Statista reports that, from 2011 to 2015, businesses in the U.S. spent more than $863 billion total in advertising-related expenses. Furthermore, these costs increase around $10 billion annually, which just goes to show that getting your name, products, and services out there can take a huge chunk out of your budget—especially if you’re a smaller business.
To help keep these costs to a minimum, sometimes you just have to get creative with your advertising. That’s exactly what these nine business owners did, promoting their companies without robbing their piggy banks to do it. Here’s how they did it…
Help Clients “Find You By Fate”
Sarah Maccarelli Jordan is a professional makeup artist in Asheville, North Carolina, providing airbrush makeup services for hundreds of brides and models (as well as one notable client: Manilla Luzon from RuPaul’s Drag Race), and she shares that one creative and inexpensive way to advertise your business is to help your clients “find you by fate.”
To do this, Jordan says to get bookmarks made and “then visit several local libraries and put your bookmarks in books that pertain to your business. For example, since I am an airbrush makeup artist and my clients tend to be women who are newly engaged, I put my bookmarks in books about weddings and wedding planning, relationship advice, etc. I’ve gotten quite a few happy clients who feel that they found me by fate. This is a way to give fate a helping hand.”
Canvas Your Client’s Neighborhoods (With Chocolate)
Cameron Graham, Business Development Specialist with J – I.T. Outsource says canvassing “sounds incredibly old-fashioned, but it works very well for us.” Graham simply seeks out prospects who are “businesses who are near your current clients. They’ll tend to cluster by type, size, etc., so get out a map and see who is near and similar.”
When you do your canvassing, Graham suggests that you “write a self-intro letter mentioning those nearby clients. Include valuable information (reports, checklists, etc.), not marketing materials. Put it all in a big clear plastic envelope with some chocolates, take a nice drive, drop them off, and you’ve got a very budget-friendly way to advertise your business to very specific prospective clients.”
Turn Your Mascot Into a Photo Prop
If you have a company mascot (like an animal or animated character), Jennifer Boaro, designer and COO at The Cat Ball, LLC, suggests that you use this to your full advantage by getting a life size cardboard cutout of it and taking it with you to events. Have fun with it and post pics on your social media.
“We created and make the Cat Ball® cat bed,” says Boaro, “which is an unusual looking cat bed design, and we take a lot of photos of cats with our beds. Our main model is Retro, a handsome lynx point Siamese cat with crossed eyes. I had a life size cardboard model made of Retro, which I call ‘Flat Retro,’ and I started using this thing as a photo prop, especially when we were going to a public event.”
Unfortunately, Flat Retro ran into a little snag when he was stolen at CatConLA, but Boaro says that the company used it to their advantage. “We issued an ‘Amber alert,’” says Boaro, “and one of our Instagram followers told us she’s actually seen him in a car in the parking lot outside the event! We had a lot of social interaction with our Flat Retro Amber alerts, but he was never recovered, so I am now making more of him: I’m planning an entire litter so I can do more zany social media posts.”
“It was a lot of fun to use in public and attracted attention,” says Boaro, adding the importance of picking a good hashtag when posting all of the pics. Have fun. Be creative. See what you can come up with.
Get Others to Advertise for You (Because They Want To!)
Daisy Jing is the 27-year-old CEO and founder of Banish, a multi-million dollar beauty product line, and she says, “We advertise by showing people that our products work. So we do our best to work with different (big or small) influencers and now publishers so they too can try our products and advertise it to their social media accounts, websites, magazines, or blogs.”
Jing goes on to explain that, “since these people are influential and trustworthy, we are gaining their followers’ trusts and approval. The best thing about it is that influencers love our products, so it’s easy for them to recommend us in the best way they can.”
Along the same lines, LaDonna Bracy, founder and CEO of Lake Park Consulting shares that she uses “Brand Ambassadors” to help her promote her business without having to shell out a bunch of cash. “I asked five people to serve as Brand Ambassadors,” says Bracy, “to help to spread the word about my business and my Facebook group. As a result, my Facebook group grew from 41 people to 144 people within a 24 hour period.”
When choosing your own Brand Ambassadors, Bracy suggests that you:
- Choose people who love your brand/business;
- Choose people who have a large following; and
- Reward your Ambassadors with discounts or free products/services.
Join Your Local BNI for Promising Leads
Eagan Heath, owner of and SEO specialist for Get Found Madison, says, “I just started full-time with my search engine optimization (SEO) business this summer and I’ve been pleased with the leads that come through local BNI meetings.” If you’ve never heard of it, BNI is a business networking organization with meetings all around the globe.
“My last paying client was a 3rd-tier lead through someone who recommended my freelance business to their owner,” says Heath. “People can visit each BNI chapter twice per year for free and most cities have quite a few, so it’s worth showing up with a compelling and concise 1-minute pitch. The BNI members want you to join their group, so they work to find leads for their visitors.”
While there is an annual cost to join a BNI group, Heath says that this amount “can usually be paid back from a single lead.”
Volunteer Your Time, Build Your Brand
December Fields-Bryant, owner of Terrestrials, a blog about environmentally friendly topics for families, shares that “one of the best ways I’ve found to advertise with little to no budget is to volunteer at events. In the past I have worked with events I’ve helped create, build, or market for a way to swap my abilities and time for free advertising. Sometimes it’s just an ad on their site and social media, other times it’s a full deal that they give to sponsors of the event.”
Fields-Bryant goes on to say that “this method is best used when there is an event that falls within the business’ niche, of course. Find events through social media, forums, searches, even newspapers in your area. Talk to the committee for the event. See if they need any help and be fair in your time exchange including what services you can offer. Explain why you make a good fit. Not only will this work out for you but, if it is an event related to your business, you will be advertising directly to your target audience.”
Think Business Collaboration (With a Cherry on Top)
Erica Perebijnos, owner of and creative director at EP DESIGNHOUSE, has taken a slightly different approach to saving money on advertising. “I’ve been booking collaborative photoshoots,” says Perebijnos, “which is basically one photo shoot where I hire a couple models who have a good following and book a really great location, but I use products from multiple companies and style them together (hence, collaborative).” How does this work?
“Each month, I schedule one day for these shoots,” says Perebijnos. “My clients and other companies will send products they need lifestyle shots for and they end up with 300+ photos that they can use as they please. Instant content. The key here is every company that participated gets all the photos, but when they post, they have to tag every other company. So if 15 companies participate and tag every company…tons of exposure for these brands.”
This benefits small businesses especially, says Perebijnos, because they don’t have to go through all of the work on their own, “and the extra exposure from other brands posting is just the cherry on top.”
Take Advantage of Retargeting
Shana Haynie, co-founder and Creative Director for SplashOPM, a startup marketing agency focused on social media and content marketing strategies, says, “The most profitable form of online advertising is the use of retargeting ads and link retargeting.” Not familiar with what this is?
“Put simply, retargeting, (also known as remarketing), is when you place a pixel on your website that tracks visitors and their actions,” says Haynie. “If the visitor doesn’t convert to sale and decides to leave your website, the pixel allows you to serve them online ads later. You can do this on social media platforms like Facebook or on Google Display Network.”
“Retargeting is highly effective because the person has already come in contact with your brand,” explains Haynie. “These people are considered ‘warm traffic,’ and warm traffic typically converts better than cold traffic. The ads are cheaper to run,” adds Haynie, “because cost-per-click and cost-per-acquisition are much lower than with direct targeted ads to cold traffic.”
Link retargeting “is similar to traditional retargeting,” says Haynie, “in that you are still tagging people with a pixel, the only difference is that these pixels are not just for website visitors. When someone clicks a link that you share that has been optimized for link retargeting, that person automatically gets tagged so that you can serve them online ads. This is an awesome strategy if you are doing a ton of online content curation. Now, any article you share with your audience can be a conduit for growing your retargeting ad base!”
Brand Your Social Media Posts with Your Brand
Jess Chua, founder of Inner Life Goals, says that one simple, yet budget-friendly way to advertise your business is to include your social media handle or website URL on your social media posts. “It helps with branding and name recognition,” says Chua, “and doesn’t require much time or effort on your part since you have to create an image anyway.”
To do this easily, Chua suggests that you use a program like Canva or software such as Photoshop. Additionally, “make sure you use vertical images for Pinterest,” says Chua, “and include relevant hashtags on your Instagram image post.”
In regard to hashtags specifically, Chua says, “Don’t use overly-generalized hashtags like #instagood. Narrow it down to your niche (#changeisgood is better than something broad and general like #life).”
And if you co-promote with others in your field, Chua says to make sure the image promotes their brand too, asking them to do the same if they’re posting an image to their social media followers. “This way you introduce one another to your respective followers,” says Chua, an action that benefits you both.
Write on Blogs that Aren’t Your Own
Marissa Russell, Certified Life Coach with The High Achieving Woman, shares that she has found that guest posting on blogs that cater to her ideal client is a great way to get her name out. “It is better than an ad because not only are you encouraging people to patronize your business, but you are also demonstrating your expertise through the content that you have written,” says Russell, “thus enabling people to build trust with you.”
For this particular strategy to be successful, Russell says to “only guest post on websites where the readers are known for actively liking, commenting and sharing content. A blog may be geared towards your ideal clientele, but if the readers aren’t engaged, the return on investment will be low.”
Answer Your Phone…Literally
Steve Benson, CEO and founder of Badger Maps, says that a no-cost way of promoting your business is to answer the phone…literally. “It’s not complicated,” says Benson, “but it works.”
At this point, you may be wondering how answering your phone is a good form of advertisement, so Benson explains, “For some customers, some of the time, written responses are fine. But if your customer calls you, if you really want them to love and trust your company, there needs to be a voice on the other end of the line to help out when they needed you enough to call you.”
Benson goes on to say that this “has worked very well for us because customers that love you tell their friends. It’s a small world and news travels fast. And word-of-mouth advertising is the best advertising after all!”