10 tips on How to Promote Your Business Online for Free

June 9, 2011

Today I was talking to a woman in a wonderful little vintage fabric shop I found in Shoreditch (more on that in a future post!), and realised just how much I’d learnt about promoting my business online when I was running Sewbox. It’s been a while since I did a running an online business post, but here are my thoughts on how to market or promote your business online for free. Most of these don’t apply just to online shops, but are equally valid for any business that is trying to drive traffic to their own website or blog. And they do work, or at least they did for me – I built up my business completely organically and without any paid-for advertising, and got up to over 6,000 hits a month in less than 10 months.

1. Build relationships with influential bloggers.

If you can get someone with a very popular blog to write about your blog or website, it’s a brilliant way to drive traffic to your site. But you can’t just approach someone gung-ho and ask them to do a feature on you: they will most likely be very picky about what they write about and wary of transparent attempts to get advertising for free.

First identify any influential blogs with a similar target audience to yours, and then spend some time reading their blog, commenting on their posts, and working out what makes them tick. Before you approach them, try to think of a reason why they would want to feature you: does your product tie in neatly with a blog series they are running? Could you offer a competition prize for readers of their blog? Do you have some advice or knowledge that would be useful to their readers, so you could offer a guest post? Remember, there needs to be something in it for their blog too: something that interests their readers.

2. Run a competition asking entrants to spread the word.

Rather than running a competition and promoting it just to your current customers, here is a great way to attract potential new customers. Launch the competition and provide bonus entries for people that re-tweet about the competition on Twitter, and for people that blog about the competition (see a real-life example here). Or you could announce that you will do a giveaway when you reach 200 followers on Twitter, or 200 fans on Facebook. It will encourage people to follow/’like’ you and then their friends may see it in their information streams and come check you out too.

3. Do a ‘skill swap’ : trade adverts / listings for articles.

Is there an online directory covering your business area? Any trade magazines, online or printed? Why not phone the manager, and ask them if they’d be interested in you writing for them, and all you would like in return is some free coverage of your business. You will be surprised how many publications will be amenable to this as it also costs them very little and they get free content! And as an added bonus, any articles you write will link back to your site (as long as you agree that in your terms). It also establishes you as an expert in your field, which can only be a positive thing for your business.

4. Fill your website with knowledge and tips

Whatever the type of website you have, the more useful it is for your target visitor, the more likely they are (a) to return to visit the site again, and (b) to tell other people to visit the site. Is your site an online shop? Add lots of articles advising people on how to use your product; or any other tips or useful information people visiting your site are likely to want. Try to put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what kind of information would be useful to them. Is your site advertising your gardening business? Add a blog to the site and write articles about gardening through the seasons; gardening for beginners; etc. Not only does this establish you as an expert to potential customers, but it also adds lots of keyword-rich content to your site and therefore people are more likely to find your website on google, so you will get more visitors. The more relevant content your website contains, the higher you will rank on google (this is a big simplification, but hopefully you get the gist).

5. Add a subscribe to newsletter option to your website

Collect those e-mail addresses!! If you can get people to subscribe to your newsletter, you will have a great way to remind customers old and new about you every month. People not yet ready to purchase but perhaps interested may subscribe to your newsletter and then forget all about your business. Your regular newsletter will remind them that you still exist. You could also add a sweetener to the newsletters (e.g. 10% off) to encourage customers / potential customers back on to your website.

A word of warning though – make sure your newsletters are informative , useful and interesting: you need to have something to say. Otherwise people will mark them as ‘spam’ and it will impact your business negatively if people tire of your emails. I know I get annoyed when a company sends me useless emails every few days.

If your website doesn’t have a ‘subscribe to newsletter’ function – don’t worry, there’s a fantastic free option available with Mailchimp. I highly recommend it and I used it with my online business.

6. Make yourself an expert.

This ties in closely with some of the other tips. If you can make yourself an expert in your business area, e.g. by writing frequently about the subject, and demonstrating detailed knowledge and a willingness to share it, other bloggers and business owners are more likely to mention you on their blog and this in turn will drive more traffic to your site. You never know, you might end up becoming one of the influential bloggers other bloggers will want to build a relationship with!

7. Tweet and Facebook regularly about new products.

This isn’t a lesson on social marketing, but if you are going to use free online promotion as one of your core marketing strategies you need to get to grips with using Twitter and Facebook frequently. Whenever you get new stock in mention it on the social networks you belong to: fans of your products may then retweet it and pass the news on to their followers, starting a ripple effect and attracting new visitors to your website.

8. Offer new products regularly.

If you offer new products regularly you’ll encourage people to talk about you more often, and previous customers will be encouraged to return to your website to see what’s new this month. You’ll have more reason to tweet / blog / write on social networking sites, and the more often you do this, the more you’ll get new traffic to your site (as long as you follow the golden rule that you have to have something interesting to say).

9. Build relationships with magazines.

To be featured for free in magazines or industry newspapers, you need a story. You need something that will be interesting to their target audience. Try to build up a really strong relationship and friendship with the editors at magazines so that they will look favourably upon your business and they’ll be more likely to select your business as a partner in a series they’re writing, for instance. Or offer their readers some great prizes ; or create news stories. Have you done something innovative that your target audience will be fascinated about? Do you have a really interesting, quirky background story as to how you ended up running your business? Think about what their readers would find interesting, and most importantly, what’s different about your business as opposed to others.

10. Invest your time.

Make no mistake, you don’t get anything for free in this life! It might be possible to promote your business entirely for free without spending a penny on advertising, but (and this is a big but) it does take a lot of time.

You need to be prepared to invest your time on promoting your business online, regularly. And of course, there is an opportunity cost here as it ties up your time preventing you from doing other income-producing work. So weigh this up carefully – and make sure you understand that while it is free in that you aren’t paying out any pounds, it is costing you time which may indirectly impact your income.

But if you are prepared to invest the time and energy, it will soon begin to pay off and you’ll see the results in the number of visitors to your site and hopefully that will also translate in to more customers and more profit (don’t forget to install Google Analytics to your website so that you can track visitors and where they have come from – this will help you refine your future online activity and direct your efforts to where it pays off most).
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I hope these tips are useful. If you have any of your own tips, insights or experiences on promoting and marketing your business online for free, please do add them as a comment. Thanks!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Emma Thomsen June 9, 2011 at 8:56 am

Thanks for your lovely comment about starting a fabric shop on my Blog, ‘every little helps’. Your top 10 tips here is great, really helpful! No 10 has to be the most important, I think I’ve seen stats quoted as 20% selling 80% marketing. This is all very close to my heart right now with the website I’m working on. Hopefully up and running and ready to roll by July!!!??? Thanks again for dropping by!

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