For small businesses, marketing is important but also can feel out of budget.
But this doesn’t have to be your small business.
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to make an impact with potential customers and brand yourself online.
The following are 18 low-cost marketing ideas for small businesses that you can try without breaking the bank.
Embrace social media for low-cost marketing
Social media is an excellent way to:
- Express your brand’s identity
- Create trusting relationships with your audience
- Build up your online community
- Establish yourself as an expert in your industry and/or community
All of these benefits can ultimately help you grow your small business.
While all the major social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and so on) are free to create business accounts on and use, it’s worthwhile to analyze where your time and focus is best spent.
In other words, consider where your target audience is and what resources you have in your favor. If you’re not ready for a full YouTube video channel yet, for example, start with occasional live videos on your Facebook page to get your feet wet.
Remember that once you choose where to start, you can use your social media to:
- Promote any blog posts that can drive traffic to your website
- Engage with your audience (such as responding to any direct messages or comments)
- Request feedback, helping your customers feel heard and cared about
- And more!
Just be consistent and active on any profiles/pages you’re managing.
Smaller but other low-cost tactics you can embrace specifically on social media include:
- Tagging people (such as loyal customers) and other brands, which can help grow your organic reach on any platform
- Using hashtags, which are particularly helpful on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok
Create your Google My Business account
If you’re a business with a fixed location that needs to appeal to local customers, a Google My Business account is critical to create and optimize.
It’s essentially a free online listing that helps your business appear on Google Maps, which is the local section of Google Search. You’ll also appear in the right-side knowledge panel for any branded searches, where an internet user is searching for you specifically.
To optimize your profile, be sure to verify your ownership of it first. (This is done through your Google My Business account.) Then, confirm that all contact information is correct. You also can upload photos, post an offer and encourage customers to review your business on Google.
Explore local SEO
Speaking of Google My Business, it’s important to pay extra attention to your local search engine optimization (SEO). Focusing on ways you can rank higher in local search queries in your target area is both low-cost and high-impact if done right.
You can start by:
- Getting listed in online directories
- Adding location-based keywords throughout your website and content
Commit to email marketing
While email marketing can be dismissed by some, it’s wise to embrace it. Why? To start, the return on investment is high. See 48 statistics that show the value of email marketing.
Email is a great, inexpensive way to maintain relationships with your existing customers. It also can enable you to build trust with potential customers to the point that they will convert and purchase from your business.
Of course, it all starts with building up your email contact list whether you have a website or not. See our 12 strategies to capture more leads on your website or our six ways you can capture email leads without a website.
Then, once you have contact to send emails to, consider constructing a strong email onboarding sequence. Keep in mind that there are 10 parts in the anatomy of a marketing email that make it successful. Plus, email automation can help you engage with customers and leads at exactly the right times. If you’re considering “cold emailing,” check out our 11 tips to increase your open rate.
To dive deeper into email marketing, check out these eight recommended online courses.
(While not a traditional component of email marketing, keep in mind the opportunity to optimize all employee email signatures. Links that can be used include social media accounts, calendar meeting requests and so on.)
Focus on content marketing
Content marketing is all about attracting website traffic and social media engagement through the valuable content that you create.
While it’s always possible to hire others to create content for you, whatever you can do yourself will save you expenses on your budget.
Starting a blog is a great (and common) way to get the content wheel turning for your brand. Video content also is highly engaging. And repurposing your existing evergreen content is a great way to save on both time and money.
Remember that premium content, such as webinars or ebooks, can also directly help with lead generation.
Of course, the key to success is how you plan and promote your content. See our seven tips to level up your content marketing, and consider using a content calendar to stay organized. And if you are struggling with the creation, check out our guide on beating marketing writer’s block.
Get visual with infographics
Data lends itself to valuable content for your audience. While about 74 percent of marketing content contained a visual element in 2019, infographics specifically can increase website traffic by up to 12 percent.
Of course, hiring a designer to create infographics for you to publish and share can be costly. Fortunately, there are several low-cost and free graphic design tools that you can use to create your own for low-cost marketing.
If you don’t have any of your own data to use in an infographic, there are several open, public sources you can pull from, including:
Just make sure to credit the source of any data you use.
Claim available ad credits for low-cost marketing
Facebook, Google, Yelp and other digital advertising platforms occasionally offer free promo credits to encourage businesses to advertise with them. Whether it’s a discount or a free amount of advertising, it’s important to pay attention to these offers so that you can take advantage.
Read any fine print associated with available offers, and review our guide on the difference between cost-per-click and cost-per-impression advertising. Plus, check out our six tips to maximize your social media advertising budget so that you can maximize whatever amount of money to do decide to spend (or get the most out of the advertising credits offered).
Apply for relevant business awards
Business awards don’t just happen. Whether it’s in your community or nationwide, there traditionally is an application and/or nomination process.
Either way, it’s worthwhile to engage in the award process because winning an award is low-cost marketing at its core, but you also can include a mention or badge on your website that acts as social proof of your authority and trustworthiness.
Awards can be industry-wise or community “best of.”
Get creative with guerilla marketing
Guerilla marketing is all about creativity over money. There is no limit to what you can do with guerilla marketing. Whether it’s sidewalk chalk promoting your business around the block from your location or placing stickers all over town simply to catch people’s eye.
It doesn’t take much, money-wise, but the important part is to be as creative as possible to get attention for your brand for this low-cost marketing tactic.
Partner up with other businesses
Just because you own a small business doesn’t mean that you’re alone. There’s strength in numbers.
Partnering with other businesses is about building mutually beneficial relationships, whether it’s for a special event, placing business cards in each other’s locations or something more. This can expose your brand to an entirely new audience and vice versa.
Make sure to research the business you’re considering partnering with, determine how you can best work together and clarify the expectations between the two of you for this form of low-cost marketing.
Encourage employees to be brand ambassadors
Another form of social proof, word-of-mouth advertising is both affordable and effective. Brand ambassadors are individuals who care about your brand and promote it personally to those they know.
Employees, who have a natural interest in the success of your business, are great candidates for this form of low-cost marketing. An example of a brand ambassador campaign is an invite-only “friends and family” sale that your employees can promote among their social networks.
If you want to go a step further than encouraging your employees to be brand ambassadors, consider exploring influencer marketing. You’ll definitely want a plan that can keep overall expenses to a minimum, though.
Set up a referral program for low-cost marketing
Again, word of mouth is powerful. You can support this tactic by setting up a referral program for your existing customers.
Of course, you can decide the parameters of your program, whether it’s a free product, discount or something else to reward customers for referring others to your business. Make sure that your system has a way of tracking and even automating the referral rewards as much as possible.
Host classes or events
While hosting a class or event could easily break your budget, it’s also possible to keep the cost under control. Focus on your expertise and strength (as well as the needs of your target audience), consider whether there is a registration fee or not tied to the class or event and then promote, promote, promote to get the benefits of this low-cost marketing tactic.
Fortunately, you can share the event on social media in a number of different ways, including creating a Facebook event and/or building an entire “countdown” campaign to generate excitement. While low-tech, clear and eye-catching fliers can be effective when placed in areas that are well seen by your target audience.
Start small, and with each class or event, you can pivot and improve each time.
Create a contest or giveaway
Everyone appreciates winning a prize. The important part about hosting any giveaway or content is to determine what is appealing enough as a prize that will draw engagement and attention in this low-cost marketing method.
Your prize doesn’t have to be very expensive, and ideally, it should be a bit of a wash on your budget. Depending on the user, even some branded swag could be enough. Just think through it because every brand is different, and what would appeal to your target audience can vary.
The goal is typically lead generation, brand awareness or both, so think through the type of contest/giveaway that can help you achieve your goal. For example, you could host a business card drawing using a fishbowl in your business or post a social media style contest. It all depends on what works for your brand and resources.
Then, be sure to include relevant terms and conditions for your giveaway that satisfy local legal requirements tied to operating a contest or giveaway in your state or country.
Consider affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is about creating additional revenue streams for your small business, where an affiliate (you and/or your small business) earns a commission for marketing another’s products.
More than 80 percent of brands have affiliate programs, so there are a lot of opportunities out there.
And affiliate marketing is especially low-risk (and a great method of low-cost marketing). Either you’re successful and generate a commission or you’re not. There is no upfront cost (outside of your time and effort spent marketing the affiliate offer). As long as you find the right fit for your own brand and audience, there is a real potential for achieving additional revenue.
Dive deeper with our affiliate marketing tips that can help you get started.
Tout your expertise
Whether you’re speaking at an event, appearing on a panel or guest writing for publications and/or blogs, seeking opportunities to get your name (and the name of your business) out there through appearances elsewhere both in-person and online can expose your brand to new audiences.
Sharing your expertise is a form of low-cost marketing.
See our 10 tips to build your personal brand and grow your business as a result.
Offer free trials, samples or other types of coupons
It might sound counterproductive to give a service or product away, but free trials or samples are a great way to help convert potential customers in this method of low-cost marketing.
It falls into the category of “try before you buy.”
Of course, there also are platforms like Groupon that you can explore as well if it makes sense for your brand. You’re essentially being paid for leads that are then up to you to convert.
Start your own podcast
While an initial investment in equipment might be needed, starting and maintaining your own podcast is more about time than money.
Perhaps you already have an idea of the type of podcast you want to create and are ready to jump in, but beware: It’s estimated that there are at least 1.75 million shows already (and they’re definitely not all delivering on the invested time and resources).
Learn more about how to start your first podcast.
For more tips overall, check out our Digital Marketing 101 Guide for Beginners.