Affordable (Or Free) PR Strategies For Your Small Business Launch

  •    A freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia, Pa., Dinah previously worked as a staff reporter for The Associated Press and Dow Jones Newswires.

As you prepare to open your new small business, you'll need to find ways to get the word out and attract customers -- preferably without spending too much. The good news is you don't have to take out a loan to make effective pre-launch marketing moves.

A number of free or low-cost tools can help you promote your business on a modest budget. The precise steps you take may depend on whether your venture operates online, in the physical world or both, and on your profession or industry.

It's hard to overestimate the value of word-of-mouth buzz — Nielsen has repeatedly found that consumers overwhelmingly trust recommendations from family and friends above other advertising — and there's more than one way to generate it.

Traditional methods and internet-age innovations alike can work to line up interested customers before day one.

Frugal Social Media

Thanks to the abundance of free social media platforms, you should have ample opportunity to announce virtually any kind of business online.

Explore Facebook community or special-interest groups — those dedicated to pets, parents, foodies or avid readers, to name a few — or neighborhood-focused sites like Nextdoor.com for appropriate places to introduce your business.

Specialty forums elsewhere on the internet, attracting anyone from motorcycle enthusiasts to runners to new moms and dads, can serve the same the purpose.

You might simply mention that your business is coming soon, announce a grand opening for a brick-and-mortar shop, or offer a preview or discount for the first 50 people requesting an invitation either to a physical or online store (which is also a great way to build an email list).

Use hashtags and keywords on Twitter and Instagram to reach your target audience and start a conversation with potential customers. If you have a "coming soon" website ready, be sure to include a link.

Consider tweeting a daily launch countdown, perhaps with engaging questions, to build excitement.

Shared Expertise

By sharing your professional knowledge, you help establish yourself as an expert in your field, and a brand that has enough authority to share sound advice.

Whether you're an accountant, financial planner, child development professional, architect, interior decorator, gardener or graphic designer, consider holding a free seminar at a local library or community center, and make your audience aware of your upcoming opening.

Write interesting, informative blog posts or videos, even if your online store hasn't opened yet. Post these articles on LinkedIn, Medium or another platform where it will reach your target audience. You can also put a small amount of paid spend behind your posts to promote them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Influencer Reviews

Influencer marketing can be a highly effective, low-cost tool for reaching your target audience.

Find well-respected bloggers, YouTube personalities and Instagram or Pinterest users who focus on your niche; a small, loyal following can be far more effective than a huge celebrity audience, so don't overlook micro-influencers.

Let them know about the business, and, if appropriate, provide a product or sample for their review.

While marketing agencies can help you find influencers, you can save money and find them yourself by conducting a Google search with relevant terms, whether it's "gardening" or "needle crafts" or "mindfulness." You might also visit Facebook interest groups and ask about members' favorite bloggers.

Be mindful of government guidelines calling on endorsers and brands to clearly disclose in social media posts any material connections they may have.

Analog Tools

Old-fashioned methods can help you drum up word-of-mouth interest, especially if you're opening a physical location.

You might let friendly business owners, store managers, baristas and community leaders in the neighborhood know about the business, and post an attractive card on a community board in a cafe or grocery store or a "coming soon" sign in your shop window.

If you're selling baked goods or organic cosmetics or vegan treats, you can offer samples or set up a small retail table at a farmers market or fair, orchestrate a pop-up event or shop, and provide printed material about your new store. (You can conduct an online pop-up event as well.) You can get started selling offline with Square and sync your online store in no time.

Get involved in philanthropic efforts to help others, first and foremost to do good in your community or globally, but also to raise your business's profile as a company with a "social mission."

Press Releases

Press releases are a simple, straightforward way to alert journalists and potential customers about your business. Choose the journalists you contact based on your industry and location.

Be sure you're contacting reporters and editors who write about businesses like yours or who cover events in your field.

If you're opening a restaurant, you might contact local reviewers, entertainment writers and business reporters, as well as neighborhood newsletters. An online fashion business might be of interest to style, retail and small-business writers; if it's a kids' clothing line, parenting magazines may be interested.

If major news event touches your industry in the days or weeks leading up to your opening, consider writing a timely release with relevant comments.

To save money, you can make this a do-it-yourself task, writing and sending the release on your own. You might also hire a freelance writer to craft the release or barter for these services, and find a free or low-cost press release distribution service.

Whichever tools you choose, develop a calendar to provide structure and keep you on track with your marketing efforts. Even relatively small investments of time and money can yield significant results for your new business if you're strategic.