NO Cost (Six Step) Small Business Social Media & Online Marketing Plan

Do you own a business? Would you like to increase your marketing reach in 2009 at no cost?

(Please note: this post assumes that you have no advertising budget but want to use the Internet to promote and grow your business (not become an Internet or affiliate marketer). Some businesses don’t want (or need) to market, advertise or promote and that’s okay. There are many ways to publicize your venture and the steps listed below are exactly what I did to promote mine. The only expenses were for a domain name and web server space, all of which should cost you under $20.00)

As a solopreneur or small business owner, when it comes to marketing your business online, there are no magic bullets. None.

If you remember only one thing from this post, please do NOT give your limited funds to someone who calls himself a “social media expert” unless you do some heavy-duty research (that’s not to say experts don’t exist because there are many well qualified individuals, but with online marketing it’s buyer beware).

From first hand experience I know that online promotion can require a tremendous amount of work for what seems to be little ROI in the beginning, but hang in there. In the long run your efforts will payoff.

During the past year my little guesthouse business has been featured in Islands Magazine, Conde Nast Traveller, and most recently, mentioned in a TripAdvisor press release. None of which would have happened had I not utilized the web because they all found us through various social media sites or my own blog.

The Beginning

When I took ownership of my small business a couple of years ago it had not really been marketed or run as an entrepreneurial venture for a number of years.

In fact, it was kind of strange, one day I didn’t own a business and I had NO mortgage to worry about. And suddenly, the next day, I had a mortgage and a business that needed to have customers ASAP because the funny thing about banks is…they like to get their payments every month (go figure!).

With no funds for advertising, and in a race against the foreclosure clock, I began to research and read heavily on marketing and online promotion. If you run a business or are starting a new one from scratch, and find yourself in a similar situation to the one I was in – – no customers, no advertising budget, and absolutely no presence on the Internet I crafted this post with you in mind.

Getting Started

Certainly, Internet and social media promotion is not rocket science, but for the beginner it can seem daunting. I have broken down the steps that I took below, and if there is a need or interest, I can explain them even further in a later post. Too, after each step I have included links to more in depth discussions.

  • Your Story – before you register a domain name or think about anything technical you need to start with the story – – your story! Humans are emotional creatures and it’s the aforementioned “emotion” that typically determines what products we buy and services we procure. (Further reading: this is our ‘About’ page and two other resources How to Write the Perfect ‘About’ Page & How to Write Your About Page)
  • Website – within your marketing strategy there is no place where the Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.) theory holds more true than your website. Your website is an extension of you, so keep it clean, simple, and easy to navigate. I chose the free software WordPress as a content management system (CMS) and used a free theme that I customized. Though I have a technical background I didn’t know the first thing about CSS or HTML. (Further reading: WordPress & Customizing WordPress)
  • Blog – you need to make a choice here whether you want to include your blog within your website (e.g. or if you want to create a separate site. I chose to create a separate site called where I can write about our island, and when necessary, my guesthouse. As most people know by now, blogs allow you to spread original ideas and messages via frequent updates and it is not easily done on a traditional static website. When done consistently and properly, a blog can become one of the most powerful tools in your social media arsenal. Whatever you do, avoid posts that are nothing more than simply spamming folks with “My Business is Great.” The goal here is not to make money from your blog, but to create conversations and to use it to drive customers to your business. (Further reading: 31 Blog Post Ideas for Small Businesses & 10 Blogging Tips)
  • Flickr – potential customers want to know what your business looks like and what to expect. If you don’t own a digital camera then use your cell phone to take some photos of you and your establishment and anything else that you deem relevant and upload them to Flickr. As an aside, I am amazed at how many people find us from this photo site. (Further reading: this post is all you need for Flickr, 100+ Flickr Resources)
  • YouTube – if pictures are good, then video is exponentially better. If you have a video camera then shoot some quality, well lit video and upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, or any of the other online services. The point is not to have your video go viral (which is great should it happen) but that it adds more depth and context to your story. (Further reading: YouTube for Your Business)

Bonus tip – once you move beyond any technical issues (of which I had many!), the type of online promotion that I have done (am doing) comes down to being consistent and devoting time to actually drafting blog posts, uploading photos, and engaging in forum discussions.

Yes, I know, these are the absolute basics (FB & Twitter to be covered later), but with the free tools available today the power of marketing and promoting your business is in your hands. Always remember that anyone can do it, however, without remarkable customer service your online efforts are for naught.


Mark Hayward


24 thoughts on “NO Cost (Six Step) Small Business Social Media & Online Marketing Plan

  1. Mark:

    Great tips! That’s what I am trying to catch up. The most important thing for me now is to focus on those people my business are targeting. Make sure that your business do provide some useful information.

    Great to see your new blog. I guess I miss a lot of your posts. :-)

  2. Fantastic piece, and not ’cause I’m in it. It’s really hard to know where to dive in with this stuff, and this is an outstanding roundup of resources for that purpose. Plus you’ve lived it, so there’s credibility.

    A final note to any new-to-marketing types: the first sign to run is when someone refers to himself as a “social media expert.” None of us who use this stuff all the time would even THINK of calling ourselves that.

    It’s about clarity first, communication second, marketing third. Period, end of discussion. Like Mark said, there’s no magic bullet. Or, like Beverly Sills said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

    God, I love that quote!

  3. @Terence – thanks for dropping by! :-)

    @coffeetalkie – I have trouble staying focused…so thought it important to mention!

    @Colleen – YES! I hope to save some other newbie, who has better things to do like scrubbing toilets, hours of valuable time. And that Beverly Sills quote is fantastic.

  4. Perfect article that I am saving. Thank you so much for including all the links to different things. This article started some ideas in my mind already for a vacation rental I have, along with a new website I am having built to reduce the housing crunch that Oshkosh, WI experiences every year with the EAA – Air Venture air show that comes every summer!

    Again, thank you for the helpful article!

    Michelle Mangen
    Your Virtual Assistant, Neenah WI

  5. Sure, these are the basics, but really important ones! Great article. It’s always great to read about real-life stories on how people have learned to do things, and made their dreams happen.

    Which brings me to how much I love it that you put the story bullet first…

    I think that’s a point that businesses (especially big or medium ones) way too often forget about. If the story is real, inspiring, and the products and hard work back it up, that’s what I call a recipe for success! It’s the thing that makes you real and enables people to become fans and not just customers.

  6. Excellent roundup article – to demonstrate the power of online info, I found it on Twitter, linked to it on Facebook and will repost it on a forum/BBS that targets communicators (many are entrepreneurs, too.)

    Thanks for writing it – the mystery to me is the number of businesses who still say they are “too busy” to figure out social media.

  7. This is a great post because you took the opportunity to share your “story”. Stories are what make for great Web content. Features in publications are nice, most often they too are stories.

    This post is an excellent quick start for any tourism business looking to start marketing their enterprise for little or no cost.

    As for the question blog or Website… my suggestion. Start a blogsite.
    Use and start telling your story. Use permanent pages to link to the information your guests need to know and use these permanent pages as your traditional navigation bar.

    Keep up the good work. btw, I love Thesis too. Isn’t it a nice theme?

    ps. My favourite social activity – commenting on blogs. I love the backtype widget I use at that aggregates such comments.

  8. Thank you for putting together this article. It’s hard to start out with no marketing budget… but all small businesses have been there at one point or another. This economy is probably sparking all kinds of wonderful new businesses that are gonna start out on a shoestring. So your article is going to be a welcome resource for the next few years especially. What a great service to your local/world community… nice job!

  9. Mark, thanks for writing this post. It’s so refreshing to hear someone talk about social media and the net in the context of promoting a ‘real’ business, rather than affiliate marketing, information products, etcetera.

    I’ll look forward to reading the rest of the series!

  10. your article was very informative. I had no idea where to start. You’ve given me the information. Thank you! Finding honest tell it like it is on the internet is somewhat rare. Scams are too numerous to mention and are probably multiplying as I’m typing this comment.


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