It's not often that you get something worthwhile for free. In the realm of internet marketing, many people think of AdWords when the topic comes up. But did you know there are many great opportunities to advertise for free on the net, and quite successfully?
The more obvious ones are sites like MerchantCircle, Yelp (though I have issues with some of the less-than-reputable dealings), & your local city business directories. But the one I'm going to mention in more detail is Craigslist. Yes, it has a worse look than a 980's website done by an amateur, but, for many industries, it can yield great results.
It also seems to be better in some cities than others. When we were in Citrus Heights, CA (part of Sacramento) we got 1-2 inquiries off it every week. And many of those became customers. However, Arizonans (specifically in Phoenix) web design at least on CL has been a much worse performer. We're lucky to get 1 a month. However, the time required to keep ads going is minimal, so it still is worth the little time needed.
How to work Craigslist for free advertising
I will say that when we first started on Craiglist, we could sell out ad writing skills to people as CL allowed a lot more HTML markup in ads. I have no idea on the reasons behind the decision, but a whiles back, they severely restricted what HTML tags could be used. So much so that the list is laughably small and, well, basically useless in terms of jazzing up your ad. Realtors, especially, were hit hard by this decision. So, writing a good ad is now much more important.
If you suck at writing, then your job is harder (or more expensive) to do well on CL. If you really can't write then get someone who can. Even though poor ad writing still didn't work as well before as good writing, the ability to pretty the ads up helped. Now it's almost just raw code that's displayed. You can't even link to external sites.
Compelling copy is a must
Your ad must create the need, provide the solution, and give a clear call to action. Without this, you'll get lost in a sea of junk (and there's lots of it on CL). You have to give an "elevator pitch". Can you sell yourself, your company and your product and service in 30 seconds to a total stranger? That's your "elevator pitch". If not, you need to learn. It's a powerful tool. And that's what you need to do on CL.
Create the need
Your headline is really the make-or-break. Screw it up and CL visitors won't even open your ad. You need to grab them by the throat with your headline - it must create the need, or offer them a viable solution for their problem. Spend time on the headline - without a decent one you oh-so-polished ad body probably won't get read.
Offer the solution
Once you've stopped your reader with a great headline that creates a need, you need to solve that problem. Your ad is NOT a technical brochure! Don't tell them how long or wide or high it is, how much it weighs, or how many colors it comes in, unless that is just a segue into what that means for them. Every consumer listens to only one radio station - WIIFM - What's In It For Me! They don't care about the products specs, they care about what it will do for them. So tell 'em!
Drag them into action
If you've captured them with a great headline, then sold them by telling them WIIFM, don't expect them to naturally demand to buy it. You need to tell them forcefully what to do next so they can get relief, save money, stop worrying, or whatever it is. I dislike infomercials, but they do this so well. Call now! Limited numbers at this price! When they're gone, they're gone! You must create urgency to buy or call NOW! RIGHT NOW! Not after they've looked at a couple more competitors.
The good thing with CL making ads dull is pretty much everyone is on a level playing field. Just because your web designer, or you, know some HTML, no longer gives you a distinct advantage over others. We all get the same ugly ads! So get to writing 4-8 different ads, then rotate them every day. I have enough for one a day, and simply log in and "Renew" an ad that's expired. Simple and fast. And if I only get 1 inquiry a month, I don't care - I only spent about 10 minutes renewing ads that month.