This is a hot topic, Scott, so let’s get started. There are tons of ways to get yourself noticed on the Internet – and lots of companies eager to separate you from your marketing dollars. But I think a few very inexpensive basics can make a huge difference:
First, make your own site as professional as possible. No typos, no goofy images. All your other efforts will bring Web users back here, so make your site informative, visually clean and reflective of the business image you want to portray. Think of it as your storefront; if it doesn’t look attractive and clean, customers will walk out ASAP. I think Brad Fallon does a good job explaining the hows and whys here: http://www.bradfallon.com/articles/whywebsites.html
Second, follow the basics of search-engine optimization just to make sure that your site can be found in any of the major search engines. The words you use, the items you post all matter. There’s a wealth of good information at http://www.seochat.com.
OK, now you’ve laid the groundwork by creating a website with power and one that can be found. Next, there are a few other easy steps you can take that don’t require a massive amount of time (and you might even find them fun). For one, set yourself up on the social networks – LinkedIn and Facebook, in particular – to make sure you are connecting to potential partners and customers.
On LinkedIn, you’ll be able to more blatantly advertise your services, grab recommendations from friends and build your business network. On Facebook, you’ll find more of a personal bent, but as we move increasingly to a world where work and play overlap, there is still plenty of advantage to be had on Facebook. George Kao does a great job showing how to use these social networks in a free training. Learn more at http://georgekao.com/
You’ll notice you’ve spent very little money so far, just the cost of your domain name and hosting. (By the way, don’t add the bells and whistles on hosting; basic service works just fine for most businesses and you can always order more later).
Now comes the real advice: Be generous. Very generous. Create a blog that offers advice for free in your area of expertise. Troll the Web for questions and become a go-to helper. Sign up as an expert on http://www.Squidoo.com.
Then go back and write about the problem and your solution on your blog. If one person has that problem, others will too. You can venture out into the physical world as well, teaching people about your area.
I’m sure you get the picture by now: When you give of yourself, becoming the expert in your sphere of influence, you end up with people searching for you. Unselfishness actually is a great marketing strategy online. When they search for you – or stumble across you in the search engines – your marketing is free, credible and honest.