So, you’ve decided to start a business from home.
You’ve researched your market, created a website, written a business plan, printed the business cards, started a blog (or, perhaps all of the above!).
Now how do you find customers, drive traffic to your website, differentiate yourself from your competition and attract the attention of influencers in your niche?
And how on earth do you do all this without spending any money?
What you need is free marketing
Don’t believe the myth that you need money to start a business. And don’t let a lack of money stop you from starting and marketing your home business.
With some savvy marketing and lots of hard work (no-one said this was going to be easy), it’s entirely possible to bootstrap your business to success using free marketing.
What exactly is free marketing? Marketing is about creating interest in your business and attracting potential customers. Free marketing is the art of achieving this at no cost.
Start with the end in mind
Before you spend months creating products or planning a lavish launch party for your new business, research your market.
What will you need? The first of our free tools is Google. Use Google in at least four ways:
- Create a gmail account for your business. Gmail is one of the most popular and widely used email services and it links beautifully to your contacts, calendar, shared documents and other handy, free, tools. This is the quickest way to get a bespoke email for your business. Once you’ve chosen your business name you can open a email@example.com account where customers can contact you.
- Use the Google External Keyword Tool to find out what your customers are searching for in Google. This is essential for getting your website ranked in the search engines (see “free traffic” below).
Note: I’m assuming here that any business, however small, local or niche, will have a web presence whether that’s a blog, website or on social media. If not, consider why you’re missing this major free marketing opportunity.
- Google search engine. Type in your keywords and see how many competing sites there are. Find out what your competitors and potential JV (joint venture) partners are offering, how they present themselves, their pricing, products etc.
Find blogs and forums in your niche by typing in “dog walkers blogs” or “dog walking forums”. You can also use a website called Technorati to find the most popular blogs in your niche.
As well as finding key influencers in the field through popular forums and blogs, spend some time reading the most popular threads and comments. Find out what your target market wants and needs and what their pain points are. Then you can work out how you can solve their problems, speak their language and create best-selling products.
- If your business is local, use Google local to literally put yourself on the map. If I register “Hertsdogwalker” on Google local and use the appropriate keywords then my business listing will appear whenever someone searches for “dog walking in Hertfordshire”. This is really powerful and is completely free.
Where does your audience hang out?
Start with your audience. Figure out who they are, as well as you possibly can. That will help you figure out what to do for them, and where you can find them.
If you’ve taken the time to research your market, then you should know the answer to this question. Are they on Twitter? Are they on Facebook? Are they on specific forums or blogs?
Wherever they hang out, that’s where you need to reach them.
Community – find it – build it
Once you know where your target market hangs out you can start interacting with them. Engage with them, contribute to discussions, leave meaningful comments and get to know the key influencers in your field.
Build a castle in the sky
Or, at least build a website if you haven’t already. If you’re a blogger, there are lots of free blogging sites (such as wordpress.org, blogger, typepad) or best of all create a site that you own and control using WordPress from WordPress.com
WordPress is free, easy to use and you can choose from a range of professional looking templates and plug-in’s (apps) that allow you to connect your site to social media, optimise search engine rankings, protect your site from hackers, collect email addresses, syndicate your content through RSS feeds, back-up your content and much more. And all for free!
Free online traffic
Once you have an online presence a blog is a great way to get yourself noticed. Creating regular, relevant content will get you ranked by the search engines and means that your audience have a higher chance of finding you.
Use Google or Technorati to find popular blogs in your niche. For every relevant blog you find, leave a comment with your name and a link back to your site. This will increase your rankings on the search engines.
Write excellent content
By writing excellent content, using catchy headlines and delivering value to your audience you’ll build a following. The search engines will love you and so will your visitors and potential customers. Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to providing value and driving traffic to your site and you’ll build a loyal following of customers.
Build a list
Now that you have a website and you’ve put yourself “on the map” your number one priority is to build a mailing list. It’s far better to sell products to a warm list – people who “like, know and trust” you because you’ve been regularly communicating with them, than try to sell cold.
Use a free service such as MailChimp to collect emails. Put a simple squeeze page on your site and offer an incentive to opt-in (such as 10 Top Tips or an e-newsletter). MailChimp provides an easy way to send a series of automated emails to your list and is an excellent way to communicate with your prospects, and promote your products.
Build your personal brand using social media
Now you’re on the map and have a website and a mailing list. Take your business to the next level by building your personal brand using social media. All at no cost of course.
Learn how to use social media marketing tools to take your passion and build it into not just a business but a powerful personal brand.
Include your social media links on your email signature and business cards.
Social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon etc.) are tools to get you closer to the people and places you need. Make sure you have at least a keyword optimised profile on all of your social media platforms, even ones that you’re not regularly using. Use the keywords you identified using the Google External Keyword tool.
Focus on the big five social media platforms so you don’t get overwhelmed. Depending on your business and market you might use some or all of these, including:
Facebook – create a fan or “business” page for your business at http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php. Set up your blog to automatically post your blog posts and updates to your page (WordPress has plug-in’s that do this automatically for you)
Identify relevant Facebook pages in your market and “LIKE” their pages, join the groups and get involved.
Twitter – Twitter is a great way to promote your blog posts and communicate with your target market and key influencers. You can automate your tweets using free versions of HootSuite or TweetAdder.
Use search.twitter to find topics relevant in your niche. Follow them and start conversing with them, retweeting good content and engaging in conversation.
LinkedIn – Use LinkedIn groups to find like-minded people in your niche and engage in their community. Every time you post you get a link back to your profile or website.
YouTube – video marketing is one of the most effective, and least competitive ways of driving traffic to your site. Make sure you have a profile and an introductory video. Use free services such as Jing or Animoto to create professional looking videos. Then syndicate using Viddler, PixelPipe or OnlyWire.
Google+ – Don’t ignore Google+ even if all you do is to create a Google+ page for your business. It’ll help your search engine rankings.
It might be writing essays, blogging, videos, podcasts or interviews but find a medium that suits your personality and weave that into your personal brand.
To be successful online you need to be constantly reaching out and engaging with the online community of people interested in your passion who are your potential subscribers and customers. It won’t cost you anything but time, effort and a little planning.
Tell everyone about your business. I’m a prolific networker and enjoy meeting people face to face. I’ve chatted to people about my business at sports day, parties, in café’s, shops and train stations. Have your benefit-focussed elevator pitch ready to answer the “what do you do?” question and use this as an opportunity to promote your business.
Word of Mouth is one of the best ways to get new customers. Get testimonials and recommendations from your customers by providing excellent service and fantastic value. Ask for testimonials you can use on your website.
Add a “Want to do business with me?” button on your site for potential sponsors. You can also offer advertising, sponsored blog posts and make money with affiliate marketing once you have a website, regular visitors and a mailing list.
Create excellent content
Write articles, blog posts, create videos, podcasts, whatever medium you feel most comfortable in. Be unique, informative, educational and inspiring and weave some personal stories and anecdotes into your writing to make it vibrant and personal and brand it with your unique personality
Post your content using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, WordPress and other blog sites, and distribute it using Ping.fm, pingomatic or OnlyWire. Use web2.0 sites such as HubPages and Squidoo for extra SEO juice (Google loves these sites!)
Press and PR
Got something newsworthy, new, funky or exciting? Let the media in your niche know about it. Use one of the many PR sites (such as prlog or pressreleaseforum) to post and distribute your press releases. Getting media coverage is a fantastic way of getting free marketing for your products and services.
And make a list of key media figures in your industry and start connecting with them. Twitter is a great way to do this. Build a relationship with them before asking them to use your material.
Joint venture’s – who can you work with?
Find someone in your niche with a big list and see if you agree a reciprocal marketing arrangement with them. “I’ll put an ad for your new product in my autoresponder message if you promote my newsletter” or offer a 3 month free subscription to your membership site as a bonus for their customers. Get creative and find an arrangement that works for both of you.
By combining some or all of these ideas you’ll boost your business and get lots of traffic and potential customers to your site. And, the best bit? None of the suggestions above will cost you a penny. But they could make you a fortune!
Have I missed anything? Please leave a comment below with your cost-free marketing tips. I look forward to hearing from you.