18 low-cost marketing ideas for small businesses

For small businesses, marketing is important but also can feel out of budget.

About one in five small businesses doesn’t use digital marketing, while about one in 10 doesn’t invest in any kind of marketing.

But this doesn’t have to be your small business.

About 47 percent of businesses spend less than $10,000 on digital marketing per year.

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.

See our guide to help you decide where to start on social media.

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

See our 11 tips for boosting your local SEO.

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.”

See more options to build up your social proof that can help drive sales, plus social proof tools that can help.

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.

About 77 percent of consumers are more likely to buy a new product if their friends or family recommend it.

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.

You also can answer questions on platforms like Quora, joining HARO or being active on online forums that are relevant to your industry.

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.

As you’re exploring low-cost marketing methods, consider leveling up your digital marketing with DailyStory and our 21-day free trial. Features include automating various marketing tasks, dynamic audience segmentation and more. Schedule your free demo with us today.

14 best practices for email drip campaigns

If your business is not currently employing any email drip campaigns, you’re definitely missing out on some conversion opportunities.

But never fear! It’s not too late to get your first campaign up and running.

Email drip campaigns are a type of time-release email marketing tactic. Think drip irrigation systems. Drip emails are intended to land with purposeful timing and targeting with minimal waste (and technically minimal effort once set up to run automatically).

Think about it like a conversation that you’re building upon along the way.

They can be daily reminders, weekly specials, monthly updates, yearly renewal notices or anything in between, depending on your intention and goals. The idea is that while each email in a drip campaign should stand alone, they also should build upon past messages and even set the stage for future messaging. You want to nurture the customer along your sales funnel while building trust along the way.

Find out more about sales funnels and how they can benefit your marketing.

The following are 14 best practices for email drip campaigns that can help you connect with your potential customers at the right time and in the right way.

Start with the basics

While it might be tempting to dive in with your first drip campaign right away, resist that urge. It’s incredibly important to take a step back and think about your goals, your audience and their natural interests. Consider:

  • What search terms are driving visitors to your website?
  • Which web pages are most visited on your site?
  • If you have downloadable items on your website, which are the most downloaded?
  • How would you describe your target audience and/or ideal customer? Detail out a persona profile as much as you can with who they are, what they are likely to respond to and so on.

Once you have a better sense of what you’re working with and who you want to engage with, you can begin to segment out your contact database by geography, interests or any other factors that make sense and you have data for.

Then, you can begin brainstorming different angles for various email drip campaigns that you can plan out.

Expand beyond just emails

Yes, we’re talking about email drip campaigns specifically, but it’s important to keep in mind that you can (and often should) incorporate additional assets into your drip campaigns when appropriate. 

For example, such assets include (but are not limited to):

  • SMS text messages
  • Direct mail (like letters, postcards, etc.)
  • Phone calls

This often can come down to the type of contact information you have for your customers and other leads. But exploring a mix of mediums can help you see what works and what doesn’t for your audience.

Create all drip messages at one time

It’s important to commit to creating all your email drip campaign messages in one sitting in order to promote consistency for your recipients.

This goes back to the goal of building up your messaging over time with each email you send. Think of each email like a chapter in a book. To be more effective with your “story arc,” focus on creating one campaign all at the same time.

Quality matters

Coherent sentences, grammar and spelling all matter in any brand messaging. When creating your email drip campaigns, be sure to double check for any of those issues. You can even have a colleague review before you have anything go out for real.

Poor quality breaks trust with your potential customers. Make it a priority to build (not break) trust to take the extra time for quality proofing.

The shorter the better

The beauty of a drip campaign is that you naturally don’t have to squeeze a ton of information into any one email. You have the built-in formatting to spread out information throughout the email series.

So, capitalize on that. Short paragraphs, an overall short email and a focused message all increase the likelihood of your audience engaging with your content. Long paragraphs and meandering narratives that don’t get to the point will lose the interest of your email recipients.

Nurturing over selling

You might be eager to sell your products or services, but remember that your leads may not be quite ready to buy.

Think of your drip campaign as a progressive series of messages that help warm up the lead with valuable information and insight as he or she moves through the sales funnel and becomes a bit more ready to purchase.

This is especially helpful when your business involves high-ticket products or complex services.

Guide through any free trials

Free trials are an effective way to get your products and/or services in the hands of your potential customers and show them that value first-hand.

However, you can’t assume that all users will know how to get the most out of that trial, which can alienate them and actually limit who might purchase at the end.

This is where you can step in and act as the guide, with a series of messages highlighting different features and other how-to tips that can help them along. This can include:

  • Clear, concise tips
  • General best practices
  • How-to webinars
  • Online support community invitations
  • Message board opportunities

Just be sure to notify users before their trial ends, and if they don’t convert, follow up with a discount offer soon afterward.

It’s not over after the purchase

Just because you may have made the initial conversion, where your potential customer becomes a customer, that does not mean that you no longer need to nurture him or her.

In fact, we recommend using this opportunity to continue providing helpful information on a regular basis. Think of it this way: A long-term relationship with your customer leads to even more trust, additional purchases and even the possibility of word-of-mouth referrals.

Your ongoing email drip campaigns with existing customers can include:

  • A request for a customer review
  • Upsell and/or cross-sell promotions
  • Various instructional videos to help customers get the most out of their purchase (similar to how you would approach free-trial guidance)

Keep buying cycles in mind

This can definitely depend on your business and what you sell. But the idea here is that there tends to be a natural buying cycle. Cars, appliances and many other products need to be replaced every so often, depending on the product itself.

Keeping your customers (and even the potential customers who “got away”) in the loop about your offers can generate further sales (and conversions), especially as natural buying cycles will regularly come up.

Re-engage with any inactive contacts

Be sure to segment out any leads that do not convert so that you can maintain a nurturing drip campaign to keep those leads warm.

Again, not everyone is ready to buy immediately, but this can help ensure that you’ll be top of mind as soon as they are. Including incentives along the way will help.

Personalization engages

Being able to use an email recipient’s first name in a subject line, for example, creates a personal connection with that person that makes it more likely he or she will open your email.

Personalization in general can level up your brand’s connection with your audience.

Whether it involves the contact information you already have (like a first name) or personalized messaging tailored to the specific audience segment you’re reaching, there’s power in personalization. That power can lead to higher engagement and more conversions.

DailyStory features personalization capabilities and more that can help on this front.

Get creative

The more creative you can get with your email drip campaigns, the more likely your target audience will engage with you.

We recommend looking through your own inbox for inspiration. What types of subject lines compel you to open them? Which emails drive you to click the link within? What stands out?

Additional suggestions include:

  • Jokes
  • Special deals (with a creative twist)
  • Word of the day
  • Series of relevant tips

Just be sure to stay true to your brand and the interests of your audience. If you’re not sure, test your more out-of-the-box ideas on a smaller segment of your audience.

Build up anticipation and excitement

There are plenty of opportunities to generate anticipation and excitement among your audience. Whether you’re launching a new product, relaunching your website, opening a new store location, promoting an upcoming event or something else, use email drip campaigns to hint, announce, educate and remind.

This will pull your customers and potential customers through this attention-generating email drip campaign.

Use automation

Manually managing email drip campaigns can be very time-intensive. Automating your campaigns will both save you time and promote overall consistency.

DailyStory can help with email marketing automations (as well as in other types of digital marketing). And our platform offers even more than automation capabilities.

Schedule your free demo with us today.

12 tips for email subject lines that won’t get ignored

A successful email subject line is part art, part science but typically a recipe for anxiety for any marketer or business owner.

But it doesn’t have to be. If you’ve noticed that your emails aren’t getting the open rate you are looking for, then it’s time to take a look at your subject lines.

Here are 12 tips to think about the next time you’re crafting your next email.

Tip #1: Know your audience

The first rule of any marketing campaign is to know who your audience is. Where do they live? What are their interests? Are they mostly men or women? What age range are they primarily?

Having a general sense of who you’re talking to will keep your subject lines (and overall email content) relevant and engaging. It’s the critical first step because it will drive the topics you highlight and even the voice you use.

Have a broad audience? Be sure to use audience segmentation, which is one of the highlighted features offered by DailyStory. The benefit is that you can tailor your message to different parts of your audience to boost relevancy and, in turn, your open rate. In fact, according to EmailMonday, segmented email campaigns drive 760 percent more revenue than those that aren’t segmented.

Tip #2: Keep it as short and sweet as possible

In essence, novel-length subject line bad, snappy good. The shorter the better.

Think of your audience as skimmers with not enough time on their side. You’ll lose them with anything lengthy, and you’ll want to be concise while also quickly highlighting the benefit to recipients for opening your email.

According to EmailMonday, about 77 percent of email opens happen on mobile devices, so strive to keep your subject lines at fewer than 50 characters. Otherwise, mobile skimmers likely won’t see the entire subject line.

Tip #3: Action verbs are key

It’s the difference between being active or passive. Think of your email subject line as a call to action, not a book report title.

Starting your subject line with a verb inspires activity. Here’s an example: “Tour our new collection” versus “Our new collection.”

Tip #4: Personalization is more powerful than you think

Personalization tags, which are available in DailyStory, give you the ability to say a recipient’s name or location, for example, in your mass email. It’s that element of personalized content that can make an impact on your audience.

You’re only limited by your creativity when it comes to personalization and ways to use it.

Tip #5: Urgency catches more attention

If something is happening for a limited time only, definitely say so. Your audience can be compelled to open simply not to miss out.

But be sure to convey that urgency without using the word “urgent,” for example. Usually, simply stating the deadline is enough.

Tip #6: You can just tell them what’s inside

While a little mystery can go a long way with open rates in the right circumstances, clear transparency should be the name of the game most of the time.

If your recipient is getting an email because they downloaded a deliverable from you, for instance, you’re going to want to tell them that they’ll find it in your email. No need to beat around the bush.

Tip #7: Timing totally matters

Being cognizant of when your email is hitting your audience’s inboxes can be a great way to boost your open rate. For instance, talking about how to start your day first thing in the morning or sharing happy hour specials just before most people get off work.

Use the timing of your email to give that extra reason to open it.

Tip #8: The air of exclusivity

Everyone wants to feel special. Maybe something is a “private invite” or for “most valued customers only.”

Tell your recipients what makes them special in the subject line to give them a reason to open your email.

Tip #9: Use numbers when possible

Just like tweeting on Twitter, numbers and data get more engagement on email subject lines as well. Stay away from vague.

If you can use a number regarding your discount offer, or how many pages there are in your e-book or anything else, that specificity catches attention and boosts interest.

Tip #10: Avoid all caps or too many exclamation points

You can’t force excitement, but you can appear desperate or spammy. “ACT NOW ON THIS LIMITED TIME OFFER!!!!” comes off more like shouting than engaging, relatable or even professional.

Focus on being creative, specific and personable rather than shout at your audience.

Tip #11: Also avoid using both a question mark and an exclamation point

Here’s an example: “Want to save some cash? Act now!”

This combo is actually very commonly filtered out by email filters and can send you to spam, which is exactly where you don’t want to be.

In fact, here are 455 words that typically trigger spam filters to step in, according to Prospect.io.

All that being said, a question alone can be an open-rate booster for email subject lines.

Tip #12: Your preview text also matters

With all this talk about subject lines, it’s important to remember that you also have preview text to use as an opportunity to entice your audience to open your email.

Preview text typically will default to what’s in the body of the email, which can appear sloppy, unless you fill it out with something else. Recipients will see it when they see a preview notification of their email on their phone or in their email, depending. It’s a place where you can add in the details that couldn’t fit into your subject line.

A great rule of thumb, especially when starting out in email marketing, is to have a colleague take a second look at your email subject line (if not your entire email). But also, simply ask yourself if you would open your own email after reading your subject line.

Also, check out the anatomy of an effective marketing email. We also help you dive deeper into your email marketing with our strategies to increase your email open rates.

Still unsure how to improve your email marketing results? We’ve found eight of the best online email marketing courses that can help you beef up your skills.

While you’re analyzing the effectiveness of your email subject lines, consider the strength of your digital marketing process. Is it everything you want it to be? DailyStory features automation capabilities, dynamic audience segmentation and more. Schedule your free demo with us today.