Five ways to market your business on a small budget

If you’re the owner of a small business or a young startup, it’s no secret that marketing is not afforded a robust piece of your budget, nor should it be.

Large companies may have the backing and resources for expensive ad campaigns, but small businesses, especially single person operations, must be frugal to survive and maximize profits. Still, without marketing and branding efforts, even a small local business will suffer and fail to perform.

The good news is this: you don’t really need much money to advertise your business, and sometimes you can get away with spending no money at all. You might have to do some more legwork and spend a bit more time, but it won’t take long to notice the positive effects of these simple marketing tactics on your business.

Here are five ways you can successfully market a small business with an even smaller budget.

1) Mailing lists

When you’re carrying out a transaction with a client or customer, do you request contact information, like phone number and email address? Your answer should be yes. If you’re not doing this, it’s time to start. Customer contact information is a valuable asset, and you should make sure you’re recording it when appropriate.

Many businesses use a point-of-sale system with an integrated function for recording contact information, so if your POS doesn’t do this, it might be time to switch to a different one so you don’t miss out. Email addresses are especially important, because you can use them to construct one of the most essential components of a small budget marketing project: mailing lists.

The best thing about email lists is their cost efficiency. The smallest businesses can get away with using free, personal email accounts for their marketing needs, but even a premium business email account won’t cost much in the long run, and will offer more storage space as well as other business appropriate features.

Use mailing lists to send out newsletters every week, or every two weeks; this way, you can inform your customers about new products, services, or upcoming deals, and even if you have nothing new to show, it’s a good idea to remind them you’re still around and eager to hear from them again.

2) Special offers and giveaways

Look over your inventory. Are there any stock surpluses? Are you having a hard time moving certain products? Don’t write it off as a loss just yet. Slow-moving inventory can be easily reworked into special offers, and even giveaways. Special offers and giveaways are twice useful; not only do they encourage return business via inclusion in the aforementioned newsletters, but they also attract new customers who might not be otherwise motivated to engage without that little push.

If you can spare the product, try offering a conditional deal, like buy-one-get-one, which will take advantage of and boost sales of an in-demand product while also liquidating old stock. If your resources are more scarce, a raffle-style giveaway is a better idea.

This way, you’re only sacrificing a few pieces of merchandise while drumming up an amount of consumer interest that might be equal to, or even greater than, what a conditional deal might generate. Returning customers or potential new customers will be excited at the prospect of getting something for free or getting a good deal, and if they find out via newsletter, it will feel even more exclusive.

3) Promotional merchandise

You know this trick: the ballpoint pen, the USB flash drive, the baseball cap, the plastic wayfarer sunglasses, and all the other merchandise that so often bears a company name or logo. It may be an old strategy, but there’s a reason businesses haven’t given up on it — it works. And now, with branded merchandise available from massive, comprehensive online catalogues, the possibilities are essentially endless, not only regarding product type, but cost as well.

Promotional product vendor GoPromotional claims that small business and small budgets make up about 50% of their total sales. Advising a small business how to get the most out of their marketing giveaways is the hallmark of a strong promo product seller. 

Expect your vendor to help you decide which products are right for your business. You can order just about any type of branded merchandise at customizable quantities, spending only what is allowable under your budget. Ordering small batches for use in giveaways and other promotional exercises is a great way to test the waters; if you end up satisfied by your purchase, you might end up directing more funding to promotional products for use at public events and trade fairs.

4) Social media

If you’ve done the bare minimum of emarketing research, you’re at least somewhat aware of the advertising functionality of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. However, your small budget may not allow that kind of spending, and if you’re a locally focused startup, you might not need to spend money directly on traditional advertising, at least not immediately. Instead, use these platforms the way they were originally intended: to establish a brand identity and communicative presence.

Type your business’ name into the Google search bar. What are the first results? Typically, a company with comprehensive online representation will have its own Google business profile with essential information like address, phone number, and a link to your own website, if you have one. After that, you’ll see social media accounts, the first of them typically Facebook.

Make sure you have a Google profile and at least one form of social media up and running. Even if you aren’t using social media to cultivate an audience and a customer base – which you should be – just having social media profiles at all goes a long way toward making your business look legitimate.

5) Blogging

For businesses that operate even partially as online services, blogging is a great way to build and maintain relevance, not only in the eyes of consumers, but also in the allseeing eye of Google’s search engine. Search engine optimization is an incredibly rich, expansive subject, and we won’t get too far into it here.

Suffice to say, the more words you have, especially words relevant to your product and the type of customer you’re trying to reach, the likelier someone is to stumble upon your business with a Google search. How do you increase the wordiness of your website without making it completely crowded, unappealing, and distracting to the customer? Write a blog.

Your company blog can be whatever you want it to be, as long as it highlights your business. Write about your industry, like industry-related news or your own opinions on the industry you occupy. Take some time to explain, in detail, why you operate the way you do, and what sets you apart from competitors.

A locally focused business might want to blog about events in the community, and how these events might affect them and their customers. To kill two birds with one stone, your blog entries can double as email newsletters, or you can use your mailing list to promote your blog.