I will admit, the title of this article is a bit of a misnomer. Nothing is truly free; publicizing your business requires some sort of investment on your part, whether it be your time or your money. But for now, let's define "free" as without the purchase of media space or airtime. There are many different ways to generate publicity, but let's start with five basic things you can do today, with limited resources (and a little bit of knowledge). So, if you're ready to roll up your sleeves and grow your business, read on.
Social media offers you a platform to broadcast your brand message to potential customers–locally or globally–without paying a fee. Yes, many brands also pay for sponsored posts and pay-per-click advertising, but you can build a following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest without purchasing ads. Be sure you understand and avoid the most common small business social media mistakes. Once you feel confident, start connecting with customers, vendors, media partners, and investors. Be an enthusiastic advocate, not just for your business, but for your industry and causes related to it. Write thoughtful, meaningful content that your followers will feel compelled to share on your behalf.
Writing a blog requires a little more time and energy than posting updates to social media. Still, blogging is an effective way of circulating information about your business. More importantly, a blog is visible to everyone, not just to social media followers. WordPress and Blogger offer free platforms and tools for individuals and small business owners to start blogging without any coding experience. You don't need to be a keyword master or an SEO geek to write a successful blog. Just write about what you know, in plain, understandable language. Use your social media accounts to share the content you post to your blog.
If you're a social butterfly who enjoys talking shop and meeting new people, then business networking is right up your alley. There are tons of business networking groups and open events–both paid and free–in every city (especially here in Baltimore). They can be industry-specific or regional, and activities & costs may vary depending on the group or event. But the basic format is usually the same: business professionals gather in social setting (bar, restaurant, hotel) during lunch or happy hour to mingle, exchange business cards, and talk about what they do. If you can't find a business networking group or event that suits your needs, you can host one of your own.
A well-written press release is still the best way to reach a very broad audience without purchasing media. Writing a great press release requires a lot of skill and critical thinking, but if you're willing to invest some time and learn how to do it right, it can be a boon to your business. Choose an angle that's newsworthy, tailor your story to your targeted publication (local news, trade magazine, etc.), and pitch, pitch, pitch!
If you're a contractor or service provider, you don't need me to tell you how valuable customer referrals are to your business. But quality referrals can come from lots of other sources, including other businesses. For instance, your local plumbing contractor can probably connect you with a licensed electrician when you need one. Similarly, when I complete a design project, I source the printing through a trusted broker. He keeps the artwork on file, and when my clients are ready to re-order, they can go directly to him. In return, he refers clients to me for design work. Do everything in your power to facilitate the referral process: make sure your vendors and colleagues have your contact information close at hand, and stay connected with you via social media.
I choose not to include this tip in my list of five because it does require you to put out a sizable amount of cash. Nevertheless, making a donation or a pledge of sponsorship to a charitable organization in your community is an excellent way to generate publicity for your business. Many charitable organizations and booster clubs will offer a promotional mention, web link, or inclusion in a published donor list in return for a specified amount. In most cases, you are entitled to deduct the amount of your donation from your taxable income. In addition, if you are adept at writing a press release or have editorial contacts, you can generate some positive media attention for your philanthropy. It isn't "free" publicity, but it most certainly is tax-free publicity, and that's still pretty darn good.
TJ Barranger is a branding and publicity consultant in the Baltimore, Maryland area with a background in business communications and online content management. He specializes in assisting small business and non-profit clients. Agree/disagree with this article? Share your comments via e-mail: TJ@TJBCreative.com.