Since every small business owner is on a budget, marketing can be an ongoing challenge. That said we have some seriously good news to share: There are more inexpensive marketing ideas available to small businesses than ever!
Marketing doesn’t have to mean hiring an expensive advertising agency. In fact, most inexpensive marketing ideas are as effective, if not more effective than expensive traditional marketing tactics like print ad campaigns or TV commercials. The best part is that you can usually take care of them yourself (or with a team), with the right coaching. Read on and we’ll walk you through a ten low-cost marketing methods so you can amplify your small business without breaking the bank. You’ll learn both digital and traditional marketing techniques so you can choose which ones will work best for marketing your small business.
Search engine optimization (SEO) doesn't have to cost you anything except time, but it can be a slow and steady process that needs guidance. However, once it’s done it is one of the most effective and long-term marketing techniques any business can do.
Optimize your website for search engines by researching which keywords customers use when they're looking for products or services like yours online. There are many different keyword research tools that can help you understand which words people use to describe your business products or services most. For example if you’re in small engine repair, you may discover that people actually search more for “lawn mower repair nearby” or “inexpensive engine parts replacement” when looking for businesses like yours.
Once you determine which words are most used to describe your business you can use these on your website. Ideally you would create one page on your website for each unique, high-volume keyword. In the case of small engine repair, you could have a page for ATV vehicle repair, one for lawn mowers and maintenance tools and even a general one for small engine repair - in fact if the volume was high enough for this generic term it may be more suitable to use on the home page. Use your selected keywords for each page in the website copy, especially in headlines, title tags, alt tags on images and meta descriptions. Make sure you use proper HTML formatting on your articles so search engines can read them better.
SEO can also get very technical behind the scenes of your website. But if you’re a small business with a basic website of a couple pages, your SEO shouldn’t be too far gone, which can happen quickly with large, complex websites. One thing you can do easily though is test how the site performs on mobile, since this is a factor in search optimization (for all those mobile searchers!). To make sure that your website is as effective as it can possibly be, it's got to be mobile-optimized and quick to load on any device, which can be evaluated with Google’s mobile page speed tester.
This tester will evaluate your site’s mobile-friendliness for free and give you a score at the end after analyzing your network speed, compressed components of your website and so much more! Don’t forget to request a free mobile report to your email from Google at the end of the process so you can look back and use their recommendations to improve if needed.
To learn more, read our detailed guide on how to choose and use keywords.
Some say “if you build it they will come,” and that is the case for SEO-friendly websites. So if you’re getting website visitors and traffic, you better be sure you have good content for them when they get there.
Content can come in the form of videos, blog posts, social media posts, white papers and much more. Using a variety of content types and messages around your products and services is best, but remember useful content is about helping your customers not selling.
The key to creating useful content is to make sure it’s something that they actually want to read! Whether it’s a helpful instructions manual or a thought-leadership piece, whether it’s delivered in a 2 minute video or in an easy-to-read blog format, just make sure you’re creating content that is useful! Golden rule: don’t just create content for content’s sake!
Return to your keywords to see if any ideas come to mind. Even a quick Google search can help spark ideas:
You can also use your customer service queries that you’ve received in the past as a way to get some content topic ideas. Like let’s say you’re a small engine repair person and you know that at least one customer asks you per week how often they should change the oil on their lawnmower. This is the perfect example of a great topic that you can write about on the blog of your website!
You can also get creative with content creation and experiment with what works with your audience and what doesn’t. Suppose you own an e-commerce website that sells juniors' clothing. You could:
Here’s an example of a real-estate business that decided to make video content on YouTube for their customers about home repair and improvement:
By sharing useful information that’s relevant to your customers you’ll earn their trust and when it comes time to purchase they’ll be much more likely to buy from you. Invesp reports that 59% of consumers are more likely to buy a new product from a brand they’re familiar with and 64% would open an emails for the sole reason that it is from a brand they trust. And by creating useful content for your audience you’ll be earning their trust every step of the way.
Did you notice that in the screenshot of the previous section, that the real estate company included their website in the description of their content video? I hope so, because that is good marketing that didn’t cost anything aside from the video production. 33 000+ people saw that video and have therefore also seen this website. Talk about free advertising!
Are you including a link to your business website at the end of your email signature? How about on your social media profile pages or your social media posts? Of course, don't forget to print your website URL on your business cards, as well as on brochures, flyers, sale sheets or any other print marketing materials you create. Ok let’s just come out and say it, here’s a new rule: any type of advertising you do should include your business URL.
Here’s an example of my signature with links to our company’s website and social media channels:
Social media hubs are high-traffic platforms for amplifying your content, building a network and even advertising your product directly - but let’s start with what we already know. So first your business pages on networks like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter etc., should all include a link to your website. Second you should be using these channels to share the useful content you’re creating for people on your website. Don’t be that business who is just trying to sell to people on social media. Use it as a place to make genuine connections with your customers and listen to them.
Social listening can come in many forms. You can simply research topics related to your business on social media channels and join in on the conversation. You can build followers on your business pages and ask your community (even poll them!) on topics they would like to learn more about from your team. But you can also use social media to really measure how people engage with your content. Looking at social engagement metrics like shares, comments, retweets etc., you can also get a pretty good sense of what content of yours is helping your social media and which isn’t. Adjust towards what’s working - always be adjusting!
If you’re having a hard time getting noticed on social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, try investing a little bit in social media advertising. No, it's not free, but it can be very inexpensive if you target your ads properly, which you can do! Here’s a guide on how to create the cheapest Facebook ads possible without sacrificing quality. If you sell to other businesses, check out LinkedIn advertising.
If you’re having trouble getting noticed at all, you could always start with some local search directories, which are typically free or at least low cost. Yext for example will list you on tons of business directories for a small fee.
You can also create business pages in search engines like Google and Bing! Start by claiming your business listing in local search directories, such as Google My Business, Yelp and Bing Places for Business. For a detailed guide to doing this, read What Are Local Business Listings and Why Do They Matter?
Also pay attention to local community publications and websites that feature business listings. For instance, if you’re hosting an event at your store, see if the local newspaper will add it to their online event listings for the week (maybe they’ll even share it on social media too!).
Since more than eight in 10 American adults say they read reviews at least some of the time before making a purchase, having a presence on these sites can significantly elevate your brand. Start by making sure your business is listed on important review sites for your niche and that your profile on these sites is complete and detailed.
Next, take steps to manage your online reviews. You can sometimes get alerts when new reviews are posted so you can respond immediately, which is especially important to do if someone posts a negative review.
Encourage your customers to review your business by including links to your review sites on your website, in your social media and in your email newsletters. You can even give customers an incentive to review your business in-store. Here’s a helpful guide on how to ask customers for reviews. You can also more about how to get, use and improve your reviews here.
Supporting local community organizations, charities or other local groups can help raise your profile and serve as a great marketing tool. To get the best results, look for a cause or organization that aligns with your business’s mission and goals. For example, if you own a home services business, why not adopt Habitat for Humanity or a local community cleanup event as your charity of choice?
When you get involved with your community you build trust in a different way. Rather than relying on your content as a means of building trust with consumers, you’re on the front-lines making face-to-face connections. If you’re up to it, giving back to the community in the form of volunteer work, participation and even sponsorship will feel good for you and do wonders for your business. Small communities tend to share referrals and pass around the good word for products and services.
You may already have a network of friends, family and customers who would refer your business, but there’s never enough networking you can do. Yes social media can help, but depending on the region your small business serves you may want to get a little more local.
Networking in person with other small business owners in your community, such as at Chamber of Commerce meetings or local business associations, offers plenty of networking opportunities. This in itself is again an inexpensive and effective marketing technique.
By being an active member of an organization, you'll raise your brand awareness among other members. You’d be surprised how much a little schmoozing can lead to! If you and a local realtor connect through a networking group, the realtor might think of your house painting business the next time a client needs a home readied for sale. Why? Because we all want to work with people we like and if we make a business connection in a more casual setting, we’re reducing the perceived friction in a new business relationship.
You can also do a little personal PR in your local area. For a local business, start by making contact with members of the local newspapers, magazines, radio stations or even local cable channels. Send them an email or even if you bump into them around town tell them what's interesting about your business and see if there’s a story there they could cover. From a donation your business made to a charity or volunteer work or even a big sale you’re doing, you’d be surprised how many local newsworthy stories you could generate.
Getting known as an expert is a no-cost way to market your business. Professional services providers, like accountants or consultants, do this a lot, but it can actually work for just about any kind of business.
Find a local organization your target customers belong to, or a publication or website they turn to for information. Offer to speak at the organization's next meeting or contribute to its newsletter. See if you can write a guest blog or article for the publication, or share some information with them that reflects your expertise.
For example, an attorney could speak in front of residents at a senior living community about how to write a will or why you need to assign power of attorney. If you own a children's toy store, you could offer to speak at the local PTA about the best educational toys for kids. The point is to get your name out there and prove that you’re the best source of information in your industry in any way that you can!
Are there other businesses in your area that target the same clientele, but sell different products or services that don’t directly compete with yours? Consider co-marketing with them.
For instance, if you own a flooring business, you could team with a house painter to market your services together. Offer a discount if clients get both house painting and flooring done at the same time.
You can also co-market with your neighbouring businesses. Many businesses in local shopping districts, for instance, hold regular sidewalk sales, “First Friday” events, street fairs and festivals plus other promotional events to attract customers to the area.
Now that you've got a dozen inexpensive marketing ideas for small business to try, the challenge is bringing them all together. You can avoid feeling overwhelmed by just taking it one idea at a time. Each idea is as good as the other, but some will work better for your business than others… and that’s simply due to the nature of your business and market. See which ideas work best for your business and stick to them. The best part though is that trying any of them won’t cost you much so you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
With nearly a decade of digital marketing experience, Chandal has created content strategies for both the biggest and sometimes the most unexpected markets, while developing strategic relationships with editors and publishers. Chandal contributes to some of the highest authority industry publications, has been featured in industry events and is thrilled to be Acquisio’s Content Director.