6 Simple Ways to Market Your Side Business

When you run a side business — especially when you're first starting out — you usually don't have very much money. Most advertising is out of reach for people running businesses on the side, and many free marketing techniques require so much energy that they aren't worth it, either. (See also: 7 Ways to Generate New Leads for Your Business)

However, there are some fabulous ways to generate customers for your side gig without killing yourself in the process. Read on to find out what has worked for me — and countless other folks.

1. Word of Mouth (Referrals)

This is the simplest way possible to get more business. If you do good work, your customers will put other people in touch with you, and your business will grow organically.

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to grow your business, because people trust their friends and loved ones more than they trust a website or a listing in the phone book. However, it can be slow.

If you want to speed things up, it's quick and easy to ask your customers to be sure to tell their friends about you. You can even create incentives — maybe offer a discount on their next purchase if they refer two people to you who actually buy something.

2. Make Real Connections With Customers

If you want your customers to connect you with their friends and family members, you'll want to forge a solid connection with them. If your business allows you time to interact, be sure to make the most of that. As appropriate, share your story and that of your business — let them know why you do what you do.

Even if you don't have the chance to talk, you can find other ways connect with people. It's easy to include a handwritten note if you're sending a product, or a "thank you" card when you're finished working with someone. Anything that shows you spent a little extra time and energy to personally interact with them will make them feel closer to you.

3. Social Media

Having an active social media presence can help almost any business. It usually takes some trial and error to figure out where your customers are hanging out online, when they're there, and what they'd like to hear from you. Spend some time experimenting, so you can maximize your time and energy later.

Most businesses find customers via Twitter and/or Facebook, though some (such as clothing, art/design, or food businesses) find that Instagram is a better choice. You may even find that LinkedIn is the best place to find your customers — especially if you're in a B2B or professional services field.

The beauty of social media is that it can potentially find customers for you, so the more viral or shareable your content, the better. Before you post to social media, ask yourself: "Do people want to read or look at this? And would they want to share it with their friends?" If you can answer those two questions in the affirmative, you're on your way to building a successful social marketing program.

4. Give Something Away

People are often reluctant to purchase something the first time they hear about it, but they usually aren't hesitant to try something that's offered for free. What you give away depends on what your business offers. In general, it's simple to compile some blog posts into an ebook, create a downloadable infographic, or make a template that potential customers can try for free.

Offering something for free not only allows potential customers to get an idea of the expertise you offer, but also gives them just a taste of how you work and what you might be like to work with. This can go far towards reassuring them that doing business with you is worth their while.

5. Join a Chamber of Commerce

Most cities offer chamber of commerce networking events. Some will bring in a speaker, while others will offer cocktails at a meet-and-greet. Joining these groups is usually cheap or free, and can connect you to people in your community who might need what you're offering. Even if they don't need it, though, making the connection means you'll be closer to the top of their list when they meet someone who does need what you offer.

It can be hard to get to these meetings if you're still working full-time. But a few of these groups offer online networking as well, and some entrepreneurs opt to take time off from work to attend. It's worth looking into it, and if you find yourself getting a lot of business via your contacts at the meetings, you can decide how to invest yourself further.

6. Offer a Groupon

Some side businesses find that offering a deal via Groupon or LivingSocial is a great marketing tactic. It gets new people in the door, where you can wow them with your amazing presence, products, or expertise.

The idea is to keep people coming back for more. In reality, there are a good number of pros and cons to offering a deal like this. You will need to decide whether you can structure a deal so that you will still make money, and what you will do to bring people back after their first interaction with you. If you think you can make it work, the actual offering of the Groupon is an easy process.

What's your side gig (or your dream side gig)? How do you, or would you, market it?

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Guest's picture
Karen Messer

Making your business known to people is really important and direct interaction with them let you kn ow your customer and there likes and dislikes. So a online survey really helps a lot in making things done.

Guest's picture
Dana Tate

I totally agree with the second point that making a real connection with the customer is really important as they help us to know what are the areas required to be improved in our business.

Guest's picture

I enjoyed the article and found it to be very informative. I do agree that is a major factor in marketing your business, there is such a large audience on Facebook, twitter, etc, that you would truly be missing out if your business didn't not have one. I also use a great digital marketing company, and I've seen great results.