According to a very unofficial and unscientific poll on Bankrate's Facebook page, some of our fans have a New Year's resolution to launch a side business or freelance to earn extra cash in 2012.
Whether your want to win over corporate clients or sell some refurbished furniture on Etsy, you'll need a marketing strategy so your small business can bring home the bacon.
"Through social media, small-business owners and 'solopreneurs' now have the ability to share content with highly relevant audiences of the scale that would have been cost-prohibitive only a few years ago," says Mike Langford, senior social business strategist for Socialware.
There are a few things you can do to increase the likelihood that your message will spread across social networks. And it won't add a dime to your marketing budget.
"Many of the best social media tools are free -- but time is more valuable than money in this space," says Jay Palter, principal at Palter Social Media . "The more time you invest to grow your network, deepen relationships and build your personal brand, the greater your return on investment."
Tip 1: Tweet
"Twitter is the most powerful free social media tool you can use," says Palter. "To be successful, you need to be willing to have conversations or at least enjoy sharing."
Tweeting doesn't have to be a drag on your schedule.
"Bufferapp.com lets you schedule tweets throughout the day, and this is very important if you are running a business," says Palter. "Tweeting frequently and consistently through the day is the key to being seen."
Langford adds that tools like Tweetdeck, HootSuite or Flipboard also help you manage your content and conversations across social networks, and Crowdbooster and Bit.ly offer analytics.
All of these tools and apps have free versions.
Tip 2: Post other people's content
When someone buys you lunch, do you feel you owe them one? The same phenomenon of reciprocation occurs in social media.
"There is a heavy dose of karma in play on social networks," says Langford. "People love when you share their content just as much as you like it when they share yours. So retweet and click the share button."
Samantha Allen, Managing Director of Investius, seconds that notion, "It can’t always be about you! You have to be a part of your market’s online community and join the conversation."
Automate content discovery so you're not spending hours searching for something to post.
"Scoop.it is a free content curation tool that helps you discover relevant content and publish it to a newspaper-like web page," says Palter. "And you can distribute shared content to your social networks."
The tool has a free version with some limitations. Sharing content saves you some of the expense of paying freelancers to create content for your business' blog.
Tip 3: Create videos
Online video can be an excellent way to share your message.
"Videos can make your website and social networks stickier so people hang around longer," says Allen. "One of the most compelling aspects of online video is that it can help build trust."
If you're creative, you may be able to produce engaging videos with your smartphone and free video editing software.
Tip 4: Use social media to get press coverage
You don't have to hire a public relations firm to get coverage.
"The easiest way to get free PR on social networks is to connect with reporters, bloggers and PR professionals who cover your industry," says Langford.
But keep in mind there's a fine line between befriending someone and stalking them. A balanced approach would be to regularly share their content on social networks and comment on their articles. Don't just reach out to them when you want something.
"If they will be attending industry events that you also plan to attend, make a point of meeting them in person. Creating a real world connection takes the relationship to a whole new level," says Langford. "This is how I got myself and Tweetworks profiled in Mashable, CNET, The Boston Globe and countless blogs."
What's your side hustle? How do you use social media?