It sounds ridiculous but it’s been done. People have launched worthwhile businesses off of a zero dollar budget. Here’s your guide to doing the same.

This article is broken up into two parts: Tips for start-ups and tips for existing small businesses. If you’ve already established a small business and are looking for ways to increase your online presence, don’t skip the first section. You may be surprised how a few simple start-up tricks can optimize your branding.

The Start-Up

Any start up will have to establish a base. You’ll need the basics but you don’t even have the money for a “$100 startup,” so here’s what you’re going to do:

  1. Use Social Media as Your Web Presence – You can argue that web is dead and social media is in. You can hold off on a website and just use the power of social media to launch your business. Grab your favorite picture, symbol or vector illustration and use the simplest of tools like Microsoft Paint to stick your name there. Just make sure you have permission to use the image so you’re not breaking any copyright/trademark laws. Once you have your logo, go ahead and set up a Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn profile as well. Keep your branding in line by choosing consistent wording and color schemes along the way.
  2. Create Your Own Stationery – Use your logo at the top of the page and create a custom footer with your information. Print and, voila, you have custom stationery at no cost (provided you already had the paper and ink). Forget the business cards for now – unless you’re in the creative DIY business, in which case just make your own. Otherwise, tell people that everything is digital these days and that’s what you stick to. Then exchange info on your smart phone.
  3. Office – Work from home, from Starbucks, from just about anywhere. The point is not to pay for an office space. If you feel uncomfortable with this, just remember that over 30% of the workforce is already mobilized, and the figures are just going to hike up next year. When you have every tool and convenience at your fingertips, why would you need to be confined to the same four walls every day? That only kills your creativity anyway. Now that you’re set up, move to the next stage and read the recommendation below for established businesses (with particular attention to Step 2).

For Existing Small Businesses:

Considering you’re already set up and ready to go, you don’t have to spend any more money on establishing yourself. Your objective is a little different and involves two steps.

Step 1: Assessment

Take a second look at your business. Evaluate everything from shades, fonts, styles, wording, etc. to see where you can make tweaks. The smallest tweaks can make the biggest difference. If you’re lucky enough to have some design-savvy friends or even a creative type whose style you agree with, reach out and see if they can give you their thoughts.

While you’re assessing, check to see if your content factors in trends, SEO, with original ideas.

Step 2: Engagement

It might not cost you dollars, but it’s going to cost you time. Unfortunately for you, there’s no way around it. You absolutely have to engage your audience through social media. Do this by posting great content and always responding to comments. Answer questions and go a step further by asking them. Pitch quizzes, contests and polls to draw in more people. Take the time to also listen to what people are saying and craft your content and business around that dialogue or those needs. It’s easy to spend the whole day on your social media network, curating content and researching new finds. That’s ideally what you’d have a content manager and/or curator for. For now, you’re both. Keep a social schedule to determine when you’ll engage, research and for how long. Modest figures range from curating early mornings for an hour and at least once a day for engagement. Ideally, you’ll be engaging you audience morning, noon and around 5 – all of which are peak times. If you’re wondering what engagement has to do with marketing, know that the more you engage, the more you market yourself and become a trusted source to others.

What corners to cut and how to go about getting the most out of your time will depend largely on your industry. Take a few days to conduct some market research. Start by looking at other similar business and see what they’re doing. How successful are they? Where are they focusing most of their time and energy?

Particularly if you’re a regional business, you can look to local events, groups and get-togethers to see how you can make an impact and where you can get involved. Never underestimate the word-of-mouth power of a community.
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