Financial Data
Updated 30 Sep 2020

Free marketing for business owners

Marketing your small business doesn’t have to break the bank. There are plenty of free marketing strategies you can implement. Start by putting a few of these marketing ideas into action, and go from there.

Anneke van Aswegen, 03 November 2015  Share  0 comments  Print

All the answers to your unique business lifestage questions

Unless you’ve scored a huge investment for your start-up, you probably don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing. Even if your business has been around for a while, a limited marketing budget could hinder your business growth.

Many small businesses fail due to lack of an effective marketing and sales program. But there’s good news, marketing your small business doesn’t have to break the bank.

If you don’t have a lot of cash and you’re trying to market your company, don’t worry. Plenty of companies have succeeded in the past without spending much money on marketing.  With the right tools you can maximise your different types of marketing strategies and achieve better sales results.

Related: Working with your numbers

Here are 10 ways you can do marketing in South Africa for free. We’ll also give you examples of companies who have succeeded using each tactic.

Content in this guide

Free marketing idea 1: Small business networking events in South Africa

South -African -flag -marketing -opportunities

In this day and age business networking is one of the most important things you can do. Go to local networking events talk up your business face-to-face. Simply being associated with other influencers and leaders in your industry can significantly enhance your authority and personal brand. Keep a list of upcoming industry events and build relationships with key people in your industry.

Remember, it’s not the size of your network that’s important, it’s the influence of the people within your network that counts. The best networkers have figured out that the ideal or optimum way to get connected to right people, is to deliberately target them. So, do your research and make a list of the most influential people in your marketplace. Then, put a plan together that will allow you to earn their attention.

You might have to try several networking groups to find the right fit for you and your business, but it’s worth your time. Such a networking group does not need to be expensive to join, in fact there are a number of groups in South Africa that are absolutely free /or have nominal charges.

BNI members generate billions of rand worth of business for each other. BNI is a business and professional referral organisation that allows only one person from each profession to join a chapter. You could be that one person.

  • The Small Business Forum (SBF) is an independent network of entrepreneurs and small business owners. They encourage and support the creation, growth and development of small businesses in South Africa.
  • The National Small Business Chamber (nsbc) helps small businesses connect and network by inviting them to events and academic business get-togethers. For a yearly fee of only R 1,250 you can include up to 100 of your employees.
  • The South Africa Social & Business Network is an exchange platform that comes together once a month to talk business. Membership is completely free, with events in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
  • Business Women’s Association (BWA) is an organisation of business and professional women connecting and supporting each other via an exchange of ideas and opportunities.
  • EGN South Africa sets itself apart from other networks through its confidentiality, professionalism, expertise and focus.
  • South African Association of Business Communities (SAABC) believe that building a business network of like-minded people with similar values creates a unique bond and sense of belonging.

Example of achieving success with networking

Xtraordinary Women’s Network (XWN)is a platform that supports and inspires women in business to connect and grow their company’s.  XWN member, Nedine Pieters, is an example of such a small business owner.

She moved from Gauteng to Cape Town, with no clients, no prospects and no friends, but she was determined to start a business in the image-consulting industry. She knew that meant going out and meeting new people.

During her attendance at Xtraordinary Women’s Network she started her business and grew her own network of loyal clients. Pieters, who owns Creative Styling Solutions, says what sets the network apart is the fact that while networking is considered to be work, the XWN makes it fun and places emphasis on building relationships.

Related: Plan for profit

Free marketing idea 2: Speak at conferences

Speaking -at -a -convention

Speaking engagements, big or small, provide you the opportunity to educate people about your products, services, and industry. Whether it’s a speaking engagement or a local Meetup, always say “yes” to participate as a speaker. It’s a great opportunity to get your brand in front of potential new customers.

Free advertising idea 3: Email marketing South Africa

Email marketing is a great way to get new clients to engage with your business, as well as maintain relationships with existing customers. It’s extremely cost effective and one of the most powerful marketing tools available to small businesses. This is because it provides predictable results and costs little or nothing to use.

Email marketing is still one of the quickest, most direct way to communicate with leads and customers. You need to continually collect prospects and customer contact information to grow you database and follow-up on a regular basis.

Step 1. Start collecting emails

If you’re not already doing this, here is a number of very simple ways you can build a contact list.

  • Clear opt-in forms on your website
  • Promote online contests
  • Add opt-in to email signatures
  • Encourage current subscribers to forward and share your emails
  • Leverage other marketing channels like social media and video

Step 2. Choose your email tools

Next you need to choose your platform. There are countless email marketing services out there and they all have their own benefits and drawbacks, depending on your specific needs. These are some free email marketing software programs and solutions you can try out:

  • Mailchimp has gained great insight into what works and what doesn’t. They even have a tool that allows you to plug in keywords or phrases you’re considering for a subject line and see how well they perform for other users.
  • Constant Contact is one of the most comprehensive email marketing application on the web, with a variety of ancillary tools, such as surveys and event marketing. You can get started for as little as R 201 per month, after the initial 60-day free trial.
  • Visual Website Optimizer offers a variety of paid and free testing tools and case-studies for marketers.
  • Create your own templates with Campaign Monitor’s easy-to-use template builder for R120 per month.
  • Scope creates a web-based version of any email you choose and reveals its HTML source code. You can inspect your competitors email renderings in plain text.
  • Email Spam Test allows you to test your email against spam filters. This is a must have. Your readers can’t enjoy your email marketing when it gets indexed as spam.

It’s recommended that you only send email messages every 7 to 14 days because people hate being bombarded with information, even if it is great information. The kinds of emails that get the best response include:

  • Emails that educate
  • Emails that share content offers
  • Emails that help people improve
  • Emails that ask questions which prompt responses
  • Emails that re-engage stale subscribers and leads
  • Emails that promote an event, promotion or sale
  • Email that’s are personal and address individual needs.

Example of achieving success with email marketing

Charity: Water

When people talk about email marketing, lots of them forget to mention transactional emails. These are automated emails you get in you inbox when taking a certain action on a website. Charity: Water used automated emails to show donors how their money is making an impact over time. With the project timeline and accompanying table. You can just scan the email and know immediately where you are in the whole process.


BuzzFeed uses awesomely written subject lines and preview text to support their marketing efforts. They are always short and punchy, for e.g. if the subject line is a question, the preview text is the answer. Or if the subject line is a command (Get up! Get up Now!), the preview text seems like the next logical thought right after it.

Related: The income statement

Free marketing idea 4: Ask for referrals

Referral -marketing -techniques

If you already have customers ask them for referrals. It’s a pretty effective approach as long as your current customers are happy with you. You’ll be surprised to find that only a small percentage of your customers will not be willing to make introductions. If a large portion tells you no, it means that you could be doing a better job of making them happy.

Free marketing idea 5: Becoming a thought leader

Personal branding is key when you are an entrepreneur because the founder of the business and the actual business is strongly linked. You have to make sure your personal brand is excellent because it’s all about your reputation in the market.

If you want to share your insights and learning with the market, establish yourself as a thought leader, it’s a profoundly valuable tool to do so. You need to build multiple media platforms in which you can demonstrate your expertise:

  • Write articles
  • Speaking at events
  • Joining conferences
  • Guest posting on blogs

This is a great way to gain exposure, for example a radio station might contact you asking for an on-air interview because of an article you wrote and now a television station wants to speak to you because they heard you speak on the radio. It all adds up and becomes a web of marketing platforms.

If you are not able to buy an ad in a magazine or a spot on radio station you could rather opt to contribute with your knowledge by releasing content consistently. This will attract beneficial PR relationships and you won’t have to rely on someone else’s relationships.

Example of achieving success with thought leadership

Douglas Kruger is a professional speaking and author of Own your industry – how to position yourself as an expert.He literally went out and wrote a book on the subject, but he had to start somewhere. He established himself as a thought leader by saying “yes” to speaking engagements and writing articles.

Celynn Erasmus, founder and developer of Wellculator, publishes articles on Linkedin. Sharing her knowledge and expertise freely on this social media platform exposes her prospects to her unique contributions and expertise.

Related: 4 Marketing changes you should make today

Free advertising idea 6: Content marketing

Content -marketing

Content marketing is a free marketing solution for effectively explaining products or services in an interesting way. The more valuable content you give away the more deals you’ll close. If you want to increase your conversions, then start captivating your target audience by providing them with the information they’re seeking.

Start a blog and blog regularly

These days it’s rare to encounter a thought leader that doesn’t have an engaging and authoritative blog. Blogging will help your business stay top of mind by putting out regular content. Host the blog on your domain name and write good content, making sure to respond to each blog comment.

Commenting on blogs is a great way to get your website some needed exposure

For this to work, you have to leave comments on blogs that are related to your website, and the comments you leave has to be insightful.

Write beginner’s guides to help build credibility

Guides are detailed and fairly long pieces of content. Guides can be helpful bait for harvesting email addresses: “I’ll give you this awesome beginner guide when you register your email address”.

Provide valuable webinars

They can often pull in larger audience numbers because they are more likely to attract the busy and reluctant audience. If you continually provide value, your webinar audience will grow.

The content on your website has to encourage people to completely trust you and see you in a wholly professional light. Thought leadership pieces are the core to a good content marketing strategy. They position your company as a leader, which will immediately draw credit to your business.

Example of achieving success with content marketing

Standardbank bizconnect consistently publishes valuable content on their portal, providing readers with all the information they’ll need to start, manage and grow their business. They aim to keep you updated with the latest news, trends, statistics and solutions in the field of business, finance and franchising.

Related: The ultimate test for your company culture

Free marketing idea 7: Digital marketing solutions

Digital -marketing -solutions

Digital marketing tools and techniques provide business owners the best chance for competition and business growth. Digital marketing is the promotion of products or brands via one or more forms of electronic media

  • Apply online for Business Awards: This is a cost-effective way to garner some PR for your company. It also validates who you are as a brand, as well as adding credibility to your business. You can apply for awards such as your local top business awards and Deloitte’s top 50 awards.
  • Google Local should be used to claim the location of your offices so that when customers are searching for your business online, they can immediately see where you reside. This gives them peace of mind, knowing you are a “real company”.
  • For a relatively inexpensive investment, well-placed digital adscan help you effectively target potential customers. You only have to pay for the number of clicks you get.
  • Reviews: Considering many people read online reviews before trying a product or service, it makes sense that you set up a free account on directory sites such as Yelp and Citysearch.

Free online automation tools for marketing

Leadsius: Their strength lies in website visitor tracking and analytics, because that’s where the company first began. Other features include:

  • Lead nurturing and qualification
  • Lead management and analysis
  • Email marketing
  • Landing pages
  • Web forms creator
  • Contact data base

Sales Autopilot: Offers complete functionality for free and can expand up to two million emails a month. Features include:

  • Email marketing
  • Integrated email, SMS and direct mail campaigns
  • Lead nurturing
  • Sales process management
  • Customer targeting
  • Process management
  • Automated marketing campaigns
  • ERP integration
  • Call centre integration
  • Built-in CRM
  • Built-in e-commerce
  • A/B testing
  • Website customisation/personalisation
  • Landing pages
  • Survey Polls

Azuqua: A very young company melting marketing, sales and customer support into a single set of activities with different focus in each. Features include:

  • Automation of workflows
  • CRM integration
  • Social integration (excl. Facebook for now)
  • Personalisation

Example of achieving success with digital marketing

A multitude of businesses in South Africa utilises digital marketing to grow their business, particularly e-commerce companies. For example, online retail company Zando utilises many digital marketing principles to market their business, including social media sites, pay per click ads and shopping cart optimisation. 

Related: 3 Must-haves for your company website

Free marketing idea 8: Word of mouth

Word -of -mouth -marketing

Let your customers do the marketing. Nothing can ever replace word of mouth marketing and the powerful effect it has on your business. You can ignite this initial chain reaction and keep the fire burning by:

  • Creating a customer loyalty program. Woolworths and Pick n Pay is great at this.
  • Run contests that encourage people to tell their friends.
  • Offer amazing service that keeps the customer coming back.
  • Ask them for help. Be real and explain what you’re trying to do, transparency is key.

Free marketing idea 9: Video

Using video, especially “how to” videos, will help engage visitors for a longer period of time, allowing your brand message to sink in. Video is very searchable and shareable, placing increased likely hood that your website content will be found, shared and gain popularity. Suzelle DIY is a great example of using video and Youtube for marketing.

How to use video for marketing:

  • Use video tutorials to show how your product and/or service adds value
  • Put videos on your product page to demonstrate how your product works
  • Use video customer testimonials to increase trustworthiness
  • Add a call to action on your video
  • Add your video to Youtube and optimise it for search engine optimisation

You can find people that will create a nice video for you for R65 a piece at

Free marketing idea 10: Leverage social networks

Social -media -marketing

Besides having a website, you should use popular social networking sites to distribute your message and create brand awareness. Twitter and Facebook are invaluable for describing existing products, introducing new products, offering promotions and announcing sales.

Set business goals for your social media, ensure these social goals solve challenges. Focus on networks that will add value to your business. Just because a network has billions of users doesn’t mean it will have a direct contribution to your brand’s objectives. Focus your efforts on networks that hold the key to your target audience and objectives.

Make it easy for visitors to share a page with their friends on social networks or via email by:

  • Including your website on all your social networks.
  • Use social logins to allow users to sign up for and log into your website, app, list or service through their social accounts.
  • Get your customers to share their purchase with their social networks, you’ll improve trust and expand your audience.
  • Use Facebook ads to capture attention and promote special deals. Your website will benefit from increased exposure and you can capture information about your customers and prospective customers. This gives you the ability to generate hot leads for your business. Facebook ads can be shared amongst friends, which will dramatically increase participation, leading to business referrals and increased conversions.

Even though these different types of marketing strategies are mostly free, it’s still important that you track the results and effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Every business is different. Start with putting a few of these marketing ideas into action, and go from there.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Marketing is about refining and zeroing in on the method that works for you. If your first attempts doesn’t turn out the way you hoped don’t get discouraged, Evaluate and determine what you can fine tune. 

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About the author

Anneke van Aswegen

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