Before there was money, there was bartering, the direct exchange of goods and services. You might not have money for marketing, but you do have something to trade: your business.
Call your local radio stations and offer free gifts, appointments, coupons-whatever you've got and can afford-to be used as prizes in their promotional draws or contests. In exchange, you get to include your business name and contact information on all these products, and they make periodic announcements on the air that sing praises of your contributions.
You can also barter with other small businesses in your area. Are you an information broker, plumber, candlestick maker? Find a copywriter, Web site designer or desktop publisher and offer to trade your services for professionally written ad copy and polished Web sites and brochures.
Give Away Tips (and Your Name)
Name recognition: that's what those giant billboard ads and full-color magazine spreads are trying to build. Name recognition sells because people fall back on the things that are familiar. You, too, can cash in on this tendency-and spend nothing more than your time and photocopying costs.
Start by writing a short article that offers a set of tips related to your business. Remember, on this topic, you're the expert. Pick a catchy title that promises secrets, numbers and reasons ("Become your own boss in five easy steps," "Three things to try when your computer dies" and "7 mortgage mistakes to avoid," for example). Don't overtly sell your business, though you can make references to it. Many people who never read ads will read an article, especially one that promises a tangible benefit.
Format the article so you can fold it into a convenient shape for mailing or handing out. Include contact information and a clear but brief description of your business where they're visible but not obtrusive. Hand out the "free tips" at networking events, send them to relatives and friends, and post them on bulletin boards in coffee shops, Laundromats, public libraries and malls. Offer them free from your Web site if you have one.
Ask compatible local businesses to keep a stack of them as a service to customers. "10 things to look for in a good pet sitter" would probably be welcomed at your vet's office, "Beat stress through aromatherapy" at a natural products store. And the next time someone is going on holiday in Europe or runs into a stressful spell, your pet-sitting or aromatherapy massage business will be first in line for consideration.
This is probably the most effective and least-utilized way you can get more business fast: Join forces with other entrepreneurs who run businesses complementary to yours. If you're a copywriter, seek out a graphic designer and a printer. Interior designers can team up with house painters and custom furniture makers, resume writers with employment consultants.
Market your services jointly, and refer your clients to each other. Offer coupons that offer discounts to each others' services. Not only do you get many times the exposure you'd get if you were marketing alone, but you'll also attract extra customers who want the convenience of one-stop shopping for all their needs.