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Seven Free Advertising Strategies for Entrepreneurs
By Antonia Anderson
For new business owners or freelancers, throwing cash away on costly and ineffective advertising is a shortcut to bankruptcy. Whether you're just starting out, or simply want to reduce your overhead, skip the expensive radio spots and focus on free advertising. Since you won’t need to recoup the cost of advertising, any business you generate from your free advertising efforts will be pure profit.
1. Free Business Cards
“I save money by ordering my business cards from Vistaprint,” says computer technician Marcia. So do thousands of other professionals. Vistaprint is a web-based company with a solid reputation. The cards are 100% free—you just pay for shipping. The only catch is that a small Vistaprint logo is printed on the back of your business card, but the effect is still professional.
“When I paid for business cards, I’d find myself hoarding them,” Marcia jokes. “Now that they cost me nothing, I give them to anyone I meet. I think my free Vistaprint cards have improved business as well as saving me money.”
2. Free Flyers and Brochures
Most office software includes an easy-to-use template for designing your own flyers and brochures. But if you want something more original and personalized, think outside the box. That’s what Eric, a personal trainer, did to get his marketing materials designed for free.
“My gym is right next to an art college,” Eric says. “I just asked the design instructor to use my business as a class project. The students all got real-life experience to add to their portfolios, and I had dozens of great designs to choose from.”
3. Free Advertising on Every Email
An email signature is a piece of text that your email program automatically pastes at the bottom of every email you send. Keep it short and professional: your name, business name, website, and contact info.
“I would never have thought of my email signature as advertising,” Wendy says. “But I had emailed a cheesecake recipe to my friend, and she forwarded it to her colleague at work. She just happened to notice my Wendy's Wallpapering signature at the bottom and called me the next day about getting her spare room papered.”
4. Free Advertising Through Online Social Networking
Online social networking expands your audience at no cost. LinkedIn is specifically geared towards professional networking. Facebook, Myspace, and Orkut are also useful. Twitter lets you send on-the-fly advertisements as text messages. If you have existing personal accounts, set up separate business accounts; your professional contacts don't need to know that Buttons just learned to widdle in the sandbox.
Many of these technologies work in tandem. For example, Raj, a life coach, updates his Facebook status every morning just by sending a Twitter update. “Don’t get addicted,” he cautions. “They’re free, but too fun!”
5. Free Advertising Through Blogging
A blog is a free online publishing tool for you to share information and updates with readers on a regular basis. Blogs that simply promote a business are common and forgettable. Instead, provide useful information that will keep users coming back for more.
For instance, Allan owns a knitting store and wanted to increase business. He started a blog where he posts seasonal patterns, funny knitting anecdotes, and answers to reader questions. As Allan gains his readers’ trust and liking, they'll be more likely to use his business or refer him to others.
6. Free Advertising Through Shared Interests
Say you needed to hire a sound engineer, who would you call—some random Joe in the yellow pages, or the guy you knock pawns with down the pub on Tuesdays? Meetup.com is a fantastic free resource that enables you to connect with people who share your interests and widen your advertising net.
For example, Manuel is a sound engineer who loves to play chess in his spare time. He organizes two regular Meetups. One is a meeting for sound engineers. This helps him network with peers and stay connected to the industry. The other is a chess club. Manuel meets people from all walks of life there, and he always has a business card on hand to give them. Imagine the possibilities!
7. Free Advertising Through Generosity
Are folks more likely to hire someone who donates to their charity of choice? Without a doubt.
Claudio donated a basket full of dog toys to the local animal shelter's annual lottery. In return, the shelter listed his pet toy business as a sponsor on their pamphlets, announced his business name during the lottery, and passed out his business cards at the door.
Seek out local organizations and offer to donate your services or products for any public events they might be holding. Not only will you forge a good relationship with local organizations, you'll also make an instant impression on potential clients who wouldn't have known you existed.
Using all of these approaches to free advertising together make for a winning combination. However, no matter how many contacts you have or how many business cards you pass out, if you give off a bad vibe your business will suffer. Be direct, honest and sincere: the comments people post on your blog or on Linkedin will reflect their positive perceptions of you and your business. You are your own best—and truly free—advertisement.