Market Your Online Startup for Next to Nothing

There is an ever-increasing number of people that are utilizing the Web to support or altogether run their businesses.

However, setting up your online storefront is not the last hurdle an e-business owner faces. Once an online presence is established, there is still the matter of marketing your business and selling your products.

Below are some tips that online entrepreneurs can use to maximize their marketing efforts. The first section below is comprised of recommendations that will cost entrepreneurs nothing at all; the second section offers tips that will exact small financial tolls.

Marketing for Free

  • Ask visitors to bookmark your site. A quick, low-cost strategy is to simply ask your visitors to bookmark your site, or save it in a “Favorites” list. Visitors who’ve bookmarked your site can find it faster and are more likely to visit again. The best way to get these visitors to return is to make regular updates to your site.
  • Take advantage of others’ forums and blogs. There are innumerable forums, discussion lists, blogs and news groups online. These are comprised of people with specialized interests. As such, you’ll be able to find quite a few that are dedicated to what you’re selling. Register and post about your online business.
  • Start a blog. Weblogs give you the opportunity to provide your visitors with new — perhaps more personal or pointed — content. Let your visitors know what’s going on with your store. Or, if you’re interesting (or even if not), let them know what you’re doing. (Just don’t write about the weather that day.)
  • Exchange banners and links with complementary sites. Contact others whose sites are related to yours, and exchange banners and other ads. Remember that there is a difference between competition and complementary sites.

    Competitive sites aim to take your visitors and your business. Complementary sites sell products that complement the ones you sell — they do not sell the same products you do. These help you reach a new audience. For example, if you run a DVD store, think about contacting sites that sell DVD players. Customers buying DVD players are going to need DVDs at some point.

  • Get visitors to subscribe to a mailing list. Visitors who sign up to receive e-mails from you are already interested in what you have to offer. It’s up to you to entice them to come back and become customers.
  • Send promotions, coupons, updates and offers to your customers. Existing customers are a valuable market for you. Solicit your customers to return by rewarding them with coupons and offers. Keep them interested with updates. You’ve already reached them — it’s up to you to give them a reason to come back.
  • Tell your friends. Word spreads quickly. Word of mouth is the most effective way to promote and advertise your store. It’s as easy as it sounds. Tell your friends — they’re the most difficult customers for your competition to take away from you.
  • Send out online press releases. Press releases are a great way to get some low-cost exposure on your Web site and build up your reverse links for search engine optimization. While purchasing media lists is a consideration, it is not a necessary expense.

    With some good, old-fashioned detective work, you can find the right contacts. Read your target publications to find appropriate contacts. Their e-mail addresses are usually listed beneath their byline. For follow up, you can usually find the main number on the publication’s Web site. If you’re following up with a local publication, just pick up the yellow pages.

Marketing at a Minimal Cost

  • Google and Yahoo ads. You can pay for ads with Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing. When you conduct a search using either of these search engines, take notice of the advertisements that come up to the right of the results. They are geared towards the search query you entered. You can pay to have your link come up as an advertisement whenever someone enters search words you pay for.
  • Advertising on blog sites. The blogosphere wields a lot of power and is a good way to connect with consumers with particular tastes. Starting your own blog is a good, free way to get your business name out there.

    For a little investment, you can advertise on blogs with influence on particular readerships., for instance, has low cost, high volume sites. Another thing to keep in mind is that blog readers are typically early adopters.

  • Get your site listed with targeted industry Web sites or directories. These are usually charged through a pay-per-click model. A great way to find them is searching keywords you target and see if there are directories or Web sites where you might be able to place yourself into.
  • Buy a direct e-mail list. This may be a little pricier — depending on the list — but it allows you to target your audience.
  • Check out content advertising networks. These are typically much cheaper per click than search engine clicks. Check out to see a good example.
  • Advertise on e-zine Web sites. Again, these are typically low-cost sites that produce visitors who are typically a little more Web savvy and more inclined to buy online.
  • Advertise on online shopping Web sites. Be sure you are unique here as this is where you will really need to stand out from some of the main players like eBay, and Wal-Mart.
  • Add your online store to online shopping malls. Typically you can do this for free, but it’s well worth the investment to pay for the add on such as getting featured listing. It will boost your traffic.
  • Create business cards. Often, people with online storefronts overlook traditional methods when marketing their businesses. Make sure to have personal printed media (e.g. stationery, business cards and print ads) pointing offline contacts to your Web site. Pass them out to friends, acquaintances, etc. and tell them to visit your store. If you don’t carry what they are looking for as them to e-mail you.

Sarath Samarasekera is CEO of, an e-commerce solution that enables entrepreneurs to set up an online retail business within minutes.

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