10 Low-Cost Marketing Ideas for Every Small Business
With budgets getting squeezed around the world, small business owners will be looking for new ways to market their products or services in ways that think big but spend small.
Here at CubeSquared, we specialise in working with small businesses and helping them to become big businesses. We understand the pressures of small business because, well, we're one too!
If you're looking for ways to promote your business and don't have a large marketing budget (or any budget at all), then these ideas might just be what you're looking for.
Why Invest in Marketing At All?
In this difficult economy, it's a question that may be a valid one to ask.
If you only have a small team, or even work alone, then marketing strategies might not be part of your everyday workflow given you've got your hands full doing everything else, but they really should be!
Even the smallest businesses will need to do some marketing, but for small teams with small budgets, it can be difficult to know where to start and where to invest what money you do have.
Marketing has the power to give your business a myriad of benefits, no matter your size or spending power. It will help you:
Become more visible in a crowded market.
Understand how your customers see you as a brand, not to mention your product/services.
Make new contacts.
Connect and engage with customers.
Utilise tools to help shape your brand.
In the marketing quagmire, finding ways to rise above the competition can be hard at the best of times, but on a limited budget, then it can seem impossible. Fear not, we're here to help!
We've put our collective heads together and come up with 10, yes TEN, ways you can market your business on even the tightest of budgets with minimal effort.
Sounds impossible? It's not because thankfully three of the most effective marketing channels (blogging, email campaigns and social media) are all available for free (well until our benevolent overlord Elon gets his way).
Thanks to the size of the potential audience, these three channels allow you to reach thousands of people with low (or no) barriers to entry.
Better yet, they all come with analytics and tools to help you track your campaigns to help you grow.
Which platform you use and how you utilise them will depend on a number of factors unique to you, i.e. what you sell, your brand identity, tonal voice and ethos, but they offer everyone the same potential to reach further for little or no money.
With that in mind, let's start with social media and....
1. Choosing The Right Platform
Choosing the most effective social media platform for your marketing efforts can't just be the one you personally like or use the most. It's more about finding the platform that suits your business AND your audience.
Depending on what your product or service is, the largest audience for it may be more active on one platform rather than another.
If, for example, you're product is more geared towards elderly people, they're unlikely to be on TikTok. Similarly, if it's more youth-focused, then marketing it on LinkedIn might not make much difference.
It might take a bit of research, but finding that sweet spot between your socials and your market will reap benefits.
2. Visualise Your Content
Any social media feed will get more attention when the post is eye-catching. As people instinctively just scroll past post after post, they need to have a visual element to catch their attention.
If the platform you've chosen is built around visual posts, like Vero, Pinterest or Instagram, then you'll need to create some content that gives you the best chance of attracting that all-important engagement and ensuring your message gets seen.
When posting, you'll have more chance of success if your content is a mixture of styles and content; some inspiring, some comedic, some out-and-out selling, some helpful and some promotion, but all with links to your own product or service.
The more people get to know you as a brand and as a business, the more they'll engage.
3. Tell Your (Instagram) Story
In recent years, the Stories feature on Instagram has grown enormously. In fact, according to TrueList, 87% of Instagram's 1 BILLION (with a B) monthly active users create content with the Story feature on a daily basis!
Unlike posts which last forever (unless manually deleted), Instagram Stories are, by their very nature, short-lived (they are deleted after 24 hours). This short-form content allows your creativity to shine through.
Think of them as a marketing channel within a channel, but one which allows you to post images or short-form videos (no more than 15 seconds).
These short stories are designed to be a little less 'polished', i.e. posts that are more fun and a little more informal, but posts which can be used to highlight your brand's personality to engage with your audience.
This 'behind-the-curtain' side of you offers the more human side of your brand and that's more likely to engage other humans!
Moving on to blogging, illustrated by the fact the next section is called.....
Moving on from social media, the other great way to market your wares on a limited budget is through a blog.
We're big advocates for having a blog on a website not least because it can help your SEO efforts in a multitude of ways, but they also give you a great way of marketing what you do.
Having a blog, or starting one, can really help people get to know you as a business. The phrase 'people buy from people' has never been more relevant or important.
Sure they might want the same 'thingymajig' you and your competitors both sell, but they'd much rather buy it from a personality, rather than a faceless company.
Having a blog helps you to continually craft your story and create that ongoing relationship, whether that's through your personal business story, How-To guides, company updates or any number of valuable posts offering content that they can only get from you.
So once you have a blog, then what?
Well, like social media, make your blog a visual experience. Rather than just text, spice it up by adding relevant images, infographics, videos, polls, tables, or whatever makes it more visually interesting to read.
If you can include images of your products, then even better!
Making your blog sharable also means that your audience is helping you spread the word around the blogosphere and encourages not only more potential customers but collaborators too.
5. Guest Blogs
The blogging community is an active, vibrant collective of passionate writers. Whatever your particular niche or interest, there will be a host of other bloggers sharing their own insights with their respective communities. This makes it a perfect opportunity to connect with them and expand your reach.
Guest blogging is a key part of the community. Writing guest posts on other people's blogs, or getting them to write on yours, helps to combine two separate communities that share the same interests.
You get access to their audience to share your views (and hopefully gain some new followers/customers) and they get access to yours with the same benefit. It's a win-win.
It might take time to find the right partner(s), but once you do, it can be a long-lasting relationship that helps you both grow your audience (for free!).
6. User-Generated Content
A few years ago, UGC, or User-Generated Content was thought to be the future of every marketing department.
Whilst it certainly took off in a number of sectors; for every YouTube, there's a PlayStation Home, for every #ShareACoke, there's a #SusanAlbumParty (or #SusAnalBumParty) it wasn't necessarily the all-consuming panacea everyone expected, but when done well, you can still use it to market your products.
User-generated content is, as the name suggests, content that has been created (or generated) not by you, but by other users, whether they're your audience, customers or followers.
This content could form part of a blog, i.e. top tips your customers have for using your product, video content on how they use it, or customers modelling your products, it can be almost anything.
Using UGC not only celebrates your customers, but it also shows them you value their input which in turn, increases brand loyalty.
More importantly, helps them to understand the positive impact it can have on their lives. It becomes a permanent record and they are more likely to share it and refer their friends, family and social network to it, bringing it to an even larger audience.
Let's move on to our final free marketing channel, email campaigns.
7. Add Value To Their Inbox
Email campaigns are the cornerstone of many successful marketing campaigns, but they're not without their issues.
We all get A LOT of emails, some we want, some we probably don't, and some we never even asked for but wherever they come from, our inboxes get clogged up on a daily basis.
Most people will often delete emails without even opening them, or never open them at all as they drift to the bottom of the virtual pile, never to be seen again as such, getting people to open an email is a challenge in itself.
Whilst the email content is important, the first challenge is crafting a Subject Line that's going to encourage them to open the email in the first place.
As people scroll past a list of banal email subject headings advertising this, that and the other, crafting something that's going to catch their eye is key.
Once you have that, make sure that the content of the email is worth their time. Whether that comes in the form of exclusive content, subscriber-only offers, early access to products or a curated list of interesting articles from around the web, the email itself needs to give them value, even if it doesn't cost them (or you) anything, for them to open it every week.
Bear in mind that lots, if not most, of your audience, will be opening their email on a mobile device, remember that it also needs to work across a range of devices and screen sizes.
8. Segment Your Audience
Once you start to amass a nice long list of customer contact emails ready to send your latest piece of marketing gold, it's a good idea to be able to segment your audience to ensure they are all getting a relevant message, rather than all getting the same message.
This might mean you have to write more emails, the ones you do send will be more effective. When looking to segment your audience, think about ways to differentiate them.
Maybe highlight your biggest spending customers from those who've just registered, focus on new subscribers or those with large gaps between orders, it can be anything.
Each marketing campaign can be tailored around trying to focus on that group; discounts on their first order, voucher codes to encourage them to order again, and a more gratitude-toned email for the big spenders.
Anything that can help reach and connect them will work better, rather than just a blanket email that tries to be too many things to everyone but misses every target.
9. Automate Your Email Campaigns
Running an email campaign can be time-consuming, and if you're running a small business, it's not like you don't already have a million other things to be doing. That's where automation can come into its own.
Automating your email campaign (sometimes known as a drip campaign or drip marketing) means that pre-written emails are triggered based on either a schedule or a defined customer action.
So, for example, if someone signs up for your newsletter, they could automatically get an email telling them more about your company or highlighting certain products or services.
Similarly, if people don't open one of your emails in a while (this can be easily tracked), then they can get one more that's more focused on getting them back on board.
You can also do this on your website when they make a purchase, or click on certain pages on your site. Make these automated triggers work for you!
10 . Referrals
To bring this wonderful blog to a close, the last free marketing opportunity is through referrals.
It's one thing for you to be out there looking for your next customer, but how about encouraging your last customer (or any of your previous ones) to do it for you?
If one customer gets you another one, then they get a referral fee; whether that's a greater discount when the new customer buys something, or a percentage of the cost of the sale, whatever works for you could be a great opportunity.
Alternatively, if they post about you, create content around your product/service, or refer you to a potential partner you may not have heard of, then give them 'something' by way of a thank you.
Whatever that 'something' might be will vary but we're sure there's an opportunity for another win-win. After all, it's business you might not have got otherwise.
You could even do it for your customers or suppliers providing you know enough about them and get something YOU want; free advertising, flyers included in their packaging, etc.
Squaring The Circle
We hope you've found something of value in this post. We appreciate how hard it can be, especially in this economic climate to make every penny count, but we hope we've given you some ideas on how to create something from next to nothing.
Marketing often only gets talked about in terms of how much a campaign costs or how much revenue it generated, but we think we've shown that you don't have to spend very much to achieve a lot.
With a bit of creative thinking, a modicum of time and some patience, you can make something really eye-catching without spending a fortune.
If you've got any ideas of your own for some free (or low-cost) marketing solutions that we haven't included that you think our audience might be interested in, please leave them in the comments below. What's worked best for you in the past? We'd love to know.
If you need any help with your email campaign, blog writing or content creation, please get in touch with us. We promise it won't be free, but it also won't cost as much as you think and the result might just be spectacular!