One thing that you might not have when starting a business is money. I get it. I started my stationery shop on a shoe string budget relying more on investing my time than actual money. (I even learned the things you shouldn’t spend money on when just starting out.)
And you know what. It worked. Turns out that you don’t need to have a ton of money up front. Not if you’re willing to invest your time in free marketing ideas instead.
Money does help your business grow faster. You can reach a larger audience quicker by purchasing more ads, hosting bigger promotions and spreading word about your products and services to more people.
But the organic marketing that you can also use is free. If you use your time productively, you can actually grow your business with these free marketing ideas that don’t cost much if anything. Which is perfect if you’re starting your business with just an idea and a dream.
How do you start marketing your shop without spending money?
It all seems to come down to your creativity. Although there are some wonderful free marketing ideas, many businesses are using them. The marketplace has gotten crowded since I started building my online business ten years ago. You need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
And although you won’t be investing dollars, you will be investing your time. Make sure that you choose ideas you are passionate about (or at least like). It’s hard to invest time in something that you aren’t that interested in.
Here are some of my favorite free marketing ideas for your creative business.
Give Away Something for Free
Give, give and give some more. Or as I always like to say – throw freebies around like confetti.
This is my absolute number one marketing strategy and has worked since day one. It turns out that customers love getting things for free.
When I started my stationery shop, I created a weekly free printable series. Every Friday, I gave away a free printable on my blog. Customers knew to come to the shop on Fridays to check out that week’s freebie. They loved trying out my designs and adding new ideas to their weekend celebrations. And I started to build my audience.
Although creating these designs took time up front, they didn’t actually cost me anything to make (unless you count the cardstock and printing cost to take photos of them). But their impact was huge.
Even today, long after I stopped making free printables weekly (I now make them monthly instead due to time), they are still shared and popular among current and future customers.
Find creative ways that you can give to your audience. Hand out an e-book. Create a free course. Design free printables.
No matter what digital product you choose, build your audience’s trust through your generosity.
Please note that if you only have an Etsy shop, giving things away for free can be difficult. I recommend getting your own website/blog as soon as possible. This is one of the best investments you can make for your business early on. Find out more about creating a blog for your online shop here.
Establish a Social Media Presence
Most businesses have a love/hate relationship with social media. It can be a great way to communicate with your customers and showcase your brand. At the same time, it can take a lot of time to manage and not everyone sees sales from their efforts.
But promoting your online shop with social media is FREE. You don’t have to pay to post or build your audience. And many customers love interacting with their favorite businesses this way.
Today, there are so many different social media platforms you can choose from. You might consider Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Google + (is that still a thing?) and many more.
Figure out which one or two platforms the majority of your audience is on. Build your audience on one platform at a time. If you try all of them at the same time, you’ll just end up frustrated and overwhelmed.
Focus on one for the next 30 days. Post daily (or even multiple times a day depending on posting recommendations or what you find works). Engage your audience and see how much your following grows.
If after 30 days you haven’t seen a lot of growth (in your business and audience), think about whether continuing on the platform is worth your time.
Once you have one social media platform buzzing, try to add another one.
I would stick to two of your favorite platforms. Running a successful social media presence for your business can be a full time job (hence, the new job title “social media manager”). Just be sure you can manage running the platform despite your other marketing tasks.
And if it does get too complicated to manage yourself – find your own social media manager. There are lots of VAs these days who specialize in these tasks.
Write a Business Blog
If I had to choose my second favorite of the free marketing ideas, it would be starting a business blog. Creating a business blog does not have a lot of upfront costs considering how much marketing costs overall, but tons of potential.
Your business blog can become the community hub of your business. If managed correctly, it’s the place where your audience comes to gather, browse, learn and discover new things. And they want to be there.
Unlike social media platforms that can change on a dime, your blog is managed and controlled by you. You don’t need to worry about algorithm changes or your work not getting seen by your customers.
Creating a business blog starts with committing to writing consistently. Create your first piece of blog content and you’ll be surprised how quickly your blog audience will grow.
If you aren’t crazy about writing yet, check out our business blog writing course. Or you could hire a freelancer to write blog posts for you. This might be a great way to save time too.
Use Pinterest Wisely
Once upon a time, Pinterest was considered part of the social media platforms category. And it kind of was.
You’d build an audience, share your work through pins and curate boards with collections of related work that they were interested in.
Today, Pinterest has become more of a visual search engine. Users type phrases into the Search bar and the best results (hopefully, your pins) appear. They can then click on the ones of interest, repin to their own boards and check out the websites to find out more information.
So, use Pinterest wisely. Create beautiful pin designs, add strategic SEO, schedule pins with Tailwind and participate in group boards. It’s almost like another Google search engine, just prettier.
But the best part is that Pinterest has the potential to drive a lot of free, organic traffic to your online business.
Craft an Amazing Newsletter
Although I haven’t heard it as much lately, email marketing is where it’s at for promoting your products and business. Many online businesses invest a lot of time building their email list only to have it sit there and gather dust.
So if this is you (yeah, I’ve been guilty about this one too), start using your email list. You’ve invested time and energy to build it. Get over your fears and craft an amazing newsletter to go with it.
Remember, except for the cost of the email list management program, it’s free to email your list. And if you’re too scared or don’t have enough time to craft a savvy newsletter, at least send your latest blog posts to your audience.
Sending emails to your mailing list reminds customers about your shop, the products and services you offer and updates them about what you’re doing. Not everyone has time (or chooses to spend it) on social media. Email is their connection to what they do.
And usually the people who sign up for your mailing list are the ones who want to stay connected to you. Some of my biggest fans are on my mailing list. So start using this free marketing tool.
Volunteer in your Community
Just because you own an online business doesn’t mean that you need to stay behind the computer all day. Spread the word about your business and improve your mood by volunteering in your community.
I met a business owner once who was trying to grow her food blog. She would volunteer to teach cooking classes at the local Boys and Girls Club. Through her lessons, the kids learned more about the food in their community, how to prepare a simple meal and ways to eat healthier. Talk about making an impact.
This food blogger also used the opportunity to document on social media her experience with food through working with these kids.
So, think about ways that your business skills can help others in the community. If you’re an artist, consider teaching art classes to local kids in need. Or if you have stellar business prowess, maybe inspire others to become entrepreneurs or volunteer as a mentor at your local business organization.
Participate in Facebook Groups
This is another one of my favorite free marketing ideas that has truly helped build my business and relationships. When I started my business, I joined two Facebook Groups that have been cornerstones to making my online shop what it is today.
You can use Facebook Groups in many different ways. From sharing your work to finding new clients and making friends, Facebook Groups can be a wonderful (and free) way to spread the word about your products.
Before getting started, I recommend creating a Facebook Group strategy. As wonderful as Facebook Groups are, they can take a lot of time if you aren’t careful. Spend your time strategically in Facebook Groups and make sure you have a purpose when participating. You will be a lot happier with the results.
Join your Local Entrepreneur Organization
Your network will get you far in business. So if you haven’t started making friends in the business community yet, consider joining a local entrepreneur organization.
In some communities, this might mean your Chamber of Commerce. But most places have smaller entrepreneur focused organizations that are free to join these days.
Check your local entrepreneur groups or co-working sites. You also might find local entrepreneur Facebook Groups or groups on Meet-up that you can join. As with everything else, do your research first. I joined a number of small business groups when I first moved to our new area. With littles and a business to run, it was quite overwhelming to keep up with them all. Choose wisely and start networking.
Having trouble finding the right group?
This might be a sign that you should start your own. If your community lacks an entrepreneur group that suits your needs, consider creating your own. Organize your group using Facebook or another gathering site. Find a place to meet – such as a local coffee shop – and get together. Discuss business issues or your business niche. Making new friends can be fun. Promise.
Develop a SEO Strategy
I used to find SEO one of the most mysterious free marketing ideas out there. It might be free, but that doesn’t help me if I can’t figure out how to use it.
Once I started figuring out how to apply a better SEO strategy to my business, my shop’s products and blog posts started to rank. Soon using SEO began to make sense.
SEO simply means adding in phrases and keywords that your potential customers will search for. When writing a blog post, product listing or other piece of content, think about words associated with that content. What would your potential customers type in to find it?
Once you have those words, strategically place them throughout your content piece. When the search bots read your piece, they find the words and catalog it. Then, eventually, it will come up when those terms are searched.
If you decide to develop your own SEO strategy, remember that it’s a long game. Think marathon here. Coming up in search engines can take months or longer. But, it is a great free marketing idea to invest time in since it will deliver more customers in the end.
Encourage Repeat Buyers
Did you know it costs five times more to attract a new customer than keep an old one? And if you don’t have much money when you’re first starting out, it might be better to build relationships with your current customers.
There are lots of ways to encourage customers to come back to your shop. And most of them are free.
Some of my favorites include sending a handwritten note with their order. Or signing up for an automatic coupon service that sends a coupon for their next purchase.
Etsy also will send coupons to customers who have placed an item in their cart, but haven’t purchased it yet. Currently this is a free service and a great way to encourage buyers to make their final purchase.
Drop your Business Card
One of the things that I love about small cafes and book stores are business card boards. They are bulletin boards where local businesses can add their business card to promote their business for free.
My favorite of these boards is strategically placed on the way to the restroom. I love scanning while waiting for the bathroom and seeing what new services I can learn about.
If I’m taking the time to look at the board, others must be too.
Keep some business cards with you and add to the collection whenever you see one of these boards. You never know who might find you.
This free marketing idea isn’t for every business. But if your business is in a niche that has a lot of information you need to share, creating an infographic might help you find new customers.
The infographic design boom raged from 2010 to 2012. Since then, infographics have become a standard form for information sharing. People love them.
You can learn more about designing your own infographic here. Or you could hire someone to make it for you. (This might be the best and most time effective way if you aren’t a designer.)
Create Instructional Videos
Not everyone is a writer. And writing isn’t the best medium to create content in for all businesses.
Some businesses have information that’s better shared through video. If so, start a YouTube channel for your business.
Every day, YouTube users watch over a billion hours of YouTube videos. I did just write billion. And only 9% of small businesses currently use this format to create content.
I’m seeing a missed opportunity here.
Set up your own YouTube channel for your business and start creating.
Not sure what video content to create. You can find my favorite ideas here, but when in doubt start with some instructional videos. Teach your customers how to do something that is in your niche. Everyone likes to learn. Teach in an interesting way and you’re sure to connect with your potential audience.
Network with Others
Quiz question… Do you think it’s better to sit behind your computer every day and never talk to anyone else EVER?
Or do you think it’s better to spend some of your marketing time reaching out to others and building new relationships with other bloggers and business owners?
Ding, ding ding. Number two it is.
Now, an even more important question. Which do you prefer to do?
Many of you probably answered number one. I know that used to be my preference. It’s a lot easier and takes less work. Who wants to always have to engage in conversation or seek out new connections?
I get it. The problem is if you don’t come out from behind the computer screen at some point your business won’t grow. No matter how hard you work or how much time you spend on it.
Businesses grow because of the connections they make with others. And not just customers. Other businesses, bloggers, influencers or even the mom down the street.
So, one of the best free marketing ideas to grow your business is to network with others.
Don’t think this process has to be hard. You can still network from behind the computer screen.
But start reaching out to others. Contact bloggers you love. Sign up for their newsletters. Comment on their posts and engage with them in Facebook Groups.
Keep a list about who you meet and see if there is an opportunity to collaborate. Nobody grows in a bubble.
Despite what you might have read, marketing your business doesn’t have to cost a lot. If you’re willing to put the time and energy into developing organic marketing channels, you can grow your business for free.
Since there’s lot of ways to market your business, develop your marketing strategy using the free marketing ideas that work the best and fit into the time you have each week.
If you’re just getting started creating a marketing strategy for your shop, check out our FREE First Steps to Marketing course. Here we show you all of the different marketing options and how to put them together into a strategy that grows your business in the time you have each week.
And if time is a huge issue for growing your business, just pick one. Focus on a single social media platform or work on creating a YouTube channel. Doing something each week is more important than doing nothing. You might not grow as fast as others, but you’ll still grow.