Almost Free Marketing

As a startup, you probably struggle with marketing. Who doesn’t? There are many ways a startup can get their name out there, including some options that are free. Below is a list of ideas that other entrepreneurs have used to market their company – and some items just take time!

  1. Write, distribute, and publicize a free report
  2. Cultivate relationships with media sources – get them to write about you in upcoming articles regarding startups
  3. Use carefully written and appropriately distributed press releases that include solid information and are accompanied by a visual
  4. Organize and promote newsworthy events–and show media people why they’re important to their audience
  5. Get your products or events previewed and reviewed in as many places as possible
  6. Get involved with community service activities (and let your skills be used)
  7. Self-syndicate an advice column to special-interest publications
  8. Take advantage of radio call-ins
  9. Sponsor or underwrite carefully targeted special-interest shows on radio and TV
  10. Donate premium prizes to media sources and charitable organizations
  11. Appear as a guest–or host!–on radio and TV shows
  12. Do as much public speaking as you can–to audiences that need what you offer
  13. Use the Internet to promote yourself through e-mail signatures, articles, Web sites and links, live conferences, and more
  14. Cross-promote with others, at every opportunity
  15. Use every free classified ad you can
  16. Write benefit-focused classified and direct mail copy that pulls in the reader and shows why you’re performing a great service to him or her–s/he’ll be so much better off with your offer that s/he’ll be grateful for the chance to buy
  17. Focus your marketing on solving your prospect’s problems or easing pain —not on how great you are
  18. Use clear, persuasive testimonials–and attribute them so your prospects know these are real people
  19. Tell everyone what you do and how it can be used or help people
  20. Actively encourage referrals
  21. Use your URL on everything! Below are some good examples of how:
    • T-shirts/Uniforms/Clothing – URLs don’t occupy much space. A lot of companies put it under the logo or even on the back under the collar in small letters. Try a cap with just the URL; maybe even as a giveaway.
    • Stationary – Do you have your URL on business cards, letterhead, invoices, bills, and checks? Print that URL on anything that you would put your phone number on. It doesn’t usually cost anything additional, and it will put your name in front of thousands. Ever think of putting your URL on your cash register receipt? It’s probably quite easy to do. The GAP even goes as far as to put their URL on the cash register display
    • Signage (Storefront) – Do you have a retail store with a sign in front? Why not put your URL on it? Closed signs are perfect for this. For example, “Sorry we are closed … but you can still visit us at”. This is also perfect for realtors. For example, “To learn more about this home or take a virtual home tour, check out” Every company has a sign that can have the URL as well. Why not?
    • Signage (Mobile) – This is a continuation on the above, but mobile signage is a bit different. Most companies have delivery trucks or a company car with signage. Adding your URL to these things is easy but a lot of people don’t do it. Bumper stickers and license plate frames are also common items that can improve your mobile marketing.
    • Packaging – Do you sell a product in a box, bag or wrapper? Try printing something like “For more information on this product or to order more go to”. Tags on products could have URL’s as well. If you use bags at your store, put the URL on these. People use bags over and over again, giving you more marketing impact. The David Bruce winery promotes their website in the smallest space available on their product – the cork!
    • Voice Mail/Answering Machine/Hold Message – Here is a perfect place to provide after-hour callers a way to get in touch with your company. Try something like this: “Sorry we aren’t able to come to the phone…. please check us out on the web at… many answers to frequently asked questions can be found by clicking on the customer service button” Instead of leaving a message or calling back, they maybe able to get the answers from your web site. You get the idea?
    • Traditional Advertising – Every business will run some sort of advertising. Whether it is a newspaper ad or TV ad, the URL should be an integral part of your ad. Look through any magazine or newspaper. Everyone is doing it. Come on; join in!
    • Press Releases – Most companies use press releases to announce changes in their company or new services that they offer. Press releases are a form of cheap marketing that a lot of people use. If you do use this tool, you need to make sure that the URL is included in the release. Put it in there as many times as you can. Some news services will edit your release, so make sure that you repeat the URL, so that it will get it in print.
    • Banner Ads – “Wait a minute. Why would you want your URL on a banner ad?” you ask. The important thing about any form of advertising is that your message gets across to the viewer, even if they don’t take immediate action. The average click through rate (how many people click on your ad and go to your website) for a banner ad is about 5%. So, every time your ad shows it is important that the other 95% of people who didn’t click on your ad have something to remember from your advertising. BRAND your web address into the viewers mind. They may not click your banner, but they may remember your URL later on when they want to go to your site.
  22. SPEAK!! – Talk about your site to EVERYONE. It is amazing the number of companies that don’t use this simple and free means to promote themselves. Training your staff to talk about the website will also bring more people to the site. Get everyone in your organization involved. Try it yourself. Ask your customers, “Hey, have you been to our website at” Invite them to try it out. Maybe even give them one of your new business cards, so they don’t forget the URL.
  23. Offer Your Product or Service as a Free Give Away – For example, if you own a restaurant, you could have your local Holiday Inn give away dinner gift certificates for $10 to hotel guests during check-in. If you own a car wash, you could have the local car dealerships give away a certificate for a free wash with all car purchases. Think about businesses that are complimentary to yours and offer a promotion that is easy for them to implement and that will benefit their customers.
  24. Donate to Local Charities & Schools – Offer your products, services, or gift certificates for charity auctions and events. This will get you exposure to everyone who attends the event and build loyalty with members of the organization you are supporting- not to mention a tax write-off!
  25. Leave Brochures, Fliers, and Business Cards Everywhere – Many local businesses will allow you to display your cards and brochures. Potential venues include:
    • Car washes
    • Bookstores
    • Coffee shops
    • Apartment buildings (near mailboxes or in laundry rooms)
    • Churches
    • Student centers
    • Community centers
    • Retirement centers
    • Fitness centers
    • Subways and bus depots
    • Fraternities and Sororities
    • Libraries
  26. Canvas Nearby Neighborhoods – Instead of just leaving a flier, you could leave an inexpensive item or tips booklet. One local Realtor stuck an American flag on the lawns of everyone in a neighborhood and then left her brochure on the doorsteps. Not only did the neighborhood look wonderful with all of those flags waving in the wind, but everyone loves a patriotic theme. This is a great strategy for all kinds of holidays: Independence Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, etc. You could take this idea a step further and do something similar for all of the major holidays. You can find inexpensive novelty items in bulk from www.rinovelty or
  27. Hold a Contest – People love to get stuff for free and contests are a great way to lure in new customers. Make the prizes something people want, or even just a gift certificate or shopping spree for your business. Be sure to alert the media to your contest. Here are some contest ideas:
    • Have kids color pictures or submit stories related to your business.
    • Have customers submit funny business slogans.
    • Hold a poetry contest with a theme related to your business.
    • Have people submit their best solutions to problems related to your business. For example, if you own a garden center, people could submit their best gardening tips. Take this a step further and publish the entries in a booklet when the contest is over.
    • Host a recipe contest if you have a food-related business.
  28. ​​​​Use Gift Certificates Creatively – Gift certificates are great for business because they cost you next to nothing, bring in cash, and often they are not redeemed. Get your customers to buy gift certificates by offering them a special bonus. For example: Buy a gift certificate for $20 or more and receive $5 off your next purchase with us. When the customer purchases a gift certificate, you then give them one worth $5 dated for use the following month only. This means that your customer must return to you the following month and if they do, will probably spend more than the free $5 you’ve given them.
  29. Host In-Home Parties – Mary Kay, Tupperware, Pampered Chef, and ThirtyOne are just a few of the companies who generate big sales from small parties. This strategy won’t work for all businesses, but if you have products that would benefit from an in-home party, contact your friends, family, and business associates, and get the party started.
  30. Join Local Trade Organizations – Many organizations hold regular meetings and free seminars, providing you with another opportunity to make valuable contacts. Toastmasters ( have chapters all over the U.S. and there are probably dozens of other organizations in your community to choose from. Even if you don’t think your business can benefit from networking, you might be surprised by the connections you can make at these events.
  31. Join Everything – Even the PTA (Parent/Teacher Association) can be a great place to network. Join book clubs, writer’s groups, or any groups of interest to you, even if they don’t directly relate to your business. Get known by everyone. They will associate you with your business as soon as they get to know you and your mere presence at functions could serve as a reminder and cause members to want to do business with you.
  32. Use Networking to Build Alliances – The secret to effective networking is to not just be on the lookout for what business contacts can do for you, but to consider what you can do for them. When you meet someone new, ask questions and engage them in conversation. Offer advice or ideas, build a relationship and trust between you. Once you’ve established a rapport, offer to meet for coffee or lunch and see if you can brainstorm ways to work together.
  33. Set Up Shop at the Farmer’s Market – If you have a food-related product or anything of interest to the general public, the local farmer’s market is a great place to not only generate sales, but to increase exposure to your business.
    • Print your tip sheets or booklets and give them away as a bonus with purchase or use them with your advertising. If you offer something of real value, people will be more likely to hang onto your list and refer to it over and over again, thus you are providing a consistent reminder of your business. Make sure your contact information and logo are printed on the documents.
  34. Swap Coupons with a Complimentary Business – Offer to give away their coupons with each purchase while they give away your coupons with each purchase. Each provides the other with coupons and runs the promotion simultaneously. Make sure you print a special run of coupons or give them some unique identifier (printed on a special color of paper, for example) so you can easily track the success of the promotion.
  35. Give Away Free Tips – Tip sheets or booklets can be fantastic marketing tools. Put together a list of tips, similar to the tips you’re reading now. Your tips could be as few as ten or as many as 100. For example, a financial advisor could put together a tips sheet called “Twenty Ways to Save on Tax Planning.” A beauty salon could offer “Ten Tips for Ageless Skin.” A childcare center could give away “Twenty-five Tips for Child Safety.”
  36. Smile for the Cameras – Television news programs like to host guests who have visual appeal. If there is something you can demonstrate, or an interesting presentation you can give, pitch your idea to local news program producers (locate their contact information from their websites). Watch your local programs to see what kinds of stories they feature and how you can tailor yours to meet their needs.
  37. Offer Something Wacky – One northern California restaurant started a Bald Tuesday promotion. You guessed it; anybody who was in a stage of balding could eat there for free on Tuesdays. Not only did this bring people in for a free meal, those patrons brought along paying customers with full heads of hair. And the biggest benefit of all? The media loved the story and covered it in the local news. Soon the story reached national news and the restaurant became the talk of the nation. Think of something unique and unusual that will bring people in; then be sure to alert the media.
  38. Record Audio CDs – It can be relatively inexpensive to record a CD using your computer with a recordable disk drive. You can put together and audio presentation that your prospects can listen to in their cars. Assemble a display and give them away. You can also place them in the same types of venues where you distribute fliers.
  39. Turn Your Customers into Billboards – Give away your shirts, hats, and other gear or sell it at cost. The big companies print their logos on everything and get people to buy, so you can too. Make sure it is something that people will want to wear. You could put a fun image or phrase on the front of a shirt, with your company logo and website address on the back. Be creative!
  40. Make it Stick – Magnets are an inexpensive way to leave a lasting impression. Print your business card and logo on a magnet. Many people stick these on their refrigerators and will remember it’s there when it’s time to call a plumber, do their taxes, or order supplies. These are especially effective for service businesses. You can order these from
  41. Use Your License Plate – It only costs a bit extra to order vanity plates from the DMV. If your business name fits on a plate, put it on there. Be sure to frame it with a vanity license plate frame.
  42. Make a list of all your good suppliers and suppliers in areas related to your product or service. Ask them if they would be interested in a joint promotion. This could be along the lines of them supplying a prize for a competition or preparing a joint direct mail piece, or you using their customer database or even you talking at one of their events or meetings. If you are both likely to gain from such a joint promotion then it is likely that your supplier will be happy to share the costs with you and in some cases this can even be at no cost.
  43. Consider sign writing your vehicle. Getting a professional, full vehicle paint can be expensive but it is effectively a mobile billboard for you 365 days a year for several years. Over time it can be a very cost effective way to advertise.
  44. Know your customer. Carry out a regular customer survey. Find out what they like about your business and what they don’t like. Find out what they like to do in their spare time, what they read, where they shop and what other habits they have etc. Find out also what motivates them to buy from you and who else is involved in making the purchase decision. This will help to decide where and when to advertise. Make changes as appropriate and let them know you have done so.
  45. Write down the five key things that make your business different to your competitors.  These are your core competencies. Build your marketing strategy around these and make sure your brand and all your advertising communicate these things all the time.
  46. Avoid doing one-off advertising. Try to make your advertising expenditure leverage off other expenditure. One way to do this is to have several different approaches to the same target market at the same time or in sequence. Examples are a flyer, followed by a speaking slot at a meeting, followed by a personal phone call. One-off adverts are normally lost in the ether.
  47. Solicit complaints instead of testimonials. Just because you’re not getting any complaints from customers doesn’t mean you’re meeting their needs and expectations. Wouldn’t you like to know how they really feel so that you can make improvements? Customers rarely speak up; even when they have valid complaints, so make it easy for them to do so. Make customer complaint forms—or customer “suggestion” forms—readily available. A bar owner in Philadelphia establish a complaint system that proved comically popular. Each month, patrons selected a complaint of the month and the winner’s picture was placed on a Complaint Wall of Fame. This effort not only was talked about all around town, but it ended up in the city newspaper too.
  48. Do business for free, instead of a fee. Fortunately, you don’t have to bid for, win, and carry out a huge assignment with an impressive company or client before you are able to use their name in conversation to impress other prospects. There are many other ethical ways you can practice name-dropping.
  49. Call key prospects and DON’T talk about business. Devote three or four hours each month to call people who could be good referrals or prospects for your business. Don’t ask for business. This is a call about them, not about your business.
  50. Don’t hint for referrals—PUSH for them! That’s right. Be direct in your request. Clients might need this message clubbed over their heads before it sinks in. They generally assume that because you are so good, you must be very busy already.   The secret to pushing for a referral without looking like you’re desperate for work is to start with a compliment: “John, I would like to work with more clients like you. (This could mean that you already have lots of clients, but that you want more like HIM.) Do you have any business contacts that you feel could benefit from my services too? If so, would you give them a call or arrange for us to meet?”
  51. Stop offering sales. But that’s the only time they come in the door, you say? That’s the whole point. If you have sales all the time, people will only buy when you have sales. One owner of a vintage accessories shop used to use sales to draw people in. “All it did, however, is attract the same crowd, who only showed up whenever I had a sale,” she said. “I was forced to always sell my products at a discounted price. Eventually I realized I had to stop the sales and get across the point that my prices were thoughtfully assigned in the first place.”
  52. Don’t market to a customer’s good feelings; market to their stresses and worries.  Position yourself as solving a problem for customers and clients. Even if you’re a novelty shop, you solve a problem: the problem that customers have finding unique gift items.
  53. Market to someone else’s customers. Is another business in your town able to effortlessly get together the same market you’re trying to reach? Then partner up with them.
  54. Practice a little “bait and switch”—but of the mental kind! Baiting and switching customers with products is unethical and sometimes illegal. But giving them the chance to switch their thoughts to other things isn’t. For example: A nut shop did mediocre business until its owner started displaying a rather impressive collection of elephants. Soon, the store became as much a museum as it was nut shop. Needless to say, new visitors came to see the elephants and turned into customers before they left. The elephants baited them in, but the nuts’ aroma soon switched their minds to their stomachs.
  55. Forget winning awards—give them instead. Bestowing an award, such as a gift certificate, a scholarship, or a shopping spree not only builds goodwill and customer loyalty, it generally lands you free publicity in the paper too.  Get as much mileage out of the publicity as you can. For example, if you offer the right type of award, you can secure publicity during the announcement of the annual nominee search, the announcement of the semifinalists, the search for judges, the presentation ceremony, etc.
  56. Don’t market for business; barter instead. If you come across someone with whom you can exchange services, favors or business, then begin bartering.  Pat, an artist, bartered her way to a successful exchange with her artwork of the biblical book of Revelation. When several national ministries contacted her for permission to use her artwork in their publications, she quoted the usual fee, but added that if they printed the picture with her address and Web site, she would give them a discount. Worked every time.
  57. A Dozen Ways to Market Using Social Media
  • Add social bookmark links to your most important web pages and/or blog posts to improve sharing.
  • Build blogs and teach something related to your expertise and/or product.
  • Recommend that your staff start personal blogs on their personal interests, and learn first-hand what it feels like, including managing comments, wanting promotion, etc.
  • Learn how tagging and other metadata improve your ability to search and measure the spread of information.
  • Check out Twitter as a way to show a company’s personality. (Don’t fabricate this)
  • Couple your email newsletter content with additional website content on a blog for improved commenting.
  • Experiment with Flickr and/or YouTube.  Try shooting video interviews, video press releases and other bits of video to build more personable relationships. Don’t throw out text, but try adding video.
  • Start a community group on Facebook, Ning, Vimeo, or LinkedIn around the space where your customer does business. Example: what Jeremiah Owyang did for Hitachi Data Systems.
  • Turn your blog into a mobile blog site with Mofuse. Free.
  • Voting mechanisms like those used on show your customers you care about which information is useful to them.
  • Track your inbound links and when they come from blogs, be sure to comment on a few posts and build a relationship with the blogger