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Cost Effective Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses

No budget? No problem!

Small businesses have small budgets. Between covering your overhead, paying employees, and paying your vendors, you may not have much room left in the budget to pay for marketing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just the nature of starting a business from the ground up. You won’t always have the money for the things you want / need to do.

However, just because you don’t have a big budget doesn’t mean that you can’t market your company. In fact, online marketing is more accessible and affordable than ever. There are a ton of cost effective marketing strategies that cost next to nothing while helping your company grow to the next level.

Be Willing to Do it Yourself

The best way to save on marketing your business is to do it yourself. Yes, that’s a bit odd coming from a marketing company, but it’s the truth. It’s easy to think that hiring someone to promote your company is the best route to take and, in most cases, it is, but if you’re just starting out and your budget’s tight, don’t drop thousands of dollars a month by hiring an expert or outsourcing the work. Do it yourself.

There are a ton of free resources out there on the strategies below that you could easily learn the basics in a weekend and put the tires to the road on Monday. I say this because 1) you should know what your marketing company / marketer is doing for you, 2) you need to know that there’s growth potential before you invest actual dollars, and 3) it only costs you your time and you’ll see return on that regardless of the outcome.

Some businesses don’t do well on social media. Others have audiences that literally don’t open emails.

It’s a far smarter decision to find these quirks out yourself rather than paying an expert to find them out for you. However, once you see a growth opportunity or some decent return, that’s when it’s time to think about hiring a new employee or outsourcing the work.

Don’t Do Nothing

Too many business owners look at marketing expenses as non-vital and cut them when they hit a rough patch.

Doing nothing is, quite literally, the worst thing you can do.

I have seen this time and time again and it never works out. Think of your marketing expenses as investments because that’s exactly what they are. Every dollar you spend is being put back into the company in an attempt to help you earn more later.

The bottom line is that if you don’t spend time or money on marketing, you’re making it harder for your business to grow. Seriously, get cracking with these cheap marketing strategies.

Inexpensive Tactics to Market Your Small Business

Invest in Organic Search

Google handled 1.2 trillion searches back in 2012 so it’s safe to say that there are well over 2 trillion searches happening every year. That means that there ~5.5 billion search queries being processed every day. If you’re looking to grow your business, you need to rank highly in Google for your relevant keywords and to do that, you need to SEO your website.

In a nutshell, search engine optimization (SEO) covers a wide range of marketing practices whose ultimate goal is improve a website’s search engine rankings to increase search visibility and the volume of inbound organic traffic.

The great thing about SEO is that the only cost is time and if you do it correctly, you don’t have to touch it again. This gives it the highest potential return on investment (ROI) of any marketing practice since it has a low initial cost and an astronomically high lifetime return.

The one thing to keep in mind is that you need keep in mind is that SEO is a double edged sword. Done correctly, it’ll bring in droves of traffic. Done incorrectly, it’ll banish you into obscurity. Do your research and don’t take shortcuts.

Create Useful, Informative, & Engaging Content

Customers are more savvy than ever and they want to learn more about a business / product / service before they hand over their hard-earned money. They need answers to their questions and the best way to attract them to your business is to create content that does just that. (“Content” can be blogs, white papers, instructional videos, how-to guides, infographics, and the list goes on and on and on.)

The goal of content marketing is to make resources that the reader can use or that educates them while positioning your business as an expert in that field.

For example, let’s say that you own a business that sells camping gear and outdoor clothing. Since good camping gear isn’t cheap, your audience is going to do a good deal of research before buying. A great way to attract new customers would be to create content on the best tents for camping in the summer, warm clothing for hiking in winter, how to pitch a camping tent, and so on and so forth.

While these content pieces aren’t relevant to your entire customer base, they are the answer to some of your audience’s questions. This leverages your company as an expert in the field and shoppers are more likely to buy from businesses they trust.

Build a Community on Social Media

The amazing thing about social media is that it gives people a platform to talk about and share the things that they’re passionate about. Whether it’s their favorite sports team, a book they really liked, or a new business that took them by surprise, you can share your experience with thousands in an instant.

This is fantastic for businesses because not only does it give you a direct line of communication to your customers (and thousands of potential customers), you can literally build a community around your business.

Like SEO, social media marketing’s only cost is your time. It doesn’t cost a dime to spin up accounts and start posting on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instgram, yet a startling number of businesses aren’t on social media despite it being completely free. The key to social media marketing that most businesses (and agencies) overlook is that you have to be social.

It’s less about leveraging your business and hard ROI numbers and more about building relationships with your customer base. Don’t forget that when you get out there and mix it up.

Side Note: There are paid advertising opportunities on many (not all) social media platforms and they’re still pretty cheap (and underused). If you’re looking to grow your social media following or funnel more traffic to your website, you can run a campaign for as little as a dollar a day. It may not net you many clicks, but some is better than none. Especially at that price point.

Build (and Market to) an Email List

Regardless of your product, leveraging email is a great way to market your business on the cheap. Because you’re marketing to existing customers (or trusting prospects), you’ll typically have a higher conversion rate than other efforts. For example, the average of our email marketing efforts for our clients is 278% than their respective site wide conversion rates.

That isn’t to toot our own horns (toot toot!), but to illustrate the point that taking advantage of the existing trust your email list has for your business / product will result in more sales. The only real cost of email marketing is the time it takes to put the subscription form on your website and build put together the email itself.

You may have to pay depending on which platform you go with, but if you’re just doing batch & blasts, MailChimp has a forever free plan that is more than enough for most small businesses. Bear in mind that if you want to do things like automated campaigns and send emails based on time zones, you’ll have to upgrade to their $10 / month plan which is still super affordable.

Batch & Blast Emails

These are your “one off” emails that are typically things like sales, product launches, company updates, etc. Basically, any email you create to send a single time. These are phenomenal ways to communicate directly to your customers and funnel them to a sale or a new content piece.

However, one thing to keep in mind with batch and blasts is that you don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over because it will eventually become white noise. This happens quite frequently with businesses that will only email sales to their list. While you are generating revenue (provided the sale / email doesn’t suck), your list will start tuning out your emails and your engagement will plummet.

Auto-Responder Email Campaigns

These are your “set it and forget it” campaigns. In a nutshell, these are automated campaigns that require customers to already be signed up so when they perform a specific action on your website, or within your email list, they’re sent a pre-built, curated message in response to said trigger.

The most popular versions of this are Welcome Series campaigns, where you’re sent a coupon for subscribing to an email list, and shopping cart abandonment, where you’re reminded that you left items behind and given a coupon to entice you to finish your purchase.

While they take some work to set up, you’re able move on to other things while they generate traffic / revenue behind the scenes. If you run an eCommerce website, you need to set up automated email campaigns. They’ll pay for themselves and improve your bottom line to help your long term growth.

Network, Network, Network

The age old saying about being successful is that “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. At the end of the day, people like to do business with people they know or are recommended to them by their friends / family. Word of mouth referrals are incredibly strong votes of confidence in your business even in today’s digital landscape that’s dominated by social media.

Going to networking events and meeting people from other small businesses is a great place to start, but don’t stop there. Talk about your business to your friends and family and your spouse’s friends and family. Get the word out that you have a business. You never know when a person will be in the market for what you’re selling.

The next time you have some down time at the office, pop into neighboring businesses to see what they do and if you can work out some sort of cross promotion with the owners. Good old fashioned business development can go a long way and get you some free referrals.

Leverage Local Search Marketing

If you have a brick and mortar shop, you need foot traffic and that’s where local marketing comes into play. Google has been “localizing” their search engine for the last few years to help small businesses (like yourself) have a fighting chance against the Big Box Companies at capturing the top spots in search. Just like regular SEO, being at the top of the search engine for local searches is incredibly important.

When people are looking for things in their area, they’re most likely in a hurry and on their phone so if you’re not in the top spots, you don’t exist to them.

Local Citation Sites

Yelp, Google My Business, Yellow Pages, et al. are all citation websites where you’re able to have your business information listed and indexed by search engines. Submitting your company’s information to these sites not only gets your site listed, it also sends authoritative signals to Google that you’re a legit business and not a random website someone spun up over the weekend.

Long-Tail / Geographic Keyword Targeting

Too many businesses focus on ranking on page one for their target keyword regardless of how difficult it’s going to be. Let’s say that you run a sporting goods store with a large baseball section. Your target keywords are probably going to be things like “baseball equipment”, “baseball uniforms”, and / or “baseball gloves”.

Chasing page one for these terms is an enormous waste of time and money.

With stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Academy, and Baseball Monkey, you’re never going to come close to cracking page one. However, if you target keywords like “baseball equipment (city name)” or “youth baseball gloves in (city name)” you are far more likely to carve out some real estate and bring in traffic.

Trying to rank locally is a far more efficient use of your time than trying to go national.

Have a Mobile Friendly Website

Google is fairly deep in their transition to a mobile first search engine so it behooves you to get on the train. It’s not stopping and there’s no getting out of the way. Disregarding the SEO boost you’ll get for being mobile friendly, it provides a good user experience to your customers. The last thing you want to do is have a cumbersome website that’s hard to use when a potential customer is trying to find out more about your business.

If you can swing AMPs, go for it. If you can’t, having a responsive website that looks sharp on mobile devices is still good.


Just because you have a small budget doesn’t mean that you can’t market your business. There are tons of market opportunities to spread the word about your business that cost only your time. Put in some time over the weekend and these cost effective marketing strategies will push your small business to the next level.

Great low-budget ways to market your small business:

  • Improve your organic search footprint to bring in more organic traffic.
  • Create useful content that helps your market.
  • Be present on social media and create a community around your business.
  • Beam your company straight into your customers’ inboxes with email marketing.
  • Attend networking events to build mutually beneficial relationships with other businesses.
  • Focus on dominating your local area before going nation wide (or worldwide for that matter).

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