August 6, 2014

Depending on where you turn, you're going to hear a million different things and opinions about social media marketing. Some will say social media is, and should remain, free to use. Some will say you have to pay for ads to see success. Some will say you need an active account on every social media platform. Others will say to focus on only one or two accounts. Some will say you need to post once a day, others will tell you to post 3-5 times a day. Some will tell you text based content is optimal while others insist photos produce the best results.

You get my drift.

The reality is that none of these statements is either right or wrong.

Your social media success will depend on you, your business, how you run your campaigns, and how you execute your strategy.

And if you want to create a successful social media marketing strategy that doesn't involve ads, pay-per-click options, or costly promotions, you can do it. And you can succeed at it.

But it's going to take a different strategy than those who choose to use methods that rely on cash to grow their exposure and results.

To be clear up front, when I say you can succeed at social media marketing without spending money, I am referring to the direct costs associated with paying for marketing tactics. No matter what, everything costs money. Time is money. And someone - or multiple people - need to spend quality time on social media. This time and effort (and salaries) aren't free.

Education often isn't free either. You may need to take courses, hire a consultant, or buy books to educate yourself properly. There are a TON of free resources out there (heck, you're here on my blog for free right?) but sometimes you may need to up the ante and pay for some quality training or support.

That being said, yes, you can successfully market your business on social media without spending money. But no, this isn't a gimmick or get-rich-quick scheme. So if you're looking for that, this is not the solution for you.

The reason I can say that you can market on social media without spending money is that I am proof of it.

I started this journey with no money to invest. I grew my audience and presence slowly, but effectively. I broadened my horizons regularly and tried new things. And while I'm no where near the end of the journey, a year and a half into the journey, I've made huge strides towards success.

As many of you know (and if not, you can read this post), I write this blog and grow my business in my "spare" time. I have a full time day job, unrelated to this world, so this is what I do outside of work hours. I have devoted a lot of time, but it's not my only commitment - far from it.

I also didn't want to invest any money up front because I had no idea what to expect. I started my blog on a free site so I didn't even have to pay for hosting or themes. To be fair, I did switch to a new, hosted site in September 2013 in order to better grow my business and customize my website. But if you have a business, you know the value of a well formatted website.

As my blog grew and my business grew, I wanted to continue to see what I could achieve without financial infusions. I constantly write about how to use free social media marketing practices and I would feel hypocritical to stand there telling you to do one thing while I did another. So I continued to market my business without spending money. It was just my time and input.

In the year and a half since I started this blog, I have made money from consulting clients and ebook sales. I have just recently launched a new Instagram training program and have multiple speaking engagements and presentations lined up for later this year.

But enough about me. Here are my best tips on how to succeed with social media without spending money on ads, promotions, and costly marketing.

Build Relationships

If you have been following my blog or social media accounts for any period of time, you know how much value I place on relationships. I choose to connect with my audience on a personal level. I'm not throwing spam at them. I'm not talking about my own content and how awesome it is. No. Instead, I help them. I work with them. I give them what they want and need.

And most importantly, I have conversations with them. Ask questions - get answers. Get asked questions - give answers. Respond to comments and keep the dialogue going.

People want to talk to people. Building a real relationship with your audience means that you can promote and grow your business without being salesy, slimy, or dumping tons of money into ads. Because you don't have to pay to get people to hear your message. When you have a relationship with them, they want to hear your message.

To create relationships, you have to be real. You have to be authentic. Make fun of yourself when it's appropriate. Tell people what's going on in your business. Share your stories - successful and disappointing. Post pictures that let your audience into your world (behind-the-scenes, employees, your work place, entertainment, challenges, etc.).

Remember, people aren't on social media to see what your business is selling today. They're there to see what's happening in the lives of those they choose to follow. Embrace that mentality.

Really, I could end this post here. If you don't have relationships with your customers and audience, you will have to spend money.

But there are additional tactics you can employ - many of which fall into a part of the relationship aspect - to see even more success without financial infusions into social media.

Find Social Media Partners

I want to advise this tactic cautiously. This ties in directly to having relationships, not trying to game a system.

One reason I've come so far in my business is because of the help of others. People who have small, medium, and large devoted audiences have shared my content, promoted my services, or recommended me to potential clients. These relationships with my "partners" have been invaluable.

Obviously, when a person with hundreds of thousands of followers shares your content or mentions your name, it's gonna be a great piece of promotion for your business. But you can't go out looking for it, asking for it, or trying to barter for it.

I never went out looking for a share-for-share opportunity. I have never shared anyone's content or promoted a company that I don't personally recommend or agree with. Instead, I got to know people. I forged relationships with people and they referred me to others. This becomes a snowball effect and will help you get plenty of attention - the right way.

Stop Focusing on the Numbers

I know this is easier said than done. I still look at my numbers - numbers of likes, numbers of followers, numbers of subscribers, numbers of visits, numbers of referral visitors, numbers of sales, etc.

But it shouldn't be just about the numbers. It should be about the growth of those numbers. You see, my numbers are different than your numbers which are different than your competitors numbers. So instead of focusing on how many fans you have, look at how many fans you've gained in a certain period of time. And look at how those fans (old and new) are engaging with your content. 100 highly engaged fans, directly involved in your conversation are much better for business than 1000 fans who ignore your content and your business.

Use a Strategy and Set Goals

Most importantly, for any success, you need a strategy. Throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks won't bring long-term success. Sure, you can try the occasional "test" but every test should be a part of a strategic plan.

Knowing what you want and where you want to be allows you to focus on the right things. Maybe Facebook is your best plan. Or maybe it's Twitter. Maybe you should dominate one site. Or maybe you should delve into all the major platforms. Maybe you want 10 new clients. Or maybe you want $10,000 in sales.

A clear strategy and defined goals will allow you to focus your time and resources where they will benefit you most. And these may evolve over months or years. But they allow you to maximize your investment of time and social media content.

Your goals and your strategy are unique to you and your business. But without these being clearly defined, you're going to try everything you can think of. And much of the time, this will result in turning to ads and promotions that you "hope" will be the solution.

On a side note, even if you do use ads, you still need a clear strategy. Otherwise, your ads will be wasted money on an undefined audience.

Give Away Free Stuff 

People love free stuff. You do. And so you do your customers. So give them free stuff. Lots of it.

Give away ebooks, videos, blog posts, consultations, or whatever else you can think of. You can also be a guest on someone's podcast. Quality free products or services that actually prove your worth are a million times more valuable than any paid ad. And posts for free stuff get shared - a lot! That will get you exposure and reach that you can't get on your own.

Using these free things, you can also be working to build your list. You own your list. You can keep in contact with your audience directly through your list.

And, using your list, or if you have a well respected blog or social media presence, you can actually promote your own products or services intermittently without needing to pay for the promotion.

Provide Social Media Exclusive Discounts

Almost as much as they like free stuff, people love discounts. Offering discounts exclusive to social media followers is a really good way to reward your fans and grow your business through social media. Most consumers that choose to follow a brand on social media do so because they want a discount. And while discounts shouldn't be your only reason to have people follow you, it is a very effective method.

People are also more likely to share content that advertises a discount. They want their friends to get the same good discounts too. So not only do you reach your current audience, but you can reach new audiences, grow your fan base, and drive sales. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Run Contests

Contests are a great way to boost your business, your brand awareness, get new fans, and make sales. But you have to use them well.

First of all, your "prize" should never be a free iPad (or other similar gimmick). Well, unless you sell Mac products. Then maybe it could be. But really, your prize should be something from your business. Maybe it's a free service, or a free product, or a discount, or an exclusive benefit. It should also be something that doesn't cost you to give it away. Essentially, it will become a loss leader, but it shouldn't be something you have to pay to get.

And, depending on the platform you're using, you can usually run a contest for free on social media. Some Facebook apps will cost a small amount to run an effective contest. And I do recommend you use these tools since they will help you significantly in managing the contest. But, you can also run a contest for free on Facebook. And you can run a contest on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and other sites for free. Just always make sure you adhere to all platform contest rules.


As I said, none of these tactics are quick fixes or get-rich-quick schemes. They are a part of an entire social media strategy. And when executed properly, can be highly rewarding.

Now, I'm not gonna lie. I do have anticipations of embracing Facebook ads in the future. It's likely an inevitable next step to grow my business where I want it to go. But I insist on holding out as long as I can, to continue to prove to you - and myself - that you can successfully market your business on social media without spending a bunch of money. That, and I still don't like the idea of paying Facebook, but that's a whole other story! 😉

If you want to talk to me about how we can create an effective social media strategy for you, please contact me.

Or if you have any ways that you've used social media to grow your business without paying for ads and marketing, I'd love to hear your stories in the comments below!

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. Guess I don’t have to tell you how I feel about your suggestions???? Spot On! As you stated at the beginning, yes, your time is money. But, many businesses, especially small ones, simply to not have the additional funds to go beyond that. And that is where your tips come in. One thing I would add, is to try to find a niche (I know, overused word) where you can stand out. In my business, I needed to separate myself from what the larger, well-known companies were doing. That is why my focus has been on Small Business and women-owned business. This way I could focus my efforts there (saving some time) and not bang my head against the wall trying to be heard in a larger market.

    1. lol – thanks Kim! And I think finding a target niche and crushing it there is definitely great advice. Once you’ve become THE source in that niche, you can expand to a broader audience.

  2. These are great tips, Jenn! I especially love the giveaway idea–I’m opening an etsy shop soon and want to try to figure out how to get more interest by doing a giveaway.

    I think my biggest hurdle is figuring out which social media sites to focus on–I’m on quite a few right now and I don’t feel like I’m managing all of them very well.

    Great post!

    1. Hi Steph! I’m so glad you found this helpful 🙂
      Your social media sites will depend on you, your time, and where your audience is. If you’re using Etsy, I would definitely recommend Facebook and probably Pinterest and Instagram too. But without knowing more, I can’t be to sure.

    1. Thank you Bo! It has been a pleasure to share this journey with people like you 🙂

  3. Great tips Jenn! But how do you find strategic partners? I’ve had people approach me and say I’ll give you x money if someone you refer buys my product. Those didn’t work because I didn’t like their product or it wasn’t good for my audience.

    I want to connect with other coaches or service based individuals who serve my target. How do you approach someone about partnering when you do have a good relationships with said person and don’t want to ruin it?

    1. Thanks Julia. I’m glad you enjoyed this!
      As for strategic partners, first and foremost, I don’t recommend partnering with anyone who offers to pay you for promoting their services. I applaud you for turning them down or ignoring them since they don’t align with you or your audience. Your integrity and value to your audience is worth more than a few “referral” dollars.
      As for partnering in general, I have never “approached” someone under that intent. I have simply forged relationships with them – even the big names you’ve seen me with. Sharing their content, commenting on their blog posts, engaging on their social media channels, thanking them when they share my stuff, asking for advice, or just generally having conversations. It takes longer but when you actually get to know someone, they’ll promote you and help you without you even having to ask 😉
      You can also refer people to those other coaches you know (when your services aren’t in line, but theirs are) to show them you trust them and respect them. This becomes a two way street.

  4. Hello Jenn,

    These are some excellent tips! I agree time is definitely money. If you aren’t spending money you will spend time. I, myself am still trying to find my way on social media. I have to say I have been using Google+ more than anything and that’s where I get more of my interaction from but I would also like to better utilize twitter too. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    1. Thanks! I hope this is helpful for you as you gain traction on social media. Google+ is a great place to be and can be highly rewarding so keep that up!

  5. Hi Jenn, I love your blog and especially your attitude: if you really want it, you can make it happen! I also agree that Social Media should be done inhouse – supplemented with project based support from experts. However, adding Ads, whether SEM or on Social Networks might be a valid option for businesses who do not have a second source of income ( like you do with your day job) and need to hit the ground running to get customers. Other industries might have much higher operational costs that make it impossible to grow a customer base organically. I just want to point out that growing your business slow and without financial investment might not be the best decision for every type of business.

    1. Hi Maria! You bring up an absolutely valid point that some people need to spend money on ads. Every business, every situation is different. And some people can be rewarded significantly by investing in the right ads in the right places.

  6. Jenn,

    I’m a new fan of your blog and IG. I just connected with your IG podcast on Social Media Examiner. I’m completely new to this social media marketing and I’m trying to take in as much info as I can. I actually emailed you not to long ago. Hope to hear from you soon! Can’t wait to learn more from you.

    1. Hi Marybeth! Welcome to the blog 🙂 I’m so excited to have you here and hope you continue to enjoy what I share.
      I just responded to your email and look forward to talking to you more!

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