Updated: Apr 19, 2022
Advertising is an integral part of any Calgary business - you need to reach people with your message, otherwise you're just crossing your fingers that someone will look for you. Alternatively, you need to purchase a storefront with excellent existing traffic... but those store fronts will cost a premium for just that reason.
So what are some of the most effective free advertising options in Calgary? That depends on your business, products, how specific you are, and more. There is no one silver bullet in all of advertising, and the same conventions for great messaging apply no matter what medium you're using. But here are some "free" options to get your business's word out.
Free advertising listing sites, like Kijiji, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace. These can be great places to advertise your Calgary business for free, services, or products, but be sure to include lots of pictures, and create a message that differentiates you. Also be mindful that these free advertising marketplaces are generally thought of for discounts, used, and inexpensive services, so if you're a premium carpenter looking to move your high end furniture, be ready to compete with used stuff and make sure people understand the value of what you've produced. Use hierarchical writing (most important information first) and take very detailed images of your products. Perhaps even show images of the product creation process, people may see more value if they see how it's made and what it took to get to the finished product. These free advertising sites are also incredibly saturated with some kinds of services, so you'll need to re-post your ad often to ensure you don't fall off the front pages into advertisement oblivion.
Facebook & LinkedIn business pages. Create a free business page to advertise your business on Facebook or LinkedIn, and include the most important contact information, hours, etc. Make sure your Calgary business description includes your unique value proposition- avoid cliches like free parking, lowest price guarantees, friendly service, and lists of products out. Sure people need to know what you have to an extent, but as will any advertising, free or paid, you need to surprise your audience with something to make you stand out. Why did you get in business in the first place? The challenge with these free advertising platforms is that you need to create compelling content, including credible, interesting written articles, great engagement pieces, high quality production photos and videos, and you have to have content good enough to get shared and commented on organically. Time spent creating free advertising content can have a time-cost associated to it, but these are free platforms to get your message out.
Community bulletin boards. If you have a service based business, especially for end users (not business to business), a free advertisement on a Community bulletin board could work for you. Again include the most important information in an easy to read format, and make it pop out. The downside of these free advertising boards is that they can be crowded and usually require some approval. Not to mention they are not very engaging, hard to stand out, and you'll have extremely limited space to make your case.
Earned media. This is one of the most challenging but successful free advertising options, but you truly must have a revolutionary or compelling business to be spotlighted. If you're disrupting an industry you may have a chance. If you have more of a regular business such as landscaping, and you really aren't disrupting anything, don't expect to be news worthy. One of the best examples of earned media I can think of was for a client I worked with called Skip The Depot. They are a convenience play on bottle returns, you schedule pick-up and they come take your bottles away and e-transfer you the money. It's a disruptive and brilliant idea, and certainly was news worthy. They were picked up by multiple news outlets and app downloads sky rocketed due to the free publicity, which functioned as free advertising.
Message boards and social groups. For example, do you run an RV repair shop? Maybe you should look for groups on Facebook related to camping. When people ask about issues with their trailers, answer their questions with solid information and invite them to PM you if they need help. Selling furniture? Join groups about interior design, answer questions about new color schemes, popular fabrics, and best practices when doing room layouts. By building credibility here you can drive traffic inbound when people just don't want to do the work themselves, or when they need your "stuff".
Ultimately, most of these free advertising options require a lot of work. You need to be closely monitoring to make sure your free advertisements stay at the top of classified boards. You need to devote time to creating compelling content on social media, not just selling stuff. People don't want to be sold, they want to see your products in action, and they want to be entertained!
Free advertising in Calgary can be had, but ultimately if you have to pay someone to create content, re-post, print, earn media, and engage with your audience community, there can be a much larger cost associated with free. If you even have to employ a part time, qualified marketing person making (modestly) $30/hr, those costs ad up, and ultimately you will get what you pay for. A part time marketing person does not have the opportunity to get to know your business intimately. If you, as the business owner, want to handle much of this yourself, you'll begin to realize that taking advantage of free advertising, and making it work for you, is a full time job in itself. You may need to focus your efforts on the other aspects of your business.
Consider the costs in time, employment, graphic design software, printing, and more, and quantify these costs to yourself. Use real dollars associated with these free advertising platforms and you may realize you could have diverted your investment to a proven, measurable, paid advertising platform, such as digital display, radio, television, social media, etc. If you can re-direct those costs to a turn key medium where those platforms provide high quality production, such professionally produced radio ads, you may find yourself way ahead of the game and able to focus on your day-to-day within your business, while your advertisements reach your audience.
Contact us if you want to consider radio or digital advertising, or have questions about the effectiveness of the free options listed here. We can help cut through the noise and inform your decisions.