Spreading the word and creating a buzz can be a real hurdle for startups and micro businesses. We've come up with four easy ways to get yourself noticed.

By Eoin O'Hara

Free publicity has become the startup version of the Holy Grail of late. Not only can it expose your business to a wider audience, but getting mentioned positively online and through other media also means you are doing something right. 

The motivational boost that a little positive publicity can bring to your business and your team is considerable, but spreading the word and creating a buzz remains an obstacle that many startups and micro businesses struggle to overcome.

The modern business must be shrewd, persistent and creative if it's to be heard above the din. Here are the four best ways to get yourself noticed:
This must always be the foundation on which you build any push for publicity, and especially when you don't want to spend hard-won cash. The story of what you are doing is your capital in this situation; if it is not interesting and relevant no one will want to give you their valuable online space… After all, why should they?  
Begin by asking yourself the question ‘Is what I am doing newsworthy?’ If the answer is no, then consider how you could begin to add layers of interest to your enterprise. What are the topical issues in your industry at the moment, and is there any way that you can turn these to your advantage?

The startups and small businesses that generate the highest level of publicity are those that are doing something innovative, unusual, quirky or clever. Thinking about your business in this way can add an extra incentive to remain fresh and topical, allowing you to constantly reassess the trajectory you are taking, and find new ways to promote discussion.
It’s no coincidence that the majority of online publicity relating to individual startups and small businesses takes a very character-centered approach to storytelling; the founder/founders almost always feature heavily in the tale.
There's an old adage that can be found the world over in the dusty pages of marketing manuals, that goes something along the lines of 'People don’t buy from businesses, they buy from people'. They are right.
It refers not only to the selling of your goods and services, but also to selling your enterprising story to bloggers, editors and digital marketing folk, who will want to see a little personality alongside their economics.
People love a great story, and a great story will pull in the traffic. A highly exaggerated example of how this works can be observed in the case of Levi Roots and his Reggae brand. Here the founder's back story has been instrumental in the growth of a highly successful business, with the brand essentially growing from him until the two are indivisible from one another.

That’s an extreme example – and I’m not suggesting that you implement a comparable level of brand/founder integration, but it does demonstrate how teasing out some of the finer and more interesting details of your enterprising journey can help to give you the edge when it comes to grabbing the attention of those with influence, audience and pull.
You must always be ready to tell your story at the drop of a hat.  
This is a method of encouraging free publicity that's becoming more and more accessible to businesses regardless of their size, as the phenomenal growth of social media continues to encourage an ever more integrated online world.  
The opportunity to build a relevant and engaged community of followers (or whatever you like to call them) is quite possibly the most revolutionary change that has impacted on online marketing over the course of the past 15 years. Great companies live and die by their online reputation, a fact that can deliver success and failure in equal measure.
But we needn't worry about anything quite so dramatic at this stage; suffice to say, working hard to build and grow your online community is one of the most fundamental ways to secure some free publicity, or at least set the scene to do so in the future.   
Key to this method is the word 'engaged'. A passive community is all very well, but to really get the most out of your following, you need to encourage worthwhile and relevant engagement that will allow people to become actively involved in, and feel passionately about, your business. Not all will fall into this category, but those who do will become like free publicists, spreading news of your business far and wide to their own relevant following.
(Points one and two in this post should prove very helpful in achieving this)
You probably don't have a marketing/publicity agency working on your behalf, but that doesn't mean that you can't have a stab at doing it yourself.  Speaking as someone with experience of online content, I can assure you that if you are doing something truly interesting, or have something relevant to say,  there are people who will be willing to listen; you just need to find out who those people are.
Many small businesses find that, again, social media is their salvation in this regard; one platform in particular is extremely valuable when on a fact-finding mission. Twitter has removed barriers that once stood as an almost impenetrable wall of silence between established organisations and the small business/startup community. Now, a well worded 140-character appeal rarely goes amiss, and can open up a vast amount of opportunities for publicity.  
Use the information you have gathered to reach out to those you genuinely believe would be interested in what you are doing. Learn how to put together a press release and make it as easy as possible for journalists and bloggers to understand what you are doing, and why they should be interested in it. The worst that they can do is decline, and you will have made a contact that could be potentially useful further down the line. 

Eoin O'Hara is a business developer and lead content writer at Startacus.net. Follow them at @Iamstartacus