7 Budget-Friendly Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

Emily Thompson

“If you build it, they will come.” Well… not always.

If you want to grow your business, you need to market it. But, as small business owners, tight budgets can hold us back from flashy ads. When I started my freelance business, I knew great marketing would help me stand out from dozens of other writers in my area. I just didn’t have the budget to spend big bucks on marketing.

Fortunately, there were quick, simple things I could do to gain visibility, mostly online. I also took advantage of business partnerships and events. The end result was a successful business that still thrives today.

7 Marketing Ideas That Don’t Cost a Lot

Here are 7 marketing ideas that worked for me — and will give you the most “bang for your buck.”

  1. Build your own website.

    How is your website performing? It might be time to take it to the next level. Site builders, like Squarespace, Wix, and Shopify make it easy to build a website at a low cost. They offer beautiful templates that you can customize without knowing code.

    For a more customized site, you can use Wordpress. First, secure your own domain (the name of your website) and purchase hosting space (where you store your files). Finish by building your site using a Wordpress template. The costs of site builders are minimal:

    Squarespace: $18/month (basic website); $26/month (e-commerce site)

    Wix: $14-29/month (basic website); $20-$35/month (e-commerce site)

    Shopify: $29 - $299/month (e-commerce site)

    Wordpress: Anywhere from $100 to $3,000+ (depending on your domain name and template)

  2. Blog like a pro.

    When was the last time you made a purchase without researching it online? Today people use Google to find everything from hardware stores to accountants. That’s why you need to make sure your website appears in search results.

    To help, try blogging. Make a list of your customers’ most common questions and concerns. Then write posts about these topics. Choose blog titles that mimic what your customers search for online. For example, if you own a landscaping company, you could write the article, “How to permanently get rid of weeds.” If you’re a contractor, you could cover, “5 tips for living in your home during a renovation.”

  3. Sign up for social media.

    If you’re not already using social media, sign up now. These free media outlets let you promote your business and learn insights about customers.

    First, find out where your customers congregate. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are the most common social media sites. But, if you have a brick and motar location, try Foursquare. And don’t forget YouTube. This site is perfect for hosting “how to” videos. Grab your mobile phone and record a 2-minute video to educate your customer-base about a topic.

    Then promote your channels, publish content, and keep engaging! Send out links to your blog, create a poll, or use Piktochart to design an interesting infographic. Keep in mind, people want helpful content. Stay relevant and keep it a 2-way conversation. If someone complains, respond with thoughtfulness and kindness.

  4. Send smart emails.

    Email is still a top way to market your business. But, you’ll need to think through it first. The average office worker receives 121 emails per day!

    To break through the clutter:

    • Create a helpful piece of content and promote it on your website and social media sites. Keep it hidden behind a form that website visitors must fill out first. People love e-books and tip sheets.

    • Build a list of prospective customers using low-cost email software, like Mailchimp ($10/month) or Constant Contact (starting at $20/month). Make sure the people who download your content flow into this list.

    • Create 3 to 5 emails that automatically get sent based on how someone responds to your email. For example, if someone downloads your e-book, follow-up with more tips about the same topic. Then, if they open your second email, send a coupon or an introduction to your sales rep.

    • Personalize your emails with your customers’ names. Keep them brief, creative, and useful. And don’t sell too hard too early.

    • Finally, you know your customers best — send out emails during times they’re online and choose a frequency they’ll find helpful, not annoying. And test your emails on a mobile phone. Your email software should help.

  5. Talk with the news.

    To gain visibility on TV without the cost of an ad, talk to a reporter. If your story gets covered, you might see your business’s name online, in the paper, or in an industry magazine. Services like Help A Reporter (HARO) let you pitch stories to reporters or respond to media inquiries for sources.

    HARO is free to try out, but if you want to receive email alerts with media opportunities specific to your industry, it costs just $19/month.

  6. Partner with businesses.

    They say there is strength in numbers, and it’s true. Business partnerships are cost-effective and can quickly bring in new customers. As a freelance writer, I’ve partnered with marketing consultants and graphic designers. It’s a win-win. My clients enjoy it — and my business continues to grow.

    If you’re an interior designer, partner with a contractor. If you’re a financial advisor, work with an accountant to offer advice after the tax season. And, if you’re a massage therapist, try promoting a coupon at a hair salon. The options are endless.

  7. Participate in an event.

    Event marketing doesn’t have to involve expensive trade shows. You can get visibility at a local charity race or by sponsoring a youth recreation league. Bonus: you’ll support your community too. Want to stay online? Host a webinar and promote it via social media. Try GoToWebinar for $89/month.

    Most importantly, stick with your marketing plan. If you dedicate just a few hours a week to blogging and social media, you’ll quickly see results. And, if you truly don’t have the time, find a talented marketing intern to help. If you start today, could you see new business right away. And that’s worth it!

About the author

Emily Thompson
Emily Thompson
I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.

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