his brand into a nationally recognized company by publishing a bestselling book on real estate.
The digital world has made this easier than ever.
You can write down the most important advice for others in your industry, or a guide for those looking to purchase the product or service you offer.
This book doesn’t have to be long. Many Kindle books are only 20,000-30,000 words, which is about the length of 25 blog posts.
As soon as you finish the content, you can submit it to the Kindle store and start promoting it. As the book grows in popularity, you can drive more traffic and customers to your business.
20. Guest post on other sites
If you’re hoping to get customers interested in what you have to offer, look no further than guest posting.
By publishing an article on another website, you can acquire readers who are acutely interested in what you have to offer.
Those posts bring in extra traffic, links, and sales. After all, your content was good enough to be recommended by a site that those readers trust!
There’s a reason why a majority of respondents to a study use guest blogging, according to recent research by Ahrefs.
To make the best use of your guest posts, find a site with an audience that’s closely aligned to what you sell.
Write content that would interest their leaders, but also could lead to deepening their relationships with your brand.
You could offer a special download for signing up to your email list, or you could encourage purchases.
21. Set up an online referral program
If you have happy customers, you can leverage that by offering a referral program.
This is a way to encourage your customers to share your product or service with their friends and get them to sign up.
Referral programs don’t have to be complicated. Simply use software like ReferralCandy and add the list of contacts you’d like to refer.
When someone works with you, provide them with their own URL for referral sales. Explain how much they’ll receive if someone signs up using their link.
Encourage them to share with their friends, but don’t push too hard. As your clients grow to appreciate and trust your brand, they’ll happily share with friends who would benefit.
22. Host a Twitter Chat
Twitter Chats are a great way to foster a sense of community while presenting your company as a reliable source of information and authority.
You can meet dozens of new people, promote discussions about your industry, and build relationships that can carry over into the offline world.
To get started, choose a Twitter hashtag for your conversation. Promote it to your followers through email and social media. If you choose, you can include it on your website.
If the chat goes well, you can set it to occur regularly. Monthly or even weekly chats can be a great way to keep people engaged with what you have to offer.
23. Optimize your website for mobile
Data from Nielsen indicates that more people live in households with a smartphone than a household with a personal computer.
Clearly, mobile marketing is a must for any small business owner. So how are you going to reach out to those customers?
The answer is simple: You need to optimize your website for mobile traffic. This is probably easier than it sounds.
To get started, see where your site ranks right now. Open it up on a mobile browser, or even use the mobile test view on Google Chrome.
Right-click and select Inspect.
Then click the mobile device icon to preview.
Once you have a feel for how your site displays on mobile, work to improve it. Update to a mobile-friendly theme, or even install an alternative mobile theme for your site.
If your site wasn’t prepared for mobile before, your online marketing campaigns will be exponentially more effective now that you can reach this huge market.
24. Include testimonials on your website
The most persuasive way to encourage others to invest in your site or product is through testimonials.
If you don’t already tell stories from customers who are excited about how well your product or service works, it’s time to add those stories to your online marketing strategy!
The easiest way to start is by contacting former customers who you know achieved success or enjoyed the product.
Encourage them to write to others explaining why they signed up, what appealed to them most about the product or service, and any success they achieved with your help.
For an even easier solution, just include screenshots from a private Facebook community or reviews left for your program, as on Alp Turan’s Fast50 sales page.
Post these prominently on your website, and include a photo if you get their permission.
25. Fix Google’s issues with your site speed
If you’re struggling to acquire search engine traffic, it could be because Google is penalizing your site for its speed.
But if that’s the case, you don’t need to guess at what’s the problem.
Google has its own tool to let you know any issues your site has. It’s called PageSpeed. You can easily track and repair any issues that might push you further down the search results.
If you’re unsure about how to solve one of the problems Google recognizes, you can hire a web developer to repair it.
The good news is that the problems you’ll encounter here are usually quick fixes, and the cost of solving them is usually a few hundred dollars or less.
26. Add pop-ups to your site
To build your email list, it’s no surprise that you need to present your visitors with extra ways to sign up for your website.
There are thousands of plugins that can deliver great results with pop-ups. These are a very high-converting way to drive new email subscribers to your list.
If you’re looking for detailed functionality at a low price point, I suggest you look into Convertful.
This is a low-priced, fully-functional program that allows you to easily include pop-ups and other high-converting options for your users.
You’ll be able to easily create pop-up menus, header bars, and even page overlays to drive traffic.
If you’re building an email list, be sure to maximize the amount of traffic you can get through your website with these tools.
27. Test your site design
Every site has room for improvement. I’m constantly testing things on my own site!
To ensure that you’re converting as much traffic as possible, acquiring new leads, and making new sales, you need to test your website and improve the process.
To get started, I recommend you download a program like Optimizely. This will allow you to easily split-test elements on your site.
Over the course of a few months, figure out what works the best for you.
Once you improve your conversion rates, keep testing.
I’d recommend running a split test at all times. Always have one possible change in testing mode to see if it outperforms your current site layout.
Online marketing doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
If you’re a small business with a low budget, you don’t have the luxury of spending tens of thousands of dollars.
Instead, you need to work smarter, not harder. With some careful planning, you can create a digital marketing plan that skyrockets your success.
Which online marketing techniques will you use to grow your small business?