Build your brand in 2017 with these five free marketing tactics

A New Year means a fresh start so why not kick off The Year of the Rooster with a little shake-up for your business?

I’m a huge fan of practical business planning because it helps time-strapped business owners develop a strategy to guide them through the trials and tribulations of owning a budding enterprise. But if you’re a fly by the seat of your pants type, there are plenty of things you can do to get your business noticed in 2017 without having to spend too much time, or a dime, on strategy. Here are my favorite tactics:

1. Become an ambassador.

When I was first starting out, I looked for bigger businesses and opportunities that I could leverage to help me get the word out about my brand. Because I do marketing and PR for small businesses, I found a global brand that was looking for ambassadors to promote an event that spoke directly to my target market. By volunteering my time and energy, I got to meet all the local businesses in the area and introduce them to my business, all while giving them an opportunity to participate in an event that would boost their sales for free.  If I am being honest with myself, I know that I’ll never have the advertising power or reach that this mega brand does, but through my partnership with them, I got a little slice of their brand-building pie for my own business.

The bottom line: Look for opportunities that align your business with bigger players in the market and ride off the back of their marketing power. Opening a fitness shop? Offer the runners participating in the local 10K a free assessment.  Have a new restaurant? Organize a “restaurant week” promotion with other local, better known and more frequented hot spots. Jump on board with the established players and ride the wave. If there’s nothing that currently exists to piggyback off of, don’t be afraid to get out there and create your own somethin’ somethin’ to get attention.

2. Donate (and it doesn’t have to be dollars).

In my area, there is a non-profit that helps high school kids get ready for the working world with a specific focus on business ownership. I don’t know about you, but my high school somehow skipped practical business life lessons, like how credit cards really work and what an interest rate is. Through this non-profit, I volunteer my time to teach young people about basic marketing and PR, which I absolutely love and feel great about doing. On the flip side, being involved in the organization also gives me access to a network of potential clients through the school system, which, for someone without kids, probably wouldn’t be an avenue I would normally explore. There are great non-profits and charities that rely on businesses for help, and a lot of the time, expertise is more valuable to them than money.  So get involved.

The bottom line:  Find a charity, non-profit or community organization that aligns with your business and get involved. Have a dance studio? Support the local theater district by offering free classes to members. Own a nursery? Approach the local schools to teach kids the importance of growing their own food. By putting yourself in the center of your target audience, you’ll have the opportunity to speak directly to them in a way that traditional marketing can’t – with expertise and sincerity.

3. Get in with the media.

I’ve been doing public relations since I was 17 years old and while it’s not the easiest way to make a name for your business, it can be one of the cheapest. One of my favorite PR tactics is pitching a column to the local newspaper. I did this for my dad a few years ago, and he still considers it to be a changing point in his business. He is a remodeling contractor who, while having 30 years of experience and an excellent reputation in our hometown, was finding it hard to stand out amongst a growing sea of competitors. We pitched the local newspaper on an idea for a weekly column, highlighting home improvement Q&A’s from local readers. All of a sudden my dad’s name and face had a page of its own every week, directly opposite to the cluttered page of three-inch ads from the 25 other remodelers in town. There isn’t a day that goes by when he doesn’t get a call from a potential customer who is ringing because of that column. It has continued to build his reputation as a trusted expert in the area, which is the kind of recognition that no advertisement could buy, regardless of the cost.

The bottom line: Use your expertise to be a voice in the community. Sure, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get a column in the local newspaper, but luckily there are plenty of ways to find an audience. Medium is a publishing platform that lets you submit your articles for free and helps you build an audience using keywords that pertain to your content. Not a writer? Podcasts and video publishing platforms let you share your ideas and brand experiences with the world through audio and video. So find your niche and get talking.

4. Offer cheap workshops and classes.

One of the biggest mistakes new business owners make is not valuing their own expertise. I used to work with a large group of financial planners who I had to constantly remind of the uniqueness of their skill – an expertise in money – the one thing that people are most confused about and fearful of.  As a business owner, you have to recognize your expertise, and instead of thinking of yourself in the sense of a profession, start thinking of yourself as an expert. If you’re a financial planner, offer a low-cost seminar unveiling your top 10 tips to retire by the time you’re 45. If you’re a florist, create an architectural arrangements class for brides-to-be. The point is, get creative and get yourself out there. With online platforms such as Meetup and Eventbrite, organizing and marketing a get-together can be a breeze, and by using free event spaces such as a library or a park, your investment can be minimal.

The bottom line: Remember, meeting 10 new people is better than meeting none. Just don’t forget to think about your hook and how to introduce your business in an organic way to keep people coming back for more. It’s great to offer something on the cheap, but always remember the long-term goal - to generate new business.

5. Use the power of social

If you’re not using the power of social media yet, I suggest you get on it. I run a marketing and PR consultancy for small businesses, and I like to use a mix of curated and unique content which is a fancy way of saying that I like to share articles that I think small business owners would find interesting, plus I write a fair few of my own.  Make yourself relevant to your audience in both the content that you share and the platforms that you use. As an example, if you have an activewear company, offer your expert advice and opinions about at-home workouts, healthy recipes and ways to keep fit on the go. If you’re an accountant, don’t focus all your efforts on building a Pinterest board because let’s be honest, it’s going to be tough to inspire people to use your services by posting pictures. Rather, use a writing-focused platform to publish long-form articles on topics such as how small businesses can keep their incomings and outgoings organized, and then use social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to get the word out.  Whatever you decide to talk about and whatever you use to do it, never ever bombard followers with sales pitches.  Give them news they can use that has an appropriate connection to your business. Otherwise, they’ll get bored and give you the flick.

The bottom line: People get overwhelmed with social media and the pressure to have a million followers from day one. In my opinion, having 100 followers who are interested in what you have to say and interact with your content is better than having 1,000 who do nada. There is nothing wrong with building slowly, cultivating your base and creating a community of loyal, followers. In fact, in my book that’s the best kind of audience.

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