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How to Market Your One-Person Business Without Breaking the Bank

How to Market Your One-Person Business Without Breaking the Bank

One of the biggest obstacles I’ve faced as a solopreneur is marketing. Because I didn’t know much about business ownership before deciding to write for a living, I had only envisioned days sitting at my computer, doling out article after article. It never even entered my mind that I’d have to spend a decent amount of my time also getting people to hire me.

However, I quickly learned that if I wanted to grow my business and develop a solid list of clients, I had to first market myself and my services. But how? Perhaps even more importantly, how was I supposed to get the word out without spending every dollar I made…and then some?

A frugal person, I decided to put my cost-cutting abilities to work professionally and come up with a few strategies for marketing my new business at little to no cost. Here are three tactics I’ve used over the years that have provided the best results for me.

Personalized Emails to the Target Client

I’m all for automation in business, but I’ve found that personally crafting emails to my prospective clients has returned much better results. More time consuming, yes. But also more effective.

For instance, when I expanded my service offerings to include ghostwriting books, I decided that I wanted to work with speakers. One, they could use the book to increase their income and, two, I enjoy taking their videos and PowerPoints and turning them into a complete manuscript their audiences can use to remember all they’ve learned.

So, I went onto the National Speaker Association’s website and identified the speakers I wanted to work with most, which was primarily those who didn’t already have a book in print. I then looked at each one’s website to see if I thought we would be a good fit based on their topics.

If my answer was yes, I sent that person an email referencing their topics or a blog they posted and letting them know that I was available if they wanted to chat about the potential of creating a book they could sell as a way to provide themselves more credibility and increase their income.

Not only did I get my name out there at absolutely no financial cost, but I also received very positive results. I got enough out of the deal to make it more than worth my time and effort.

Even speakers who didn’t hire me responded that they appreciated the fact that I had taken the time to learn more about them versus just sending a blanket email that I sent to hundreds of others. Although they didn’t need me right this moment, I had proven that I was willing to put in the work, giving them a positive impression of me that could easily turn into work later.

Admittedly, this option does require a good amount of clarity on who you want to work for and with. So, before you take this route, take a moment and picture your ideal client. What organizations may he or she belong to? Then go to that organization’s database and start doing your research.

Guest Blogging

Not too long ago, I was contacted by a potential client to see if I would be interested in providing content for her. When I asked how she’d heard of me, she said that she found my post on another site, one which I had guest blogged on…about five years ago.

The nice thing about this marketing approach is that it expands your reach to those who are most interested in your services because you get to pick the blog. It also adds to your credibility because it enables you to share your expertise in a no-pressure kind of way.

The key is to look for high traffic blogs in your topic area and see if they accept submissions. Even if you’re not the best writer, many offer editing services. If they don’t, you can always hire a professional writer to craft the piece for you.

If you take the second route, be sure that the finalized article is still in your voice. I always tell my clients that their readers need to feel as if they’re having a conversation with them, so it needs to read like they speak.

Asking for Referrals

I’ve always been more on the shy side, so coming out and asking my clients to refer me out was extremely uncomfortable. Though I was confident in my abilities, I felt like I was begging for work by asking my clients to share my services with their colleagues and friends.

Fortunately, I became part of a mastermind group that helped me shift my perspective. Instead of

looking at referrals as if I’m wanting my clients to do my marketing for me, I needed to remind myself that it was just having a conversation about whether they knew someone I could help achieve their own content-related goals.

When I started looking at it that way, I felt less like I was asking clients to overextend themselves and more like I was simply letting them know that I had so much fun working with them that I would also enjoy working with other professionals in their circle.

If a client does refer me, I always acknowledge that referral by sending them a thank you to let them know how much I appreciate them taking the time and effort to pass my name along. I also tend to give more “extras” to those clients who have helped me grow my business in this way.

At this point, my business is about 90 percent referral. So, this has by far been my most effective no-cost marketing tool yet.

Additional No or Low-Cost Marketing Strategies

Although these are the three marketing options that have worked the best for me without having to break the bank, I also realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for all solopreneurs. So, I’ve reached out to a few other solo business owners and asked them to weigh in. Here are some of the strategies they say they’ve used to grow their one-person companies in a more economical way.

Offer speaking services. “My number one tactic for marketing on the cheap is sharing my time in the form of speaking and educating,” says Jason Morgan, a Seattle-based web designer with iLocal, Inc. “I always get a couple gigs from it.”

Volunteer. Another tactic Morgan uses to grow his business is volunteering. “If a college needs something on a volunteer basis, I do it,” he says. “If a non-profit needs some charitable work done, I do it.” This enables him to meet with decision-makers who can either hire him directly or refer him to someone else.

Provide proof of your work result. “Hands down, the best lead generation tool I’ve found is my own front yard,” says Joe Palumbo, owner of Landscape Guys, LLC, a landscape design company in Minneapolis. In fact, it’s his front yard on his web page and in other marketing materials. While this isn’t an option for every solopreneur, it can provide amazing results if it’s available to you. (Palumbo says he’s even had to install an automated gate on his property because it gets so much traffic.)

Network. “Networking sounds cliche,” says Palumbo, “but it’s really built my businesses! Just live the life you’re selling and if you do it with the same passion you put into your work, people will notice and began asking questions. It’s all about having someone start the conversation and you never know where one warm-handshake will take ya!”

Keep in touch with former clients. “I learned that the best no-cost marketing tactic is to keep an email list of current and former clients,” says Jonathan Rosenfeld, a personal injury lawyer in Chicago at his business, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers. “We send out a monthly newsletter that gives information about changes to our firm and new cases we are working on. We’ve found that this is a great investment in terms of time, as the newsletter never takes more than an hour to prepare.”

Be active online. “Join groups on Facebook, be active on other platforms, and constantly be thinking about how education can lead to business,” adds Rosenfeld. “Oftentimes, I find myself answering questions online or over the phone for people who are looking for guidance. So long as it’s not becoming problematic or too much of a time black-hole, I’d advise seeing how it goes for you. This doesn’t mean spending your time spamming everyone you know like you’re part of a multi-level marketing organization, but it does mean offering valid insight if the opportunity is right.”

If hiring a pro, do your homework. “In the beginning, I trusted friends with their contact recommendations blindly,” says Daniel Hochman, MD, founder of Self Recovery, an online, psychology-based addiction recovery program, when talking about his search for low-cost, yet reputable marketing-related help. “Now I realize that, in the end, I know my product and marketing needs better than anyone, and I can only trust myself with decisions about who to pay for marketing help. More recently, a friend recommended an agency for digital marketing. Now that I know better, I quickly decided not to move forward with them after I asked the agency for references and they got angry.”

Market in ways you enjoy. Hochman also recommends choosing marketing avenues that you’d enjoy “so that you can do a better job and have more fun. Some people love writing blogs, others like posting videos, some like managing a team to do that… find your own style and go do that well.”


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by Christina DeBusk // Freelance writer, author, and small business consultant committed to helping entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.