Bill Hewlett and David Packard started HP with $538. Fred DeLuca founded Subway with $1,000 he loaned from a friend. And Sara Blakely founded shapewear giant, Spanx, with $5,000 of her personal savings.
Lesson learned? You can grow your business without spending a ton of cash.
I don’t own a multimillion-dollar company, but as a freelance writer, I’ve experienced business growth firsthand—without spending a dime. Here are a few free and low-cost marketing techniques that have worked for me.
Create strong web content.
How’s your website performing? If you aren’t capturing leads online or growing your website’s traffic, you could be missing a huge opportunity. In 2020, it's estimated that about 2.05 billion people will be shopping online. That’s about one out of every four people on Earth.
Whether you sell a product or a service, you need a website. Fortunately, these days, it’s incredibly easy to get a good website up and running fast. All you have to do is follow a few best practices:
Know your audience. Get information through surveys or other research about your target customers. Develop personas that will guide you. Then write web content that speaks directly to their concerns and needs.
Write for humans. Skip the jargon, especially if you’re in an industry that’s prone to it. Focus on your customers. For example, talk about your customers’ problems and how you can solve them.
Add useful content. Informative content helps people find you online—and builds trust. Imagine someone searches, “How to hire a roofing contractor.” If you have a blog post on this topic, they might land on your website.
Capture leads. Include a strong call to action button on your website so a customer can leave their information and reach you. Or offer free, helpful content behind a form.
Back yourself up with insurance.
Get business insurance early on, so you don’t lose money before you can grow. A good business insurance plan, whether it contains general liability insurance or professional liability insurance, can protect you in the event of an unforeseen and costly circumstance.
A brief explainer: General liability insurance can protect you from costs and claims associated with third-party damages and accidents, while professional liability insurance can cover the costs associated with being accused of negligence while performing your work.
The bottom line? Get insurance. It’s hard to grow your business if you have an early setback.
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Have stellar online reviews.
When was the last time you walked into a new restaurant without reading a review first? For me, it’s been a while. Years in fact.
The truth is, online reviews are more important now than ever. In 2019, online shoppers actually expect to see about 112 reviews when they buy a product. Another study found 62% of its respondents think customer reviews are “very helpful.” With platforms like Yelp, Amazon, Angie’s List, and Facebook, it’s easy for customers to rate your work.
A few tips for getting online reviews:
Ask your customers for feedback. Call them, email them, or ask in-person.
Politely respond to every review, especially if it’s negative. A negative review can be a learning experience and an opportunity to improve your business.
Keep track of feedback daily, and aim to grow your number of reviews. The more positive reviews you have, the better.
And remember, don’t get discouraged by a negative review. They happen to the best of businesses. In fact, it’s worth following up on social media and also offline to turn an unhappy customer into an enthusiastic fan of your brand.
Be smart about social media.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and LinkedIn are incredibly powerful tools for reaching new customers. Find out where your customers spend time, and then start posting engaging content. Reach out to influencers in your industry, too.
A few examples of how different businesses can take advantage of social media:
Photographers—Instagram is a great place for you to post samples of your work. You can tell stories through your photos, explain your creative approach, and network with photography influencers. Cross-post your content on Facebook, too.
Landscapers—Try Facebook or Pinterest. Facebook is still the most popular social media network, so it’ll increase your reach. Pinterest is a great place to reach customers who are looking for landscaping ideas and images.
Beauticians—Once again, make sure you’re on Facebook. And because your industry is about aesthetics, a beautiful Instagram page could serve you well too.
Accountants—LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube could help you reach new customers. Try uploading a video series to YouTube that answers common tax questions.
Contractors—Today more people than ever are searching for “how-to” videos. You’re the perfect person to answer their questions. Upload a video series on Facebook and YouTube that answers common homeowners’ questions.
Speak at events and webinars.
Now’s not the time to be shy. Speaking at a community event or industry conference will position you as an expert in your field—and help your business grow. If public speaking isn’t your thing, practice or take a class. Trust me, it can be well worth it.
Don’t want to travel or speak in-person? Try offering a free webinar. It’s easier to host a webinar with an organization who has a following. This way, you don’t have to spend time marketing your event. Here’s an example: I write website content for financial advisors who are part of an industry network. So this year, I offered to host a webinar for that network on blog writing.
Get creative. How can you reach your customers and teach them more about your field?
Offer a coupon or discount.
What’s the most powerful word in marketing? Free. Yup, people love a deal. Look at the coupons and discounts your competitors offer and try to match (or beat) them. You can also offer a discount for customers who refer to your business. The options are endless.
Here are a few ideas for creating an enticing offer:
Promote your discounts on your website, social media channels, and in your brick-and-mortar store (if you have one).
Above all, offer great service.
You need to be able to back up your marketing with outstanding customer service. Otherwise, no matter how much you market your business, you won’t grow. The simple truth is this: people notice the great customer service and tell others.
Whatever you do, do it well and put customers first!
I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
*Harborway Insurance policies are underwritten by Spinnaker Insurance Company and reinsured by Munich Re, an A+ (Superior) rated reinsurance carrier by A.M. Best. Harborway Insurance is a trade name of Simply Business, Inc., which is a licensed insurance producer in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.