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13 Affordable Marketing Ideas For Small Businesses

Friday, March 01, 2024

13 Affordable Marketing Ideas For Small Businesses

You need to spend money to make money. That’s how the saying goes. However, people starting small businesses often don’t have a lot of budget to work with. Money is tight these days, and that can make promotions a challenge — but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

​There are plenty of ways to spread the good news about your business without spending much money, or any at all. As a busy business owner, you probably don’t have the time to research and identify all these low-cost marketing ideas, so I’ve done the courtesy of compiling a few of them here for you today.

But before we get started, it’s worth pausing and taking the time to make sure you have the foundations of your small business marketing in place.

​Any marketer worth their salt should know how crucial it is for a business to understand and communicate its Unique Selling Proposition. It’s the reason why people will do business with you and not someone else; the winning difference that sets you apart and makes you the only real and good choice.

Without a USP, or if your USP is weak, you’ll be seen as a commodity provider – a business just competing based on price. Standardized, undifferentiated, and cheap. This is the worst possible position to have for a small business, so you’d best do anything and everything to avoid it.

Understanding your USP means putting together the facts, features, benefits, promises, and ideas of your business into one cohesive statement. Once you know what that statement is, you can weave it into nearly everything you do to promote your small business, including your elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch will be your answer if anyone asks what you do. It’s a quick and compelling description of your business that highlights your USP, inviting interest and hopefully sparking a more meaningful conversation.

I was reading an extensive survey to measure the impact of advertising slogans. Among the slogans and advertising tag lines for 22 of the biggest U.S. advertisers, only 6 were recognized by more than 10% of the consumers surveyed.

In other words, not even 1 out of 10 consumers could correctly identify 90% of the slogans. 16 of the 22 advertisers had slogans no one knew – each spending more than 100-million dollars a year advertising them!

Three of these much advertised slogans scored 0% recognition. 0%!

Take the test, see if you can name any of the big, dumb companies that match these slogans:

  • We’re With You
  • That Was Easy
  • The Stuff Of Life

Only Wal-Mart’s “Always Low Prices” was recognized by 64% of the consumers tested. (And by the way, if you can’t have the lowest prices, you might as well be the highest. Not much cache in “Almost Always Almost Lowest Prices Most Days”.)

Those faring poorly, like #1 above, argued that they’d only been advertising their slogan for YEARS!!!! – and, quote, “it takes time to build brand identity.” #3’s spokesman justified their disaster as “ only a transitional slogan”, stating they were moving toward yet another new brand-focused identity, whatever the bejeezus that is. Translation: new slogan being thunk up.

The real laughter is that the copy of this article was from USA TODAY’s website, and at its end, two companies paid to advertise their services, doing, yep, “corporate branding.”

Is A Slogan A Brand? Isn’t A Slogan Just Like A USP?

Is A Slogan A Brand

No, a slogan is not a brand, and these results are not exactly an indictment of all brand-building approaches.

For example, the kind of “personal branding” I teach encompasses more than a slogan, and is usually more targeted to a market.

However it’s easy to have that go awry and wind up with branding that looks good but does nothing. There’s a tightrope to walk there, and it’s easy to fall off. Most ad agency types do.

A slogan is definitely NOT a USP, although it can represent, telegraph or at least be congruent with a USP in your small business marketing.

Actually, Wal-Mart’s is the only slogan in all the ones tested via this survey that enunciates a USP. It is, not coincidentally, the only effective slogan. The others not only fail the Dan Kennedy USP Question #1 (Why should I, your prospect, choose to do business with you versus any and every other option?), they also are so generic they could be used by anybody.

For example, “That Was Easy” could certainly work for Boston Market – how easy it is to put a ‘home cooked’ dinner on the family table, or for DiTech – how easy it is to get a home loan.

Warning: if anybody and everybody can use your USP, it ain’t one.

If any and every Tom, Dick and Mary can use your slogan, why on earth would you want it?

In each of these cases, the minute the ad agency charlatans revealed these slogans in the corporate clients’ boardrooms, the CEO’s should have stood up, pulled out a gun, shot one of them somewhere it would really hurt and bleed a lot but not kill him, and yelled “Next.”

This is the kind of chronic stupidity I encountered when working with big, dumb companies like Weight Watchers and Mass Mutual. (Incidentally, Weight Watchers could use any of the above three dead bang loser slogans. Mass could use two of them. And probably would.)

Every company behind these losers had a spokesperson ready with an excuse. Nobody said, truthfully, “We’re idiots.”

Make sure your elevator pitch sounds natural and conversational. Tweak it in little ways depending on the situation you’re in. Once you have these basics put into place, you can use them in any marketing effort you do, be it online or offline. From your social media profiles and marketing or advertising copy to any flyers or business cards – they’ll serve as a good foundation for the majority of low-cost marketing tactics that I will discuss today.

1. Put Out Content

Get on this immediately if you haven’t been doing it already. Creating and sharing valuable content on your business websites and social media platforms is one of the most effective marketing tactics for any small business. It’ll help you build awareness, engage with your chosen audience, and establish your expertise within your industry.

You can essentially use your content as a lead magnet to attract the customers you want if you tailor your content to address their needs, interests, and pain points. Providing value will make you memorable, and you can continue to nurture and attract new visitors if you develop a consistent posting schedule.

Newsletters, social media posts, case studies, white papers, and videos are all fairly affordable content ideas that will help you attract leads to your website. They can be shared through your email list, text messages, and social media posts.

If you need an example you can look to our very own NO B.S Newsletter, which we’ve been sending out for years and years to nurture and provide value to our members. We teach timeless business principles and plenty of other low-cost marketing strategies there too so if you’re interested in learning more I suggest you register for it and give it a try.

2. Cement Your Social Media Presence

Cement Your Social Media Presence

Set up social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and whatever other platform you can think of where your target market loiters around online.

This is basically a free marketing idea to reach your customers. You can post valuable content, join professional groups, and participate in industry conversations to share and interact with customers and potential partners.

Getting in contact with social media influencers may also help elevate your presence. One other low-cost option is to send them a free product to review, or even pay the influencer to advertise your product or services (if they like them). Though it’s not quite a free or low-cost idea, it has the potential to be an investment worth your while if you find an influencer whose audience overlaps with your own.

3. Host A Webinar

Hosting a webinar is another great way to establish your authority in the industry. If you cannot host a webinar by yourself, then consider collaborating on one with another business to help you engage potential customers and raise awareness towards your business.

But before everything, you need to have a clear outline of the goal of your webinar. Whether it’s educating your audience, showcasing a new product, or building thought leadership – having a clear objective will guide your content and the topic of choice, which needs to align with your audience’s interests.

A webinar can be as simple as going live on Facebook or Instagram to share valuable information, hosting Q&As, or even interviewing one of your most satisfied customers. Afterwards you can gather feedback from attendees to understand what worked well and where improvements can be made. Use this information to enhance your business, your products, and any future webinars.

4. Do One-To-One Marketing

Do One-To-One Marketing

This tactic is aimed at boosting personalized interactions with customers to foster a greater relationship and sense of loyalty, which will yield better returns on your marketing investments.

A few examples of one-to-one marketing include sending handwritten postcards to repeat customers, thank you cards or personalized birthday emails, emails with personalized product recommendations, etc.

Direct mail will yield the most responses, but this can be a low-cost marketing idea if you use email to deliver your messages. Marketing software can help automate the process.

5. Join A Professional Community Or Organization

Joining a community full of professionals, or some other business-to-business organization can be a great way to build the reputation of your small business.

They provide excellent platforms for networking – you can connect with other businesses, entrepreneurs, and professionals to form professional relationships and potential partnerships.

Being part of such groups will also allow you to tap into a great wealth of collective knowledge. You’ll be surrounded by people who have made it or are trying to get there, so they will have a lot of best practices to share, which can help in solving common challenges and staying informed about industry trends.

Additionally, many professional communities organize events, seminars, and conferences that offer learning opportunities – which is exactly what we do at Diamond.

We even take it a step further, because members of our Diamond program have access to weekly Q&A sessions, masterclasses, and our very own private Facebook group that houses the top 1% of business owners and online marketers. If you’re considering trying this tactic to seek connections or gain credibility in your industry, then I highly recommend joining us at Diamond.

6. Offer Free Samples

Offer Free Samples

When you reel customers in with a lead magnet, you will always want to ease them into the purchase. One of the best ways to do that is by offering a free sample. Even if they’re extremely hesitant to buy your product or service, it’s almost impossible to refuse the chance to try it out for free – especially if it’s something they know they probably need.

Typically, it's a cost-effective marketing strategy for small businesses to raise awareness about their products or services among the public.

7. Develop Partnerships

Partnerships in the industry can be very beneficial for small businesses. By teaming up with complimentary businesses, you can potentially tap into your partner’s customer base and expand your reach through them. If you manage to partner with a larger business, it can help your business gain credibility and brand awareness. Having a trusted brand vouch for you can go a long way.

To keep a small budget, consider starting with simple, low-risk partnerships such as co-hosting an event or cross-promoting on social media before progressing to deeper partnerships that may require some commitments.

Thoughtfully selected partnerships can be a smart marketing move for you as a small business as long as you make sure to have clear mutual benefits and expectations to succeed. The key lies in finding the right strategic partners.

8. Use Free SEO Tools

You can do a few things with search engine optimization to help maximize the visibility of your website and content without having to shell out hundreds of bucks. Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and Google Trends are free tools that offer valuable data directly from Google. They provide a cost-effective way for you to get started with SEO.

Additionally, there are a multitude of free keyword tools available that can help you better understand what people are searching for, and how you can weave these words into your content to make it easier for your target market to find you on the internet.

Regardless of the tools used, they are meaningless without a sound overall SEO strategy for you to improve organic visibility and traffic. Tools can complement but they cannot make up for a lack of strategic planning.

9. Set Up In Business Review Websites

Set Up In Business Review Websites

Review websites such as Yelp – or any other review website that specifies businesses in your industry – usually offer free business profiles. Once you register or claim your business, you can be the one to fill out its location, hours, and website information. You can also provide proper pictures of products and staff.

You should manage your business account on an ongoing basis, keeping your business details up-to-date and actively responding to customer reviews, especially the negative ones. This will let customers know that you care about their feedback and that you’re active and available.

Some websites will also give you the option to run ads for an additional fee.

10. Develop A Customer Referral Program

Word-of-mouth marketing is an inexpensive, yet powerful tool to use – and one way to leverage it is by introducing a customer referral program. You can do this by offering your existing customers some kind of reward, such as a free sample product, complimentary service, discounts, or some other low-cost reward. And you give this to them every time they refer a new customer.

A well-executed customer referral program not only brings in new customers but also strengthens the relationship between you and your existing customer base. It’s a fairly cost-effective way to tap into the power of word-of-mouth marketing. I talk more about this in my Ultimate Referral Machine masterclass. If you’d like to learn more about referrals, you can gain access to the masterclass with our Diamond program.

11. Be On The Lookout For Fairs, Events, Or Shows

Trade events aren’t just for the big players to get the spotlight – there are plenty of opportunities for smaller businesses to benefit from as well. Try to keep an eye on what’s happening around your area and land a table or exhibition space where you can show off your products.

Exhibiting at local shows and fairs will often cost less than national ones, and may be a better match for your small business. You may also find cheaper table rates if you wait until the last minute, or if you can find another business to team up with and split the cost. If all else fails, you can attend the event as a member and use it as a networking opportunity.

A friend of mine, who has a baking business, attended one such local craft fair near her town. She didn’t have the time to rent her own booth so she attended as a member, and all she thought she’d do was wander around, but – she came by this booth owned by a local coffee shop owner.

All she did was mention how nice the coffee would be paired with her own baked goods, and it initiated a long conversation that ended in a partnership. All this is to say that – there will always be an opportunity to promote yourself if you are present in an area with potential customers and fellow business owners, regardless if you’re there as a guest or an exhibitor.

12. Run A Competition Or A Prize Draw

Run A Competition Or A Prize Draw

People love to win, and more people especially like winning something, so – a great low-cost marketing idea is online competitions.

Whether the prize is a free product or service from you, it’s a great way to get your brand out there and simultaneously gather potential customer data, such as phone numbers and email addresses.

Participants will spread the word about the contest, and subsequently, your business to even more potential customers. This is also possible with a drawing, where visitors of your business give their contact information for a chance to win something.

Prizes don’t have to be extravagant or costly – a free product is usually enough to get potential customers to invest a bit of their time in registering to win. And if you get people to do something a little extra in return for their entry, such as liking and sharing your page or subscribing to your newsletter, you’ll reap the benefits without having to spend any money.

13. Embrace The Help Of Friends And Family

Some of your biggest advocates are within your inner circle. Friends and family aren’t just valuable sources of advice or feedback; they are also a great, free resource for promoting your small business.

Let them into your business processes, arm them with business cards, flyers, and any other information they would need to spread the word about your business to the people they meet and talk to every day. It’s an extremely inexpensive way to grow your circle and introduce your business to people who would have never known about it.

Last Remarks

With some hustle and smarts, you can build real momentum for your small business even when cash is tight. The most important thing is to just start somewhere – start creating, start connecting, and start providing value.

Don’t let a lack of funds stop you from making moves and getting your name out there, because the opportunities are truly endless when you get creative and strategic with marketing your small business on a budget. Refine as you go, and soon enough, you’ll be reaping the rewards.

​If you’d like to learn more low-cost marketing ideas for your small business I highly suggest you register for our NO B.S. Newsletter, where we give timeless business principles, tried-and-tested marketing methods, and even a behind-the-scenes look at the success behind some of our most successful marketing ventures.

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