Did you know that marketing your company doesn’t have to be hard or expensive?

In fact, with a little creativity you can generate some serious interest in your company that can lead to more traffic, more customers and more money.

While a lot of business owners think those results would be awesome, especially on a beer budget, they often make some pretty silly mistakes when it comes to marketing—mistakes that are easily avoidable.

Let me share with you 20 of these mistakes and how you can avoid them, with examples of companies who’ve successfully employed these marketing tactics.

Mistake #1: Avoiding Self-Promotion

The number one mistake you can make when it comes to marketing is not doing it. The reasons why you might not do it are numerous.

For example, you might think you have a great product, and that over time people will learn about it. A lot of people have blown up that theory like Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz. People aren’t going to learn about your great product unless you tell them.

Other companies may avoid marketing because the CEO or the founders don’t feel comfortable promoting themselves. That’s a shame, especially if you have a great product. This is one of the reasons why I recommend all startups should have two founders—if one doesn’t like talking crap, the other one should.

In the early days of my first company ACS (we provided marketing services), I used to write blog posts about companies who were messing up their internet marketing. I did this with Like.com back in 2006. Shortly after I published the post, the CEO called me and hired our company. Since this strategy worked so well, I tried it with other big name companies like Yahoo and closed on about half of those contacts.

So, don’t be afraid to talk crap and promote yourself.

Mistake #2: Hold Secrets Close To The Vest

Google is probably the king of holding secrets close to the vest, but they’re big and can afford to. The rest of us need to reach out and give away the farm.

For example, at my first company I used to email companies and tell them in a systematic, step-by-step process how to fix their website problems and generate more traffic.

Not many of the companies I emailed responded, but Tech Crunch did.

That led to a contract with Tech Crunch to do all of their online marketing (growing their traffic by 30% in 60 days), which I was then able to use their name to hook onto other big name companies like Viacom.

Don’t be afraid to email companies and potential customers that you think you can help. What’s the worst thing that they can do… ignore your email?

Marketing Mistake #3: Closing In The Garden

While some big companies like the New York Times can get away with a pay wall, that can lead to disastrous results for you. It may not ruin your chances of success, but it can sure slow down the adoption of your product by willing customers.

Readability didn’t get the traction they needed until they pulled down their pay wall. And just because you are making the sign up free doesn’t mean you can’t ask the user for something.

Simply Measured, for example, used to let you sign up for free—only if you tweet about them. Naturally, that will generate more sign ups and tweets as more and more people are exposed to their message.

But Simply Measured doesn’t stop there. They upsell you into a paid plan once you are hooked on their products.

DropBox does the same thing by giving a limited edition of their product away. They encourage people to invite other users. People usually exceed their storage limits and upgrade to a paid plan because they love DropBox.

Marketing Mistake #4: Ignoring SEO

Startups and small businesses are in a great position to leverage SEO, but so many push this strategy to the back burner.

That’s unfortunate because a high ranking on Google can lead to more visitors to your website. I understand why a lot of companies don’t invest in SEO—it can be very expensive to hire a marketing firm.

The nice thing about SEO these days is that there is so much information about it you can easily do it yourself. You can read a Beginner’s Guide to SEO to get the basics and then over time learn about advanced techniques like attracting high-authority back links or as in the case of …

Code Academy, which is a startup that leverages SEO, particularly the effective use of keywords:

From the title, to the title tag, to the description you’ll find a powerful use of keywords that put them on the top of search rankings. Now that’s really pretty simple!

Marketing Mistake #5: Don’t Think You Need A Blog

I don’t care what kind of business you are in—whether a very narrow niche or a huge mass appeal—you can benefit from blogging.

Fortune 500 companies like Marriot Hotels and Coca Cola have very effective blogs that bring in visitors, generate interaction and retain customers.

Our blog at KISSmetrics generates over 70% of our monthly traffic. That traffic generates leads for our sales team who then close on customers.

To do a blog correctly, though, you need to the following:

  • Host the blog on your site (yourdomain.com/blog)
  • Write high-quality content that is 90% useful to your readers. The other 10% can be used for promotions.
  • Respond to each blog comment. This will create trust and a community.

Marketing Mistake #6: Not Getting Local Search

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, search on Google has gotten hyper-personal. For instance, your results are tailored to your location.

How can you leverage local search? One way I did this was to claim that Hyatt Hotel in Seattle where I live, as the location of my business.

This has led my business to appear when you search under that keyword: “Hyatt Hotel in Seattle.” I landed one enterprise customer worth $120,000 for my company.

Not too shabby for a little tweak I made with local search.

Marketing Mistake #7: Snubbing Social Networks

Most people who are not in marketing will think that social media is just a waste of time. They think it’s a never-ending cocktail party where work never gets done.

That’s unfortunate, because building up a profile on the popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ can lead to a good source of traffic, new opportunities and ultimately customers.

Over at KISSmetrics we have built up all of our profiles on social media, and that effort sends us about 30% of our traffic. And other than the time we spend keeping up with these networks, there is no cost to us.

You can build up your profiles quickly by sharing good content you create and find online. It may take about six to twelve months before your profiles become popular, so be patient.

Marketing Mistake #8: Avoiding Guest Author Opportunities

One of the easiest, most popular and most proven methods to getting exposure, traffic and leads is to write guest posts for other blogs. That’s why it just doesn’t make sense that more people don’t do this.

There is plenty of opportunity out there. Sites like Huffington Post, Problogger and Lifehacker are always looking for new and fresh content.

Another simple way to find a guest blogging opportunity is to simply search “guest blogging opportunities [enter your industry].” Once you find a few sites that could use your guest posts, you should check out their guidelines.

Not only will guest blogging get you exposure and traffic to your site, you’ll also get links to your site that will boost your SEO efforts.

Marketing Mistake #9: Misusing Happy Customers

Too many companies create happy customers and then fail to leverage their happiness. That is truly missing an awesome opportunity to turn those customers into advocates.

Contact a few of your happy customers and ask them if you can do a case study for them. This is essentially how MarketingSherpa built their business.

When a successful campaign occurred, they would then flip them into a case study. As they generated interest in their company more and more companies started signing up. Eventually big companies came calling after seeing all the success they were having.

But you don’t have to do a formal case study to leverage happy customers. Testimonials are also powerful tools. Satisfied customers are eager to share their excitement about your company, so make sure you capture and promote that excitement.

Marketing Mistake #10: Ignoring Beginners

Some companies have an elite attitude that ignores beginners, thinking that going after the experts will make them exclusive, elite and big time players. This will usually backfire since you insult the beginners and have to focus on a smaller market.

Instead, treat beginners like royalty and you can then cultivate them into being loyal customers. The trick to doing this is creating “beginner guides.” Don’t let the name fool you. These guides could be short or long, but one thing they all share in common is how detailed they are.

Once you create a high-quality guide, give it away. This will generate exposure, traffic and lots of link to your site.

SEOmoz wrote a great beginner’s guide on SEO. This book ranks high in the search engines:

Click through and you get to their landing page where you can read the guide or download it. Of course SEOmoz included a call to action to join their PRO service for free on the same page:

Marketing Mistake #11: Afraid Of Speaking At Conferences

We got over 80% of our new clients through my speaking at conferences with my first company, in turn convincing many companies to hire us.

On any given year our company could spend $100,000 on flights and hotels. That might sound like a lot, but some of these companies that we acquired were paying us 1.2 million dollars a year. For the most part, that $100,000 was our marketing budget since speaking at conferences generated us so much business.

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend that much money to make conferences work for you. Just search for some speaking opportunities in your city. But often times it’s not the money that will stop people from speaking at conferences, but its fear of speaking in public.

To be honest, everyone starts off being scared of talking to an audience of strangers, but after a while you get used to it. However, if you can’t get over that fear, encourage someone else in your company to do it. It will pay off big!

Marketing Mistake #12: Not Tapping Into Affiliates

Affiliate programs are great for start ups and small businesses that don’t have a budget. For a cut of the profit, these partners will promote and sell your product. That cut of the profit motivates these sellers, so in a lot of ways affiliate marketing is performance-based marketing.

Penny stock trader super star Timothy Sykes uses affiliate programs to generate about $13,000 a month from affiliates.

This is also how Groupon was able to market their service, and grow their company. In fact, it was when they turned on their affiliate marketing program that they were able to grow like mad from 2009 to 2010.

Affiliate marketing is perfect for cash-strapped companies because it doesn’t cost anything to run these programs.

Marketing Mistake #13: Failing To Network

Let’s say you can’t speak at a conference. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend one. These events are going on all the time throughout the year, and they are excellent opportunities to meet new people, build relationships and close business.

Not everyone you meet will lead to business, but for every person you meet you suddenly know everyone they know. In other words, they might not be able to help you, but somebody they know could. You just need to ask them, but you need the relationship first.

One time I attended a conference in Santa Monica where I met a guy named Francisco Dao. After spending time together we realized it would be a good idea to collaborate. I hired him to run a conference company I co-owned. He made the company several hundred thousands of dollars, and eventually started his own company.

Don’t neglect to attend a ton of conferences every year. Get your name out there. You’ll never know what kind of connection you can make, if you don’t get out there.

Marketing Mistake #14: Refusing To Comment On Blogs

I meet a lot of people who think that commenting on blogs is a waste of time. It’s time consuming they say, and they have a hard time figuring out how it adds to the bottom line.

That’s when I name drop a long list of successful companies like Mashable that made blog commenting a huge marketing strategy. Pete Cashmore made Mashable popular because he would leave detailed and insightful comments on other blogs like TechCrunch. Over time he left hundreds of comments. People would see his comments and then follow him over to his blog.

This is a simple and inexpensive tactic that helps to generate traffic to your website. Pencil in about 30 minutes a day to leave comments on other blogs.

Marketing Mistake #15: Missing Out On Message Boards

People need help. And they go online all the time to look for that help. Some people just use Google, that’s why SEO is so important. Other people head over to their favorite message board or Q+A site like Quora to get answers to their problems.

This means there is a huge opportunity to find potential customers. If you devoted a half hour a day to answering questions related to your product and how it can solve people’s problems, you’d be amazed at the business you could generate.

The SEO marketing firm Single Grain is doing this effectively. Each day they answer ten companies on a marketing message board, which has lead to about a 3% conversion rate for their consultation work. When one job equals five figures a year, that’s a pretty good return on minimal effort.

Bonehead Marketing Mistake #16: Refusing Referrals

Think about it: if you can get your business to run off of referrals, then you don’t have to do any marketing. All your clients come from recommendations from satisfied customers.

Now how’s that for an inexpensive way to generate business? Thing is, not a lot of companies have effective referral programs in place. Or they don’t have programs at all.

That’s leaving a lot of money on the table.

It’s really quite simple. Just email them after you’ve completed a project they are happy with and ask them for a referral. Or follow them on LinkedIn, see who they are connected to, and ask for an introduction.

Digital Telepathy is a company that does a great job of asking for referrals. They re-designed one of my company’s websites. I loved what they did so naturally I gave them about six recommendations when they asked.

And that’s the key: they asked.

Marketing Mistake #17: Forgetting About YouTube

The kind of traction you can get on YouTube is huge. Just look at a company like Blendtec. They’ve been using videos to build a great company and it all pretty much started when they dropped an iPhone into one of their blenders.

Of course they were grinding up bricks and stuff before that, showing off how powerful their product was. Some of those videos got 3 million views. But it was the iPhone that went viral and got a lot of attention. That led to appearances on Jay Leno and other talk shows.

But going viral isn’t the only great thing about YouTube. Videos are an obvious option for companies who sell products where you have to demonstrate how to use it. But videos are also great for SEO purposes too. You can actually generate top rankings with a properly optimized video.

Marketing Mistake #18: Never Slashing Prices

Offering a steep discount might cut into your profit margins, but think about the exposure you can get if bring in a ton of new customers. That’s your opportunity to turn those new visitors into loyal patrons.

This is where tapping a service like Groupon or Living Social can give you a major boost in leads.

Not long ago a friend of mine created an event called Tomato Battle. His strategy was to get 2,000 people to sign up. He charged $59 for a ticket, but with Groupon and Living Social he slashed prices 50%.

He sold over 1,000 tickets in a few short days. The Groupon deal closed, and so word spread that people could buy tickets at his website. He sold about a 1,000 more at the regular price. He’s never had to do another discount because his event is so popular.

Positioning your product with a great offer is guaranteed to not only get you sales, but also generate tons of exposure for you. People love to share great deals with their friends, families and social networks.

Marketing Mistake #19: Overlooking Exceptional Customer Service

Lots of companies focus on creating the killer product. What they fail to do is support that product adequately on the back end, after the sale. That leads to poor customer service, which leads to unsatisfied customers and bad word of mouth.

That’s too bad, because you can improve the lifetime value of your customers by giving them extraordinary customer service. Zappos is a famous example of a company with great customer service. Their customer service reps are trained not to ask question when someone wants to return a product. And often they’ll automatically upgrade your shipping to next day air for free.

Great customer service is a critical component in a successful marketing plan. It can create happy customers who can then become an advocate and a raving fan — which doesn’t cost you a dime!

So invest in giving your customers the best possible experience ever.

Marketing Mistake #20: Lazy About Getting Press

Startups can be guilty of being obsessed with making their products better and assume that the press will come knocking at their door as a result. For anybody who’s been in that position knows, that just never happens. You have to get off your butt and go after the press.

The cool thing about getting press is that these companies are looking for news. They want to hear about your great company. You just have to pitch them your idea.

Naturally, when you get press, that will drive traffic to your website.

But don’t just focus on the big players. Look to bloggers too, who can really be a stepping stone to getting the attention of big media. Email them and ask if they’ll interview you. Not everyone will do that, but eventually someone will say yes.

One time I emailed Search Engine Journal to see if they wanted to interview me. They said yes, published the interview, which in turn drove traffic to our KISSmetrics blog. From that traffic we picked up several customers.

Don’t be afraid to make yourself available for interviews. The worse someone could do is ignore your email.


Marketing doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. It really only requires you to be creative. I hope that my sample of companies in this blog post who’ve been successful in using these techniques have helped you to see that you should avoid simple marketing mistakes—and just jump in!

The time you invest will be worth it!

Do you know of any other boneheaded marketing mistakes to avoid?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the VP of Marketing of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.