Written by Scott Orth
If you’re like most small businesses, you’d like to grow, but funds are tight. You know you could do better or grow faster with some marketing, but you can’t afford to put much into activities that don’t guarantee a return.
I’ve been in the same boat.
When faced with an apparent inability to get new business without spending money, I turned to 8 different low-to-no budget strategies, which greatly helped build exposure, find new clients, and grow my business.
Pro-tip: These are not one-and-done tactics. Each one should be thought through, nurtured and perfected. It may take some time, but if you stick to them, you’ll find they’ll be quite helpful in growing your business
1) Get Blogging
A blog is one of the greatest ways to push your knowledge out to the masses. Whatever it is, if you know about your industry, tell people about it. A blog also works as a great foundation to a larger social media effort. Whenever you write something on your blog, you now have something to go post on your favorite social platforms and boost exposure and engagement.
Managing a blog can get time consuming. If you’re a one-person business, find time in the early morning, or late evening to write posts. A few posts a week is a good minimum to target.
If you’ve got a team, try to get 1-2 other people to blog as well. The more depth you can get in your blog, the better attraction it will get.
Original content is best. Come up with top 10 lists, expert tips, or other lists. But keep in mind, discussing other people’s content, sharing articles, or reposting memes or other engaging or entertaining posts can be a great way to keep your readers interested (just be sure to credit other’s work. Plagiarism is bad business for bloggers).
2) Create an Awesome Referral Program.
When my business was about a year old I was struggling to grow. I was lucky to have been a public speaker all around the country – so I already had a name in my industry and a few thousand contacts from all the people I met at conferences. But my contact list wasn’t generating any new business. Then I had a thought (or maybe I read it somewhere)… offer a referral fee for anyone that sends me business.
I sent an email out to my contact list offering a percentage of any business anyone sent my way. It was simple as could be… tell them to call or email me. If they do and I can sell them on my services, I’ll give you a percentage off the top. In two weeks I secured an additional $10k per month in new business.
This is still my most successful marketing strategy today. Who wouldn’t want to make an extra $200, $500, or $1,000 or more per month – just for giving out my contact info? That’s the beauty of it. For my referrers, it’s an awesome (and easy) way to make extra cash. For me, it gives me a sizeable commission-based sales force that regularly brings in new clients.
Think about what you sell and how you could commission others for selling on your behalf. Its best to put some policies in place, and you’ll need a way to organize referrals and who you need to pay. But it really only becomes an issue if the referrals are pouring in. At Thrive, though we always accept official referrers at our reseller page, we find that we only ever have a handful of serious folks who keep sending business, so (so far) this system has always been easily manageable.
If you sell online, use a promo code system to designate referrers (or affiliates). We do this now with our small business plans. We give our resellers a promo code to give to their contacts. When their unique code is used, they automatically get registered for payment.
3) You Can’t Teach New People Old Data
Wait – yes you can! The internet is crammed with data, new and old. Whatever your industry is, play around on Google for a bit and find data that is interesting or important for your audience, and then re-purpose it.
We’ve been able to do this with government or educational content, census bureau data, Pew Research, or universities and other national or global organizations who publish tons of surveys, findings, and research data.
Find what is interesting for your focus, and use the data to draw comparisons or conclusions, or to start up a conversation. You might find that some obscure report published 5 years ago is perfect for your current focus. And by the way… sometimes these conversations are the perfect platform for viral social posts that gain incredible exposure.
4) Recycling isn’t Just for Trash Day
I live in Portland, Oregon. We recycle everything! I’ve heard rumors there are still places around where they just toss out their pop cans and water bottles. Unbelievable! But that’s not all that can be recycled. Recycle your content!
I’ve been writing articles and presentations off and on for about 10 years. At one point I was writing columns for FIVE different monthly magazines (talk about writers block). That’s a lot of content that may never be seen again. But why not? If it’s still relevant – why not re-publish it for new eyes to see?
I did this with an article recently. I found an article I wrote in 2007. At the time, what I wrote was progressive and forward thinking, and because of that I had a lot of naysayers telling me I was wrong.
If you read it today, you might think “duh”. But it was probably 3-5 years after I wrote this article before I really saw the industry moving where I predicted it needed to go. If you’re interested, the article was Business Intelligence in Search Marketing.
This content was long gone and hadn’t been seen by anyone in at least 6 years. I re-posted it this year, got a surge of traffic to my blog, and about 2-dozen emails from colleagues and other marketers to discuss the article. Not bad for an 8-year old article I drudged up and re-posted.
Look through your own archives. Do you have content, blogs, articles, news clips, or anything similar from the past that would be worth re-posting today?
5) Link Yourself to LinkedIn
Okay, full disclosure – I don’t utilize LinkedIn nearly as much as I should. There is a lot that can be done on Linked in, from joining groups, posting questions, answering other’s questions, and posting your own content or blog posts.
For myself, Linked in has been a great place to simply be found. Over the years I’ve made sure to connect on LinkedIn to anyone I’ve come in contact with professionally. I make sure I keep my profile up to date, I check every once in a while and add new content, new skills, or make comments on notifications of others (anniversaries, new jobs, etc).
It’s not constant, but I’d estimate LinkedIn has brought me at least $100k in business in the past 4 years or so – just from prior colleagues or contacts reaching out… usually with a question like “hey Scott, glad I found you on here. Are you still doing website stuff?”
First of all – fantastic feeling to know they were looking for me. But also, that they thought of me and sought me out… either for their own need or to refer someone to me.
Of course I’d recommend you dig into LinkedIn and use it for all its worth. But I can also say it’s worked wonders as simply a business contact hub, where people from my past can easily look me up.
6) Get Married. Or at Least Date
Partnerships with other businesses can be a dream. Of course there can be a few nightmares here and there too… which is why it might be better to date and keep at an arm’s length, than to marry too deeply into a partnership arrangement.
I didn’t set out for this to be the case; but it turns out that Thrive now derives at least 50% of our business from industry partnerships. We have partnered with some amazing agencies around the globe. Most often we do white label online work for traditional marketing agencies. This way, they can continue their expertise in television, print, etc… but still offer expert execution of all online marketing channels as well.
We’ve also partnered with PR agencies, web development firms, hosting companies, design and creative firms, and even other online marketing agencies that for one reason or another need our help.
Think about who you know in your industry. Are there synergies there? Are there opportunities where you can each benefit from some level of partnership? If you can answer yes to either one of these questions you should explore it further and give it a shot. You just might find that partnering up with another small business is the greatest thing you could do for business growth!
7) Throw a Party… or at Least Host an Event
There’s a reason all those kitchenware, makeup, jewelry, “adult” toy, and candle sales people hold parties. Because they work!
What is your industry and what kind of event could you hold? It could be sales-style gathering like the home-parties I listed above. Or it could be a launch event, or an educational class or presentation.
Much of my personal exposure came from presentations at events, both large and small. Back in 2006, a couple colleagues and I were discussing throwing an event to gain more business. That discussion actually turned into us co-founding SEMPX.com and SearchFest in Portland, Oregon, which has been holding monthly events ever since. And SearchFest is now a nationally recognized search conference with thousands of attendees each year. Funny how things can grow far beyond what you intended.
A word of warning… creating a board and full-scale events like SEMPDX is very, very time consuming. If you’re a small business and you just want to get some exposure, hold a local event – or even a web event. But you don’t need to put your heart and soul into it. The most important thing is to pre-plan what a strong takeaway will be for your audience. As long as they walk away with great knowledge or something worth their time for showing up, you’ll have succeeded and can start looking toward your next event.
8) Emailpalooza (Email Marketing)
Email marketing is a great way to stay in touch with your audience, lets them know when you’ve got something important or interesting to tell, and gives you an active-listening audience when you have a promotion or offer to tell them about.
The hardest part about email marketing is building a strong email list. I recommend starting by putting an email signup form on every page of your website. Then, for best attraction to build your list, put a pop-up email box on your website and offer something in return for their email address. This can be a free book, free data, or a discount off your products or services.
Think about your readers when you create and schedule emails. Will they want to hear from you daily, weekly, or just once a month? And how much do you have to offer? Don’t fill their email box with random news or tidbits… keep it interesting, informative, and engaging. This will ensure your highest possible open and click rates (the whole reason you send emails in the first place).
To get started with email marketing, grab yourself an account on Mailchimp or Constant Contact. If you’re just starting and you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers, Mailchimp offers a free account to get started.
Bonus Tip (and brief sales pitch)
Though the Internet is not as “cheap” of a place to market as it was 10+ years ago, it can still be a far better place to find your audience than anywhere else.
There is a lot to know/learn, and you need to be careful about who you listen to or hire to help you online. Unfortunately, there are a lot of predators out there who will take your money for 6-months or longer before you realize they’ve done nothing for you.
Don’t let them fool you – there are a lot of things online you can still do on your own, and for cheap. How Thrive differs, is that we offer you everything from full-service agency campaigns, all the way down to a friendly expert voice to guide you along your own path.
That is to say, we have clients who pay $5k/mo or more for Thrive’s team to fully manage their online marketing campaigns. But we also have sole-proprietors paying only $99/mo for expert guidance and consulting, helping them on their way to growth and success.
The difference with us is, you’ll never wonder what you’re paying for. You’ll get results, and you’ll know exactly what we’re doing to get you those results. If you’re interested, check out our starter plans.
Running a small business can be both exhausting… and rewarding. Personally, I would take the never-ending stress of running my businesses ANY DAY over sitting in a corporate cubicle day in and day out.
But it takes a certain mindset to succeed. You’ve got to be willing to dig in and do what it takes to make your business grow. If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you’re one of those people. Good for you!
If you haven’t already, try out each of the tips in this article, and then please let me know how they work for you. Also, feel free to share your own tips for building success with your business.
Now get out there and THRIVE!