Startup Diaries: Three Free Ways to Advertise Your Business

[Startup Diaries is a new original series of articles from Yahoo! Small Business Advisor that chronicles the day-to-day and week-to-week struggles of a variety of startup and new small businesses.]

Chris Reiners is the owner and operator of the Fireside Cafe, a casual eatery in Walsenburg, Colorado.

Starting a small business can be a little overwhelming at first. It can also cost a pretty penny if you don't watch your expenses. When advertisers find out a new business is opening, they begin drooling like my brother before Thanksgiving dinner. All of them will claim to be worth the money, but in reality they are very rarely worth the expense.

As a small-restaurant owner, paying about $40 for one ad a week in the local newspaper just isn't an option. Even if that ad brings in 40 people in a week, it is still costing $1 per person, which is a lot to spend since most restaurants operate on extremely tight margins. The easiest way to start out in the red is to overspend on advertising. The good news is you can market your new business without spending a dime. Here are three simple and free ways to market your business.

1. Social Media

Social media is by far the easiest way to market your new business. Setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account for your business takes very little time, and the payoff can be big. These platforms are a great way to announce sales to loyal customers and also just to build your brand in general. I like to send out tweets mentioning our daily special, or when we host a fun event.

Putting a picture up on Facebook of your best customers is a great way to build your brand. Make sure to get the name of everyone you take a picture of, so you can 'tag' them in the photo, thus allowing all of their friends and family to see the picture. Just tagging a few people in photos has the potential of reaching your entire community, and in this day and age more people check social media sites than read local newspapers.

2. Company Newsletters

Think about the big companies you are doing business with. Do you have an account with a local bank? Who provides your utilities? Where do you buy your products? Most of these types of companies put out some sort of newsletter, and are usually looking for new, interesting information on local businesses to put in it.

When I signed up for my business account at a local bank, I asked the woman what I had to do to get in the newsletter they send out to all of their customers quarterly. Turns out, just asking was all it took. I was asked to submit a write-up for my business, and it was then published and sent to all 15,000 customers of the bank. That article brought me more business than anything else I have done so far, and it was all free. Like Michael Jordan used to say, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take," and this is definitely a shot worth taking. I recommend when setting up new accounts for your business to ask about the newsletter.

3. Get Involved With Your Community

Getting involved in your community can lead to opportunities for your business that you didn't know were there. I try to do between 25 to 50 hours of community service every year. I do this because I love to help people, but community service also helps my business. I like to get involved with local school sports teams as a volunteer coach. This has led to multiple catering opportunities for my business.

Hosting free workshops about your business is also a good idea. The knowledge you possess from starting your own business is valuable, and many people are interested to know what it takes. By opening your doors to the community and not asking for money in the process, it's a great way to gain acceptance in a new area. Getting involved in your community is fun and the only thing it will cost you is time.

Overall, you don't have to spend a lot of money to market your business. In fact I have found that the best marketing you can do is usually free. Like Herb Kelleher once said, "You're going to have to work like crazy to bring that idea to the attention of people. They're not going to buy it unless they know about it."


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