7 Ways to Generate New Leads for Your Side Business

by Erik Folgate on 15 June 2010 5 comments

Coming home from a day job and starting work on a side business is a lot more common today than it was in the past. Salaries and commission structures unfortunately have not increased proportionately to the cost of living in various areas of the country and many people have resorted to starting a side business to earn extra income for themselves and their families. You may be one of them.

About a year ago, a buddy and I started doing freelance Internet marketing work for a few small businesses run by friends and family members. It didn't take long for the venture to turn into a legitimate side business with over a dozen clients and steady alternative income. The best part about it was that we didn't put any money into our own marketing plan. We were able to get the word out and promote our business by using free online tools for small businesses and proving to potential clients what we were capable of doing.

If you want to start earning good side income, it doesn't make sense to invest money in traditional marketing efforts right away. Be creative and make yourself as accessible as possible. To help you, here are 7 cheap or free ways you can use to easily market your side business and generate new leads.

1. Market to your close network of friends and family

Like it or not, your friends and family are your best source of referrals when you're first starting out. For example, if you're starting a landscaping business, cut your friends and family a deal to mow their lawns, then ask them to introduce you to other neighbors you can pitch your services to. Just try not to be annoying by hounding your friends and family about becoming clients or referring you. Instead, simply talk about the things you're doing to grow the business during regular conversation and you will naturally remind them to refer you to their friends.

2. Run a killer promotion on your Facebook page

I'm not going to write another boring piece telling you to start a Facebook page and that clients will automatically flock to you because of it. I'll assume you've already thought about starting a Facebook page. Now I'll discuss how to actually make it effective.

Facebook pages are worthless unless you make them interesting, give people a reason to interact on it, and give worthwhile stuff away. For instance, you can tell your existing fans that you'll give away something related to your industry or donate X amount of money to their favorite charity if they perform some sort of action (i.e., become fans, participate in a poll, leave feedback, etc). Furthermore, you can prompt your fans to create content by running a fan-submitted photo or video contest.

This kind of stuff will build a lot of fans in a short amount of time and create much-needed buzz around your Facebook page. The more people that are contributing to your page and interacting with you, the better chance you have of them turning into future clients or customers.

3. Make friends on Twitter

When using Twitter, try not to look like a text billboard with your tweets. Be conversational, connect with other experts in your industry, and be informative. Display your passion and knowledge for your service or product. Join Twitter chats and follow the rule to only send out one marketing-related tweet for every four conversational tweets. Again, don't think it’s enough to just be on Twitter; that's pointless. Be strategic with it. Follow and interact with the people you think could turn into potential clients or help you get better connected in your community.

4. Make yourself visible in the community

Join the Rotary club, get involved with local politics, and attend local Tweet-Ups and/or any industry-related seminars or workshops. While there, make sure you talk to at least three people for more than five minutes. I promise you'll get a lot out of it even if seems like a lot of work. Meetup.com is a great place to find local events related to your industry.

5. Teach a free seminar/webinar

Teaching is a fantastic way to attract leads for potential clients. Providing an educational seminar or webinar for free and showing off your knowledge of the subject matter is a great way to attract potential clients and build trust before you even meet them. Webinars are a little tough to pull off professionally without paying for a service like GoToMeeting, but the cost is fairly nominal considering the potential return. When holding a seminar, look to a local non-profit organization or a church to donate an hour or two for you to use one of their facilities to hold the seminar. You can also ask for a small donation from attendees that will go directly to the organization that lets you use their facility.

6. Do free work

There is a fine line between doing free work to build your portfolio and show off your work and not allowing people to assume that you'll always work for free. If you're a graphic designer, for example, you can design a business card for a company for free and show them some examples of redesigned logos and other print materials that they can purchase. This will soften them up to the fact that you did something for free, and if they like your mock-ups of the new logo and other materials, it could entice them to become a long-term client. You can also choose to only do free work for charities and let the word-of-mouth marketing begin when your work is displayed to many different people.

7. Be an educator on LinkedIn

If you have a profile on LinkedIn, don't just let it sit there. Join industry specific groups and submit links to any content that you create online, such as blog posts. You can also answer questions in the Q&A section to show off your expertise. This applies to other sites in addition to LinkedIn as well. Join and actively participate on industry forums and utilize Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers. Starting a blog and writing insightful posts that get people's attention can also do wonders for your business.

Have you picked up on some of the common themes here? Give, give, and give more. The more you give, the more you'll get. Don't fall into the trap of always giving away your work without charge, but don't be afraid to do so in the beginning while you're building a client list to get the word-of-mouth marketing ball rolling.

Use social media and the power of the Internet, but don't assume that having an online presence automatically equals sales and new leads. You must educate yourself and have a strategy. Build trust by educating others and show them that you know what the heck you're talking about. With a good mix of luck and consistent, hard work, you'll have a side business that could turn into a full-time business someday.

Have you worked on a side business before? What additional tips do you have for ways to generate new leads for relatively cheap?

This is a guest article by Erik Folgate, the lead editor for the Money Crashers personal finance blog. Take a look at the Money Crashers site and subscribe to their RSS feed for more insightful personal finance and small business articles like this one.

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Arohan

Nice compact guide. I would add that if you have multiple sites and established credibility with your readers, leverage it in your new projects. They can be your greatest supporters or would atleast be more interested in what you are trying to do than a random visitor. Once you have your 'seed' audience established, acquiring additional leads becomes much easier

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David

Thanks for this great list. I am trying to gather an idea for your #5, a seminar. What I need now is how to market it.

Guest's picture

Great stuff!! I am gonna make a fast buck using the tips you have stated above.

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks, Erik, I think this is one of the best guides I have seen yet!

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Peter

I think your list is great, I think people often lose their way when they get a great idea and don't generate enough to make it a business and lose heart. I recently went to a free seminar and found it really useful at the end the lady that have given the speach was offering her advice on a one to one, she passed on her business card and made it a point to speak to people and network - the set up really worked for her.