By Trace Reddick, MBA

It’s no secret that businesses want more leads and visibility. The Small Business Administration says that businesses should be setting aside 7-8% of gross revenue to spend on marketing.

For businesses who are still ramping up or ones who didn’t have the best quarterly numbers, that figure may be on the small side.

Hiring an agency can be expensive, so sometimes handling your own marketing can be a money saver. Inexpensive tools are easy to find and relatively easy to use.

1.   Google Business Listing

Google dominates as a search engine and when users are looking for businesses like yours, it helps to be seen in the search results.

It’s easy and free to register your business on Google. Users may leave reviews about the business which improves its favor with Google.

  • Reach: Over 2 billion users (with location-specific results reaching geographic audiences).
  • Spend: $0.
  • ROI: Gains depend on SEO and favorable reviews.

2.   Directory Listings

Because mobile technology has taken over, you probably haven’t seen a phone book in years. Did you know that you can still register your business on Yellow Pages?

Yelp is a directory where you can list your business for free and collect reviews for your business. The catch is that Yelp can make it difficult for you to be seen if you don’t pay for services that can range from a few hundred to a few thousand per month. (See: Yelp advertising case study.)

Some business organizations specific to your industry or location will list their preferred businesses. For example, if you need service on a specific appliance, the manufacturer will have a database of “authorized” service providers. Get listed with websites specific to your industry.

  • Reach: Depends on the directory. (Example: Search Engine Journal estimates that the Yellow Pages web directory gets 60 million visitors per month).
  • Spend: Free (Fees may apply depending on which directory).
  • ROI: Ask the directory service how many referrals you can expect. If they want your business they should know this.

3.   Podcasts

Currently, there are over 850,000 podcasts and counting. A podcast is audio content (typically in a talk show format) delivered in a series of “shows.” So starting a podcast does take commitment to produce regular content.

While some may want to set up a studio with a professional mic and editing software, a free app called Anchor allows users to create, edit, and publish content all in one place.

Want some exposure without the commitment? Be a guest on an established podcast and have them provide a link to your website in the episode description. The host may even allow a few minutes to promote your business.

  • Reach: 144 million Americans listen to podcasts.
  • Spend: Free with Anchor (Optional equipment and digital storage costs a few hundred up to a few thousand dollars.)
  • ROI: If the podcast is successful at building an audience, there’s potential for thousands of hits to your website.

4.   YouTube

Now owned by Google, YouTube boasts a few billion users. For years, it was expensive and difficult to get airtime. Because of the internet, anyone can get in front of an audience.

Growing an audience without ad spend means producing useful or entertaining content that people will actually take the time to watch.

  • Reach: A few billion users.
  • Spend: A few hundred on camera equipment, media storage, and editing. Ads cost $0.10 to $0.30 per view or action.
  • ROI: One way to determine ROI potential is to look up a competitor or business that’s very similar to yours and see how many views and followers there are. Consider most of those views and followers to be prospects who have now heard of you.

5.   TikTok

A platform as successful as YouTube is guaranteed to have a few clones out there. TikTok is a video posting app for mobile devices, except in this format a video can’t exceed a minute.

The app comes with built-in editing features so you can produce content within minutes on your mobile device. Like Twitter and Instagram, content can be filtered by hashtags. Use those hashtags strategically.

At this time, it’s not difficult to get a following. If you end up trying it out, take a week or two to watch and learn from other users. Prior to posting, we recommend getting a free Pro account to track how your content is performing.

  • Reach: Around 500 million users.
  • Spend: $0 for promoting yourself. Ads start at $10 per thousand views.
  • ROI: Captivating content can get thousands of views that generate a pretty decent ratio of followers. If your content is highly relevant and done well, you’ll have serious gains in exposure.

6.   LinkedIn

Perhaps the largest virtual networking realm, LinkedIn has 575 million users and 30 million listed businesses. Unlike other social media platforms, this one has a very grown-up audience who don’t need much “dumbed down” for them.

LinkedIn also tells you who has what title within a business so you can gauge who may be the one to contact about doing businesses. Approach this process with professionalism and empathy. Think about how you would want to be approached if it was yourself. Aggressive tactics or dryness aren’t likely to get the response you want.

  • Reach: Around 575 million users.
  • Spend: $0 to have a profile. $24.95/month for a premium account that allows you to message anyone. Investing in an automated service that will cold reach for you has a reasonable cost.
  • ROI: Putting in the effort will yield several leads. Use this tool to build relationships. Constant sales pitches are a turnoff.

7.   Facebook

Facebook is the King of social media platforms. It’s quick and easy to set up a business page on Facebook and you’ll get free tools like stats on how your posts are performing, appointment booking, advanced Messenger functions, etc.

For getting established on social media, setting up a Facebook page is agenda item #1. While not all businesses have an Instagram or Twitter account, with 50 million business pages, we can assume that most businesses have a Facebook page.

Organic reach can be very challenging with how the system will reduce the visibility of posts that contain certain keywords or have outside links. The way of getting around this regulation is with paid ads.

  • Reach: 2 billion users
  • Spend: $0 to set up your account and use basic business tools. Ad spend can be around $1-2/day
  • ROI: Facebook users are 51% more likely to buy from brands they follow.

8.   Networking

While the digital world has revolutionized much of our culture, word of mouth is still a very important lead generator.

Personal Contacts

Start with your personal network. Do your family and friends know what you do? Have you taken the time to explain what value your business has to offer? If your personal network knows exactly what you do, they will be able to refer you if such things come up in conversation with others.

Events

Networking events bring together those who have similar goals, so you’ll likely be among people who are ready to listen to you. You can find free events on Meetup.com, Eventbrite, the events tab on Facebook (sometimes finding them by accident in the feed), and community calendars (e.g. local library).

But it’s a two-way street. Each person should get a turn being heard. Making it more about the conversation and less about closing a sale is a more effective way of “working the room.”

Tip: Should you meet a valuable contact, make a point to schedule a follow up meeting on the spot. Rather than say “We should get together,” ask “Are you free next week for coffee?”

  • Reach: Just a handful, but quality is better than quantity when making personal connections.
  • Spend: Food, beverage, and maybe having some business cards made. Some networking organizations like BNI or your local chamber of commerce will require a chunk of money for an annual fee.
  • ROI: For those who are talented at networking, a free event could have a substantial ROI. Paid organizations say they have thousands of dollars of referral revenue to offer those who sign up with a cost (typically several hundred). So with that example, it’s getting back a little more than twice what you spend.

9.   Email

Networking adds to your list of email contacts. You can use landing pages and your website as another way to gather email addresses.

Constant Contact is a popular service for managing your contacts, creating landing pages, and sending targeted emails to your list with less chance of ending up in a Spam folder.

Email continues to be an effective marketing tool and it’s ideal for nurturing leads. Keep in mind that constant pushy sales pitches are what make people tune out or ask to be removed from the list. Offer your contacts something of value when you reach out to them.

  • Reach: The number of people you’ve successfully connected with.
  • Spend: Constant Contact is $20/month. This is just one example. MailChimp is one of the more popular ones.
  • ROI: Estimated $44 in revenue for every $1 spend.

10.     Guest Blogging

Contributing an article or being part of a collaborative blog project gets both your name and your business name out there. It also gives you expert status as you will likely be sharing valuable industry insights.

It’s common to see contributor headshots for these pieces, so you introduce yourself to each reader.

HARO is a network for reporters to call upon those willing to be interviewed about topics they are knowledgeable about. If they choose you, you get your name name (and perhaps your business name) in the published content.

  • Reach: Potential for millions of hits.
  • Spend: $0
  • ROI: Valuable traffic to your website if you impress your readers.

You need not wait to have a big marketing budget to get your name out there. It’s true that businesses can spend thousands or millions of dollars on ads and marketing, but not having that much to spend doesn’t mean you should sit on the sidelines. Do what you can with the resources available.