Smart business owners know it's not just what you make, it's how you market it. But successful marketing doesn't need to cost thousands of dollars or incur expensive consultant fees. From word-of-mouth to VIP programs, here are 10 simple tips for stretching a shoestring budget to create a successful marketing campaign

1. Claim Your Business

  • Claim your business on Google My Business Listing, Nextdoor, and Yelp. This is free, ongoing advertising for your business and an opportunity for loyal customers to give you praise and drive traffic.
  • Showcase your business by posting photos of recent events and promotions.
  • Keep all ads updated! This is key. If you increase your inventory or offerings, make sure you update your listings with the most up to date information.

2. Develop a Website

  • Every business needs a website. Get one. A business blog is a very inexpensive way to attract readers and keep traffic coming to your site.
  • Write relevant content. If you don't have the time to keep your posts updated, you can enlist college students or professional writers/content producers who are looking to further their online presence.
  • Stay on top of traffic. You will need Google Analytics and Google Take Manager in order to obtain useful analytics about clicks and viewers. Consider adding a Facebook pixel to your site if you market on Facebook, as this will allow you to analyze your Facebook marketing efforts.

3. Have a Social Media Presence

  • The third must-have for inexpensive marketing is a social media presence. Get the word out, and make sure you post frequently to keep your followers engaged and coming back. Don't forget to add your social media handles to all your marketing material. Make it easy for your fan base to follow you by generating a QR code, those pixelated barcode squares that point to a website or app.
  • Utilize Google Analytics to determine your target market, such as age of visitors, gender, hobbies, and online habits.

4. Join Community Groups

  • The strongest form of marketing is one of the oldest: word of mouth.  Connect with people and strengthen your presence in the community. Yes, that's a bit of a challenge in these viral times, but the need for it is eternal.
  • Due to the current restrictions on social gatherings, all businesses are relying on the ability to continue personal connection via the web.  Consider hosting virtual chat meetings in lieu of actual ones.
  • Before you engage in web meetings, explore your options with the best platforms to use. You don't want clients or vendors declining to join due to issues with connectivity or complexity of software. Test your web cam prior to each meeting. Investing in a good web camera will save you the frustration of poor connectivity, poor audio and video and lack of plug in support or software updates.

5. Investigate Pay-Per-Click Advertising

  • Sites like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and others regularly offer free advertising credits to attract new business. You can get your feet wet in pay-per-click advertising without spending any money by waiting for these promotions to come around. This is a great way to experiment with all the ways you can fine tune or broaden your campaign. If the ad campaign bombs, you haven't spent any money or damaged your brand.
  • Utilize A/B testing -- basically, an experiment comparing two versions of a webpage or app against each other to determine which one performs better --until you have found the right visual, content, and timing for your ad. These three things make a huge difference in the success of your ad.

6. Run a Class or Workshop  

  • If your business has a local presence, consider teaching a class or workshop. Like the community meetings, due to current restrictions, you might want to make it an online one, via Facebook, Zoom, Go-To Meeting, or any of the other available free videoconferencing platforms. Make the class complimentary, too, if you can; if not, make sure it's affordable to your target market.
  • Record your class so you can post it later for those who couldn't attend.
  • Don't forget to ask for feedback at the end of your class as well as suggestions for future class topics. This will help eliminate your guesswork in regards to what to host in the future.

7. Build Your Email List

Your email list is the contemporary version of the Rolodex. Happily, constructing a complete one is a lot easier than writing on little tabs of paper. There are a lot of paid and free CRM programs that will integrate with your website, composing contact lists in minutes. One highly recommended one, especially if you're just starting out, is MailChimp: Their basic account is free, they will not spam you, and you can schedule your emails in advance.  

8. Co-Market

  • Reach out to local businesses who may benefit by becoming marketing colleagues with you. Good candidates might include a similar business on the opposite side of town. Or enlist a local espresso cart or bakery to help spread the word.
  • Consider co-sponsoring a contest: It's a great way to get business in the door (literal or virtual) and reduce marketing costs.

9. Start a VIP program

Everyone loves feeling important and privileged. Reward frequent or high-dollar customers with exclusive promotions, giveaways, or drawings. If your budget is squeaky tight, ask for donations from other small businesses trying to grow their clientele; it's a win-win.  

10. Host a Virtual Open House

Make sure you kick off your campaign big -- but within budget. Contact local businesses to see if you can collect donations for door prizes; this is a great way for other business to tap into a broader market and do some marketing without much effort. With the right amount of planning and outreach, it's possible to have 80% or more of the expenses covered by others.