Easy Ways to Grow Your Business for Free Online

Monday, May 13th
Content Manager

Mark Wilson

"Nothing is ever truly free." You've heard that, right? Or at least a variation of it. The same is often true for digital marketing and growing your online business (or at least the online presence of your business).

​We want to be helpful and thorough, but also honest. So here's the truth: a lot of the items below are actually free, but you'll still be spending time and effort on them. This - in business terms - can be just as valuable as money.

Additionally, many of these tactics will eventually lead to you needing to spend something to get the most out of them. Running a business isn't free. But that doesn't mean you can't make simple, budget-conscious decisions that help grow your business without breaking your wallet. This can be particularly true for small business owners just getting started, but something on this list will have the potential to help any business looking to grow.

Simple Ways to Grow Your Business for Free Online

1. List your business on Google My Business (GMB)

These days it just goes by Google Business, but many people still know it as GMB. One of the best ways to achieve easy business growth is to list your business and fill out your entire Google Business profile so that your target market can find you more easily.

Google is the world's most influential search engine, and billions in traffic every month goes through its search inquiries. Search engines in general are probably the biggest driver of contacts and sales for an online business, so it makes sense to be listed on the largest.

Additionally, Google Business listings are what will allow you to show up on Google Maps more easily. If you have a local, physical store in addition to an online presence, this listing is a necessity.

​And while we're focusing on Google here, it can be useful to do the same for Bing as well. There are technically other search engine listings outside of these two, but at the moment they'll cover you for the vast majority of searches.

2. Build an email list

We'll talk more about other aspects of content marketing below, but for now let's focus on email. Email marketing plays a vital role in customer engagement regardless of the type of small business you own.

It can be cost-effective and it's also useful in retaining existing customers. If you have an online presence, there's almost no reason you shouldn't consider email marketing plays a significant part in retaining customers.

That said, while you can build an email list from either existing customers or from signups on your website, actually sending emails is likely going to cost you some money in the form of email marketing software. Fortunately, popular email services such as Mailchimp offer tiered pricing structures that scale with your business, and some even include small, free versions as you're just starting out. This way you're not overpaying for more sending power than you actually need.

3. Hone in on your target audience

This one sounds too generic, right? Of course you want to target your ideal customer base.

The reality, though, is that a lot of businesses don't do their due diligence in understanding how their customers interact with their brand. If you're on social media, for example, you don't want to be on every platform, just the most important ones. But "most important" is going to change depending on the demographics who use your product or service.

New customers can come from a variety of channels, but you don't have infinite time. Focusing your efforts on the most relevant channels can be a great way to get some time, money and energy back without sacrificing your online community.

4. Create educational blog posts on your website

Creating excellent content is one of the best ways you can create additional engagement on your website.

That doesn't mean there's an easy way to do it, though. Creating regular content that is interesting, engaging and useful to visitors is difficult. It requires a business strategy that incorporates content, and a lot of resources devoted to the creation and execution of a content plan.

That said, it's something you can control in-house, and any articles you create are ones you own forever. They can be used in email, social media, and other communications as long as they remain relevant. 

5. Create other forms of content

Are you good at creating videos? Do you have a voice for podcasting? These are some of the outlets you can consider. Again, each one requires a plan, but it's again something that you can own and control without a large investment. Properly marketed, these pieces of content can be a powerful tool for finding and retaining an audience.

6. Engage on social media platforms

​Don't just post on social media. ENGAGE!

This means talking to your followers like real people, not just using the site as a press release and announcement platform.

This can extend beyond your customers and followers, too! Network with other small business owners, people within the same field or industry, and generally take an active interest in what you do. This can slowly but surely help you to gain traction in online communities.

7. Network with other small businesses

​Solid relationships may be the most important thing to your new business. Go to meetings, meetups, panel discussions at universities, and join your local chamber of commerce. These events and opportunities are almost always free, and the people there are motivated to collaborate more often than not.

8. Utilize free tools to replace paid software

If you find yourself needing something for your business, particularly if it’s a software tool, do yourself a favor and search for it on Google but with the word “free” added to the search term.

To be clear, sometimes it’s worth it to pay for software or SaaS services, and you won’t get nearly the same level of service (or won’t be able to get service at all) for free.

Other times, however, you’ll be able to get something that does everything you’ll need it for, but for a fraction of the cost compared to industry-leading paid tools.

Graphic design, analytics, reporting, email, social media tools and more all have both free and paid options.

We can’t promise the free tools will be the best solution for you, but particularly when you’re starting your efforts in these areas, they’re worth a look.

The U.S. Small Business Administration also has support for small businesses. They can be a great resource for finding affordable solutions to problems facing many small businesses.

9. Connect to Google Analytics (GA4)

Speaking of free tools, we talked about Google Business earlier, and their analytics platform is how you understand how many people are visiting your site using Google search, as well as demographic information on those visitors.

This means connecting to GA4, the latest iteration of Google’s analytics platform. The steps for this are generally fairly simple, and can be done rather quickly with only a minimal amount of website access and knowledge.

Once this integration is live, you’ll want to start using GA4 data to monitor traffic and demographic trends of visitors to your website.

​10. Take free online courses on business development

Many universities offer free courses in business, or for a nominal fee that might cover textbooks or software licensing.

While most of these courses won’t go toward credit for a degree, if your intent is simply to improve your business processes, they can be an invaluable way to improve your business acumen.

11. Start a Youtube channel

​I honestly think about Youtube these days in the same way I think about social media: it’s a channel to reach a potential audience, requiring regular content uploads and meaningful engagement with your audience.

For some, though, Youtube is handled differently than social platforms, since the video skills required can lead the channel toward different forms of content and different audiences than those other platforms.

If you have a passion for video and a unique brand voice, though, Youtube (and related platforms like Twitch, TikTok and others) can be an excellent way to extend your brand into new realms.

12. Do keyword research to see how your potential customers are searching for you

Connection to Google’s analytical platform comes with access to Google Search Console (GSC).

From here, you can see exactly what search queries people are using to find your website, and which ones produce the most click-throughs.

This can help you to double down on search queries that you’re popular for, and also expose areas where you aren’t performing as well as expected. Search engine optimization (SEO) can be a maddeningly complex field, but it starts with knowing your existing presence on search engines.

The underlying causes of these struggles will vary, but it’s free data that you can begin to use to craft a more deliberate digital presence.

GSC has other tools as well, allowing you to audit site health and submit new URLs from your site to be indexed more quickly by Google. It’s a very useful tool, and entirely free!

13. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is when you generate leads for some type of sales (usually an eCommerce platform), and get a small cut of those sales that are generated from your links.

Some affiliate programs have minimum numbers of leads and sales required to participate in the program, while other minimum thresholds are either extremely low or nonexistent.

Regardless, if you have a reasonable amount of web traffic, affiliate marketing can be a viable way to make some passive income in addition to whatever else you offer.

Keep in mind, though, that if you aren’t transparent about affiliate marketing, or are promoting products that have nothing to do with your brand, you risk damaging the credibility of your brand. It’s likely not worth some side income to damage your reputation in this way, so it’s important to pick affiliate partners carefully.

That caveat aside, affiliate marketing can be a great way not just to do some free marketing but make some money for yourself as well.

14. Team-building exercises

Ok, so this isn’t exactly a “growth” tactic, but if you’re only ever focusing externally, you risk losing traction as a company internally, which can stifle growth.

Game nights, team-building exercises and more can be a great morale booster and a way to create team cohesion, but without spending a ton of money or coming across as out-of-touch by offering “benefits” that employees don’t actually value.

A great team is a key to sustained growth, so curating that team’s wellbeing can indeed be a long-term growth strategy.

15. Give back to your community

Building brand awareness in your local community is a great way to attract new business.

For national brands, this can be more difficult, but you may still have a local or regional presence even if you technically sell nationally or internationally.

Consider a sponsorship or participating in a community event to raise your business profile. An easy example is donating to local youth sports.

Other volunteer opportunities exist in any community and are a great way to increase visibility for your brand in ways that reinforce this local connection and build the trust of your prospective customers.

Growing Your Business on a Budget - Conclusions

Ok, so let’s make sure you keep your sanity in all of this…don’t try to do all 15 of the items above all at once. In fact, don’t even try to do half of them all at once. Some you may never want to consider.

However, one or two should be easy, quick wins for your business, and several others likely hold some long-term value for your online presence.

The first step is to pick the ones that work best for you, and don’t try to overwhelm yourself with too many growth strategies all at once. A deliberate, steady plan can and will yield results over time, and you’ll be able to do more of it on a reasonable budget.

Then there are the items that do cost money. While free strategies can certainly help, they’ll only take you so far. At Leadflask, we consult on free strategies, but also manage websites, paid advertising, holistic content strategies, business automation and more that can grow your business much faster than free strategies could ever hope to.

If you’re interested in exploring these areas and more, reach out to us for a no-obligation consultation about your business goals and how we can help!

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