When you’re starting out in business (or even if you’ve been operating for a while) you’ll be told about free marketing opportunities. Social media, free website builders, free directories and networking events can all be seen as free marketing.

But there is a simple reality to keep in mind. There is no such thing as “free marketing”.

Even if it doesn’t cost you cash, it will take your time. And as we know, time is money.

When they first start out, business owners may be cash poor but have time to spare. With the excitement of their new business and the fresh canvas of marketing opportunities, they take on the marketing themselves. Social media management, newsletters, copy writing are all tasks that people can get started on easily. Some even build their own websites.

Free Marketing

This all takes the time of the business owner or a member of their team. Time to learn the skills associated with the marketing activities, and time to carry them out.

Very quickly, however, the demands on their time become more pressing and the marketing activities often become less consistent or get pushed down the to-do list. It’s at this point that it’s worth considering paying someone to manage these opportunities for you so you can concentrate on your business. So instead of paying with your time, you’re paying someone else for their time.

Paid advertising on the other hand doesn’t take as much time, but does cost money. Someone has already built the audience that you’re targeting and you pay them to get in front of that audience.  With a solid strategy and done well, paid advertising can generate faster results and bring in customers more quickly.

Costs of advertising opportunities can vary, but they do require financial investment.

It’s a classic “chicken or the egg” scenario. Without customers you don’t have the cashflow to pay for advertising or marketing support, but time spent on “free marketing” takes you away from your core business.

Either way, marketing is an investment that needs to be factored into your budget.

6 Considerations when weighing up paid vs “free” marketing.

1. Be Realistic About Your Skills and Expertise

Just because you can do something yourself, doesn’t mean you should. Be honest and realistic about your skills and expertise, and whether the time you invest will produce the quality of results you are after.

2. Put a value on the time you invest.

If you are doing it yourself, apply an hourly rate to the time you’re spending on marketing. If you are a service provider who charges by the hour, this is easy to do. If not, calculate the value of your time in some way to place a value on the time you’re investing. This will help you work out the true cost of the activity and whether it’s generating equal or greater value for your business. (It will also help you work out if it would be quicker, and therefore cheaper, to pay an expert).

3. Track the performance of your marketing activities

Digital analytics give you great power in measuring the effectiveness of marketing activities. Google Analytics and similar tools let you see the source of traffic to your website, and even track how many visitors take a specific action (eg make a purchase, make an enquiry, sign up for your email list).

These analytics let you understand which activities are having the greatest impact and generating the most income.

4. Measure the return on your marketing investment

Using the tracking information above, you can compare the resources invested (whether cash or time) to the income generated to measure the effectiveness of your activity.

5. Always consider the full cost of your marketing activity

To determine the true value of an activity, it’s important to measure the true cost. So while a paid ad might cost $1000, you also need to factor in design costs, admin and fulfilment costs. Having this true cost will let you measure the return more accurately.

6. Invest your time where it will give you the greatest return

Your strengths might not lie in marketing, but more in the delivery of your product or service. Work out where your efforts get the best results and have the biggest impact on the success of your business – and delegate the rest.