Yes, I know the saying goes “Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget” but even buying a bottle of cheap “Beer” implies you have money to spend! In the world of mico-business, even cheap beer, like professional marketing help, can be a foregone luxury.
But, you also know that marketing is not a luxury you can give up – especially when finances are low. So, what’s a broke or money-conscience business owner to do? Get resourceful!
And fortunately, there are many resources available out there in the world wide web that can help so let’s highlight a few of the key ones to use when you don’t have the cash to spend on marketing campaigns and strategies but you have to look like you do!
Free Graphic Design
Marketing these days has expanded from just having a good-looking logo for your business and that’s due to the overwhelming presence of social media. Companies and brands are using images in Facebook and Instagram regularly. And when text can be integrated, it adds a next level of credibility and professionalism. Pinterest, which boasts 150 million users who are pinning and viewing 75 billion (that’s billion, with a ‘B’) pieces of content is becoming a brand- awareness powerhouse for retailers and food-lovers and if you’ve pinned, you know it’s about graphics.
But what do you do if you’re not a graphic designer? Keeping up with the social media “Jones’s” can be downright daunting.
Pinterest loves infographics. So if you have educational content that can be captured with objects and text, then an infographics are a great way to publish it. Infographics also are used to condense wordy blog posts (like this one) into the key highlights, which is why people love reading and collecting them.
Easel.ly, which is headquartered nearby in Seattle, offers a free account option as limited templates & fonts while Pro (which is $3/mo) expands that.
You’re going to want to consider Snappy for graphic design when you’re looking for perfectly sized Social Media posts or headers without a lot of design pain and suffering, especially if you’re “creatively challenged.”
Snappa offers pre-designed templates to start with for most of your social media needs. And unlike its competitor in the market, Canva, which only offers a 30-day trial, Snappa has a legit free account option.
Naturally there are limits such as you only get (5) downloads per month. But you still have access to 40,000+ HD photos & graphics and can link your account to (2) social media accounts for quick & easy sharing.
The platform is super easy to use and the graphics & layouts are comparable to Canva. But with the (5) download limit – you better make sure your graphic is exactly what you want and free of typos or layout issues so that you don’t burn them up with mistakes!
The danger with programs and apps like Snappa and Canva is just using the templates as-is without getting your brand on it. With so many design options available, you could end up broadcasting too many different "looks" and styles, making it hard and confusing for your followers to know if it's you or not.
So make sure your branded look is consistent and your voice is consistent - whether it's a professional or casual tone. And have fun!
To prevent your brand from getting lost in your social media graphics, the free account option with Snappa allows you to integrate into it your branded colors and upload your own images so that you have consistency across all of your products & marketing collateral. If you have a special font for your brand, unfortunately, you have to upgrade in order to be able to upload it.
On an annual basis, Snappa and Canva are both about $120 a year – so deciding to upgrade won’t break the bank!
Free Video Editing
Video editing software or apps are everywhere. On your iPhone you can download a variety of video-making apps to piece together videos and still images to create a quick movie. The problem is that you don’t end up with an asset that you can share on web engine YouTube. Most people would be surprised the learn that YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine and third most visited site after Google and Facebook, with an average of 1 billion mobile video views per day! Again – billion. With a “B.”
So, let’s move you and your business up towards the champagne and caviar world of video and give you a place to start.
I like WeVideo and I use the Unlimited version for my business because I have a bigger demand for video editing & publishing than most small businesses. The video editing platform is like most programs out there and it has built in text, title pages, transitions and even stock music.
WeVideo is a cloud-based program (meaning no software to download) and like Snappa, it offers a real free account option (not just a trial period.)
With the Free account, you get (5) minutes of published video time per month and can download your final project to your desktop. You have a maximum resolution of 480p, which is fine for social sharing and 1GB of cloud storage for your media. This is a perfect account for a small business doing short, 30s-60s info-video a few times a month and want to publish something more polished than a Facebook Live video.
You can add music (you have 22 songs to choose from), text overlays and transitions. And if you’ve NEVER edited a video before, the site provides tutorials on video editing 101 so that you can see how easy it is to work with and get going.
Free Website Design
If you know me, you know I am a huge fan of Wix.com. I started using it years ago for my other small businesses after being frustrated with freelance web designers who either never returned my phone calls, didn’t do the edits or updates the way I wanted them or went out of business altogether.
Wix put the power of my most important marketing asset in my hands and control.
Wix is the top DIY platform in websites for a variety of reasons. It is easy to use but more importantly, the quality of the sites is great. If you take the time to learn how to customize the vast array of templates Wix offers, you can build a great looking, high quality digital storefront for your business without paying the costs of a web designer.
Wix's easy to use Editor also makes on-going maintenance and updates so that you can keep your website fresh and relevant.
It is also easy to use the built-in SEO Wizard to do your own search engine optimization. In fact, it can take your (5) keywords/phrases and give you an analysis on how your meta descriptions, headers and page titles integrate them in - since those are the website parts that Search Engines check first.
Just like my caution above – templates can be great crutches to get you on your feet but you have to make sure they communicate your brand and have a clear purpose with distinct "call to actions". They are not just a business card these days with inbound marketing being the dominate driver in the world of business. So, spend some time to organize it well and don’t fall into the “drag and drop” trap.
Now, websites are not free. Meaning there are costs to host the site, purchase a domain and host the domain as well. But Wix does offer a free option for website hosting. The catch is that you can’t have it pointing to a custom domain and it will have a Wix ad. (See the image.) But using Wix to design and build your site can save you and your business literally thousands of dollars in design and on-going maintenance costs.
Meetup Groups for Marketing Advice
Joining networking or professional organizations is an effective way to promote yourself and your business but they are not free. The upside is that those groups sometimes bring in educational speakers to help the members learn. Plus, the networking opportunities with other people in your market is a great resource for learning what is working or not working for people in your field.
But most have annual dues and then additional costs for the meetings themselves to cover meals or speaker fees. So, if you are hungry to get around other small & micro business owners so that you can get advice on best practices from them, then start off by heading over to Meetup.
Meetup is a vast online directory of gatherings of like-minded people and their needs. There are meetups for runners, stay-at-home moms, small business owners, Star Wars collectors, and on and on.
If you do a search for business oriented groups that get together and discuss marketing, you are likely to find some in your area. Those meet-ups may have some small costs involved, such as buying your own lunch, coffee or cocktails, but you can be in the presence of other people with the same needs as you and perhaps glean off some good ideas.
Barter Your Services
The ultimate in resourcefulness is finding someone who has what you need and needs what you offer. That's why as long as people have been engaged in commerce or production, there has been bartering. And today, believe it or not, it's still widely used by savvy small business owners as a way to get more for your business without having to shell out any cold hard cash out of pocket.
But bartering does not come without its own special set of pit-falls. For example, a common problem is when one party doesn't fully deliver what they promised. And because most bartering happens these days in a casual manner, with a verbal agreement and handshake, it can be a tough position to be in when it turns into a disagreement.
An instance of this was when a landscape contractor purchased, out-of-pocket, landscape materials and supplied free labor to a local painting company to update their building's landscaping. The landscape contractor was to receive in return a dollar credit to apply to repainting the shop at his business. However, when the landscape contractor went to use the credit, the bill for the painting services was higher than originally quoted so that when the credit was applied, it was as if it didn't give him any benefit and he paid the same price.
Having bartered many times before - sometimes successfully and sometimes not, the landscaper has developed the hardened philosophy about bartering that "He who bills last, wins."
This is why, no matter how well you know someone, it bodes well to put the barter agreement into writing. This way it helps put firm definitions on what each party is providing - with no disputes later. And, if it should sadly get to that point, and you have to seek some enforcement of the agreement in small claims court, you have a document to back it up.
In the case of the landscape contractor, if he had expected the original quote to escalate, he could have requested a fixed price or set the hourly rates the painting company would use, with back up of hours billed - just to cover bases and to help keep everyone honest.
Fortunately, one of Activity Girl's favorite online resources, Rocket Lawyer, offers a Barter Agreement that can be used for two parties who are going to barter for services.
The other important feature of bartering is that, even though no money is every exchanged, the IRS still treats it like you made money and you have to count it as income.
In their online publication "Four Things to Know About Bartering", they provide the key take-aways to consider:
"Organized barter exchanges A barter exchange functions primarily as the organizer of a marketplace where members buy and sell products and services among themselves. Whether this activity operates out of a physical office or is internet-based, a barter exchange is generally required to issue Form 1099-B, Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions, annually to their clients or members and to the IRS.
Barter income Barter dollars or trade dollars are identical to real dollars for tax reporting purposes. If you conduct any direct barter – barter for another’s products or services – you must report the fair market value of the products or services you received on your tax return.
Tax implications of bartering Income from bartering is taxable in the year it is performed. Bartering may result in liabilities for income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax or excise tax. Your barter activities may result in ordinary business income, capital gains or capital losses, or you may have a nondeductible personal loss.
How to report The rules for reporting barter transactions may vary depending on which form of bartering takes place. Generally, you report this type of business income on Form 1040, Schedule C Profit or Loss from Business, or other business returns such as Form 1065 for Partnerships, Form 1120 for Corporations or Form 1120-S for Small Business Corporations"
But what are you to do if your favorite web designer doesn’t need $1,200 of your amazing fresh baked goods? This doesn’t mean bartering isn’t an option. It just means you might want to consider joining a "barter exchange."
One such barter exchange is Bizx.com . At this exchange site, also founded in Seattle, the members earn BizX Dollars that can be used to purchase services from other members without ever using real money out of your pocket. The exchange is free to join but there is a transaction fee for the service which is 6 - 7.5% per transaction. While this is actual cash out of pocket, it is VASTLY lower than the real cost of buying services outright.
So, if you sell your website design services for $1,500 on BizX, your transaction fee would be $112.50. BUT now you have $1,500 to spend on something you need, like new brakes on your car or maybe repairing your store's air conditioning.
The other upside is that BizX complies with the IRS regulations above and provides all of the forms you need for tax returns.
Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities but underwhelmed with the cash resources to do them is a big drain on a business owner. But knowing that you can still grow your business by being taking advantage of free tools out there can help take some of that weight off your shoulders.
Just remember – when times are lean are when you need to market the most, not cut back. Be consistent. Be focused and you’ll see the results you want.
Ameé Quiriconi | ACTIVITY GIRL, LLC is a seasoned marketing professional and small/micro business owner. She provides website design, content & marketing collateral development and marketing strategy coaching for businesses looking for professional results.