Remember that ideas are great, but execution is the true secret to any success.
These are free ideas, but all of them take work. If you are looking for an automated marketing plan that can activate your passive income funnel and deposit $100k directly into your bank account in the Caymans this is not that. This article is, however, a free resource that you should pick and choose from if you’re in need of a little marketing inspiration.
Let me be clear, no marketing strategy, idea, or plan is guaranteed to work. If you want guarantees, get out of any business that requires marketing or advertising of any kind. Nothing is guaranteed in business and nothing is owed to you.
Ready to put in some effort and see some results? Awesome. Oh by the way, results don’t necessarily equate to money. Results can also mean lessons learned. Which are vital for any business at any stage.
One more thing while I’m handing out caveats like old ladies hand out taffy on Halloween: Trying any of these ideas could lead to other ideas. That’s the beauty of creation and work. You may be seeking specific results by trying a certain marketing strategy, but you should be open to unintended outcomes which can lead to new ideas.
Okay. The caveat train has left the building. Here are your 10 free marketing ideas in no particular order of importance or effectiveness (except #1, because it’s the thing that works best for me):
Idea #1 – Build an email list and send consistent useful content to your subscribers.
I make 90% of my income from my email list. Let that sink in for a moment. I don’t use crazy growth tactics. I don’t have a single email pop-up. What I have is a strategy for delivering consistent and useful content.
Step #1 – Pick your favorite email marketing provider and add opt-in forms.
It doesn’t matter which one I think you should use, just pick one. Then, add an opt-in form on your website in multiple places. You can find my opt-in form on the homepage of my site, in the footer of my site, and in the navigation of my site.
Step #2 – Explain the value and who your emails are for.
I don’t stop at just having an opt-in form. I explain at each opt-in form exactly why someone should sign up for my email list, who I think my email list is for, and what useful content they can expect. Here’s the exact text I use:
Hello, I’m Jason Zook
I’m an action taker, doer of stuff, and enjoyer of not fitting in.
I’d like you to join The Action Army: a group of business owners, creative professionals, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who wants more out of life than was prescribed to them.
Members of THE ACTION ARMY get my weekly articles delivered to them before anyone else, and they get first access to all of my projects.
There are no pushups required for this army! Join today.
This is polarizing. You either consider yourself a part of one of the categories of people I listed or you don’t. You either want to take more action in your life and business, or you don’t. I intentionally want to deter people who aren’t aligned with the audience that my weekly articles can best serve.
Step #3 – Be consistently useful.
I’ve sent out a weekly email for almost two years and every single week people reply that my email helped them. I don’t just think I’m writing useful content, my subscribers are telling me I’m writing useful content.
People like structure so I send my emails at the exact same time each week (Monday at 10am EST). There have been a few times when my emails didn’t go out on time or I took a break. When this happens I always get emails/tweets from people asking me if they missed that Monday’s email. That’s a fist pump moment right there.
Being consistently useful has more marketing power than you can imagine. The trick is to believe in the process and continue to deliver on your promises.
Bonus Step #4 – Brand your email list.
My email list used to be called “Get Jason’s Updates.” Super sexy right? Just reading that gets you amped up to get those updates doesn’t it? Not. When I rebranded my personal site to JasonDoesStuff my girlfriend Caroline came up with the name The Action Army. I absolutely loved it.
Giving your email list a name helps people remember it, but it also helps people feel included in something bigger than just an email list. Here are some words you can steal to brand your own list: Community, collective, conglomerate, cool kids club, group, crew, members, society, legion, etc. If you can tie-in what your emails will be about (mine are about taking action, hence Action Army), even better.
Idea #2 – Host a free awesome local event.
We live in a digital world, but we forget how impactful in-person events can be. To host an in-person event, you need to do just a few things right.
Thing #1 – Find a cool venue.
If you thought “conference room at a hotel” when I said “local event” please immediately close this article and go read something else. Picking a boring venue for an event does one thing extremely well: It makes you and your business look boring.
In almost every town in America there is a cool coffee shop, an old historic building, a mainstay restaurant that everyone knows and loves, or some outdoor space that people really enjoy. If you don’t think you know of any cool venues, ask a friend, your kid, or people on social media in your area. If you hear the same place mentioned more than once, that’s the place where your event should be hosted.
Thing #2 – Have good food, good drinks, or good music.
Hosting a local event isn’t just about having your company name pushed in people’s faces. It’s about people associating your company with things they enjoy, which in turn, means they might enjoy your company. Again, go local here and find a hometown chef, mixologist, and/or musician. Don’t feel like you need to pay an arm-and-a-leg for these people. Ask if these folks want to partner with you and get some exposure for their business as well. You don’t get what you don’t ask for.
Thing #3 – Own the event.
Spend the majority of time meeting each and every person at the event and asking them questions about what they do. Keep asking questions and listening. Don’t pitch your business or hand your business cards out.
Whether you have a microphone or you just want to stand on a chair and holler, don’t be afraid to take credit for how awesome a time everyone is having. Don’t be a douchecanoe about it, but take a moment to share something about your company. Just keep it short and useful (don’t read your business plan or elevator pitch).
Bonus Thing #4 – Getting people to show up?
This is where you embrace the power of your existing network. Who do you know in your town? Tell them how awesome your event is going to be and build a list of word of mouth event sharers. Use a service like Meetup, Eventbrite, or Facebook Events to have a (free) RSVP to your event. This makes your event feel bigger and more important than it probably is.
Idea #3 – Host a virtual summit or webinar that doesn’t suck with other like-minded business owners who don’t suck.
Virtual summits and webinars get a bad rap. Why? Because crappy marketers do a horrible job and spoil things for the rest of us. By partnering up with people who might be in your industry or doing things similar to what you do, a virtual summit or webinar can bring your combined audiences together in one place for a grand-fiesta-of-value!
Step #1 – Plan to deliver value, not sell your stuff.
Too many people use virtual summits and webinars as a place just to sell. These platforms are ripe for teaching. What knowledge can you give to people? What problems can you help them solve? Who do you know that also has unique things to offer in your business space?
Marketing isn’t just about making sales. It’s about building trust and making people respect you. The sales will come if you continue to deliver value.
Step #2 – Find experienced people to partner with and make sure there’s something in it for them.
This is by far the hardest part of partnering with other people. I get asked too often to do a virtual summit, webinar, etc, and there’s nothing in it for me. I’m not trying to be a selfish jerk, I just have a limited amount of time to throw around.
A couple things you could offer someone, especially if you don’t know them and want to partner with them: Your product or service at a hugely discount rate (or better yet, free) for that person’s customer base (please make sure their customers would even care). A dedicated email to your customer list promoting something from your potential partner. A very generous revenue share IF you are selling something.
Step #3 – Plan to under promise and over deliver.
This is a marketing tip in itself, but with live events you definitely want to plan in some extra goodness for the audience. This could be a helpful e-book, an online course, a huge discount to something awesome, or some resource or tool that people can use for free.
Don’t talk about this thing at all until you actually deliver it during the live event. Surprising and delighting people can go a long way (and you should plan to do this often!).
Bonus Step #4 – Use the right platform for live online events.
I’m a big fan of Crowdcast.io right now. It’s super easy to use and their customer service is on point. I’ve used GoToWebinar and Google Hangouts before. Both are good, but my preference right now is Crowdcast.
Idea #4 – Create a podcast.
Podcasting is suuuuuuch a great tool for marketing right now. We’re on the bubble, folks. Now’s the time to start a podcast. But wait, don’t start one unless you have these things honed in:
Thing #1 – Be informative or entertaining.
I don’t care about the length of a podcast I listen to, I just want it to do one of two things: Inform me of something that improves my life or business or entertain me so I can enjoy some down time.
The podcasts that do the absolute best are the ones that are both entertaining and informative. This isn’t rocket science. It’s planning. Plan to record a bunch of test episodes of your potential podcast. Then share your test episodes with friends, your trust circle, and your existing customers/audience. What do they think? What feedback do they give you?
Also, if you don’t like listening to your own podcast, you should probably change things up.
Thing #2 – Be clear about who your podcast is for and what it’s about.
Don’t start a podcast on marketing. Don’t do it. Get laser-focused. What part of marketing are you really good at? What part of marketing do you know a ton of stuff about? And do you love talking about marketing? Because if you don’t, don’t host a podcast about something you don’t actually enjoy talking about.
Just like the email list idea above, you should be very clear with who your podcast is targeted to. Let’s say you want to host a podcast about the mating habits of exotic birds. Be very clear that your podcast is for people who like birds and their mating habits. Go even further and say something like “If you want to know more about The Rainbow Lorikeet, The Golden Pheasant, The Hoopoe, and the Quetzal, this is the podcast for you!” (I like birds, leave me alone.)
The bird example is silly, I know, but it illustrates my point. Be super focused on who your podcast is actually for. Don’t worry about creating the next Serial podcast. Create a podcast that you and you alone can create.
Thing #3 – Be consistent.
Again, just like the email list idea above, consistency is king. And the queen of the castle? Authenticity. Don’t pretend to speak like someone else. Don’t remove all the uniqueness from the way you talk naturally. Be 100% you. Then create a production schedule and stick to it.
If you aren’t sure if you’ll like podcasting, set a 3-month plan for yourself. Commit to doing it for 3 months and then reassess at a certain date. If you hate doing it and it isn’t bringing you value, stop doing it. If you enjoy it and can see an uptick with stuff related to your business, keep going!
Bonus Thing #4 – Ride the New & Noteworthy train.
A handy little trick with getting in New & Noteworthy on iTunes is launching with a few podcast episodes in the bag and getting ratings and reviews early on. So instead of releasing 1 episode when you start, have 3-5 already recorded and ready to launch. Instead of launching your podcast and then asking for ratings and reviews, get people ready to give you ratings and reviews before you launch. The more time people spend listening to your show early on, the better your chances are for hitting New & Noteworthy.
You can read more about this and podcasting in general in this podcasting article I wrote.
Idea #5 – Make swag people actually want.
This is a really great article about making t-shirts and giving them away. I’ll summarize it for you if you don’t want to read the whole thing (which you should though).
People will not wear crappy t-shirts. Trust me, I know from a boatload of experience. The plain white 100% cotton shirts with your mediocre company logo on them? Yeah, those will get tossed in a drawer and the next time that shirt sees the light of day is when it gets donated to Goodwill. Pick high-quality shirts (blends created by Next Level, American Apparel, and Canvas are great) and put something interesting on the shirt! Sorry, your logo isn’t super interesting unless you’re a band, a delicious coffee company, or a ghost with boobs.
What’s something your company stands for? What’s a phrase you use all the time that people like hearing you say? What’s a little motto or interesting design element that tells the story of your company (and that people would be proud to wear)? Put that on your t-shirts.
The same advice goes for stickers, etc. Make stuff that people would be proud to showcase, even if it doesn’t clearly say your brand name. If it’s interesting and people get asked about it, then they have the ability to tell your story to someone else. Creating an opportunity for word of mouth marketing is very powerful marketing.
Idea #6 – Create a scavenger hunt.
Who doesn’t love scavenger hunts?? This could be virtual or in-person. In-person would be really fun, but that favors businesses that have some type of local appeal. Scavenger hunts are really not that hard if you just take a moment to plan out each step and make it a fun thing for people to spend time doing.
Virtual or in-person, here are some steps to consider in the hunting process:
Step #1 – Good design goes a long way.
Remember how excited you got as a kid whenever you thought of (or created) a treasure map? Hire a designer to create a treasure map! Whether your scavenger hunt is online or not, a physical map that someone can hold in their hands creates a visceral response. Yes, it will take planning and money to come up with a map that leads people on their hunt, but with effort comes results.
If your scavenger hunt experience is in-person, don’t just shove an item on the hunt in a bush or under a mailbox. Create an experience for the person when they find it. You can do the same thing if you do a scavenger hunt online. Add good copy and design at every turn.
Step #2 – Offer up cool stuff!
Have you EVER in your life gotten excited about a lanyard or 5% discount? Don’t make those things the rewards for people’s effort. You don’t have to offer up gold bullion. I mean, that would be epic, but if you know what your customers like, then invest in some stuff they would actually enjoy.
Step #3 – Don’t make it too easy or too difficult.
People’s attention spans are crap these days. I’m shocked you’ve read this far in this article. It’s just the nature of the time we live in. Know this and make sure you aren’t creating a scavenger hunt that takes two lifetimes to accomplish.
A great way to test this is have different people of different ages go through your scavenger hunt. See how long it takes them and listen to any feedback they offer.
Idea #7 – Ask your existing customer what their favorite childhood memories are, then make those childhood memories show up on their doorstep.
This one is pretty easy. Whether by email, survey, social media, or carrier pigeon, ask your existing customers what their favorite memories are from childhood. If you want to get specific, ask what their favorite cereals, candies, snacks, movies, songs, etc, are.
Then, buy those things for your customers and mail them those memories. Do you know how excited I would be if someone mailed me a package with a small box of Honeycomb cereal, Skittles, and a Super Contra Nintendo cartridge? Holy crap, I’d Instagram/Facebook/Twitter the hell out of that photo. Maybe there’d also be a note from that person with their company’s cool sticker or t-shirt that doesn’t suck in the box too? That’d be great marketing.
Tip for sending memories: Don’t do something like this just because you think it’s a good marketing tactic. Do this if you actually care about your existing customers and if value customer retention over customer acquisition.
Idea #8 – Do a 24-hour challenge and invite people to watch you live.
There’s something really interesting about seeing the behind the scenes and live-action of a project. I used to do this daily with a live video show I hosted on Ustream. There were many times when I kept the live video going for hours after the show time because people wanted to watch. Those bonus-hour-watchers ended up being my biggest fans (and sometimes best customers).
Step #1 – Pick the right platform for you.
You don’t have to host a live video show. You could create a blog post and update it hour by hour (my friend Nathan Barry did this and it was fun to watch). You could do this via social media and keep people up-to-date via a hashtag. You could use an audio recording service (like Soundcloud) and make lots of little clips.
Find a platform that provides little barrier to entry for you, but is also easy for a potential viewer/listener/reader to enjoy.
Step #2 – Share your processes.
People love learning processes. Some of my biggest successes in business have come through sharing my entire process (SponsorMyBook and BuyMyFuture specifically). If you’re going to do something for 24-hours, whatever unique processes you use to accomplish that thing should be shared and explained to other people.
Step #3 – The outcome (kind of) doesn’t matter.
It’s 24 hours. You aren’t going to build a DeLorean from the ground up. Pick something reasonable like a e-book, course, website, fundraiser, gluten-free bake sale, whatever interesting thing you can create. It really doesn’t matter how good the thing turns out, you just want people to join you on the journey and feel like they were a part of something.
Step #4 – Include people!
Ask people to call you, tweet at you, comment on your blog, email you, leave audio recordings, etc. Then, showcase their words during your 24-hour event. People love seeing their name and words online. Embrace people’s vanity!
Including people also helps you build a stronger bond with your customers and fans. Having raving customers and fans is possible for any company in any industry. If you don’t believe that, I have no idea why you’re reading this article.
Idea #9 – Secret deliveries.
This idea came to me while writing this article. Here’s how it works:
Step #1 – Find something awesome in your local area or that you can order online in bulk that’s easy to deliver.
Let’s say, for example, there’s an amazing donut shoppe in your town (and you know it’s amazing because they spell shop “shoppe”). Go talk to the donut kingpin who owns the shoppe and order up a whole slew of circular deliciousnesses.
While the donuts are baking, buy a domain like ihopeyoulikedthedonuts.com. Have a designer whip up a very simple website with a fun message on it (use Squarespace if you want to save money and do it yourself). The message could say something like:
“We hope you enjoyed the donuts! Wait, who are ‘we?’ Well, we’re <insert really cool one-liner about your awesome business>. We just wanted to deliver a little deliciousness to your doorstep today. If you’re ever in need of <insert short line about the services your business offers>, feel free to shoot us an email or give us a call”
– Tom Selleck, CEO, Mustaches-R-Us, 1-800-MUSTACHE / email@example.com
Step #2 – Get a little note printed for the packages.
You don’t need your corporate logo on any packaging. You don’t want your name plastered all over the delivery. Create a little mystery!
Leave a note in the box (example donuts) that says nothing more than “Enjoy the delicious pastries? Visit ihopeyoulikethedonuts.com” That’s it! Don’t muddy up the note with all your business objectives, logos, letterhead, CEO’s dog’s name, etc. You want people to be interested in taking the next step to find out more info.
Step #3 – Make a potential (and existing) customer list.
I’d recommend a healthy dose of existing customers and potential new customers. Gather up all their addresses and plan out your delivery route.
Don’t want to deliver the items yourself? That’s cool. Most cities have courier services or you can post on Craigslist and find people willing to do deliveries for cheap.
Step #4 – Word travels quickly, get your deliveries done quickly.
An idea like this doesn’t have a long shelf-life (much like a yummy donut). Organize a handful of delivery people to drop off the goodies at the same time to all the businesses on your list. If I was doing this marketing idea, I’d make sure as many deliveries got delivered first thing in the morning and within the smallest time window possible.
Step #5 – Forget about this idea.
Wait, what? I’m serious. Ideas like this aren’t meant to be measured and analyzed. It’s a fun marketing thing to do, not a long-term strategy. Don’t obsess over how many people call, email, or even visit the website. Understand that you made an impression on a potential customer and move on to your next idea.
Idea #10 – Reach out to your existing customers and ask what you can do for them. Then do those things.
Best form of marketing ever? Word of mouth. Who has mouths? Your existing (and hopefully) happy customers. Send an email to your customer list and ask one question: “What’s something we can help you do, within reason, right now?”
Then wait for the responses.
Does someone’s family member need prayers because they are in the hospital? Send them a bouquet of flowers.
Does someone need help getting customers for their own business? Offer to jump on the phone with them and share everything that’s worked in your business to get customers.
Does someone want tickets to a New York Knicks game? Go on Stubhub and buy them two tickets to a game in the future at whatever price you can afford.
Yes, these things will cost you money. No, you are not required to do any of them. But if you are going to take on this marketing idea, I suggest you set a budget and do your best to accommodate every single person who replies. This takes effort and money, but those two things can yield incredibly returns if invested in the right places.
Every marketing idea has unintended outcomes.
These ideas might not work. They make work incredibly well. Either way, doing anything will bring about learning moments to advance your business forward.
Even if you don’t use one of these ideas, my hope is that reading this article might spark some sort of idea for you. Remember that ideas are great, but execution is the true secret to any success. Now get out there and do something interesting.
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