5 Ways to Get Free Advertising for Your Small Business

From holding social media contests to offering yourself as an expert, here's how to spread the word about your business without spending a dime.
Using a social media contest as free advertising helps to engage your audience. (Photo: fizkes/Shutterstock)

If you’ve ever been approached by a sales rep from a media organization, you may have experienced a case of sticker shock at the price of advertising in magazines, newspapers, radio and TV. Fortunately, there are some clever ways to get the word out about your products and services with spending a thing.

Here are five strategies for advertising your business that don’t cost a dime.

Hold a social media contest

Successful small business owners have already started to build a decent following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms. But to really grow your traffic and engage your audience, host a giveaway on one of your accounts.

“Running a contest is a fantastic way to rapidly grow your social media following, especially on Instagram,” said Ren Geers, a digital growth strategist at HireKeep who focuses on free advertising techniques.

“The business owner should create a new post offering their product or service for free, in exchange for their followers tagging [a specific] number of friends in the comments or reposting the original post. If the prize is appealing and the business has a dedicated follower base, this can exponentially increase their number of followers, and specifically target individuals who are likely interested in the product.”

The prize doesn’t have to be huge — a modest gift certificate is enough to get people excited to spread the word about your business.

Jody Lamb

Jody Lamb, of Jody Lamb Communications, suggests that small business owners introduce themselves to journalists and bloggers that write stories in their industries. (Photo: Jody Lamb)

Build relationships with journalists

Given that newsrooms have been shrinking for years, it’s not as easy to network with reporters as it once was. However, you can entice them to write about your business by offering yourself as a potential source for a newsworthy story, said Jody Lamb of Jody Lamb Communications, who has 13 years of experience in public relations and marketing.

“Small business owners should introduce themselves to journalists and bloggers who write stories related to their particular industries,” said Lamb. “They should be thorough and quick to respond if contacted by media.”

Don’t just say hello. Identify specific ways you might be useful to these reporters. “Stay abreast of news and then create opportunity to be a source for follow-up stories on topics that may have a connection to the small business. For example, a news report about a tragedy tied to carbon monoxide poisoning may be followed up with a story about appliance dangers and tips to prevent tragedy. Local appliance repair companies could offer their expertise on these tips to media.”

One easy way to connect with journalists is by signing up for source requests at Help a Reporter Out. It will send you daily alerts from journalists who need experts for stories.

Develop a referral program

When a friend raves about a restaurant, aren’t you more likely to try it than if you had seen it advertised? The same is true for your customers.

Ask your customers to spread the word about your business to people who trust them. “If they love your business they’ll be happy to do so,” said David Scarola, vice president of The Alternative Board, which offers business coaching and advisory board services. “You can even set up a bonus structure for them if they bring in new business.” Referral bonuses can be anything from low-cost merchandise to discounts on future services.

“Referred customers approach your business with less price sensitivity and a better sense of your offerings. This will dramatically shorten your sales cycle, saving you time and money,” said Scarola.

Connect with your community

Connecting directly with your neighbors is more personal and more effective than run-of-the-mill advertising — and it’s much more cost effective.

“Join the local neighborhood association, as well as neighborhood associations immediately surrounding your business,” said Travis Joyal, co-owner of Page Communications, who has experience working with big brands like Houlihan’s and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

“The fees to join a neighborhood association are minimal (typically $0 to $100 annual dues), but there are multiple free opportunities as a member to get in front of the resident members of the neighborhood associations,” Joyal said. “These opportunities include ads in association newsletters, announcements on private social media forums, presence at association events throughout the year and access to solicit your business’ services directly to the association member base.”

Joining local associations isn’t the only way to advertise for free in your community.

“Small business owners can showcase their expertise in their industry by offering free workshops related to their particular field at community centers and libraries,” said Lamb. “For example, a social media marketing agency could offer a social media management workshop at a chamber of commerce event. People feel good about supporting the brands that contributed positively to community businesses and people.”


“Offering answers on Quora can create curiosity among readers and increase traffic to your site.” -Zach Foisie (Photo: Zach Foisie)

Answer questions on Quora

Compared to other social media sites, Quora has flown under the radar. That means your posts on the question-and-answer site have a good chance of being seen by its millions of users. The key is to plug your expertise and its relationship to your business when you answer a relevant question.

“Offering answers on Quora can create curiosity among readers and increase traffic to your site,” said Zach Foisie, who has used this free advertising technique in his capacity as content marketing lead at HomeSuite, a furnished rental property marketplace.

“After setting up a profile that discloses my ties to HomeSuite, I would spend an hour looking for questions relevant to my company. Once I identify the questions that make most sense, such as questions regarding real estate or neighborhoods in New York, I’ll write brief but detailed answers — no more than two paragraphs. In that answer, I would add a URL to my company’s services in a sentence that makes the most contextual sense.”

Graeme Austen, founder of Cultivated Culture, credits Quora as one of the ways he helped drive 35,000 visitors to his site in its first month without spending a cent.

Austen said business owners should pay attention to a secret benefit of posting great answers on Quora: “Quora’s content team may pick up your answer and feature it in their daily newsletter or on other outlets, such as Huffington Post, Forbes, Business Insider and more. It’s basically free PR.”

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