In this 8-minute read:
- Claim your free business listings to get found when people search online
- Create engaging social media pages to cultivate new customers
- Ask your best customers to advocate for your business
If you run a local business, you know that the biggest challenge you face every day is getting new customers in the door. It’s no surprise, then, that the average small business spends $400 per month on marketing.
Marketing is the only way to ensure your business is relevant to new and returning customers, but it doesn’t always have to cost money. Some of the most effective advertising for local businesses is free-ninety-free.
We’ve studied hundreds of thousands of small, local businesses to uncover patterns in what makes them successful. One common theme among the most successful businesses is that they follow the correct order of operations for marketing in the digital age.
The good news is that order starts with free advertising options, which are becoming more abundant. In fact, we recommend that most small businesses don’t pay for advertising until they’ve taken advantage of all the free options out there.
Go deeper: Read our free step-by-step guide to marketing your local business.
To get you started, here are 3 ways to advertise your local business without spending a dime.
Claim your free business listings on sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook
Did you know that 97% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and 90% say that the reviews on popular sites influence their buying decisions?
Today, people use their smartphones to find businesses nearby when they’re looking to make a purchase. All you have to do is show up when they search, and ensure that your business looks good when people find you online. Think of it as setting up—and then sprucing up— your “digital storefront.”
If someone in your town was looking for a business like yours on Google, Yelp, Facebook, or TripAdvisor right now, would they find you? If you haven’t claimed your free business listings on these pages, chances are they won’t. That means you’re losing money every day.
The good news is it’s totally free to take control of your listings on these online review sites. Best of all, taking this one step is the best and cheapest (as in, free!) form of advertising for local businesses. Plus, new research from Womply shows that businesses that claim their listings on multiple online business reviews sites make 58% more money!
To help you out, we’ve got a bunch of free step-by-step guides:
- 25 free listing sites every small business should be on
- 25 free local advertising ideas for small business
- How to claim your Google Business listing
- How to claim your Yelp business listing
- How to claim your business listing on TripAdvisor
Once you’ve claimed all your pages, be sure to read and respond to the reviews your customers post on your listings. Prospective customers are more likely to spend money with a business that’s responsive to its customers, and studies have shown that simply responding to reviews correlates to higher sales.
Engage with customers on social media
You might be thinking that social media is just for big businesses or online companies. More and more, local businesses are finding tremendous success attracting and engaging with customers on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and more.
Managing your social media presence takes a little time, but it’s 100% free. And you don’t have to be on every platform—just tailor your approach to your business type.
- Do you operate a bar, restaurant, or cafe? Then you should definitely be on Facebook and Instagram and tagging customers into photos. Same goes for salons, spas, or yoga studios where you can build community and highlight your customers through images.
- If you run a business that appeals to creative types, like a craft shop or cupcake bakery, be sure to have a robust presence on Pinterest.
- Professional service businesses, like attorneys or CPAs, should be active on LinkedIn.
You get the idea. If you play your cards right, social media can be a huge source of free advertising for your business. Coconut Bliss, an organic ice cream company based in Eugene, Oregon, made a name for itself by posting pictures of customers enjoying dessert on its social media pages and using contests and giveaways to build its online fanbase.
Try these tips to get more followers on your social media profiles:
- Food and beverage: Tag patrons into pictures for your Facebook or Instagram page.
- Auto services: Post how-to car maintenance tips to build credibility and name recognition.
- Health and beauty: Post shareable videos of personal care best practices and pro tips.
- Retail: Get in front of seasonal promotions and run contests to get existing followers to tag their friends.
- Professional services: Write actionable seasonal advice on how to prepare for tax season, etc.
- All businesses: Post “free value” content in more often than overtly promotional content — aim for 80% value, 20% promotional. Offer perks to customers who like your company page or check in from their phones.
Turn your best customers into advocates for your business
Word of mouth is still king for local businesses, even as these conversations migrate to online review sites. Your existing customers are already spending money with you and, hopefully, are big fans of your business. Why not ask them to review your business and refer friends and family?
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When someone has a great experience with your business, it’s validation of your hard work and the customer experience you try to deliver every day. Shouldn’t other people know about that? We think so.
Ask your happy customers if they’ll share their feedback with others, including posting a review about your business online. This kind of authentic feedback from real customers is invaluable—and free!—advertising. Just be sure you don’t offer compensation for the review or pay dubious companies to post fake reviews. We strongly advise against these questionable practices. Read more in our article on why you shouldn’t pay for online reviews.
You can also ask your happiest customers to help you grow your business by referring their friends and family. Typically, satisfied customers are willing to do this if you can give them a little encouragement or incentive.
Create a referral program by offering promotions or discounts when your existing customers nudge more people into your business. You can start small by keeping track of things manually and use software to save time as your referral program grows.
If you build a robust referral program, chances are you’ll not only attract more new customers, but you’ll also have more repeat business. That will increase your revenue and profitability all at once!