“Free advertising.”

It’s a phrase that gets tossed around a lot, especially if you work in public relations. And if you’re a company with a minimal—or even nonexistent—advertising budget, the phrase might appeal to you.

But when people talk about “free advertising,” they’re often referring to PR debacles and negative stories that went viral. “Sure, that company lost a lot of money, but they made up for it in free advertising.”

Anyone who says that any publicity is good publicity never worked in a small business. And that’s not the kind of free advertising you need as a small business owner. Instead, you should gravitate to marketing methods that are low-to-no cost with proven effectiveness—advertisements that don’t tarnish your reputation in the process.

Although many PR executives will have you believe that the only way to get free advertising is through publicity stunts and one-in-a-million viral hits, there are better ways small business can go about promoting their products or services.

Believe it or not, they do exist. And to prove it, we’ve put together a list of helpful advertising solutions that don’t require big advertising budgets and swanky P.R. firms on your payroll:

1. Offer Social Media Promotions

Coupons, sales, exclusive offers—if you can think of a way to create some value for your customers, then social media is the perfect platform for it. Social media promotions don’t only double as an effective tactic for attracting new followers, but they actually serve as a marketing tool as well. Although you might take a dip in sales thanks to a coupon or a reduced rate for your services, you still don’t have to spend anything except a few moments of your time when creating the promotion.

2. Register Your Business with Online Accounts

Yelp. Yahoo Local. Anything you can think of that might be looking for businesses like yours will make a great way to get your company’s name out there. You might not necessarily attract a thousand new customers in a day simply because you have a Yelp account, but it will increase your visibility, especially if you work in a local-based business that attracts local searches.

3. Send Out Press Releases

The art of the press release is a subtle one. It’s free to write a press release and submit it to the local newspaper, of course, but that often isn’t enough to get the kind of free advertising you’re really looking for. You have to have an engaging story to tell—something the newspapers will actually want to publish. That means looking at the various aspects of your business that are most unique. Is your product or service in a completely new niche? Have you recently completed some charity work? Have you done something for the local community? Anything that might make your company newsworthy will help you raise your chances of getting your information in the local paper.

4. Create a Referral Program

Anyone running a small business knows how important it is to attract new clients—and that client referrals are often the most valuable form of marketing there is. This word-of-mouth advertising can be promoted and cultivated by creating a referral program. Offer a discount to an original client if they refer a friend to your services. This costs you nothing upfront and gives each client incentive to actually spread the word about your business, turning them into “free marketers.” In order to start doing this, you might even consider attaching information about the promotion on each invoice that you send to clients.

5. Follow-up with Old clients

Anyone running a small business also knows that the best clients are those ones who keep coming back to you. You’d be surprised at how effective it can be simply to send an occasional email to an old client and ask if they have any need of your services. Many times, you’ll get a polite “no” in response, but every once in a while, you might just rouse them to action. They may have had something in mind and haven’t gotten around to it—at least not until you decided to reach out and ask them if they had any need of your services again. Try and create a few monthly Google Calendar reminders every quarter so you make a habit of following up with old clients.

6. Attend Free Events and Conferences

Networking is never out of style, especially if you run a business that offers local services. But you’d be amazed at the kinds of connections you can make at conferences, as well. One tip: don’t only attend conferences in your profession. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your customers and ask yourself what kind of conferences and events they would attend.

7. Provide a Free Incentive to Turn People into Leads

It’s well known in traditional marketing services that “hooking” a potential customer is much easier if you offer them some sort of free incentive to get the process started: a free meeting, a free consultation, a free phone call. Yes, these promotions will cost you some time, but they won’t cost you any money—and they will sometimes earn you clients that you otherwise would not have acquired without that additional incentive.

8. Work on a Blog

But don’t just blog. Blog well. Get really deep into the content you want to explore and start writing “how-to’s” for yourself—and then share them with the world. You’d be amazed at how much attention you can attract simply by making new discoveries on your own and sharing them with others. And people love quick how-to guides that are relevant to your company. For example, if you help people write resumes, you might want to make a free resume PDF sample available in a blog post. Yes, you’re giving something away for free, but you’ll be compensated by the amount of attention your blog attracts—as well as the additional “street cred” of being a recognized expert in your field.

9. Create Interesting Videos

In the same vein of writing a blog, you can use videos as the perfect medium to explore your unique content. Don’t just upload silly videos from around the office. Try thinking about what kind of videos your customers might be searching for, and then set about creating that video for them. Yes, it will require that you give away some free advice, but once again you’ll be compensated for this free content with new attention and more clients.

10. Make Some Cold Calls

Okay, this one’s a little outdated—and people are growing more and more weary of cold callers and the like—but if you really want a free method of finding new clients, cold calling qualifies. It can also teach you a lot of things about sales and marketing that you can use to your advantage in other areas of your business, from dealing with new clients to learning what your customers are looking for.  Don’t be afraid to face rejection—in fact, embrace it. It will toughen your sales ability and make you a sharper entrepreneur.

“Free Advertising” is Never Free

It sometimes requires investments of time and labor. But if you take one lesson from this article, it should be this: just because you don’t have an advertising budget doesn’t mean you have to do nothing to promote your business.

Do these ideas sound good to you? What else would you add?