How to Market Your Business for Free in a Coronavirus World (one will really surprise you!)
By Lu, OTL City Guides & Seat Fillers
How to Market your Business for Free in a New Coronavirus World
Forget about social media, traditional advertising, and spinning your wheels with the same marketing plans. Things are now different, and it’s time to get back to grassroots approaches. So, I’ve got seven unique ways to market your business for free in a Coronavirus world.
Grassroots marketing is back
Everything has changed, hasn’t it?
Instead of lipstick, we’re now matching our face masks to our outfits. Dinner and a movie are now Netflix and GrubHub. But as life is slowly leading us outside our front doors, it’s posing a problem for small businesses that are desperate to resume some normalcy.
Unfortunately, there’s a new normal that’s forcing all of us to reprioritize. For businesses, there are mandatory changes in operations and innovation needed to keep the doors open and market our businesses for free, or at least as cheaply as possible.
My family, friends, and I have watched as our OTL Seat Fillers Membership Club came to a screeching halt for a few months. So, we’ve been desperately trying to get our creative juices flowing, figuring out how to keep going when box office windows are still firmly shut.
One thing is for sure, and that’s we, as well as other small business owners, need to shift gears. That means that it’s time to tweak our services and market our business for free in a Coronavirus world. We don’t have resources to buy ads or pay for promotions, as we’re barely keeping our heads above water. Fortunately, my experience predates online marketing. I come from the era of grassroots marketing, which now goes hand-in-hand with a virtual world.
So, in the spirit of working together and looking out for each other, I wanted to share a few ideas that have emerged from umpteen brainstorming sessions. Not all of these grassroots approaches will work for everyone. But the following are seven ways that you could potentially market your business for free in a Coronavirus (and post COVID-19) world, and I hope that at least one is helpful. I will say that I know at least one will catch you by surprise.
1. Take it to the Streets (aka Move your Business Outdoors)
Restaurants have already got this one down, as they have outdoor patios that accommodate social distancing. We’re doing our best to avoid indoor spaces with little airflow, so wide open spaces under the sun or moon gives us all the opportunity to be somewhat social again and partake in “normal” activities.
Why does the great outdoors have to be limited to dining, though?
From home office to outdoor office
If you have a nail salon, set up a workspace outside. The same holds for yoga, pilates, or other fitness classes. Why does “Wine and Canvas” have to be held inside a confined area? Painting outdoors could make participants feel more like real artists. Do you have a small retail shop? If you’ve got sidewalk space, why not use it? Get a mobile card reader that clips to your phone and bring a few racks, tables, or display units outside.
I looked online and found a 10’ x 10’ canopy tent on Amazon for $69. I know we’re talking about how to market your business for free in a Coronavirus world, but the tent is optional.
Just because you’ve traditionally been an indoor business, doesn’t mean you can’t diversify. Move just part of your products or services outside where people may be more comfortable shopping, learning, or experiencing. It not only opens up your location but opens you up to free marketing.
Our OTL team is hoping that many of our event promoter friends take their shows on the road, or at least to an open-air amphitheater. We have the BEST partners, and it has been devastating to see the curtains down for so long.
2. Join Forces – Create Co-ops for Effective Local Marketing
This particular tip on how to market your business for free could be an extension of the previous idea about using the great outdoors in combination with others as a co-op.
Why not get together with a few small businesses and create an outdoor space?
For example, if you’re a physical fitness instructor, why not get together with a gym, other teachers, and a retailer who sells yoga mats or weights. Your collective could work together as an outdoor co-op. Each member could pitch in a few bucks to get some flyers made or put up a one-page website with a class schedule.
If you all join forces, there are several ways to market your business for free, as you could have several social media posts, website links, and other promotional programs. Get a park permit, or maybe a member of the co-op has outside space that could accommodate small groups with social distancing.
3. Packages & Partnerships – Think Outside the Box with Local Marketing
You can tell that some of the ideas on this “how to market your business for free list” organically evolve from the others. This particular concept is like the outdoor co-op, but you don’t necessarily have to have outside activities for it to work.
You could partner up with complementary businesses or services to put together service or goods packages. These days, people are ordering everything online, and Amazon is working overtime to accommodate impulse purchases. But why not grab a piece of the action?
Create partnerships instead of buying advertising
Let’s say that you own a pizza shop, and you’ve been paying relatively high fees to services like Door Dash or Grub Hub to deliver for you? It’s challenging to expand your team to handle in-house deliveries. But what if you teamed up with some other small businesses?
For example, you could partner with an ice cream shop or a bakery to market pizza parties. Or, add in some bagels for the next morning.
With more than one retailer participating, you could take turns making deliveries, or pitch in to hire someone to do them for you. Customers will pay less if you don’t charge them for the service, and the sky’s the limit with what you could put together. I know that I would be much happier having dinner and dessert delivered, or dinner and a meal for the next day, as opposed to paying service fees and tips per restaurant.
4. Make House Calls – no M.D. required
With this concept for marketing your business for free, you’d be expanding your services to take them to your customers.
If you’re marketing a service, like haircuts, massages, or nails, you’d need to check into licensing restrictions. But if you get a green light, you could take your show on the road.
Drop-off services or rent out unused equipment
Even if you don’t have a service-oriented business, house calls could still work.
Why not add a free drop-off service for your small clothing or accessories store?
If you have a gym and have to clear out some equipment for social distancing, you could rent it out for home use.
5. Market Your Business for Free by Creating Virtual Side Services
You don’t have to be an online business to put together virtual products and services. That doesn’t mean that you’re eliminating your brick and mortar operation. Instead, you’re drawing in new customers and patrons differently.
It’s another new way to market your business for free in a Coronavirus world.
I’ll use the example of a small clothing store. With more people in lockdown or just going out less, your business has probably taken a big hit. You don’t want to give up your shop, but you need more customers.
Personal stylists, customer chats, and product delivery
How about setting up personal stylist services where you can go online one and one with customers. You could talk with them about their preferences and needs and then put together a virtual collection. You could sell complete outfits and ship to their homes or drop them off if local.
Not only will it boost sales, but it’ll create customer loyalty.
As an alternative, you could do have style groups where you chat online about trends and new products coming in – all available for purchase, of course. You could even do a mini fashion show online, using your inventory and take orders immediately after the show.
If you have a restaurant and the ability to sell some “make at home” dishes, why not do a virtual cooking class in conjunction with them?
6. THE Unique Way to Market for Free - Use Seat Fillers
You had to know this was coming as I set the stage at the beginning. It may still take you by surprise, though. But remember, I, along with you, need to figure out a way to expand my business as well. In this case, my business is a membership club, but you get the gist.
Compiling reservations for all kinds of shows, services, and activities
In our brainstorming sessions, our small team at OTL Seat Fillers decided that “seat filling” doesn’t have to be limited to spots in a theater, show venue, or comedy club. OTL Seat Fillers are looking for new and fun “things to do.” Why can’t that include virtual events, classes, golf, bowling, skating, museums, wine tastings, spa services, dining, and other products and services?
Our OTL Seat Fillers Club expansion turns into a new way to market your business for free in a Coronavirus world.
No seats required
For the past seven years, we’ve given our partners a free, private, and easy way to fill seats or crowd fill. Now, the “free, private, and easy” remains, but “seats” can be practically anything.
The only stipulation is that anything we privately post in the OTL member area has to be something special. It can’t be the same thing that the general public has access to, or it defeats the purpose of the club.
So, if you’re promoting half-price karate classes, we would need to offer some for free to members. After a few weeks for free as a white belt, some members may be excited about paying to pursue black belt status.
Member-only invitations = free and effective local marketing for you
You could even come up with an exclusive opportunity for seat fillers. For example, if you sell wine, you could hold a virtual wine tasting for OTL members and even offer a discount on buying wine from your shop.
Or, let’s say that you do marketing for a vodka company and your tastings are on hold because of the social distancing regulations. You could set up a private party for members, and we’d have a reservation list so you could plan accordingly.
7. Other Online Ways to Market your Business for Free in a Coronavirus World
As a final tip, I suggest that you think outside of the virtual box. Don’t limit yourself to social media for free marketing and online advertising. There are all kinds of calendars, directories, blogs, and other opportunities to promote your business or service.
Event Calendars and Directories
Along with OTL Seat Fillers, we have the OTL City Guides. They include US and UK event calendars, as well as directories (free stuff, free classes and events, churches & spiritual groups, amateur sports, non-profit donations, volunteer opportunities, local services, classes, clubs & organizations, get healthy, events & entertainment, and senior citizen resources).
You can post your information on any of them. But there are also plenty of other sites that also have directories, calendars, and free local marketing resources. The more you get your name and information out there, the better you’ll ride the storm known as the Coronavirus lockdown.