The PR Strategy Every Entrepreneur Can Afford

When the going gets tough, public relations is one of the first budget items entrepreneurs cut. Most PR professionals will tell you that’s a bad idea. They’ll tell you that a downturn is exactly the wrong time to stop telling your story.

While there’s some truth to that, cutting your PR budget is always better than firing someone. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice, but here’s the good news: the basics of effective PR for entrepreneurs are free.

Here are some things you can do to help get your story heard when there’s nothing left in the budget to pay for an expensive agency.

Discover (or re-discover) your own story.

It costs nothing to dig deep and discover (or rediscover) why your work and your business really matter to you. PR isn’t just about getting an article in a magazine or landing an interview on an influential podcast. If you are an entrepreneur, PR is you. All the time. You don’t have to pay an agency thousands of dollars to help make your business interesting or important. If you can’t make it interesting and important, no one else will.

And don’t oversell. Be authentic. Be real.

Don’t be the scheduling app that saves the world. Be the scheduling app that helps people spend more time with the people they love. If you really do this, we will all understand that you saved the world. You don’t need to tell us. History will find you.

Update and refine your business and personal LinkedIn profile.

Review your personal profile and your business page. On your profile, stop telling people what you do. Instead, focus on your accomplishments and include any milestones that others (i.e. journalists or industry influencers) might find interesting.

On your business page, use language and share content that helps people understand why your business is important. Connect your business to a higher, but specific purpose. Accomplishments can be newsworthy, especially in industry-specific media. Sharing these achievements on LinkedIn is free.

Build genuine relationships with members of your local media.

PR agencies tend to prioritize one asset above all else: relationships. The better their relationship with members of the media, the more likely they are to get you in the news. Access to journalists doesn’t come cheap, in part because those relationships have been slow to build. These relationships are built on a foundation of time and trust. Journalists depend on it.

You can also invest in building relationships based on time and trust.

If you live in a city big enough to have a local business reporter, invite them to lunch or coffee, especially if you don’t have a specific story to report. Interact with their content on social media. Share their stories. Send them a sincere compliment after writing or producing something you found valuable. Treat journalists like human beings — rather than an ATM that takes harassing emails and spits out 600 words and a link — and you can build relationships that can lead to coverage.

And if that doesn’t lead to an article, you’ve still made a new friend.

Share content on the platforms you control.

Dealing with the media can frustrate entrepreneurs. Even Steve Jobs’ famous “reality distortion field” couldn’t stop writers from publishing unflattering articles – or ignoring it during his years in the metaphorical wasteland. Control what you can control.

Make sure you post thoughtful and authentic content on relevant platforms that help you reach your target audience. If it’s TikTok, be a constant presence on TikTok. If it’s LinkedIn, be a constant presence on LinkedIn. And don’t neglect your website and blog.

To show creativity.

Getting featured on major media platforms usually happens through a combination of luck, timing, and money. Entrepreneurs often lack luck, time and money. The one thing that entrepreneurs usually don’t lack? Creativity. It’s part of the job.

When you come up with something really creative, whether it’s a new product, a new service, or a different way of thinking about an important topic, the media is looking for you. For example, treating your employees so well that they tell everyone they know about the amazing company they work for is both the right thing to do and a great way to get your story out there.

Creativity and common decency are always free.

They are also the best PR strategy, even when you can afford a more expensive one.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.