It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and you need to get a leg up on the competition. If you don’t, the fight is lost before it begins. The problem is that PR and advertising are expensive. And when you’re out on your own, a PR and/or marketing budget rarely exists. So how do you get your name out into the wild? Sure, after awhile, word of mouth can spread your reputation like wildfire. But when you’re trying to gain momentum, you can’t count on word of mouth.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools out there that can help to spread the word for you. Some of these tools are cheap and some are even free. Let’s take a look.

1: Social networking sites

If you’re not using Twitter and Facebook to help promote your business, I need to give you a slap across the face and help lead you into the new world order. Twitter and Facebook are two of the easiest tools to use to spread the word about your gig. Not only can you promote your business, you can also make connections, advertise specials, and more. But don’t think of this as just a type-fest. You must consider it a primary means of networking. If you ignore the networking aspect of social media, you are ignoring a possible goldmine for yourself.

2: Postcards

When I published my book I Zombie I on Amazon, I had postcards printed with the help of Vistaprint. I was able to get 100 cards printed (of my design) and shipped for around $40.00. With those cards in hand, I got plenty of advertising at locations such as coffee shops and book stores. With a little creativity, you can use postcards with better results than you would have with traditional advertising routes.

3: Videos

This may sound crazy, but we are a visual nation. Enabling prospective clients to get a first-hand look at who you are, how you sound, and how professionally you comport yourself can go a long way toward promoting your business and making clients WANT to use your services. Of course, this is tricky. First, you need the hardware and software to create the video. I use OpenShot Video Editor and a Logitech Pro 9000 Web Cam for recording my videos. Place the videos on your Web site, Facebook, YouTube, and your Tumblr account and let them become viral. Just make sure when you record your videos you do so in a professional and compelling manner. Don’t be cheap or unprofessional or come off like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

4: Blog

It may seem like a chore, but having a blog about the business (or your business) is a big advantage. But don’t just let that blog sit unread. Write your entries and then tweet them. Get as many people as possible to see that blog. What do you write? You can’t complain about clients, but you can give simple tips or brag about a job well done. Keep this positive — always. Anything negative you post on your blog will certainly come back to haunt you. And like your videos, make sure you post your entries to all your social network sites.

5: Join local networking groups

Nearly every major city has groups dedicated to helping professionals network. You might look at this as flirting with the enemy, but there are other ways of seeing it. You never know when you are going to come across a consultant who has a need you can fill. Not every consultant can handle every task. So when a project comes along that you can’t handle, always have someone in your contact list who can. You do this enough, and fellow consultants will have you in their contact list and send clients your way when they can’t do the job. Just make sure that when you send a client to another consultant, that consultant knows it’s only for that job. Find other consultants you can build relationships with based on trust so you never have to worry about losing a client in a situation such as this.

Other approaches?

Marketing doesn’t have to mean you must go the traditional route of paying for costly advertising or writing press releases for services. With a little creativity and effort, you can get your name out there, and the returns will be great. Just remember to remain positive and active in the communities around you (be they virtual or face to face).

Have you had good luck with other inexpensive strategies for promoting your business? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.