Whether your business is new or well-established, large or small, you need advertising.
But that doesn’t mean you need a Super Bowl-sized budget to get the word out. There are plenty of free advertising ideas that work for companies of all sizes and are especially useful if you’re starting a new business.
Just look at brands like Rolls-Royce, Kiehls, or Huy Fong Foods (the makers of Sriracha) — all brands that don’t bother with paid advertising. Instead, they use free tactics like social media and word-of-mouth campaigns to raise brand awareness
And you can too.
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The best free ad ideas
To get you started, we rounded up 40 of the best free advertising ideas for businesses — many of which you should be taking advantage of even if you do have a big advertising budget.
1. Claim any existing profiles or listings
There are hundreds of online directories, lists, and review sites out there. Make sure you’ve claimed your business’s listing on sites like Yelp and ensure that any information is up to date.
2. Find other opportunities to get listed
Look for opportunities to list your business on any directories or review sites that you’re not already using. There may be business directories related to your industry or niche, and neighborhood, city, and state listings for local businesses with physical locations.
3. Google your business
Make sure your Google business listing is up to date. This is likely the first thing someone will see when they search for your business, so make sure your profile is fully completed and optimized. Upload some photos (or better yet, videos!) and don’t forget to add your operating hours and contact information.
If you have a local business with a physical bricks-and-mortar location, this is especially important, since it helps ensure your business appears on Google Maps.
4. Join the conversation
Look for discussions and forums related to your business or industry — your customers may even already be discussing your business online!
Remember that you don’t want to just push in with a link and an obvious advertisement. Instead, try to add value by answering questions, sharing your expertise, or, in cases where a customer is unhappy, making a good faith effort to help. Forum threads tend to remain searchable for years, so a single post can generate passive income for a long time.
5. Comment on blogs and articles
Likewise, look for blog posts and articles by thought leaders or businesses that are related to yours, but not direct competitors. Leave thoughtful comments (avoid appearing spammy!) sharing your perspective on the topic.
6. Start blogging
If you’re not already blogging, you should be! Sharing relevant content consistently has a significant impact on where your website appears in search results. The higher up the page you are, the more likely customers are to find you.
7. Host and/or participate in Twitter chats
Twitter chats are an easy way get your name out there. If you don’t have the bandwidth to host your own, there are plenty of opportunities to share your perspective in existing chats. Find chats related to your industry in this list from TweetReports.
8. Start an email newsletter
Email is one of the best advertising tools available. Here’s why: the people on your email list have opted in to receiving advertisements and other messaging from you. They’ve handed over something of value (their email address) in exchange for offers or information from you. Make sure to use it wisely!
9. Speak at an event
Look for opportunities to share your expertise by speaking at a conference or event or participating on a panel. By choosing an event that’s closely aligned with your business or industry, you’re positioning yourself as a thought leader and getting in front of an audience that’s (hopefully) a good fit for your business or product.
10. Meet the press
You don’t need an expensive PR firm to write and submit press releases to your local or industry news. Write up press releases for your big announcements and use a free submission service to get the word out — check out this list for free distribution services to try.
11. Post on Reddit
There are subreddits for every topic under the sun. The key to posting on Reddit as a business is to avoid being salesy and to be transparent about the fact that you’re representing a business. Make an effort to participate in the community and be genuine and helpful.
12. Offer to guest blog
Look for opportunities to contribute a guest post on sites or blogs related to your industry. This tactic can help drive traffic to your website and build your name as a thought leader in your niche. Check out Kissmetric’s guide for tips on getting started.
13. Repurpose your content
Repurposing existing content is a great way to get more mileage out of content you already have — for free. Whether it’s polishing up an outdated blog post, turning an existing Ebook into an email course, or transforming a listicle into an engaging video, repurposing gives you more opportunities for exposure to whole new audiences.
14. Ask for referrals
Asking your best customers for referrals is a free, easy way to get word of mouth advertising. A recommendation from a friend is considered the most credible form of advertising. But many people won’t think to refer a friend to your business themselves, which is why it’s so important to make the ask.
15. Create infographics
Infographics are a way to turn not-so visually appealing data into engaging, highly shareable content. And thanks to visual social media networks like Pinterest, infographics have a way of spreading far and wide.
Pro tip: Turn your infographic into an eye-catching video, perfect for social media. Get started with an infographic video template.
16. Reward your customers
Piggybacking off our last tip, consider ways to reward your loyal customers, especially for referrals or positive reviews. Sending some free swag, free product, or offering a small discount are all great ways to incentivize customers and build goodwill. If your customers share their good experience on social media, even better!
17. Create a website
Hopefully you’ve already done this, but if not, it’s time! Tools like Wix, Weebly, and WordPress allow anyone to create a website, no development skills needed. And there are a ton of tutorials for WordPress and other website creators that make it incredibly easy to get started.
Whichever website-building tool you use, having a website goes a long way towards helping customers find you on search engines like Google.
18. Keep your website updated
Once you’ve got a website, don’t just let it gather cobwebs. Updating it regularly with fresh content is important for ranking high in Google’s search results. Make sure your site is up-to-date and mobile-optimized. These days, if your website doesn’t work or doesn’t look good on mobile, many users will click away immediately.
19. Optimize for SEO
Using a free SEO tool like Yoast and conducting some basic keyword research goes a long way towards boosting your ranking in search results. Remember, the days of the Yellow Pages are long gone. Now people turn to Google to find a business, so it’s important to do all you can to help them find you.
20. Enter your business for awards
Look for awards offered by your local business or trade publications, Chamber of Commerce, and professional or nonprofit organizations. There are plenty of awards out there, but the truth is, getting nominated doesn’t come as a surprise — you’ve got to enter!
Giving back to local nonprofits not only helps you build goodwill and valuable connections in your community, it can help to build awareness about your business too. You can do a service project with your team, or serve in a leadership capacity, for example, by serving on a board of directors.
22. Ask for reviews
Reviews are hugely important, but did you know that people are far more likely to share bad customer experiences than good ones? Even happy customers just aren’t all that likely to head to Yelp or Google and share their goodwill.
That’s why it’s so important to ask your best customers to share their good experiences with your brand.
23. Hold a workshop or webinar
Getting people in the door (in person or virtually) can go a long way towards building brand awareness. By providing a useful educational session that helps your ideal customer solve their problems, you’re building trust and connection, and ensuring they think of you next time they’re looking for a product or service like yours.
24. Hold a contest or giveaway
You don’t have to spend a fortune on prizes for an effective contest or giveaway — in fact, you shouldn’t! Contests are most effective when the prize is closely related to your business For example: free product. Sure, you might get 1,000 entries if you give away an iPad, but are those people actually interested in what you do? Probably not.
25. Answer questions on Quora
When the internet has a question, Quora is often where it turns. Lots of businesses have found great success posting answers to questions on Quora, and doing so can build subject matter authority, add backlinks to your website, and drive traffic.
As always, strive to be helpful, not promotional — don’t just post a link to your blog and call it a day. Instead, look for questions related to your industry, especially if you’ve already got a blog post or video on a related topic. Then summarize the answer, and include a link to where people can learn more (if they like).
26. Make guest appearances on podcasts — or host your own!
Podcasts are an excellent way to reach a new audience. Lots of people don’t have time or don’t want to read written articles, but like to listen to podcasts.
Reach out to the hosts of a few relevant podcasts and offer to be a guest. Even if you have your own podcast, appearing as a guest on others’ helps to expand your reach.
27. Attend networking events
For businesses of all sizes and industries, networking in person is one of the absolute best ways to build connections with potential customers or business partners. As powerful as paid ads can be, face-to-face connection and word-of-mouth remains one of the absolute best forms of advertising.
28. Form partnerships with other businesses
Say you’re a photographer — you probably have customers who also want to get their hair and makeup done. And if you’re a hair and makeup stylist, you most likely work with people preparing for special events like weddings, who might be looking for a photographer.
Forming relationships in which you work together and refer customers to one another is one incredibly valuable way to get free word of mouth advertising.
29. Develop your social media presence
Yes, it’s harder than ever to make an impact organically (read: for free) on social media. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Social media networks remain one of the most common places for people to learn about businesses.
In fact, 25% of Millennial consumers start with social media — not a Google search or visiting the company website — when researching a business. Make sure you have an active presence and fully completed profiles on whatever social media channels you opt to use.
30. Collaborate with another business or a nonprofit
Partnerships don’t have to be limited to referring customers to one another. Could you collaborate with another business or a nonprofit on a limited edition product? Or work together to host an event or contest? These tactics can help you reach a brand new audience since you and your partner will both be spreading the word on your marketing channels.
31. Participate in local events
You don’t need to have a large sponsorship budget to participate in local events. Have your team volunteer as event staff, or donate event space, refreshments, your product as auction prizes, or a service related to your industry (for example, an audio company could provide sound.)
32. Make the most of your email signature
Is there a link to your website in your email signature? What about links to your social media channels? Your email signature is valuable, but often overlooked! You can even include a blurb about a current promotion or offer in this space.
33. Send cold emails
While many people are wary of sending cold emails for fear of appearing spammy, when done well they can work — and they don’t cost a cent.
What’s important is to personalize your message, add a link to allow prospects to easily book a call with you, and keep it short, actionable and valuable.
34. Open up your office
Offering your space for a meetup or other event is an outstanding way to build awareness about your brand. Partner with another business to provide refreshments and you won’t have to spend a dime!
35. Create brochures, flyers, or postcards
Sure, there’s nothing groundbreaking about offline advertising like fliers. But the fact is, they do still work. For the cost of some paper and toner, you can whip up flyers and brochures to leave in coffee shops or other locations where your target customer spends time.
36. Publish content on LinkedIn
LinkedIn isn’t just for networking and keeping tabs on old coworkers. It’s actually quite a powerful publishing platform too. With a few simple tweaks to optimize your existing content for the LinkedIn algorithm, you can potentially gain exposure to a massive new audience.
37. Wear company-branded stuff — and give some away!
While not exactly free, you probably already have company t-shirts or other company-branded gear. Make sure you and your team wear them when attending events. You can even share them with your customers as thank you gifts or contest prizes.
38. Leave reviews or give testimonials
If you work with suppliers or vendors, consider leaving positive reviews online or offering to share a testimonial about your experience. You’ll build goodwill with your partners, and get your name out there too.
39. Try paid advertising — for free
Last but not least, companies like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Amazon, and some hosting companies all offer promotional credits to try paid advertising. Facebook also offers periodic advertising coupons, though you can’t directly sign up to receive them.
Check out this guide to learn how to take advantage of promotional ad credits.
The bottom line
Paid advertising has its place, and there’s certainly the chance for widespread exposure. But it’s not without its drawbacks — including the fact that it tends to be really expensive. It’s definitely worth checking out all the free options out there before you go for a big spend.
Alternatively, you may consider hiring a marketing mentor to guide you through building and deploying strategic PPC campaigns.
Whether you plan to use exclusively free tactics, or want to supplement your paid efforts, we hope these ideas help.