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3 Inexpensive Ways to Promote Your Small Business

A best-selling author says there's no need to buy high-priced ads.

By Sarah Petty and Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX

No matter how great your new business idea, you won’t be able to sustain your company for long without clients. So how do you attract customers without spending a bundle on advertising and marketing campaigns?

Here are three of my favorite tips for promoting your startup without spending a lot of money:

1. Get Speaking Engagements

You may not realize it, but when you become a business owner, you’re viewed as an official expert — and there are prospective customers who will be interested in hearing you talk about your skills and knowledge. Once you’re accepted as an authority, you can often charge more for your services or product line.

So if your fledgling company caters to families with children, for example, get out there and introduce yourself to the PTA and entrepreneurs who are running related businesses. Offer to speak at an upcoming meeting or in their store. Your focus is not to sell — it’s to teach and build deeper relationships and rapport.

What can you teach your audiences?

Share advice and offer demonstrations. If you’re a personal chef, for instance, show off your top summer grilling recipes or hold a workshop on how to cook gluten-free. If you’re a golf coach, offer a few surefire tips for shaving shots off your score. A real estate agent might host an event on how to stage your home for a quicker sale. You get the idea.

The presentation doesn’t have to be long — 20 to 30 minutes will do. That should be enough time to engage your audience so that they come to appreciate the value of your expertise. It will also inspire them to patronize your business or tell friends and colleagues about you.

Beyond that, public speaking can be an amazing database-builder for your business. Once people have met you and learned something from your talk, they will want to stay connected with you. You can then add these prospective customers to your email list and send them your latest promotions.

2. Initiate Local Co-Marketing Partnerships

Get to know other local entrepreneurs who share your target audience, but have a completely different type of business. These aren’t your competitors — they are the wine to your cheese.

Co-marketing with such businesses can grow your database quickly and provide warm introductions to their customers — the very sort you're seeking.

Look for partners who genuinely love what you do and will naturally gush about your business, not ones who would merely feel obliged to carry out their end of a business deal.


Talk to potential partners as fellow entrepreneurs and community members. Find common ground — maybe you started your own business for the same reason, or have the same opinion of the mayor’s stance on tourism. Use whatever you have in common to build a rapport.

In forging a co-marketing partnership, learn your partner's challenges and find ways to help. Instead of offering a business proposal that’s all about you, develop strategies that will boost their business.

Maybe you can co-host a small customer appreciation event or a charitable fundraiser. Perhaps you could surprise your best clients with gift certificates from another local company, and the owner of that business could reciprocate by giving his clients gift certificates from your shop.

3. Volunteer Strategically

When you volunteer in your community, you’re likely to meet other small business owners as well as potential clients.

By the time I opened the doors of my photography business, I had already spent years as an ambassador for the local Chamber of Commerce. Because of that volunteer work, I knew many of the small business owners in my community. They had witnessed my work ethic, dedication and commitment. I didn’t have to tell them I was creative and trustworthy — they already knew that firsthand.

My earlier volunteer work promoting our city’s small businesses gained me some of those owners as clients, people who otherwise might never have stumbled across me.

When looking for an organization to volunteer with, you should be passionate about its mission and check out the type of volunteers it attracts. Are they likely to be in your target audience? Are they well connected with others in the community who may be your ideal clients? Are they also business owners or decision makers?

If you want your volunteer efforts to help grow your business, be sure that the organization showcases your expertise and abilities — and that the right people see your talents.

Sarah Petty is the co-author of Worth Every Penny: Build a Business That Thrills Your Customers and Still Charge What You're Worth and founder of The Joy of Marketing, where she teaches small business owners how to charge what they are worth. Her boutique photography studio was named by the Professional Photographers of America as one of the most profitable photography businesses in the country after five years in operation. Read More
Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX
By Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX

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