15 cost-free tips to help your small business grow

Whether you think you know public relations and marketing or not, getting your business or product noticed is difficult. Even some of the best PR experts have a hard time marketing themselves. It just seems a bit precocious to put yourself out there. If you don’t market yourself, no one else will.

No. 1: Identify your audience.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but many businesses fail to identify just who to talk to. Once you know “who” then you can go about “how” to reach them.

No. 2: Reaching out to local media

One of your audiences will invariably be the media. You can’t pitch all media outlets the same way. TV has different needs from print and radio and vice versa. But before you pitch ask yourself:

• Is your product or service the first, best or brand new?

• Is it award-winning or trendsetting?

• Does it solve a problem?

• Does it provide a unique service?

• Is it visual (TV and online mostly, but even print is getting into video)

If you don’t have anything that fits into the above categories, then you probably don’t have a news story. But you can still provide meaningful commentary by being an expert in your field.

No. 3: Social media

Let’s be honest, there are a ton of different social media channels out there. It is advisable to pick one or two that you think make sense for your business and master those first. You can spend hours venturing down the social media rabbit hole, but here are some general rules of thumb:

• The goal is to engage customers – be a part of the discussion in your industry and it will help you gain an audience or followers.

• Don’t be afraid to “friend” or “follow” reporters. Your ideas may spark stories for them.

• Ask for feedback from your followers. Again, engagement is the key you want them to “like” and “share” or “retweet” what you post.

Think of it as if your mother is on Facebook is now on Facebook, so a general rule of thumb is: “If I post this it must be appropriate because my mother will probably see it”.

No. 4: Free directory listings. Be sure to claim your business in online directories such as Google Places, Yelp and Yahoo.

There are also many others, the Golden Pages offers both free and paid listings. Claiming your business lets you know and respond when people have something nice or something bad to say. It will also allow you to dispute that comment.

No. 5: Your website. If you have a website, you need to make sure you are making the most of it. With the constant changes in search algorithms, you want to make sure your content is fresh. One of the best ways to do this is to have a blog. A lot of websites that were built a year or two ago haven’t been touched since.

No. 6: Become and expert. Let’s face it, if you are running your own your company, you are an expert in whatever that is. The same things that make your company newsworthy are the things that make you an expert. Start a blog and talk about what you know, what you are learning along the way – challenges and successes. You can also repost articles from other people (make sure to give proper credit) or comment on them.

No. 7: Get involved in your community. Look for groups and associations that align with your priorities and beliefs. Volunteerism is a great way to network as well.

No. 8: Consistently brand your business. Chances are your company already has a logo and a name. It should be on everything – correctly formatted. Your name and logo are the image that says who you are and what you do. Make sure it reflects your business.

No. 9. Add a signature to your email– A unique message added to the bottom of your email can provide current and potential customers with valuable information about your website, Facebook page, or Twitter account. This often neglected area of text can be used to redirect your customers to a certain location or announce upcoming sales and events. Update it regularly.

No.10. Co-market with another business – Enlist the help of your friends and fellow business owners by implementing a plan that allows you to market their products or services alongside your own. These entrepreneurs will return the favour by finding a way to get the word out about your business whether it involves linking back to your website via their blog or getting a poster-sized ad on the door where customers can see it.

No. 11 Write guest posts for other blogs – Be an expert in the industry and win the respect of thousands of people. Guest blogging gives you the opportunity to expand your customer base by reaching out to people who may or may not have heard of you and your business. Always include a link back to your website in the post.

No. 12 Implement a referral program – Customers that are willing to go the extra mile to promote your products and services can be rewarded for their referrals. Keep incentives coming and mix up the offers to help maintain the enthusiasm day after day.

No. 13 Create a monthly newsletter – Keeping your customers in the know is a great way to win their respect. Offer a free monthly newsletter to anyone who signs up for your mailing list.

No. 14 Give a free demonstration – It’s important for customers to understand how your products or services will benefit them. A short, well-executed demo gives them the information that they need to make an informed purchasing decision.

No. 15 Swap business card stacks with non-competing businesses – This practice is especially helpful where people can pick up a business card while waiting for their coffee to be made or their car to be serviced.

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