A small marketing budget doesn’t mean you shouldn’t market at all, or that you need to settle for mediocre efforts and disappointing results. Some marketing techniques—think television ads or promotions at a major national event—come with a high price tag. Other, more affordable marketing techniques also work: they might reach a smaller audience, but they still bring in customers and increase sales even on a limited budget. Here’s how to make the most of your small marketing budget by investing your time in these marketing methods.
Be an Expert
Tell the world about your expertise and the knowledge that has led to your success. By sharing what you know, you can increase trust in your business, ramp up customer loyalty, and expect wider brand recognition. There are a variety of ways you can do the sharing. Low-budget options include creating and sharing video tutorials, making presentations at local events, hosting workshops, speaking, conducting online webinars, creating and sharing slideshows or online presentations, and writing. Your writing can be pieces you publish on your blog or in other publications such as local newspapers, magazines, and trade journals.
Start by defining your expertise: be more specific than the general area of your business. If you’re a restaurateur, for example, what wisdom do you own that’s more valuable than general ‘how to run a restaurant’ information? Are you excellent at training your staff, at handling seasonal variations, at developing new menu offers, at working with local vendors? That’s your subject.
Once you’ve determined your specific expertise, look for opportunities to share what you know. You can host events online or in-house. Ask around and be ready to contribute to all the publications and events you can. Start small and do high-quality work, and you’ll get more offers.
Back a Cause
Backing a cause or being a sponsor can be a great, low-cost way to gain exposure for your business. And there are a variety of ways to get involved: digital or physical, local or international, for industry or trade-related events or for social causes.
For example, the Digital Marketing for Business Conference has sponsorship levels starting at $75. Idealist.org profiles hundreds of events and organizations with a huge variety of participation opportunities, from making cash donations to helping at an event or providing needed services or supplies. In some cases, you’ll gain exposure at the event; in others, you might get a badge or other token to display digitally or physically in your location and be listed on an organization’s list of supporters.
It’s a good idea is to start small (either online or local) and participate in a limited way to get an idea of the effort involved: while events and causes are a budget-friendly option, they’re often very time-consuming. Estimate the time and effort needed to back a cause and calculate it into your total marketing costs. Also, think about how to track your return, for example by giving out an event-specific discount code or contact point and tracking leads.
Court the Press
Research your local newspaper staff, especially the reporters and editors who cover topics related to your business. Look up trade magazines and industry journals to find contact information for the writers and editors.
And reach out online, as well; bloggers are the new press, and if you are doing something valuable, interesting, or different, they might be interested.
To get press coverage, both local and online, you need to provide a good angle. You can range from goofy to grandiose when you dream up stunts and stories reporters might like to cover. A restaurant could host an eating contest. A local business could hire a choir to walk around town as a singing advertisement. You could highlight a significant date, such as your 50th anniversary of business. Or bring them a story about your amazing, unique employees: perhaps you have a veteran, a single parent, a cancer survivor or an unconventional student putting in hours at your business. (Of course, check with your employee before you reach out to the press.)
Love Your Customers
Being good to your customers is good business practice. It’s also excellent marketing. Happy customers are a powerful group with built-in believability and enthusiasm. Why not ask them for help? Make customer referrals easy by printing or emailing a simple coupon card: one for your customer, one for your customer to share.
A customer club is a great way to collect customer contact information and reward your loyal customers. Create special deals and seasonal promotions that are exclusive for your customer club members. And encourage your customers to invite others to join with special discounts, points, or other rewards every time they bring in a new member.
Great small business marketing depends on creativity, not cash. Choose one or two marketing techniques to try at a time. Track the responses to see which ones work best for your business. Then build on your marketing success to build a more successful business.