Updated: May 10
Marketing a growing business online can look daunting but the online world is full of possibilities. There are so many communities and opportunities to get involved with it’ll make your head spin.
Most people think of Google and Facebook ads when they think of digital marketing but there are tons of free (and effective) ways to digitally market your business. It just takes a bit of creativity and some elbow grease.
After all, not every business has an extra $10,000 to spend every month on ads. Especially when your business is young and small, every dollar matters. Thankfully, there’s a million and one ways to get the word out about your business online without blowing your budget.
Check out 30 of our best free digital marketing ideas here!
Free Social Media Marketing Ideas
Social media is where your customers are, plain and simple. The average person spends over 2 hours every day on social media. Here are a few simple ideas to get rolling on social media:
1. Create a Facebook Business Page
Facebook pages are free and quick to make, and if you advertise on Facebook later on you’ll need one. Might as well make one now and start building a following! A lot of people say organic social media is dead and they may be right. However, you can still ask your Facebook friends to follow your page and make your network aware of your business.
2. Create an Instagram Profile
Instagram marketing works better for some businesses than others. Usually, fun B2C businesses like fashion or cosmetics do well on Instagram, but if you’re selling oil pipeline widgets you’re not likely to find the same success. Think about your product or service and if you think it makes sense, create an Instagram profile.
3. Publish on Reddit
It’s easy to publish content on Reddit but be careful - Redditors are capricious and not fond of blatant marketing. Look for ways to add real value for free and they’ll put away the pitchforks. They tend to like innovative ideas and humor. If you can find a way to position your business appropriately and avoid being pushy you have a good chance of making some waves. Of course, you can always try paid ads on Reddit too.
One of the most famous examples is u/VideoGameAttorney, who finds plenty of new business with every IamA (I am A . Like a Q&A) post.
4. Start a Facebook Group
Facebook is pushing groups hard lately. They’re a great way to gather like-minded people together on almost any topic. The best part though? They’re free to create! Anyone can create a group about anything. Say you own a software company that makes Airbnb hosts’ lives easier. You can start an Airbnb host group, start publishing some solid content, and have thousands of members before you know it. Now you have an engaged audience who have essentially already given you permission to market to them!
Just make sure you’re not too pushy and keep the focus on the content, not your sales pitch.
5. Yelp It Up
Yelp is especially effective for local services and restaurants. A bunch of good reviews on Yelp can definitely make a difference in a potential customer’s buying decision. In fact, BCG (Boston Consulting Group) found that the simple act of creating a free Yelp profile added on average $8,000 per year to a small business’ revenue. Just make sure to fill out the profile completely and add high quality images!
6. Publish on Pinterest
Similar to Instagram, Pinterest is more effective for highly visual consumer goods as well as online publications like travel blogs. For example, if we search “Korea” we can find images with links to various different travel blogs that are all probably displaying ads or have affiliate links. It’s a great way to distribute content and get links out there. For a deeper dive into Pinterest, click here.
7. Try Out Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is simply partnering with someone influential in your industry to market your product or service. If you have a lipstick line, Kim Kardashian would be an awesome influencer for you. If you’re in a heavy metal band then not so much. Working with an influencer that appeals to your target market is key.
Instagram influencers are what people usually think of when they think of influencers but there’s influencers on YouTube, LinkedIn, Reddit, and other platforms as well.
Disclaimer: influencer marketing may or may not be free. Smaller or local influencers are often happy to work with your brand for freebies or “exposure”, but the big fish will probably want payment unless you have some kind of social mission they agree with.
Quick note on social media: post regularly! Consistency is key with social media. Posting once a month will never be enough for people to start recognizing and engaging with your brand. Create and post content for your market weekly at the least to keep people interested.
Free Content Marketing Ideas
In the age of ad blockers and native advertising, content is king. The more value you add for free to customers’ lives, the more receptive they’ll be to your message. The great thing about content is it is generally free to create. Here’s a few easy content marketing ideas:
8. Write a Blog
Everyone and their mom (and their mom’s dog) might have a blog now but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to get into the game. The blunt reality is most blogs and most writers suck. If you take it seriously, work to improve your writing, and post regularly, you’re already ahead of 80% of your competition. The classic adage “80% of success is showing up” definitely holds true in the blogging world. Some blogs are businesses in their own right, like the travel blog Nomadic Matt, which earns around $750,000 per year.
9. Guest Post on Relevant Blogs
Guest posting is a straightforward concept - you write an article and email it to some bloggers or publications that’d be interested in publishing it on their website. Using guest posts to get backlinks to your site can be an effective SEO strategy as well. Don’t think it has to be on little blogs either. You could get published in Fortune, TechCrunch or some other major publication and get a highly valuable link that brings followers to your social media profiles and traffic to your website for years to come.
10. Get Published in a Local Publication
Brick and mortar stores and restaurants might not benefit as much from an online article on Entrepreneur. However, getting a story on your local news website could be a big help. Here in Austin, getting published somewhere like the Austin Chronicle can be a big boost to your sales and let the community know about you. You can see a supplement brand and local craft beers taking full advantage of this in the example.
11. White Papers
You can think of white papers as business research reports. They’re usually in-depth, extensive, and make some attempt to bring in the scientific method or at least an unbiased eye to a subject. Generally they present a clear problem and suggest a solution, backing that solution with concrete data. They’re more academic and technical and tone, and far less salesy. They also often look at higher level market and industry trends.
Anyone can write a white paper as long as you’re willing to put in the work to research a topic and accurately report your findings. They take much longer to write than a blog post but they also offer more value.
12. Write a Column
Associating yourself with an already successful publication can also be lucrative. You could apply to write a weekly or monthly column in an online magazine in your industry. It means regular work, but you’re not going to get anywhere without work. After a few months people will think of you and your brand as almost synonymous with the publication you write for.
13. Start a Podcast
Podcasts are hot right now and for good reason. They’re simple and cheap to produce. They’re popular and easily accessible to anyone with an interest. I like them because it gives me something educational to do in the car and with services like Anchor.fm you can produce a high-quality podcast completely for free.
The downside? The barrier to entry is so low, the market is getting pretty saturated. Plus, reaching high download numbers is probably going to take a year or more, so it’s definitely a long term strategy. However, if you’re passionate about your topic and are willing to play the long game, they can be incredibly lucrative on their own. Top podcasts like Joe Rogan can make $75,000 per episode.
Free Video Marketing Ideas
Video is slated to make up 82% of internet traffic by 2022. If you’re not engaging in video marketing you’re missing the boat. However, most small businesses haven’t caught up and relatively few are engaging meaningfully in video marketing. Some interesting content and clean editing will put you way ahead of your competition. Here’s a handful of free ideas (and a bonus!)
14. Start a YouTube Channel
YouTube has exploded in the past decade yet it is still an untapped market in many respects. Producing high quality videos is a lot more technical and difficult than recording a podcast, creating a barrier to entry that discourages some competition. Make no mistake though, there are over 23 million YouTube channels to compete with.
The keys here are a high publishing frequency, entertaining and informative content, and high production quality. I recommend investing in some professional video equipment eventually. Like podcasts, successful YouTube channels can become businesses in their own right.
15. Run Webinars
A webinar is a live video conference typically used to present a product or service, and can include video of the speaker, screen shares, and slide decks. Think of it as a live online presentation, although some people now present pre-recorded webinars as well.
Webinars work best within the context of a larger marketing plan. After all, you need to bring people in to sign up for your webinar first. Webinars are typically a mid-funnel marketing tactic used after you’ve already generated some base interest. There are a handful of free options to choose from, although usually they become paid after you hit a certain critical mass of attendees.
16. Record Presentations
Live presentations are still an excellent way to build a reputation, gain authority, and connect in-person with your target audience. As we will discuss later though, you should always be thinking of ways you can repurpose content for other platforms.
An easy way to do so is to record your live presentations and put them on YouTube, add them to your website, create snippets for social media posts, and wherever else you can think to distribute your content. Apple has done this with great success, and their product reveal presentations bring in millions of views.
17. Create a Video Course
The e-learning industry is expected to grow to $120 billion by 2025. This is a fantastic opportunity for growing businesses in many industries. Anyone with a decent camera can create a video course teaching a new skill. I guarantee there is a video course worth creating for your business. Maybe it’s a course on how to start a business like yours!
Becoming a course creator makes you an authority in a field, introduces new people to you, and proves your expertise. For some businesses it’s a top-of-funnel marketing strategy to generate interest in private lessons or coaching. You can publish your course on your own website or on platforms like Udemy, Skillshare, LinkedIn Learning, and more. You could also publish it for free on YouTube if you’re feeling generous.
Finally, don’t think you have to focus on business skills! There are courses for guitar, rap, painting, pixel art, and just about anything else under the sun.
18. BONUS - Video Ideas
Sometimes you might struggle to generate ideas for new video content about your business. Here’s 11 video content ideas to keep you creating!
How To - as a business owner you and your team have unique knowledge and skills. Create how to videos sharing your knowledge!
Company Introduction - you could use this on your website’s homepage or in sales emails. Create a short 1-2 minute video introducing you, your company, and the problem you solve.
Team Introduction - Humanize your company and help people get to know you by creating introduction videos for each of your team members.
Behind the Scenes - Behind the scenes can be fascinating. How is a house built? How is a movie filmed? Show your audience what’s behind the curtain.
Event Videos - Hosting an event? Record it and show people how fun and exciting it is to work with your team.
Video Testimonials - Record your customer testimonials. A written review can be faked but it’s harder to fake a video, and people trust video reviews more.
Product/Service Demos - Demonstrate the quality of your product or service with a presentation of it in action!
Q&As - Solicit questions from your audience through email or social media and make a Q&A video answering your audience’s most burning questions. This doubles as a form of market research too!
Time Lapses - If you create something concrete like a website, logo, home, movie, garden, or something else, a time lapse is a fun way for customers to learn what it takes to build your offering.
A Day in the Life - What does a plumber or SEO specialist do all day? Don’t think your job isn’t interesting - Mike Rowe took a lot of “boring” jobs and made them fascinating on Dirty Jobs.
Parody content! - Have some fun for once. Is your industry just ludicrous in some way? I bet it is because they all are. Make some jokes!
Free Digital Marketing Ideas
Some strategies should be used by all businesses everywhere. These free ideas are so simple and easy, there’s really no reason not to use them.
19. Send free email newsletters with MailChimp
MailChimp is an easy-to-use email marketing service that has free plans for those with less than 2,000 subscribers. If you’re a small business this is probably you. Get your feet wet by sending a monthly newsletter to your client base and branch out from there.
Just be careful not to be too annoying - some master email marketers with top notch content can get away with sending daily emails but for the neophytes weekly is a more acceptable frequency. As your skills grow you can experiment with email automation like auto-sending blog posts or birthday discounts.
20. Have a Photo-shoot at Your Location
Pictures and videos are key to making your business appealing online. Thankfully, even some modern smartphone cameras can do the trick for a photo-shoot. Take some pictures of your office or storefront, team, products, and services. Think about photo-shoot locations if it makes sense for your business.
You can put your pics and videos out on social media, your website, Google MyBusiness, Yelp, and more. From now on, always be thinking of how you can capture your activities in photo or video and use it in future marketing content.
Example: Don’t have anywhere to take photos? Hit the streets!
21. Build a Google My Business Page
Google has a variety of free resources all businesses should be taking advantage of, including Analytics, Search Console, and My Business. Google My Business is the business listing you see when you search for businesses on Google or Google Maps. It’s where information like hours, address, and phone number is stored in Google. They’re free to make and you can add events and pictures.
Most importantly, this is where all your Google reviews will be. Google reviews play a huge part in your SEO and in getting a physical business into the maps 3-pack, which is essentially a shortcut to the top of Google search results. If you’re a local business you cannot afford to skip this one.
22. Implement Live Chat
Live chat makes it super easy for your website visitors to get in touch with your team. We have our live chat go straight to our cell phones so it’s like texting with prospects directly. There are a few free live chat services (we use HubSpot) but full-on chat bots will cost you. If you use WordPress (highly recommended for your website) setting up one of these free live chat services is about as easy as installing the plugin.
23. Apply for Industry Awards
There are a ton of awards in every industry. If we’re being honest, it’s a way for everyone in an industry to pat each other on the back. Nonetheless, many of them are free to apply for and do make you look good. We have a couple ourselves. Just google “ awards” and I’m sure you’ll find a few you’re eligible for. Once you’ve got ‘em, put them up on your site and make some social media posts about them!
24. Make Profiles on Relevant Listing Sites
This is another easy win. Every industry has a variety of listing sites. Restaurants have TripAdvisor, OpenTable, Zomato, and more. Local services have Houzz, HomeAdvisor, and Angie’s List. Plus, all businesses can be reviewed on Yelp, Facebook and Google. Make sure no matter what listing sites your customers prefer, you’re in front of them. Creating your listings here is living the old adage “showing up is 80% of success”. Show up on all these websites!
25. Construct a Killer LinkedIn Profile and Business Page
LinkedIn networking can be a goldmine for B2B marketers. The first step is to fully fill out your personal and business profiles. Design them with your target customer in mind. What do they want to see? Once it’s 100% filled out, you can start posting on LinkedIn, adding people to your network, and joining groups.
Here's a tip: don’t go for the hard sale on LinkedIn. Instead, try to add as much value as possible and then ask for a conversation. Later on, you can run paid ads on LinkedIn as well.
Free Social Network Marketing Ideas
Last but not least, use the power of the internet to personally connect with your partners, customers, and prospects. Despite the power of all our mass marketing technologies, communicating directly to others is still one of the most powerful ways to grow a business.
26. Ask for Referrals
One of the absolute easiest ways to get new business is to exist current happy customers if they know someone who could use your product or service. Have them set up an introduction for you!
27. Offer a Referral Discount
Through email, social media, and in-person, make sure everyone in your network knows you’ll pay them a finder’s fee for anyone that becomes one of your customers. Your current customers know your company and the value you offer the best. This makes them your best advocates.
28. Ask for Testimonials and Reviews
Reviews and testimonials can be the tipping point that makes (or breaks) a buying decision. We all want to mitigate the risk of a purchase, and an easy way to do that is to look at others who’ve made the same decision and see how it worked out for them. Written testimonials are great, but I highly recommend you get video testimonials as well. They’re powerful evidence of your ability to deliver on your claims.
29. Try One-to-One Marketing
One-to-one marketing is a fancy name for personalizing your interactions with your customers. If you own a business like a bar or coffee shop, it could be as simple as remembering people’s names and favorite drinks. For online businesses, it could mean sending personalized birthday coupons to customers on their birthday, recommending products similar to those already purchased, or displaying different landing pages to website visitors based on actions taken on previous visits.
30. Find Partner Businesses
Chances are there’s a ton of businesses in your area that could send customers your way. If you run a web development agency, there’s certainly marketing agencies you could partner with to take care of customers. Contractors often have partner networks for plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and more. Waiters are asked all the time to recommend somewhere for a drink or dessert. Get out and start meeting people in real life and online and you’ll be shocked by how many people need someone like you in their network. Check out Main Street ROI's partner list:
A Note: Omnichannel Marketing and Content Reuse
Many of these strategies are focused on creating content. Don’t think because you created some content for one platform that you’re done! Most content can be distributed across many platforms.
For example, a YouTube video can be cut up into multiple social media posts, the transcript can be turned into a blog post, the audio can be used on a podcast, and a link to the video can be emailed out.
This approach is called omnichannel marketing - literally using all platforms. In practice, you’ll probably focus on a couple of marketing channels in the early stages, but always be thinking about how you can re-use and better distribute your marketing activities online to further your reach.
If you don’t have some fun and free marketing ideas you can use to grow your business by now, I don’t know what to tell you. The key with many of these is persistence. Keep trying, keep improving, and eventually any marketing channel can become a gold mine for you. I can’t wait to hear how your business has grown!