There are a lot of old sayings in the business world, but when it comes to “Free Advertising”, the ones that stand out in my mind are “Nothing in life is FREE”, “You get what you pay for” and “You’ve got to spend money to make money!”.
When I asked recently in our private Facebook Group what people thought of when they heard the words “free advertising”, half said YAY, the other half said YEAH RIGHT. And I tend to lean towards the “yeah right” camp myself, because at the end of the day, even if it is not costing you dollars, it is costing you time, and time is money!
But after chatting with a couple of business friends and having a look at what others are doing in the community, there are a few very simple, clever ways that you can promote your brand around Ballarat without spending money on the actual “advertising” itself. Although, on the surface, they may appear to be “free”, but when it comes down to it, there is still a cost. So let’s dive in and have a look.
1. You get what you pay for
and when it comes to your physical presence around town, the more professional the look, the more appealing it is and memorable it will be. And by physical presence, I am talking about the 2 things you take with you EVERYWHERE, EVERYDAY.
Number 1. Yourself!
Number 2. Your car!
When it comes to yourself, you are your best advertisement. You have to walk to the walk, talk the talk and look the part. So think about how you present yourself and how it matches your business and your brand. Do you need a uniform? Could you add a logo to a shirt? Invest in some baseball caps or name badges. It seems pretty simple, and it really is. Because as you stand in line at Coles collecting your ingredients to head home after work to cook dinner, the logo on your back is proudly displaying the person behind you who might just be needing a personal trainer or a lawn mower. Or while you are ordering your coffee in the morning, the wait staff may be noticing your name badge to remember your order, while also noticing your business name and storing it away for future reference.
When it comes to t-shirts, hats and merchandise printing I haven’t used a lot of local businesses, but I can highly recommend the guys at No Bull Printing in Barkly Street. They are very friendly and helpful, reasonably priced and have a really great range of products you can choose from.
Then for your car. There are a few levels to choose from here when it comes to decking your car out in your business branding. You can try a little removable magnet on the door (which I did for a couple of years), but it looks a bit tacky. It’s cheap to do, and, let’s be honest, it LOOKS cheap. And at the other end of the spectrum you can opt for a full car wrap and get your entire car covered in a professionally designed decal that will look a million bucks! But if you’re looking for something in between that’s still on the more affordable scale, you can go a half wrap, or professionally designed & fitted decals that look brilliant. Or a see through rear window covering with your branding printed on it. You’ll still be looking at around $300 or more. But think about how often you drive your car, the places you take it, the people who sit behind you at the lights.
And if you go for the car decals & window coverings, just remember that you are ALWAYS in business mode, and be on your BEST behaviour in the car! If you are cutting people off, giving the bird or generally behaving badly, do it in another car. Trust me! I may have been there myself. (Sorry to the guy I forgot to indicate and then pulled out in front of in Sturt St. He wasn’t happy! And I was worried that he would look me up online and abuse me. But thankfully didn’t).
Another great service I have used is a home based business called APS Customs, look them on Facebook. Very good prices and great service! He’s a pro, but works from home.
Free Advertising? Yes, it’s not costing you anything more than you would be spending to walk around town or drive to and from your usual destinations.
Cost? Logo embroidery / printing. Name badge. Car decal / window covering.
2. Nothing in life is free
You can’t advertise your business in the local newspaper for free. It just doesn’t happen. But if you can pitch a great story to them, they will happily share it. HOWEVER, unless the business name is absolutely critical to the story, they will not mention it. So, you might get your story in the paper, but you might also miss out on the “free advertising” bit.
I can’t tell you exactly what is and isn’t newsworthy, if I could, I would be in the news every week myself! Some pitches work, while others don’t. But there are some considerations to think about when it comes to pitching a story, such as:
- Current affairs – are you an expert or knowledgeable in an area that is currently in the news. Can you add to the debate or conversation around it? For example right now the hot topic in Ballarat is parking. Or perhaps topics in the current political sphere. Budgets. Education. Trends. Big issues like drugs, crime, health.
- What season / time of year is it – do you have a story that is relevant to the time of year or season. End of financial year is coming up, so is Winter, flu season, school holidays.
- Events – is there a big event happening in Ballarat, or across the state / nation / world that is relevant to your story? The Big Freeze for MND is happening next week which is a national campaign fundraiser, and just about every week around the world is the “Global Week for XYZ”. National Reading Hour. International Women’s Day. You get my drift.
- Is it newsworthy – is it worth the local papers going out of their way to interview you, take a photo and write about it? Do other people care? Will it help them sell newspapers?
Let me give you a list of my best performing pitches:
- Toby the Teddy Story Time – was a free event I organised with a couple of others to help launch a book about 000 Emergencies, with free CPR training for the kids. It was on the front page!
- Ballarat Bloggers Workshop – a low cost event I organised with a couple of others to teach different aspects of blogging. Had a nice write up and lead to a couple of smaller pieces on blogging in a pull out magazine.
- Ladies by the Lake – a charity event that I organised with some local businesses to give mums a great night out and raise money for Eureka Mums. The paper came and took photos of the glammed up ladies and wrote a brief piece on where the money was going.
- The National Reading Hour – a free online event I ran encouraging families to read together at the same time as the national event and share their photos online.
- The launch of my first business – a crowdfunding campaign to raise a few dollars to build my very first website and create a free resource for local families.
The one thing every single one of these pitches and subsequent articles had in common, was that not a single one of them mentioned my “business”. A couple of them did not even mention me! And I was the organiser of these events. So while it may be super exciting having your story in the paper, it doesn’t always equate to free advertising. The newspapers are on to you! They can tell from a mile away when you have a genuine story of interest to the Ballarat community, and when you are just looking for a little publicity.
PS. I have a great freebie (pardon the pun) for you at the end of this post too! So keep on reading!
So, the verdict?
Free Advertising? Well it doesn’t cost you any money to write a pitch and email it in. But it’s all in the personal brand, not the business brand. It does give you some great content to share on your social media pages and website to build credibility and share the community spirit you have.
Cost? A few hours of your time writing, perfecting, contacting media outlets and hopefully speaking with them directly.
3. You’ve got to spend money to make money
And even when it comes to donations, fundraisers and charity events, you have to spend money! Donating a voucher or a sample product to a charity night can sound like a great idea. It’s quick, easy and very often doesn’t cost you a lot to do. Especially if you are a service based business, it’s simply a matter of your time. But so often with things like “show bags” or raffle prizes, your contribution goes to someone who doesn’t really want or need your product or service. And the opportunity goes astray.
So firstly, I caution you to think seriously about the fundraisers and donations you offer to do. Who are the audience? Who is likely to win or bid on your item? In a room full of boozed up trivia goers, does your item stand out or belong? Or would you be better off saving your contributions for a more targeted or intimate event? I’m not saying don’t do trivia nights. But just be thoughtful about where you hand out our “freebies”.
Secondly, think about the contribution you are making. Gift vouchers / discount vouchers are a very quick and simple option. However, are they memorable? And will people actually use them? Think about the quality of the voucher itself. Is it worth holding on to? The difference between a roughly done voucher on an A4 sheet of regular paper printed at home, compared to a professional designed and printed card sized voucher is HUGE. Also think about the offer on your voucher, is a discount or a $ off? Personally, I think a $off sounds more “valuable” than a % off. And is there any way you can expand on your voucher? Can you include it with a sample of your products? How can you package your voucher to make it more interesting and memorable? Can you add it to a small hamper so that the recipient feels like they are walking away with something luxurious?
And if you are offering a product, how valuable is it to the recipient? Again, remembering to target the audience. Do they want it? Will they like it? If your product is reasonably low value, perhaps you can add to it by creating a hamper or pack with other products that complement yours? For example, I sell an $8 magazine. Hardly a huge prize value! But once it is paired up with a tea cup, some local hand blended teas, a box of chocolates and a scented candle, it makes a beautiful hamper that any mum would be happy to receive for reading her magazine.
So look around Ballarat for charity events, fundraisers, opportunities to donate goods & services, but be choosy!
Free Advertising? You might get a shout out on the night, and perhaps on the social media page / event page for the charity/organisation. And one or more people will walk away with your item.
Cost? Depending how many you need to provide, how much value your product / service is worth, it can add up quite quickly. But at the end of the day, you are not paying for the privilege. So, just like #1, you get what you pay for!
The Wrap Up
So, is there any such thing as “free advertising”? I still say, maybe, but it’s never really FREE. There is always some kind of cost.
A few other ideas for “free advertising” could include:
- Social Media (it costs nothing to sign up, but the time spent learning/doing/researching can be costly)
- Networking (there are a lot of networking events around Ballarat for all types of industries and business sizes, some are free, others have a cost)
- Volunteering (joining a community group you are passionate about is a great way to meet people and talk about your passions, but again…time is money!)
- Word of Mouth (by far the best type of free advertising)
Having said that, we do actually have two FREE options available on Ballarat Family Guide. Our event calendar, is free for anyone to list local events, and our guides / directories are free too. We don’t discriminate between not for profit or profit organisations like some community noticeboards & calendars do. And we genuinely invite ALL businesses to submit their details for our directories & guides, as long as it is relevant to our families who browse our site. The catch? We might send you emails from time to time letting you know about our upcoming advertising opportunities.
And for those of you keen to try a pitch to the papers, I’ve put together a simple template that I use for pitching my stories to the media. Like I said, sometimes it doesn’t succeed, but many times it has been brilliant! So give it a try. You have nothing to lose.
And if you like what you have read, feel free to share it with your friends: