Many small businesses, and especially startups, are operating on a small marketing budget. Thankfully, there are many marketing strategies that do not require a significant financial investment. In fact, because of technological innovations, the time has never been better than now for small businesses to create effective marketing campaigns and get the word out about their businesses without breaking the bank.
In this article, we present 24 free or low-cost ways to promote your small business. Check out the list to see if one or more of these strategies could be a good fit for your business. The list is organized into the following strategy classifications: Digital Marketing; Networking and In-Person; Traditional Marketing; and Other Marketing Strategies.
1. Create a free Google Business Profile
I am putting this strategy first because it is one of the easiest and most effective ways to promote a local business that has a physical location or defined service area. A Google Business Profile will allow your business to have a more prominent placement on local results and Google maps. Verify your ownership, then complete and optimize your listing. Request customer reviews from clients and strive to get good customer reviews through high customer satisfaction. Responding to customers' reviews also boosts your visibility in local searches.
2. Social media
Social media is a free way to increase brand awareness, engage with clients and potential customers, and establish yourself as a trustworthy business. Focus your efforts on the social media platforms that are the best fit for your business. Seek education on effective ways to market on those platforms and experiment to see what works. Consider establishing a business account on major platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and others.
You can use social media to
Communicate with followers and the public to promote your brand and increase community and engagement.
Request feedback from followers–you may consider doing a poll.
While getting permission is often advisable, you may tag other businesses or people (e.g. satisfied customers) to extend your social media reach and potentially attract new followers and clients. You can also encourage others to tag your business.
Use hashtags to increase your visibility on social media. Location based hashtags are especially important for local businesses. Use hashtags consistent with your brand identity to establish yourself in that sphere.
You may also consider trending hashtags or specific hashtags (analogous to long-tail keywords)
I’ve noticed that some small local businesses seem to get all the online marketing they need from a Facebook business page, and do not have a website. Building and maintaining a website can be costly and/or time consuming, particularly for individuals with limited knowledge of technology. LinkedIn can also be a powerful marketing tool, particularly for certain professions and businesses, including B2B.
3. Publish quality content on your blog or website
Good content can earn the trust of potential customers and help establish yourself as an expert in your field. Creating content that engages readers and answers their questions can drive sales and should also increase prominence of your website in search results. Make sure to incorporate the keywords you are targeting into your content to optimize SEO.
4. Recycle good content
If you have a blog post that generates a lot of interest, consider using it to make a video or infographic. Or, combine various articles you have written to make an eBook. The eBook can entice site visitors to sign up for your newsletter.
5. Video marketing
Thanks to advances in technology, the barriers to producing and editing video have dropped dramatically over the last two decades. Video is an engaging and impactful medium that many businesses are using to promote their products and services. You might consider the following video types:
instructional/how to video
a video where you discuss an important topic in your field
an interview with an expert
a typical advertisement
a behind the scenes look at your business
For example, an exterminator might post a video about a particularly interesting termite infestation (with the owner’s consent). A tree professional could show a sped up video of a large tree being cut down. Such videos are often interesting and shareable and can create an awareness of your business. When you are done producing and editing your video, post it on social media channels, such as YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram.
6. Take advantage of promotional offers for digital advertising
I’ve recently seen discounts or promotional offers for ads from Facebook, Instagram, Microsoft, and Google Ads. Various web hosting companies offer special deals on digital advertising as part of their subscription packages. When I started my first business years ago, I was able to take advantage of a special offer form Google Ads and received a free advertising credit. I felt like that gave my business a much-needed boost to get off to a good start. To make the most of your promotional credits, you may want to review PPC principles before diving in and starting your campaign.
7. Work on local SEO
Local SEO consists in efforts to improve the visibility of your business in local or “near me” searchers. Check out our article 10 Ways to Improve Local SEO. Improving Local SEO is often a gradual process and may require a substantial investment of time, but placing well in local search results is often well worth the effort.
Email marketing is a great way to solidify your relationship with regular customers and to get your message out to potential customers. You might use these to introduce new products or services, or generate buzz with special sales events. Sending regular but not too frequent emails brings your company to mind and provides an opportunity for the recipient to act on your invitation. Businesses frequently offer a discount or special content piece, such as an eBook to encourage people to sign up for their newsletter. Use an email marketing service, such as Constant Contact or MailChimp. Some email marketing services have a free version for small campaigns, such as if the number of email addresses on your list is below a certain threshold.
Creating quality infographics can be a powerful way to increase traffic to your site. Infographics are very shareable because they have key information in a visually appealing and easy-to-understand format. As people share your infographics, referral traffic and backlinks will increase. There are various free software tools you can use, such as Canva, to create top-notch infographics. Be aware of intellectual property issues when creating infographics such as using proprietary data or images without permission.
Networking and In-person
10. Work on your elevator pitch
You likely have frequent opportunities in a variety of social situations to let people know about your business. If you need more such opportunities, consider becoming more involved in your community. Take advantage of opportunities by always being ready with an effective elevator pitch. It should feel natural and normal, and not canned. If possible, adapt it to the person you are speaking with in terms of their occupation and tastes. The time you have to make a pitch is usually under 2 minutes and often under one. Make sure it is a two-way conversation.
After you have been promoting your business for a while, you will be better able to anticipate and respond to questions. You may consider using statistics related to your business, social proof, or telling a story that conveys your message memorably. Be confident and friendly, and leave them with a good impression of your competence and expertise. Even if that individual is not your next client, they may remember you and refer someone else to you if your pitch is compelling.
11. Attend business events to network
There are excellent opportunities to network at trade shows, continuing education events, industry conferences, and job fairs. Bring business cards and be proactive, outgoing, and learn from others about their businesses. Events with an educational component may give you fresh ideas on how to help your business succeed. Many people at these events have a wealth of knowledge you could benefit from and you can make important and valuable connections with other professionals.
Consider business networking organizations such as your local chamber of commerce, Business Networking International (BNI), and Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO). You can also search for events and networking opportunities through websites like Meetup.com.
12. Attend community events
There may be local or community events that can provide you with networking opportunities and brand exposure. Consider annual festivals, farmers markets, and contests. For example, if you are a sponsor of a 5K race, your logo may appear on the banners and shirts provided to entrants. You could also get brand exposure if there is a raffle and your product or service is one of the prizes. You may consider getting a booth at a farmers market or other event.
13. Business cards
Business cards are an indispensable part of business marketing strategy and provide a lot of bang for the buck. Effective business cards are readable, aesthetically pleasing, and consistent with your brand guidelines. Give them out like candy–the card may provide an extra reminder of your business that results in a sale of referral. Contact us today if you would like us to design a business card for you!
Consider having a digital business card ready as well by presenting a QR code on your phone. This is a great backup in case you don’t have your business cards on you and you run into a potential customer.
14. Referral groups
While they go by various names and configurations, referral groups can be very helpful for a variety of professions. The groups can be fairly small and often only allow one individual per industry/profession into the group. Group members help each other by referring their connections to other group members and perhaps helping to promote those businesses online or through joint marketing endeavors.
15. Go door to door
This strategy works well for some types of businesses, such as some home services businesses. In my city, a peddler’s license is required to knock on doors, but no license is required to leave a door hanger or printed material. Walking house to the house could be a great way to promote your business and get some exercise at the same time!
16. Encourage employees to promote your business
Employees can help promote your business through word-of-mouth referrals and social media. If the business has a commission-based pay structure, it will motivate employees to promote the business. Even in that case, it is helpful to train employees on effective ways they can promote the brand. In that training, consider asking employees for ideas about how they can help with marketing–that may create buy-in and provide you with new strategies to consider. You might encourage employees to share something about the company on social media, such as a special event. Employees that are treated well and trained as ambassadors can use their social media networks to create considerable brand exposure.
17. Run an educational event,
class, or webinar
Teach a class in your subject area that potential clients would be interested in. This will allow you the opportunity to interact with the attendees. Furthermore, because you will be presenting for a substantial amount of time, they will get to know you and remember you.
18. Be proactive in seeking referrals
Consider directly asking customers for referrals. Some of your customers may have connections to others in need of your products or services, and your invitation could be the nudge that helps them remember someone to connect you with. You could systematize asking for referrals as part of your website’s email campaign, or your invoicing systems. It often helps to offer an incentive for a referral, such as a discount on a future purchase.
19. Partner up with another business for a special purpose
This partnership could be a special event, a charity project, a promotional giveaway, guest blogging, a joint video, podcast, or webinar. These partnerships can give your business an introduction to the audience of the company you are partnering with. Partnerships can allow you to do larger scale projects that would not be feasible without one or more partners. Make sure you clearly delineate each partners’ role in the joint effort so that it is a success and not hampered by misunderstandings.
20. Place branding on a vehicle
This marketing method can have a spectacular return on investment. Magnets, bumper stickers and window decals are relatively inexpensive methods of letting people know about your business and perhaps your contact information. If the car is on the road all the time for deliveries, service calls, or other business, it may make sense at some point to upgrade to something more visible and aesthetically appealing, such as a vinyl graphics or a custom vehicle wrap.
Think about where you could put a low cost sign or other visual display. Perhaps you could place a sidewalk sign with some humor in front of your store to attract business. Many businesses place eye-catching advertising on exterior windows. Contact us today if you would like us to design signs, banners, brochures, or other visual designs for you!
Other Marketing Strategies
22. Take good care of existing customers
I appreciate that my mechanic often calls me a few weeks after a service to make sure everything went well with the repair. A personal thank you note can also be a nice touch. Customers are more likely to come back if they are treated well.
23. Business awards
If you have been in business for a time, consider applying for business awards. There are awards that are specific to certain industries or based on geographical location (e.g. “Best of Iron County”). The winners often display the award badge online and in marketing materials. Awards badges are a method of offering social proof, and convey the message that the business is trustworthy, does quality work, or excels at satisfying customers.
24. Customer referral program
Offer your customers an incentive for referrals, such as free or discounted products or services. Customers can be effective brand ambassadors because they have some familiarity with your business and find value in the products or services you offer. Be aware of industry specific restrictions, as certain professions either do not allow or have restrictions on compensation for referrals.
Thanks for reading, and we hope you enjoyed this article! Subscribe to our newsletter to receive our upcoming articles in your inbox. If you would like to discuss how we can help you to reach your marketing goals, book a free consultation today!