Inexpensive marketing ideas for small businesses
I’ve been in business for 30 years and taught marketing and social media for the past 10 years. Finding marketing ideas for small businesses that deliver real return on investment is extremely important to me. Although the world of social media has brought so many more opportunities for people to market their own business, I always tell people social media is just one tool in your marketing toolbox. The great thing about social media is that it has enabled business owners and entrepreneurs to connect directly with the customer and the measurement and analytics function has made it possible to understand what their audience really wants.
But relying on social media too much is like putting all your eggs in one basket and social media can be a very fragile and physical environment. Changes in technology, strategy and algorithms can have a massive impact on your ability to be seen on the social platforms. So let’s take a look at the marketing opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs – there are literally thousands of marketing ideas for small businesses that aren’t going to cost the earth.
Here are 15 inexpensive marketing ideas for your small business
1. Business cards
It’s worth getting branded business cards. Design doesn’t have to be expensive but it is essential – you can use a freelance designer, price around locally for print or use an online system such as Vistaprint or moo.com. Make sure you always carry some with you and don’t be afraid to pass them on to people you meet or leave them in relevant places for people to pick up.
Nothing beats meeting real people and building relationships. You may not feel comfortable at first but it is worth spending some time to search out networking groups in your area. Also try to attend your own industry and sector events and conferences to keep you learning and your industry knowledge fresh. My aim is to attend two conference-type events each year. Networking brings leads that may become your customers and also contacts that may be able to refer you to other people.
3. Free PR
Learn to write your own press releases and how to pitch your stories to journalists. Remember the media isn’t interested in anything they perceive to be a sales pitch – you need to think of ways to create stories around your business. Try your local press and radio stations first.
4. Write a column
If you are an expert in your field or provide a professional service you could ask to write a column on a regular basis or as a one-off in a local publication, or take part in a radio show sharing your knowledge.
5. Make sure your website is current
I do believe that some businesses can still make a start with basic social media presence and a good Facebook page but you will need to invest in a website – compare it to building a house rather than living in a tent!
Your website Is your home online, it’s bricks and mortar, owned by you and controlled by you and no matter what happens to the social platforms, your website will be there for you. But you must keep it current, just like you would your social media. Make sure people understand exactly what you can do for them and how you can help and make it easy for them to get in touch with you.
6. Remember your existing customers
Your cheapest lead is always an existing lead so don’t forget about the people that you have already worked with – make sure you contact them regularly and maintain your relationship. If they have bought from you once they are more likely to buy from you again and tell other people about you.
7. Get testimonials
We are living in a world of social proof – I call it the TripAdvisor mentality! It doesn’t matter how many stars your hotel may have, you still want to search review sites and check what a fellow traveller has to say. Find ways to ask for testimonials from satisfied customers and use these on your social media, website and promotional materials.
8. Send thank you cards
Saying thank you to existing customers helps to build and maintain relationships. Thank you cards may contain a voucher or a discounted referral for a friend or may just be a simple ‘thank you’.
9. Be active on social media
Make sure that you have chosen the right social media platforms. Have a strategy so that you know why you are posting and be consistent. Treat your audience as a community – do not broadcast at them, instead provide great content and give knowledge that will be of value to them.
Sponsoring an individual, team or event can be a great way to get noticed. I have worked with clients who have switched their whole marketing strategy from paid advertising to generating customers through community sponsorship. The thing I love about this strategy is that you can get media coverage for free, often equivalent to many hundreds of pounds of paid advertising. But you are also able to assist your community with your donation and remember the donation doesn’t always have to be money – it could be your expertise for your time.
11. Guest blog for people
Spending an hour writing a guest blog for someone else’s website has multiple benefits especially if the website for the blog are you are writing for has a well-recognised domain. Make sure that you ask for your website to be linked to the blog as this gives you back links and, depending on the authority of the site, the back links will help you to be shown higher on the search engines. This makes your site more Search Engine Optimised (SEO). In addition your blog will be seen by a new audience bringing you top of mind, helping you to get more leads for your business.
12. Traditional Mail Shot
Blanket mail distribution can be expensive but for a new-start business I have seen some great results from using a traditional leaflet drop to a local area. This is something that works particularly well if you are providing a home-related service such as window cleaning, gardening tree surgery, painting and decorating etc. One thing I would recommend is not to skimp on the design so spend some money on a professional graphic designer. Remember first impressions count.
13. Build your email list
Your email list is gold so start to build a list of subscribers to your email as soon as you possibly can. Remember there are rules that you must follow and people need to actively give their consent to be added to your list. Building a good email is really imperative for online and offline businesses and it doesn’t matter if you have 10s 100s or 1000s of signups as long as they are still interested in the products and services you provide and you are still able to help them in some way.
This could be something that you give away free with a special offer. For example ‘Buy a sofa, get a lamp for free!’ or it could be a ‘buy one get one free’ deal. But my favourite is the random act of kindness where you do something spontaneous that makes somebody’s day and just makes them smile. The effect is that often these people will talk about it with friends or add it to social media.
15. Exhibit at events
Establish which events attract your ideal customer and consider having a presence. This gives you the opportunity to meet prospective customers, demonstrate your skills and knowledge and engage with other exhibitors. Remember to use your marketing to create a plan to promote your presence prior, during and after the event.
There are literally thousands of inexpensive marketing ideas for small businesses. Just remember that marketing isn’t something that works in parallel with your business – it is a huge part of what you do every day. The work you do now is guaranteeing sales and leads in three or even six months time...
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Author - Alison Teare
Alison Teare is a qualified, marketer with more than twenty-five years’ business and management experience, in both the public and private sectors, at local and global levels.
A social media expert, Alison is a trainer and speaker who regularly provides advice to businesses to guide their social media policies and strategy. She works with businesses to help them understand their marketing and teaches them how to plan, deliver and get results from their marketing budget.