When I got self-employed in the beginning of 2015, I was dedicated to starting my small business as a Marketing Consultant for small service companies. I did have a lot of time on my hands and obviously quite a good marketing knowledge, but I didn‘t have a big network I could rely on for constantly getting new projects. I also didn’t have a big budget I could spend on my own small business advertising and on top of that, I wanted to set up everything completely location independently.
My dream was to work with my laptop from anywhere in the world. For that to be possible, I needed to manage to win new clients online – without a big network and being on a super tight budget.
So instead of waiting for a miracle to happen, I sat down every day for several hours over the next months and spend tons of time setting up all kind of free marketing measures to win my first clients online. In this article, I’ll share with you the ones that worked well for me, so you can profit from that if you’re finding yourself in a similar situation.
Your first website – The Basis for Your Small Business Advertising
As a starting point for my marketing activities, I needed at least a very basic website as a contact point for potential clients. Although I would always recommend you to have your website developed by professionals, back then I also couldn’t afford to hire a web developer to code my new website. Instead I decided to go with a free WordPress template and set up everything myself. Only later, once I had my cashflow going, I had a completely new website programmed from scratch.
While it’s definitely advisable to have a high-performing and great looking website, for the success of your business it’s still more important how you structure it and what kind of content you’re showing on your new webpage. If you need help with that – check out my short tutorial on YouTube: How to create a website – Structure & Content.
Now this article isn’t about creating websites, that’s just the basis for your small business advertising. Once you have it – how do you manage to win your first clients?
#1 Facebook Groups
After building my first website, I joined tons of Facebook groups for start-ups, entrepreneurs, small business owners and freelancers. Every morning I spent one hour (!) to interact with new posts in these groups. And I actually ended up really winning my first online-client through one of these groups. This client was Rob. He was looking for help with web marketing for his start-up.
As you may notice while reading through this article – I really believe in value first! So instead of pitching directly my services to him, I was giving away some tips on what I would do if I were in his situation. Then only as a side notice I mentioned, that if he’d be interested, I’m happy to help him with more questions via email.
He was curious and contacted me. Again, I put a lot of effort in genuinely helping him – for free. I was replying to his questions with super long value-packed emails. Like this, it went a lot back and forth. I received some great reactions from him, e.g. “finally someone who I think really understands me”. But there were also times in between, I didn’t hear anything. So I sent emails to catch up on the current status. Finally, two months after his post in the Facebook group, we managed to schedule a web-meeting. Afterwards I prepared a step-by-step plan, a detailed quote and we started working together on a paid basis.
Yes, it did take a lot of time and effort, but it didn’t cost me a penny. Time was what I had – I used it and won a client through it. If you’re on a budget and looking for ways on how to advertise your small business, then Facebook (or LinkedIn) groups could be a great option for you!
- Join groups with the same target audience
- Interact and give real value
- Bring your prospect to your own channels (e.g. email)
- Provide more value, build trust and eventually make an offer
Another client I won through giving a free live-webinar. I prepared a 45min presentation for this webinar in which I again wanted to deliver as much value to my target group as possible. My goal was to get 75 people to sign-up for it. I promoted it through all my own social media channels, in different groups, to my small email-list, had some friends share it etc. and I indeed ended up getting over 80 sign-ups.
As the webinar was happening, around 20 people were joining it live. It seems like quite a small number compared to the number of sign-ups, but it’s actually quite a normal ratio. If something is for free, people often don’t bother showing up, so don’t worry.
Out of these 20 people, I personally knew around five – leaving around 15 new contacts of my target group that I didn’t know before. The webinar itself was really well received and in the end, I gave a small sales pitch about an eBook I had just created. Out of the 15 people, three ended up buying the eBook and one contacted me afterwards personally via email to show interest in a further collaboration.
I called him, prepared a quote and signed him as a new client who I would work together with over the next couple of months. Again, a lot of time & effort in preparing and delivering such a webinar but didn’t cost me anything and brought me quite some new revenue. Definitely worth it!
- Create high-quality content for a webinar
- Promote your webinar everywhere! Aim for way more sign-ups than you have spots.
- Do it live. Give value. Value. Value.
- Deliver a pitch at the end or at least mention your services
If you need help creating a convincing pitch, check out this article: How to Write an Elevator-Pitch
#3 E-Mail Subscribers
While I had so much time as I didn’t have many projects in the beginning, I invested a lot of my time in producing high quality content. Specifically, little marketing tutorials for YouTube, some blog-posts etc. My goal was to win email subscribers through people that liked the tutorials and wanted even more input. That helped me in two ways:
1. I actually won e-mail subscribers
2. I got contacted directly from people who watched these tutorials and wanted to work with me (more about that in #4)
So how did it work?
At first, I was simply brainstorming about topics I’m very knowledgeable and that could be interesting for my target group. Then I did a keyword research to see which topic also has a bit of a search volume and afterwards wrote an article like this one or created a short tutorial for YouTube. At the end of each tutorial I said something like: If you liked this tutorial and you’d like to get more exclusive marketing know-how, sign up for free on my website.
I then shared the new content again through all my own channels, in Facebook groups etc. and people really read/watched it and signed up. To be honest, not as many as I hoped, and it took quite a while but after around a year I had a bit more than 120 email-subscribers. People of my target group that were genuinely interested in what I had to say and that I didn’t know before.
I regularly sent out emails to them with some more exclusive marketing tips, exclusive tutorials and e.g. also an info when I published a new blog post etc. At one point I mentioned my services and directly got two little projects out of it.
The ratio of effort I put into it and what I got out of it, wasn’t that satisfying to be honest. But for as long as I had the time for it – it was still much better than sitting on the couch and waiting for new clients to rain from the sky. Absolutely a way to go for advertising your small business and winning new clients if you’re on a budget! But… be patient and persistent. It takes a while!
- Produce high-quality content (Blogs, Videos,..)
- Promote your content
- Have a clear call to action: Subscribe
- Deliver value + build trust in your emails
- Once in a while mention your services or have a special offer for your subscribers
#4 YouTube Tutorials
As mentioned earlier, the other benefit that’s still ongoing, is that people actually contact me directly after watching one of these tutorials I created. I uploaded for example one video about Google AdWords which now already has over 60.000views and occasionally people still send me an email afterwards that they really liked the tutorial and were wondering if I could help them personally as well. Through this, I won some of my longest and most loyal clients.
The cool thing about YouTube: The more views you get, the better your video will rank. You only need to upload and optimise your video once (read more about Video SEO), share the link in all your channels to get as many initial views as possible and then just sit back and relax. After I first uploaded this AdWords-Tutorial, it took me about almost one year until I got my first 1.000views. Now, about three years later, it has over 63k!
You may be asking yourself: But how should I produce such a video tutorial? I simply used PowerPoint. Admittedly I put quite a big effort in designing and animating it, but besides that it really was just PowerPoint: Create your presentation like if you’d give an actual talk, then simply use your own voice to record a voice-over (you can do that in PowerPoint as well) and in the end export it as video-file (possible in PowerPoint starting from PP2010).
Tip: Before you get into it, first watch a few of the other tutorials out there to check what you can do differently and better than them. How can you provide even more value to your target audience?
Again, yes, it was quite an effort to create these tutorials, but they didn’t cost me anything but time and enabled me to win clients on a budget. Up to this day, they’re still online in my German YouTube-channel and advertise my small business for free.
- Produce high-quality content
- Optimise for search (keywords)
- Promote videos
- Sit back and relax
#5 Guest Blogging
If you’re just starting out and your website doesn’t have many visitors, then consider to write blog posts for other websites that already have the audience you’d like to address. I did some guest-blogging myself and unfortunately didn’t win any new clients, but it strengthened my positioning as an expert and led to a few interesting conversations. I’m really convinced it can also lead to new clients, that’s why I want to share the method with you anyway:
- First you research other blogs and online-magazines in your niche
- Then you follow them a while, read their articles and interact (comment, like + share)
- Once you have a feeling for how the site works, you come up with a title for an article that sounds like it could be really interesting for their target audience (which is ideally also yours)
- You write them an email saying that you love their site and you’d like to contribute an article about XYZ as you think it would be of great interest for their readers. You ask if they’re interested and only then, you actually write the article and send it to them.
Very often they’re more than happy to publish it! Under each article you have the chance to introduce yourself with a few lines in the “about the author”-section where you can usually also link to your website. You get exposure and a backlink, and they got a nice qualitative article for free. Win-win!
#6 Google Organic (SEO)
Another client I won directly through google! Not because I put a big effort in SEO but simply because I used the term “marketing-sparring” to describe my services. This search term isn’t very popular in Germany (back then I was targeting German clients) and has hardly any search requests. But if someone is indeed typing it in, then he’s very likely looking for someone like me.
The only thing I did was optimise one landing page on this term, and within a couple of weeks I was ranking already on the first page for this search phrase as the competition was super weak. With the help of the Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress, it took me only about one hour to optimise this site for the term “marketing-sparring”. And after a few months, someone was really searching for exactly this phrase, found me on the first page, came to my website, had a look at my tutorials to get an impression about my knowledge and afterwards contacted me and became my client.
Later on I also created a short explainer-video about “Marketing Sparring” and uploaded it in YouTube which now ranks in the top positions of google as well. Great way to win new clients and advertise your small business!
- Do a Keyword Research to find words that match with your services but don’t have a big competition
- Use a SEO-Plugin like Yoast to help you optimise your website for this keyword
- With a little bit of luck: Win a new client
#7 Local SEO
Now if you’re not like me working as a consultant from anywhere but run a more traditional, local business and you feel like all the stuff I just told you about, is not for you – even then there’s different methods on how you can win clients on a budget.
A client and friend of mine is owning a motorbike workshop in my hometown. He just started this business a few years ago and one of the first things we did for his small business advertising (after designing his new Logo, Website etc.), was to optimise his online presence for local SEO: We simply created a nice looking google maps entry for his business, listed him in all kind of free online-directories (like yellow pages etc.) and optimised his website for the (translated) search term “Motorbike Workshop Baden-Baden”.
With these few small measures, we managed to outrank his traditional & established competition within just a few months. Now whenever someone in the area is searching for such a place, he or she will definitely come across his business and potentially become a new client. If you do all of this yourself, again – it doesn’t cost you anything but is an amazing way to advertise your small business locally online.
- Optimise Your Website
- Create a good-looking Google Maps entry
- Get listed in free online-directories (at least 10 different ones)
#8 Local Partnerships
Another great way to advertise your business locally, is to build partnerships with other companies in your value chain. To give you an example: We did that e.g. for a wedding photographer.
When a couple is planning their wedding, they’re of course not only looking for a photographer, but also for an event-location, catering service, DJ, etc.
Contact these other businesses in your value chain, meet the responsible person, introduce yourself and build a partnership with them where you recommend each other. Not only does it give you a potential new client, but also provides a great service to your target audience as it reduces their effort of needing to do research themselves.
[photo credit: gesang-photo.com]
#9 Local Small Business Ads
Coming back to the example of the motorbike workshop, we were also successfully running local ads for him. These ads – if planned carefully – can be super affordable and very effective. It depends a bit on the goal you have: Is it directly wanting to win a new client? Is it wanting to strengthen your branding and increasing your reach?
For him, we e.g. designed a poster that went on the wall in a local driving school. Our goal was to target the 16year old guys who were just getting their small 50cc motorbike license and accordingly are probably looking for a nice bike to start with. To match this, the poster was specifically mentioning that his shop has these 50cc models available and showed a nice big picture of it in action. Easy solution, very targeted and hardly cost anything.
Think about these kinds of options for your business – Where might you have a great way of reaching directly your local target group? Also consider advertising space you own: Like your car, your wall of the house, etc. – they might not be that targeted but definitely increasing awareness and strengthen your brand on a low cost.
One of the best ways for small business advertising is still to spread the word. You might not have a huge network yet, but you can start building it. Online and offline. One thing to keep in mind: Networking is not about going to an event once and hoping to immediately generate business out of it. Networking is about building relationships. So if you find your perfect potential client somewhere, don’t pitch immediately your product or your service. Be human! Start getting to know each other, build up trust, deliver value and over time I’m sure you’ll also be talking about your business anyway. Then, once this person might need your service, he or she will definitely get in touch with you. It might also be, that not even this person itself will require your help but instead maybe know someone who does.
To build up this network I can recommend e.g. online being active on LinkedIn. Offline, I already won great projects through people I met at a coworking space.
I haven’t been that lucky yet with networking events I went to but sometimes there are really great ones. Simply do some search online or ask other small business owners you meet, if they know of any great meeting they could bring you along to.
As I didn’t find any events in the area where I live now that seemed interesting to me, I decided to simply organise them myself: Once a month we’re meeting in the meeting room of a lovely hotel here for our skill-sharing sessions. The idea again is to not simply pitch your business but actually share experiences and know-how that could be valuable for other small business owners. We build up great connections and know whom to talk or refer to once we’d need help with a certain topic. This doesn’t only put me in touch with other interesting people but also strengthens my expert positioning through presentations I give and the value I provide.
If there’s no event happening in your area that sounds interesting to you, why not organise one yourself? Nowadays it’s so easy to advertise such an event. I always simply put mine on meetup.com and eventbrite.co.uk. But also posting it in local Facebook or LinkedIn groups can help you to fill up the spots. Once the first few people joined and liked your event, they’ll also come more often and maybe even bring their friends or business partners. Give it a try!
Conclusion for your small business advertising
If you’re just starting your small business and don’t have a big budget you can spend on marketing campaigns, there are still tons of ways on how you can advertise your small business and win your first clients. Focus on delivering value wherever possible. Try all kind of different approaches, then double down on the ones that worked and stop the other ones that didn’t. But don’t jump to any conclusions too quickly. Be patient and persistent. As you saw in some of my examples – it takes a while until you get the results you’re craving for. But… it’s possible!
One more thing – before you start advertising your small business, make sure you have a solid strategic basis. If you’re not sure about it or need help creating one, read my guide about how to develop a small business marketing strategy. Have fun :).