Effective marketing isn’t about spending the most money — it’s about strategically spending your marketing budget, whatever its size, to get the biggest ROI. Any business could go broke trying all the different media and techniques to promote your business, and still have nothing to show for it.
The Small Business Association recommends putting 7%-8% of your gross revenue into marketing. Using the average revenue of small businesses with no employees, that’s only about $3,000 in marketing costs per year — yet research shows that small-to-medium sized businesses are spending $9,000-$10,000 per month on Google ad campaigns alone!
No wonder why so many small business owners think they can’t afford to market! Some marketing ideas take a lot of time, money, and effort if you want to see any form of ROI.
The good news: you don’t have to be a big spender to get big results from your marketing.
Let’s look at some budget-friendly ideas that can help you spread the word and connect with your audience without sacrificing your profit margin.
1. Hone Your Elevator Pitch
By definition, your elevator pitch is one or two sentences that perfectly summarize what you do. Or, in other words, it’s the rundown on your business in the time it takes to ride an elevator.
It’s essential for business owners to craft an impactful elevator pitch. When you’re networking or meeting someone for the first time, you’ll be glad to have an easy way to explain what you do, especially since most people lose their attention span within 90 seconds or less.
A great elevator pitch includes the following:
- Highlights competitive advantage
- Solves a problem
- Incorporate social proof
- Intrigues your audience
Use your elevator pitch as an icebreaker at networking events to start an effective conversation.
2. Join a Networking Group
Networking is critical, especially for digital business owners who have no physical office or storefront to attract an audience. Most communities have networking groups you can join (free and paid memberships). And even if the members don’t become clients, they might know someone who needs your services.
3. Participate in Events or Local Business Shows
Local organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce or clubs, organize business events that allow you to set up a booth and promote your services. These business fairs can be gold mines, as the people who attend them are usually interested in getting to know their local business community.
Outside of your local area, you might want to look into industry trade shows. Attending as a vendor can get expensive, often costing thousands of dollars for a small booth space. But you might consider attending as a guest, which will allow you access to networking opportunities.
4. Volunteer in Your Community
Never underestimate the power of giving back. Participating in local volunteer work can help you network with other community members for a good cause. Plus, it could generate some free publicity about your company that can also put your brand in a favorable light.
Don’t hesitate to talk about your volunteer work on your social media channels. Take photos of you participating in events in and share them with your audience. At the very least, it may encourage other business owners to step up their game.
5. Ask for Referrals
Referral marketing is arguably the single most effective tool in your arsenal. In addition, they’re also one of the most budget-friendly marketing options — a win/win!
Research shows that referral leads convert 30% better than non-referral leads, have a 16% greater lifetime value and a 37% higher retention rate, and are four times more likely to refer other customers to you.
In addition, studies show that 84% of people trust recommendations they receive from family or friends, making it the most influential form of marketing.
Logically, this makes sense: would you be more willing to try a restaurant based on the restaurant’s claim that they serve amazing food, or based on your friend or family member raving about their meal?
Hands down, referrals are seen as more credible and trustworthy than traditional marketing or advertising. And though referrals can happen organically, you can also speed up the process by asking your best clients to refer you to others.
6. Speak at an Event
If you’re an expert in your industry, why not share your expertise at scale? Volunteering as a speaker at an event can be an effective way to share your skills, build your brand image and recognition, and boost your credibility.
Best of all, the only thing it will cost you is your time. And in some cases, the event organizer may be willing to pay you for your contributions.
7. Grow Your Email List
Research shows that email marketing is one of the most cost-effective forms of digital marketing, with an average ROI of $42 for every dollar you spend. In addition, 81% of small businesses use email marketing as their primary channel for customer acquisition.
If you haven’t already, set up a lead capture form on your website to encourage email sign-ups. You can also grow your subscriber list by running Facebook campaigns and referral campaigns.
8. Partner with Other Local Businesses
No business is an island, even if you’re a sole proprietor. Take time to go out and meet other business owners in your area, even if they aren’t in your industry. You may be able to collaborate with them on some local marketing initiatives, such as holding a class, hosting a webinar, or offering complementary services.
9. Check Out Business Award Opportunities
Earning a business award or special recognition can send your credibility skyrocketing. But you might be surprised that these awards don’t just appear out of nowhere. Many Industries and local organizations who distribute annual business awards offer opportunities to apply for them.
And if you can’t apply for them, tap into your network to see if somebody might recommend you for an award.
10. Host a Class or Event
An effective alternative to booking speaking events, consider holding your own class or event that will allow you to share your expertise with a captive audience. You can usually book a space for free at your local library. From there, it’s a matter of promoting your event and getting people to show up.
Distributing flyers, running a paid ad campaign, posting on community bulletin boards, and sending a personal invitation to your subscriber list can help you fill seats faster. You might also want to list your event on sites like Eventbrite to expand your reach.
11. Publish Quality Content
It’s no secret that content is king. The internet has allowed anybody to become a publisher, and the majority of consumers are on board with the content marketing wave.
In fact, 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing to connect with their audience and expand their reach, while 72% of marketers agree that content increases engagement
Focus on producing quality, engaging content that’s well branded and answers your audience’s questions, solves problems, and builds your authority.
12. Guest Post on a Blog
Sharing your expertise on someone else’s blog can put you in front of a whole new audience. Many blogs will accept guest pitches and posts, but if you want the best chance of not getting lost in the jumble, try connecting directly with blog owners and building strong connections with them.
You may even offer to return the favor by letting them guest post on your blog in front of your audience.
13. Start a Podcast
Podcasting isn’t new in content marketing, but it’s experiencing a major glow up at the moment. Studies show that more than one in five people listen to podcasts on a weekly basis, and that number is growing.
What’s most interesting about podcasts isn’t the content itself, but rather the people who are listening. Podcast listeners tend to have an annual income of $75,000 or more, have a college degree or greater, and are business professionals vs standard consumers. Depending on your audience, these stats could have you seeing dollar signs!
You can develop a podcast for your business for the cost of a microphone and hosting. The biggest “expense” is your time — you may need a few hours each week to come up with ideas and then record and publish your podcast.
14. Improve Your LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn is the social media for professional networking. At the very least, you should have a personal LinkedIn profile that details your experience, expertise, and skills. It’s also a good idea to create a LinkedIn page for your business, especially if you have employees.
You can use LinkedIn for cold prospecting — and in some cases, clients might find you first.
15. Optimize Your Website
Do some keyword research and use it to optimize your website for organic search. Clients who can find you online via Google or other search engines can help you boost your website traffic without having to pay for ads.
Your goal should be to get on the first page of Google for the search terms you want to rank for. Studies show that 95% of all clicks go to the top 10 results, and very few will go past the first page.
16. Stay Active on Social Media
Social media offers a more humanized look into your brand and business. It gives users another way to connect with your business and get to know you and your brand outside of your website and other marketing.
Focus on growing your social media audience, and make it a point to update your page with relevant, helpful information that will keep your audience engaged and keep your brand top of mind.
17. Create Impactful Videos
Video marketing is on the rise, with 85% of consumers watching videos online and 54% saying they want to see more video content from their favorite businesses and brands.
But making professional, high-quality videos can get expensive. Depending on the length and type of content, you could be paying as much as $1,200 for just one video!
For small businesses with small budgets, you can still cash in on the video marketing revolution. Use your iPhone and tools like Facebook Live to create raw, authentic, in-the-moment videos that connect with your audience. Your videos may not be Super Bowl commercial quality, but they can help you leverage the power of video to deliver value to your audience.
18. Brand Your Vehicle
Vehicle wraps are relatively inexpensive and can turn any automobile into a marketing powerhouse on wheels. If you want to save even more money, you can opt for a magnetic sign to slap on your car door. Every person who sees you on the road will be exposed to your brand and can help you build recognition within your community.
19. Pass Out Business Cards
Business cards are an age-old marketing tool, but they still hold value and relevance today. Keep a stack of business cards on you at all times so you can pass them out as you network.
The business card provides an additional touch point and can help the people you meet remember you when you reconnect later.
20. Create a Google My Business Listing
Google My Business listings are free to create and can help people find and contact your business. In addition, GMB listings allow customers to leave star ratings and reviews that can serve as a testament to your abilities.
Many companies who use Google My Business invest in review campaigns to encourage users to leave reviews. This small act can supercharge your marketing, as 92% of buyers trust online reviews just as much as a referral from a family member or friend. What’s more, 95% of buyers will read online reviews before moving forward with a purchase.
21. Pay for Search Engine Ads
Granted, you could rely on organic search for growing your audience, but it’s hard to ignore the potential of paid advertising.
Paid search ads increase brand awareness by 80%, while 46% of clicks go to the top three ad spots on search engines. Essentially, paid ads are a shortcut to the top of the search results page, even if your organic rankings are suffering.
The best part of using paid search ads is that you can control exactly how much you spend, unlike paying for print ads.
22. Send Handwritten Thank You’s
Never underestimate the power of a handwritten gesture. When you connect with a prospect or business owner, send them a thank you card in the mail with a personalized message. It shows you took the time to thank them properly, and given the lost art of letter writing, it’s likely to stand out in their mind.
23. Join Conversations in Online Forums
Online Q&As like Reddit and Quora can be gold mines for free marketing. Data shows that users who are age 18 or older and have a household income of $100K or more spend twice as much time on Quora than LinkedIn! User-driven forums are filled with questions that you might be able to answer or conversations to participate in — and promote your business in the process!
For example, you might address a question and include a link to a relevant blog post you wrote. Or, you might reach out with an invitation to contact you for a consultation.
Not only will the person who asked the question be exposed to your brand, but also anyone else who reads the comment thread (usually because they have the same question or problem!).
24. Visit Local Businesses with a Gift
Free gifts can be excellent marketing tools when used correctly. For example, if you’re wanting to connect with local business owners, consider delivering hot chocolate or cider with your contact details attached.
Or, if you have a little more flex in your budget, consider buying several copies of your favorite business book, write a short inscription inside, and give to prospective clients or customers as a gift. They’ll appreciate the personalized nature of the gift, plus they may learn valuable information from the book they can use in their business.
As an added bonus, books make great gifts because it shows you’re well-read and probably invest in continuing education. It’s just as much of a brand and credibility booster for you as it is a gift for them!
25. Use Your Data to Write Case Studies
Case studies can be compelling marketing tools that showcase exactly how you’ve helped customers solve problems. The only downside is that case studies require you to have been in business for a while, and are only effective if you’ve carefully documented your experience with a client.
However, with good record keeping and plenty of data to support your claims, you can turn a client project into a powerful story that highlights your skills and expertise.
26. Invest in Direct Mail Postcards
Direct mail is far from dead. In fact, our current digital age has breathed new life into sending marketing mail. In a world run rampant by digital ads and email, getting a piece of real, physical mail delivered to you can be a refreshing sight to see.
And when you can stand out in their mailbox, you have a greater chance of being remembered.
73% of consumers say they prefer for brands to contact them via direct mail because they can read it at their convenience. What’s more, 59% say they enjoy getting direct mail from brands about new products.
The least expensive form of direct mail marketing is doing an Every Door Direct Mail campaign or postcard campaign, which costs about $0.30 per piece. You can target your mailing to specific mail routes or ZIP codes to get the best chance of reaching the right people with your offer.
27. Focus on Good Branding
Though most people think of branding as something used by corporations, small businesses and entrepreneurs can also benefit from good branding. More than just a logo, colors, and a tagline, branding is the combination of all of your touchpoints that represent your image and personality.
Your mission, values, colors, logo, design, and messaging should work together to create a strong, consistent brand image. As you infuse your brand in everything you say and do, people will start recognizing your name and company and will remember you next time they need something you offer.
28. Build a Sample Portfolio
Most of the buying process happens before a prospect ever reaches out to you in person. Most people want to learn about a business on their own (at their convenience). One way to provide everything they need to decide in your favor is to highlight your expertise in a sample portfolio.
Gather your best work and present it in a visually appealing format. Once they see what you’re capable of, they may be more likely to take the next step.
29. Create a Landing Page
Landing pages can be effective marketing tools for specific campaigns. In fact, 48% of marketers build separate landing pages for each campaign. They can help you target niche audiences, promote a specific offer, and even lead your prospect through an entire sales funnel in a way that puts your sales and marketing on autopilot.
According to Wordstream, the average landing page conversion rate is about 2.35% across industries.
30. Join a Professional Service Organization
Industry-specific organizations give you a more specific way to network. It’s an excellent way to make valuable business contacts that can support your credibility and potentially connect you to opportunities.
31. Conduct Market Research and Publish Your Findings
Depending on how long you’ve been in business, you may be sitting on a mountain of valuable industry data. If you can tap into this data and compile it into usable formats, you’ll have made your competitors very jealous.
Your own data is the easiest way to create original, authentic, impactful content that your competitors don’t have! You can provide insights that your audience will find useful, plus it builds your credibility as an authority in your field.
32. Hand Out Promotional Items
If you’re setting up at an event or want to have something to give people in person, consider investing in branded promo items or merchandise. Nine out of 10 people recall the branding of the promotional items they receive, while 8 in 10 will recall the messaging.
Most notably, 85% of people who received a promotional item from a business ended up doing business with them!
The key is to choose products that people find beneficial, such as pens, bags, or cups. Data shows that 69% of consumers will pick up a branded promotional item if they thought it was useful.
33. Connect with Your Local Chamber of Commerce
Your Chamber of Commerce likely charges an annual fee to be a member, but the networking opportunities you gain could pay for that fee several times over. Inquire about how the Chamber can help you market your business, the types of businesses already in the organization, networking events, costs, and other details to see if it’s worth the investment.
34. Start a Reactivation Campaign
Once you complete your clients’ projects and they no longer need your services, it’s easy to lose touch with them. But given that it costs five to 25 times more to market to a new customer than an existing or former one, you should consider doing a reactivation campaign to bring back some of your former clients.
Reach out to see if they’re ready to do another project or need help with someone completely different. They already have the benefit of knowing what it’s like to work with you, which could make them an easier sell.
35. Make Friends with Your Competitors
People often overlook their competitors as a potential marketing opportunity, but you might be surprised at just how much you might be able to help each other.
Even if you’re after the same market share, you can help to boost each other’s credibility by commenting on each other’s blogs, connecting on LinkedIn, and even sharing tips and insights you learn about your industry.
If you offer a worthwhile service built on a foundation of quality, then there should be more than enough business to go around. And chances are, if other people who do the same thing as you are unable to take on certain clients, you may end up being the first person they recommend.