By Nathan Abadi

Every entrepreneur knows that the keys to success are to drive traffic and capture sales. In an economic climate where big name companies with big advertising budgets capture more than their fair share of attention, small businesses must be resourceful and innovative when they promote their goods and services.

More than anything else, letting people know you exist should be your main priority. And just like when you were a kid trying to sell lemonade from a stand in front of your house, location is critical. Here is a list of (mostly) free and powerful ways to promote your small business.


1. Business Cards and Stationery

Branding your company as a professional enterprise with your name and logo on business cards and stationery can be as effective as having a storefront and sign. It tells potential customers that you’re serious and open for business. There are several online options that provide free templates or allow you to customize an entire business pack for just a few dollars. Don’t be stingy handing them out; giving them to every new prospect, as well as friends and family, will broaden your advertising reach.

2. Networking

Joining small business clubs or groups in your town and attending meetings regularly will open doors to new opportunities. Volunteering to work on events will help you build rapport with other members. As people get to know you and your business, they’ll be more likely to recommend you when the situation arises.

3. Vendors

Think about the companies you frequent for everyday business and personal needs — your hair stylist, daycare center, pet groomer, mechanic, printer or community center — and ask to become their vendor. At the very least, leave business cards or flyers on their bulletin boards for their customers to see.

4. Demos and Samples

Why do you think those home shopping networks are so popular? People love to watch demonstrations and receive free samples. If your products or services are easy to show off, contact your local library or recreational center to arrange free demos or training sessions to obtain more exposure. Handing out a free sample or coupon to participants will encourage them to act.

5. Word of Mouth

There’s nothing like the power of a great testimonial or review. Ask for recommendations from your current and past customers. Written testimonials included in postcards or flyers can be invaluable for improving sales. Likewise, a bad review can have detrimental effects, so make sure you keep your customers happy.

6. Mailings

Prepare a professional brochure, flyer or postcard and include one in everything you mail out. No need to do a separate mailing — you’ll save on postage and have a higher percentage of callbacks as it won’t be discarded with other “junk” mail.

7. Newspaper

Press releases are a great way to get free publicity for your company. Newsworthy events such as a new business grand opening, job opportunities, receptions or educational seminars will garner local press coverage and target potential customers.

8. Create a Website, Consistent SEO

No matter how big or small your company is, you need a website. It’s never been easier to create a professional-looking website. For very little cost, you can design a website, secure a domain name and obtain an Internet hosting package. If you’ve already got a site, make sure it’s properly optimized for people and search engines, so your company shows up among the top search results. There are a number of free instructional sites to guide you through the process.

9. Use Social Media

Loyal, repeat customers are cultivated through dynamic interactions, interesting content, special offers, discounts, etc. and listed on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages. You can establish free business accounts and manage them yourself or place inexpensive advertising spots targeting specific demographics. Email marketing can help you compile a strong database. Ask customers to sign up for a newsletter and keep the conversation going.

10. Start a Blog

This is another low-cost opportunity to engage existing customers and attract new ones. Updating your posts with interesting, relevant content and commenting on other blog pages will grow your followers list and keep them coming back for more.

11. Register on Local Listing Services

Free registration with Google Places, Yahoo Local and Microsoft Bing will allow your business to be found more easily on searches and show up on local maps.

Whether you spend a lot or a little, promoting your small business will require a substantial investment of time. Create a marketing plan that utilizes a variety of platforms to build name recognition and a strong client base. As your business grows, you can increase visibility with a professional advertising campaign and work toward creating a loyal following.