Advertising online is now an essential - and low cost - part of marketing a small business. Studies suggest that more than three-quarters of UK consumers carry out online research before making a purchase. This remarkable statistic demonstrates the importance of building an online presence for your business, and the potential there is to reach customers and clients looking to buy products and services just like yours
There are plenty of companies offering services to promote your business online. But with an effective advertising strategy in place you can probably do most of this promotion yourself at very low cost, or even for free.
Here are 11 cheap and free ways to market your business online.
1. Build a company website
It may seem like common sense, but your business needs a website to be competitive online. Without a website, you will face a constant uphill battle to remain visible and appear professional.
Once it has been set up, a website will only cost you a few pounds per year for hosting and a domain name, and with that you can generate customers and sales.
2. Online advertising
Any business can get exposure using online classified ads on sites such as Gumtree and Craigslist, and these can be very cheap - or even free.
You can place targeted ads for your business online every day, and people will find them via search. You can advertise anything from a one-day event like a garage sale to a service like photography, plumbing or gardening.
3. Use search engine optimisation
Free search engine traffic is tantamount to winning the lottery. If you can convince the search engines that your website is the most relevant site for your targeted keywords, you should get a consistent stream of traffic. Some of this traffic will naturally convert into revenue.
You can do basic optimisation yourself for free, or you can pay someone to do it for you.
4. Content marketing
A successful content marketing strategy will drive traffic to your website and help with search engine optimisation, and it can be completely free. However, it can be labour-intensive, and you will need to be a competent (and quick) writer.
It may be worth employing a freelance writer on a site such as Fiverr or Upwork to translate your expertise into well-written articles, as this will stand a better chance of being accepted for publication on other sites than your own.
5. Use social networks
Some businesses are perfect for targeting social media traffic, and some are not. Consider creating a business Twitter profile or Facebook page. These accounts will allow you to interact directly with online audiences.
You can post product images, let customers know about promotions or events and encourage happy clients to share details with their network of friends. Customers can also interact with you, sharing ideas and suggestions to improve your business.
Social media will also help your business to grow virally through word of mouth.
6. Share video content online
If you are able to produce a few interesting videos that are related to your business, posting them on sites like YouTube and Vimeo could send you a steady flow of website traffic.
These sites are free to submit to, and the potential traffic gain from them is astronomical. Make sure that you submit more than one video to maximize exposure.
7. Share photos online
Online photo sharing is like online video sharing. If you have some photos that are relevant to your business, don't be afraid to share them on visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.
You can post images of your product or people using your products, pictures of staff, company events or images related to your business - the only limit is your imagination. This will increase your website visibility and send more targeted visitors to your site.
8. Use pay-per-click advertising
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is rarely thought of as cheap, but it can drive a massive amount of high-converting traffic to your site. You have to find a balance between cost and revenue to make the best use of PPC advertising.
While it can be very helpful for your business, it could also be a major drain on your budget if you aren't careful.
You can purchase PPC advertising on almost all of the major search engines, as well as on sites like Facebook.
9. Email marketing
Email marketing has been stigmatised as spam in the past - but changes in data protection and marketing rules has helped to 'clean up' its reputation.
To create an effective and legitimate email marketing campaign, you need to build a list of interested parties that have actively 'opted in' to receiving emails from you.
Usually, you need to give something away to entice people into providing their email address and permission for you to send emails to them. This can be something as simple as a small report or document that offers genuine value
After you have created your list, you can begin email marketing. It is important to allow your recipients to remove themselves from your list at any time if they want to.
10. Appear in local business listings
If you are promoting a bricks and mortar company, you should be taking advantage of the search engines' local business listings like Google My Business. This will place your website on the front page with similar local services when someone does a search within your operating area.
This can be a great way to get a fledgling business in front of thousands of potential local customers.
11. Join online directories
It's true that some online directories are losing their usefulness when it comes to search engine optimisation, but you can still make use of local directories that target your specific area. You may get a small boost to your page rank, and some traffic from the directory itself.
There has been a shift in the way some directories work. Many now allow members of the public to advertise specific jobs and to connect with relevant local tradespeople. In return for a small fee, tradespeople can submit quotes for the jobs advertised.
Tradespeople can also add a profile about their business and the services they offer, and build up ratings from customers.
There are many different ways to get your business name out there, and you should consider using some or all of them. With very little outlay, or possibly for free, you can drastically increase your customer base by tapping into the wealth of online customers.
New opportunities pop up every day, so be sure to keep an eye out for them.
Written by Daniel Offer, partner in the Facebook chat programme Chit Chat for Facebook