Want to promote yourself or your business? REAL SIMPLE. REAL LIFE. expert Nicole Williams offers six simple, effective ways to become the marketing guru you never had the money to hire.

By Real Simple
Updated November 20, 2008
Annie Schlecter

1. Make sure your message is clear. You've heard it before―you only have about three seconds to make a lasting impression. “You should be able to explain and sell yourself in that amount of time or less,” says Williams. Every thing that has to do with your business―from the sign-offs in the emails you send out, to the way you dress, to the signage on your door―should reflect your brand.

2. Break out the power tools. Why do successful people all have business cards? Web sites? Media kits? Because these tools work. “You should have all of these weapons in your arsenal,” says Williams, “and your supporters should, too.” Arm those around you with the tools they need to sell your service―or at least to pique interest―when the opportunity arises.

3. Look for opportunities in obvious places. The grocery store, the coffee shop, the bank, the gym… Many places you frequent on a regular basis are marketing opportunities waiting to happen, says Williams. “Strike up conversations wherever you go, asking everyone you can if they know someone who might benefit from your business.”

4. Use your network. “I'm not talking about scouring LinkedIn and Facebook for the friend of a friend who knows someone who can help you out,” says Williams. “I'm talking about going to the people who are right in front of you―friends and family―and inspiring them to be invested in your business. Make sure they understand the benefit of your business and ask them to reach out to people on your behalf by handing out cards or posting flyers at the places they visit on a day-to-day basis. Here are a handful of your biggest life supporters, eager to see you succeed. What are you waiting for?”

5. Give a little to get a lot. Of course, people like those who do favors for them―but we sometimes forget that they often feel obligated to reciprocate. “Take a look around your neighborhood,” says Williams. “Which customers would come back if they were given one freebie? Which businesses might buy your services if you put them in touch with a key player? Simple, inexpensive gestures can build brand loyalty and help generate good word of mouth.”

6. Go for the piggyback. Just because you don't have the marketing budget you need doesn't mean someone else doesn't. Make a list of the goods and services in your area that complement your business and look to these companies for cross-promotional opportunities. Can you co-sponsor their event? Will they put your coupons in their shopping bags? “In life, this is called mooching,” says Williams. “In business, it's called genius.”