Not every company has the budget to invest a fortune on advertising and marketing. Startups, those with cashflow issues or just business who want to take a cautious approach may benefit from a low-budget approach.

While it may be hard to believe it in our relentlessly mercantile modern marketplace, free and cheap methods of advertising above and beyond tightening up your SEO do exist. They cost little more than your time, and while most lack much in the way of impact, they can easily draw enough attention to get your company’s name in the heads of prospective buyers, providing a good Return on Investment (ROI) for time spent. If nothing else, these marketing methods will hold you in good stead until you can afford to hire an SEO company to get your web copy in great shape.

Agility Matters

A couple of caveats here: no matter what you do, (a) use the most agile methods possible, i.e., methods that are cheap and quick; and (b) measure the results of each method, using “markers” that let you know where each new customer comes from. That way, you can repeat and extend those methods that work the best, using them to bring in even more customers. This testing method is common in most types of online marketing, SEO marketing among them. Sometimes, all it takes is a minor change in a headline to draw in more people, or even a different background colour on a page! No kidding. We know of direct mail marketers who have actually tested to see who which envelope colours worked best in their marketplace.

This is of course culturally sensitive – red would get attention anywhere, but a red envelope received in a Hong Kong office might make people thing they are being invited to a wedding!

You need not go that far, especially when you find yourself under the gun timewise and are working with a “shoestring” marketing budget. Consider using these simple but cost-effective ways to get the word out to your prospects.

  1. Issue a press release. This is a simple, effective marketing method that can soon have your phones ringing and doors swinging. You can handle this in many ways; for example, by connecting your business to something topical or creating a survey that draws people in. You can usually send out your press release for free to local sites, blogs, and physical newspapers who may publish it to fill an empty slot in their editorial calendar. For a small sum, some professional press release services will scatter your release far and wide to appropriate sites, blogs, and papers, and sometimes to businesses that need the kinds of services and goods you offer. This is a scalable marketing method, where you can put out press releases on various topics in larger numbers as you put more money into it—but this is still one of the least expensive ways to market.  How well this works depends almost entirely on how “newsworthy” your release is, make it boring and all you’ll get is silence no matter how much you spend on distribution.  But have a great story to tell and even the most basic PR distribution will work.
  2. Make sure your website is indexed by Google. Here is where high-quality SEO, ideally provided by a professional SEO company, becomes vital. Google will index your site no matter what as its “spiders” crawl your pages, but the better your SEO, the more likely you will end up on their first page for Hong Kong results when prospects search for your type of goods and services. Some people do read the second pages, but the natural tendency here is to go with the first decent provider they find. You want that provider to be you.  A lot of simple errors can prevent your website being seen by Google, from badly configured web servers to unwanted security rules, to hackers tampering with your site.  You must not take it for granted that because you can see your website that Google can see it as well.  Test and verify.   And do it regularly.
  3. Follow the tips Google provides for webmasters. You can find everything you need to make your website Google-friendly in Google’s own instruction pages, from the best types of keywords to use, how to find those keywords, what content is forbidden, what kind of content is encouraged, how to give visitors what they are looking for, and much more. Most of the same rules will apply to your sites on just about any search engine since most search engines follow Google’s examples. Again, a good SEO marketing company will work wonders here—but you can also do this part of the work yourself.
  4. Encourage customers to provide reviews. Ask the people who use your products and services to post their experiences on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the like. They can also post reviews on Google, Facebook and Yahoo. And don’t forget specialised review sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp, and any other places that might be relevant. Locals will actively look for reviews on such sites, guaranteed, and new customers might find you this way. You yourself have probably consulted one of more of these sites, looking for a particular type of business near your home or office that other people gave high marks to. The Internet, and smartphones, in particular, make it easy. Believe it or not, the reviews on these sites make a big difference—and the more positive they are, the better.  They not influence readers, but Google notices as well and may display your company more prominently if it finds positive reviews about you.
  5. Recycle written material as social media posts. Any in-house textual material can be used to attract new customers, as long as it is relevant and gets your name out there. It has to be focused on your business, though, or at least some aspect of it. For example; menus, if you own a restaurant. Lists of products. Reviews of your favourite products. New products you are introducing. Old favourite products. Schedules. Events. Significant staff changes. Look around your office for anything in writing, and ask yourself: Can I post it? Even if something seems too large for a single post, you can split it up into smaller bits, and post them one by one. Do not hesitate to post the same or similar items to different social media, because given the different formats allowed; you will often be able to present them in different, interesting, and entertaining ways.
  6. Do an expert roundup of people in your area of expertise. This is probably the least “free”, because it may take even more time and effort than the suggestions above, but it can have a great impact in many ways. You are an expert right? Probably not the only one you know, whatever your field of expertise is you will know others who are also knowledgable and respected in the same field.  If you reach out to them for some advice or comments on an interesting topic then you will be able to create an Expert Roundup article. Take a look at the roundup article we created with advice from Women Entrepreneurs in Hong Kong as an example.  It makes for fascinating reading, it opens up a great chance to discuss issues of interest with your peers, and it shows of your role as one of those experts.  Contact us if you’d like help in organising one, but of course you could do this all yourself for “free”.

Finding Your Voice

These six suggestions just scratch the surface in terms of ways you can effectively promote your businesses and products online. With a little imagination and some research, you can find many more that will work—some of which will cost nothing, or almost a little manual effort. If your ad budget is small, you owe it to yourself to use these methods to draw new prospects into your sales funnels.


Raymond Lowe is an Internet Marketing Analyst at WL Media HK. He has been writing meta descriptions before most people had heard of Chrome. Connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest on Internet Marketing and how it applies to Hong Kong businesses or read his blog posts for more thoughts on the Life, the Internet, and Everything. 

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