How do you start an employee benefit agency with no marketing budget? Use social media. When I started my agency in June of 2015, I had very little money to invest in marketing, but I wanted to make a big impact quickly so I could build my pipeline, generate referrals and bring on clients. Social media was the perfect platform. Free, easy to learn and not at all time-consuming, it allowed me to make an immediate impact and use my limited start-up capital in other ways. 

If you are just starting your agency, or if building your existing agency’s social media presence is one of your goals for 2016, here are five ideas to consider:

1) When picking social media channels, go for quality over quantity. If you’re new to social media, it can be a little overwhelming to decide which platform to use. Instead of trying everything, pick one or two social media platforms to focus on. I chose two with which I was already familiar: LinkedIn and Twitter. I have been a member of LinkedIn since 2004, so I already had an established profile and a healthy list of connections — some of whom were prospective clients. Rather than setting up a new LinkedIn profile for my agency, I chose to use my personal profile so that I didn’t have to ask my existing connections to follow something new. With Twitter, I did set up a new account for my agency, because I didn’t want to mix my personal tweets with my professional ones. I find both of these platforms easy to use from both my laptop and my smartphone, and I have the accounts linked, so I can put one post in both places. 

2) Treat your social media activity as branding for your agency. Your posts are a reflection of what it’s like to do business with you. Are you enthusiastic about your day? How are you taking care of your clients? How do you handle challenges? Are you constantly complaining? With an online presence, your attitude will be obvious before you have your first conversation with a prospective client. Make them want to work with you.

3) Share your unique experiences. Many people make the mistake of re-posting content from other sources without adding their own insight. Make your posts unique to you, so that your audience is learning something about you, or something new about your subject. When my husband’s company went through their benefits open enrollment using Zenefits, I wrote a LinkedIn post about my experience as a benefits-savvy spouse and my challenges with the Zenefits process. That post was different from the daily chorus of anti-Zenefits articles, and it has more than 7,300 views since it went up in June. 

4) Connect with everyone. Social media has value because it’s social, meaning it’s connected with other people. Make it a habit to add people and companies to your social media channels as they come into your world. I follow all of my clients and prospects, as well insurance carriers, service providers, and other employee benefit brokers who do what I do. I connect with people I meet at networking and industry events. I also follow industry publications and authors who write articles about topics that interest me. 

5) Be willing to invest some time each day to nurture your social media channels. Social media is interesting because it’s quick and it’s real-time. While it’s impossible to keep up with everything going in in your network, it’s important to have a consistent, regular presence that communicates that you are in the know. I usually post at the end of the day, when I take about 30 minutes to read my industry newsletters and scan my social media feeds for items of interest. I have LinkedIn and Twitter on my laptop, and as if I read an interesting article, or have a comment about something that happened during the day, I can easily make a quick post. It works if you work it. 

Also see: "10 benefit industry trendsetters to watch in 2016."

Social media is a tool that can allow you to create a big impact for your agency with very little up-front investment. By using these tips, I was able to establish my agency’s presence quickly and share my expertise to attract prospective clients and referral partners. Because of my initial success, I have made social media an even bigger part of my strategic plan for 2016. Use these tips to create a social medial plan for your agency, and remember to stay positive and have fun with it. 

Evans is president of Colibri Insurance Services, an employee benefit insurance agency that helps small businesses (up to 100 employees) design and execute comprehensive and cost-effective employee benefit strategies in a dynamic and evolving benefit marketplace. Prior to founding her agency in 2015, Evans served as a vice president in the Employee Benefits division of Leavitt Insurance Services of Los Angeles, part of the Leavitt Group. She has more than 14 years of experience in sales in the insurance and advertising industries. Evans earned a degree in English from the University of San Francisco. Reach her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/amyevans2 and on Twitter at @colibriins. 

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