As Leonard Bernstein wrote, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” But what about money? Most start-ups, especially these days, face significant funding challenges. While it is true that the cost of building an online company has come down significantly in the past ten years, the costs of paid search, banner ads, and print advertising can still be unattainable for many small companies.
Most of the articles I have read about “free” marketing tactics focus on social media. They encourage business owners to start a blog, tweet or write a book or white paper. While these are nice ideas, they are time-consuming, and may or may not yield results. Here are five things you can do to bring in new customers with zero or little up front cost. Used strategically, these tactics can produce an excellent ROI for your company.
1. Link exchanges. In Evan and Bradley Bailyn’s book Out Smarting Google, the brothers write about the importance of backlinks in building natural search rank and traffic. While you NEVER want to buy links (a.k.a. use black hat methods of link building), creating a link network with other companies in your field can help all of your sites grow. These links can take the form of blogrolls, promotional posts, or banner ad exchanges. Especially in this economy, when all budgets are tight, companies are more eager to swap space and links than ever. If your target demographic matches that of another site, swapping sponsored emails is another great way to gain exposure.
2. Pinterest. Pinterest is a rapidly growing visual pin board/social network with over 10 million unique visitors that allows you to pin images to visual boards. With Pinterest, you can quickly establish yourself as an industry expert by creating boards built around the important keywords for your company. You can also post content on your website about how your clients or partners can use Pinterest and include links to your company’s Pinterest profile in your examples (e.g. How to Use Pinterest to Plan Your Wedding). In just four weeks using these techniques, Pinterest has become the fourth largest source of traffic to our site.
3. Contests and giveaways. Everyone likes getting something for free, so contest and promotions are a great way to drive traffic and email sign-ups on your site. On the Green Bride Guide, we run a monthly contest on our homepage which drives more email sign up than anything else we do. Don’t forget to post your contests on social media sites too! Make a Pinterest contest board in your industry category for added punch (e.g. wedding contests).