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Have you been feeling guilty about not advertising your small business?

Do you have advertising sales reps calling you, and you just can’t bring yourself to commit to running an ad?

Relax.

Until you have at least a four-figure budget to spend, advertising isn’t a good solution for your small business. Instead, let’s look at what you can do to attract prospects, convert them to customers, and build your business without having to spend your hard-earned cash on advertising.

Think Marketing, Not Ads

Placing ads strategically can be one tactic you use in your overall marketing efforts, but — as mentioned above — until you have serious money to spend, your advertising won’t make a dent.

Times have changed, and today we’re all bombarded by advertising messages. We’ve developed “ad filters” in our brains that eliminate the majority of these messages as a survival mechanism.

Rather than spending your hard-earned money adding a drop or two to the roaring stream of advertising messages, develop these two techniques instead. They both rely on the idea of pulling in prospects and not pushing out advertising messages.

Create Valuable Information

The first technique is to create valuable information about your product or service, and offer it for free. This doesn’t have to be daunting, and you can choose your venue according to the time you have to devote to it.

Fast and easy:

Create a Facebook Page for your business, and share resources. Share links to articles, videos and other material that will help your prospects with their challenges. Your posts can be scheduled ahead of time so you can put together a week’s worth of information in one sitting.

Use Twitter to share links. If you’re on Twitter and have built up some followers, share links to information they’ll enjoy.

Takes longer and is more difficult:

Start a blog. If you’re willing to commit to writing at least every couple of weeks, a blog is a flexible platform to share information. Plus, you own it 100%, unlike social media platforms where the rules may change from one day to the next. Your posts can share resources and knowledge that will help your prospects consume what your business offers.

For more on how to get your blog posts written easily, read about the technique I use on Copyblogger.

Create a weekly or twice-monthly email newsletter. Building an email list and sending out valuable information on a regular basis is a wonderful way to keep your business in front of your prospects without bombarding them with advertising messages. It takes commitment, but if you share both information and valuable links — like I do in my free Weekend Digest newsletter — it won’t take much time to produce.

One-time projects that pay off:

Write an ebook. I know, I know: writing an ebook is a massive undertaking! But ebooks don’t have to be elaborate to be effective. Plus once they’re done, they’re done, and you can offer them for years.

For ideas on what kinds of information you can share in your ebook, read 9 List-Building Gifts You Can Make This Month and watch the free Brown Bag Webinar I did with Kelly Kingman called 11 Unexpected (and Easy) eBook Ideas.

Create an email auto responder series. This is another project that takes time, but pays off in the long run. If you use an email marketing company (see my reviews of the best providers here) and they offer autoresponders, you can create a series of informational emails that go out every few days when someone signs up for your email list.

I did this with my Design 101 series, which I offered for seven years. Thousands of people signed up for and used this information. Except for a few tweaks, I didn’t touch it after I first put it together.

Make Word of Mouth Easy

For many small business owners, word of mouth is king. Your best prospects come to you already “warmed up” by glowing recommendations they’ve heard from their friends, colleagues and family members.

If this is your situation, why not make the most of it?

Find out who your “networking” customers are. Ask those customers who always seem to help you spread the word if they’d be willing to take it up a notch. Here are some ideas:

  • Give them a pile of business cards and ask them to spread them around
  • See if they’ll post about doing business with you on Facebook so their friends see the recommendation
  • Offer them a discount for each new customer they bring you
  • Give them exclusive coupons they can give to their friends

Take Your Marketing Into Your Own Hands

The next time that advertising rep calls with the “special deal” on the $600 two-line ad on the paper place mat, tell her you’ve found a better way.

Don’t spend money. Spend time building a referral network and creating valuable information that will be more effective than any ad could be.

Question of the Week

Have you ever bought ads for your business? How did it go? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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