Since I started my firm in 1999, I’ve been approached many, many times by entrepreneurs saying the same thing, “I really want MWI’s SEO, web design, and other services, but I can’t pay for them,” followed by offers of equity in their company, revenue sharing, or more money later once they’re up and running and profitable. I don’t find these entreaties insulting or offensive in any way. For the most part, I’ve had to reject these offers because I wasn’t in a position where I could afford to provide services for free. After all, it costs me money to provide these services–I don’t just do all the work myself. In other cases, it’s not the right opportunity. Since it would cost me money to provide the services, I have to look at it as an investment and say “If I had $20,000, would I invest in this company vs. any other company I could put money into?” I also have to compare making that investment to other places I could put my money like paying off debt, paying myself, or investing in MWI by hiring or upgrading equipment. Again, in most cases the answer is no. In a small number of cases where I’ve said “no,” I really wish I could have or would have provided the services the entrepreneur wanted, because they went on to make millions and I could have had a decent chunk of that.

Whenever I have to turn down an entrepreneur I feel bad. I’m an entrepreneur, and I love entrepreneurs, and I want to help. This post is my attempt to share some marketing tips for those entrepreneurs I have to turn down, as well as every other entrepreneur who needs online marketing services but can’t afford them. While there are some costs involved in implementing these tips, both in time and money, I’ve tried to focus this advice on three tips that provide the quickest and largest returns on investment.

1. Blog. It is seriously easy to set up a blog and start writing. Don’t like writing? Maybe you will if you try it again. Don’t know what to write about? Write about what you know. Don’t tell me you don’t have any stories. Everyone has thousands of stories. You could create 50 blog posts a day from each day’s experiences. If you don’t believe me go watch some Seinfeld reruns. Don’t type fast? Perfect practice makes perfect. Just don’t want to do it? Then seriously consider doing something else with your life. In my opinion, it’s pretty tough to be a successful entrepreneur today if you can’t type fast and don’t like to write. My blog’s are all hosted on Rackspace, but that’s overkill for most folks. An affordable hosting company like Bluehost will work just fine. Use WordPress as your platform. Hire a designer with front end coding and WordPress skills from Dribbble or oDesk to get it looking nice. Install the Yoast SEO for WordPress plugin. Read Platform by Michael Hyatt and all of Gary Vaynerchuk’s books. Read their websites and sign up for their email newsletters, too. Follow the rest of these 10 online marketing experts. Also read Copyblogger and the Buffer blog. I could give you a lot more suggestions, but that’s more than enough to get you started.

2. Meet people. I live in Hong Kong, which is a special place. There is no city in the world with a higher business velocity. I could meet 100 people a day here if I had the time. But there are plenty of people where you live, too. If you can’t find a few groups on Meetup then maybe wherever you’re at really isn’t the place to be an entrepreneur, but I doubt it. Take any 100 people and you can find 10 entrepreneurs in the bunch and start talking with them. When you talk to people in person, things happen. If you can’t talk in person, go virtual and connect to people on Linkedin. Just be social and engage in conversation. Don’t try to sell anything. Ask questions. Give answers when you have them. Offer to help. Amazing things will happen.

3. Use HARO. The Help A Reporter website is an unknown gem for entrepreneurs. It helps journalists who need expert sources to find those sources. And guess what, you’re an expert! Sign up, receive emails from journalists telling you what they need, and if you can help out, you respond. Then you end up quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Entrepreneur, etc. And it costs you nothing but a little bit of time.

What are your marketing tips for the cash-strapped entrepreneur?

By the way, if you liked these tips, you might want to check out my recent presentation on Do-It-Yourself Online Public Relations for Startups.