May 16, 2019

14 inexpensive marketing tips for small businesses

Check out our range of clever, easy to execute ideas that put your brand in the spotlight while keeping your money safe in the bank.

Marketing: the basics

Marketing is everything you do that promotes your business, from announcing a new product on social media to pitching your stand at an event.

There are lots of different ways to get your name out there, so it’s a good idea to experiment with different types of marketing to find what feels right for you and your brand. You can pick and mix ideas to create an approach that your customers respond well to – whether that’s posting updates in a regular email newsletter, curating a beautiful Instagram feed, or telling engaging stories on your own blog.  

Why invest in marketing?

To name just a few reasons, you will:

  • be more visible to potential customers
  • have a range of tools and platforms to help shape your brand
  • learn more about how customers see your products and brand
  • add value, engage and entertain your customers, especially through content and social media marketing
  • gain new skills and make helpful contacts

Mixing digital and offline marketing

As you kick off your marketing plans, think about the balance between offline vs online marketing. Whether your main strategy is online or offline, there may be times when you can benefit from taking the other approach. So it’s worth knowing about all the options so you can take full advantage of what’s possible.

  • Online marketing is everything digital, including social media, website, email and online advertising
  • Offline marketing is real-world activities and assets, including printed promotional materials, face to face retail and trade shows

In this article, we’ve outlined some of the most popular offline and online approaches, along with ideas of how you can make them work for you on a small budget.

Digital marketing approaches and strategies

The big wide world of digital has huge potential when it comes to small business marketing. Here are our cost-conscious approaches for social media, blog posts and a few website ideas, too.

Social media

When it comes to marketing, social networking sites are incredibly valuable. They’re free to use, easy to track, and have a huge audience of people who spend large amounts of time using them. Here are some social media marketing ideas for small businesses to get your audience engaged:

1. Choose a platform that suits both you and your audience

Successfully marketing your business on social media is easier if you’re already familiar with the platform. Look for social media platforms you already use and see if your audience is active there too. If not, you may need to broaden your scope, but if the audience fit is right it makes sense to start on familiar ground and give yourself an easier learning curve.

2. Focus on visual content

With our online attention spans dwindling, visual feeds like Pinterest or Instagram allow you to create quick, easy to consume content that is engaging, but still gives you the chance to land a message. It’s best to curate your updates with a mix of inspiring content and promotional links to your own products and services.

3. Add value with Instagram Stories

Stories are where it’s at on Instagram, and brands big and small are thinking of creative ways to use this channel-within-a-channel. A Story is short-lived by nature, disappearing after a day (although you can create replayable highlights if you’ve got an important message you want to keep). They’re great for breaking product news, giving a behind-the-scenes look to tease something new, or to host Q&As between your brand and your audience.

Blog and editorial content

If there’s one thing marketers agree on, it’s the value of storytelling. Start a blog and you can turn your business journey into valuable content. Blogging has been around much longer than most social channels, but it remains a great way to tell inspiring stories to your community – and as a bonus can add SEO value to your site Here are some ideas for making your business blog a winner with readers.

4. Make your blog visual

Add a generous helping of eye-candy to your blog with high-quality photos and visuals. Not only do they break up the text and add interest, they can help customers get a more in-depth look at the products or services you offer. If you have the resources to produce one, an infographic could be another way to up your visual game. Infographics are a way of illustrating or explaining an idea or process in one handy visual. Because of their typically easy-to-read form and typically helpful content, they’re among the most shareable formats around, and a blog makes a great permanent home for them.

5. Expand your reach with guest posting

Bloggers can team up and extend their reach by agreeing to write a guest post for one another’s blogs. This is a great way to get your name known among a new set of readers who have an interest in your subject matter but might not have discovered you before. Setting up this kind of partnership gives you access to a much wider audience and it’s a fun form of networking too. Look for potential partners using social media hashtags, for example #foodblogger, or via a blog directory

6. Bring in user-generated content

Since their earliest days, blogs have always been about community engagement. Celebrate your customers and fans by posting content they’ve sent in on your blog. This is also a way to show the value of your product, as you can include customer testimonials, show ingenious ways people have used your products and share stories about how they’ve made a difference in someone’s life. Collecting user generated content in a blog post means it’s a permanent feature, rather than a passing moment on social.

Email marketing

Encourage customers to sign up to emails from you (maybe by including articles from all that amazing blog content you’re creating), and you’ll have multiple chances to engage with them without spending a penny. If you’re new to digital marketing, don’t be put off by the many specialist terms out there like conversion rates, click-through rates, re-engagement campaigns and so on. Start off simple, and if email marketing works for you, you can learn more about it in the future. Here are a few tips for successful email marketing.

7. Be value-packed

Earn your space in your customers’ inbox by providing a great read, every time. Whether it’s insider news from your business, a curated digest of content from elsewhere around the web, or exclusive promotions and advance access to sales, make sure your email marketing campaigns are a delight to open. Remember, lots of your readers will be accessing their mail from a smartphone, so be sure to consider whether your email is built for both desktops and cells.

8. Set up a drip campaign

A drip campaign is a set of emails that are automatically sent out to your subscribers in response to certain behaviors. It’s a way of taking the legwork out of email campaigns using marketing automation. For example, you might have an email that’s automatically sent when someone signs up, or when they’ve not opened an email in a while. You can also use website behaviors, such as purchases or visiting certain pages, as triggers. Zapier has a handy in-depth guide to drip campaigns.

9. Use segmentation to keep emails relevant

If there’s one thing email marketing services excel at, it’s helping you segment your audience. As well as separating your transactional emails from your promotional emails, segment your list by behavior. Write specific content for each of your user groups, such as existing customers, new subscribers and people who haven’t purchased in a while. You may be writing more emails, but you’ll have a much more effective email marketing campaign as a result.

Offline marketing tactics and strategies

Small business owners can drum up business using offline marketing tactics as their main marketing strategy on a localized level. This kind of marketing may give you a smaller target audience than digital can, but it could deliver high-quality results in the form of customer loyalty and strong relationships with other small businesses. There’s also plenty of scope for low-budget marketing—some of these small business ideas are completely free.

Referral networks

A low-cost, high-value idea is to team up with other small businesses and promote each other. Local knowledge, personal customer relationships and a shared community mean referral programs are a great avenue to explore for small business owners. When your businesses are not in direct competition, you won’t be compromising your own sales opportunities, but you will be increasing your audience and adding convenience for your customers.

10. Offer a referral discount

Recommend a referral partner to your customers and give them a discount when they quote your business name. This works really well for related businesses with a shared audience, such as realtors and interior designers. For example, a designer could offer 10% off furniture for their realtor partner’s clients. A mutual referral program like this is appealing to potential customers on a couple of levels – they’re saving money, and they have one less purchase decision to research and make.

11. Team up on printed marketing collateral

Offline marketing ideas often involve print – and with good reason. Printed material makes a great impression, as it’s more lasting than online content and appeals to other senses like touch. It can reach audiences no online marketing campaign ever will, such as people who don’t use social media or undiscovered audiences you haven’t targeted your campaigns towards. But what if you’re looking for cheap marketing ideas? You can use your referral network to share the cost of printing things like Flyers, Postcards and posters and use them to promote your group of businesses. This could include featuring the shared logo for your network (if it includes a few businesses), or devoting half a page or a section of your poster to a partner in return for a share of the print costs.

Public relations

Getting your small business in the local media has huge benefits. There’s a ring of authority that comes with news coverage and public awareness that shows your small business is part of its community. It can help people relate to the personalities behind your branding and boost trust, too. But to take advantage of this low-cost marketing option, you need to make yourself newsworthy for all the right reasons. Try these small business marketing ideas on for size.

12. Send out press releases

A press release is a form of marketing aimed at journalists. It’s a short article explaining what’s newsworthy about your product or brand and inviting journalists to feature you in their articles. Writing a press release about your business can be a great low-cost marketing move. You may need to spend a bit of time putting together a contact list of journalists and bloggers, but if even one or two takes up your story it will be worthwhile – especially as you can then promote their stories on your own channels. Make sure to send out your release to journalists that cover your industry, and that you follow best practice when you choose your subject and write your release – here’s a good guide from The Guardian.

13. Try out for awards and certifications

Nothing lifts your brand awareness levels like an award for doing great business. Look for awards and certification programs that recognize excellence in areas like customer service, innovation and product quality. Receiving an award or certification is a great way to boost your confidence and give your team a happy glow. It also looks amazing on your marketing materials, and it will build trust with new customers that you mean business – especially if there’s a snazzy logo you can include to show off  your achievement.

14. Speak at an event

We’ve previously explored the benefits public speaking can have for your small business. Marketing and public awareness is just one of them. It’s a great way to get your business better known locally, even if you don’t necessarily have a newsworthy story to share at the time. And of course, it doesn’t cost a thing. Here’s how to find public speaking opportunities for your small business.

Measurement and tracking of marketing tactics

Why make these marketing efforts if you’re not tracking the results? Measuring the success of all your hard work will help you better understand your business, customers, and what works for your brand, which in turn will allow you to create even better marketing strategies in future. Luckily, you can track digital and offline marketing campaigns without expensive software. Here are some cost-effective options to help you get started:

Track social media metrics with a handy platform

There are plenty of free social media measurement platforms out there, or ones with both free and paid plans. Popular providers include Hootsuite, Buffer and Zoho. Start off with a free plan first to try the platform on for size, then upgrade if it suits you.

Lots of social channels have their own built-in metrics allowing you to track replies, engagement and audience demographics. These are usually free of charge, so they’re good for the budget-conscious business. But often, a combined platform from a third party is a preferred option.

That’s because you can use it to track, update and measure more than one channel at a time – not to mention saving time with automation tools to schedule posts. Many also offer extras like social media listening and sentiment overviews, which can help you review your campaign KPIs (key performance indicators) and plan new ones.

Tap into website insights with analytics software

Google Analytics is the go-to free tool for website analytics, but it’s not the only one out there. Alternative options include Kissmetrics, Matomo and Piwick. Whichever option you choose, you can expect to be able to track inbound links (people following a link to your website), unique views for different pages, and the breakdown of visitors by location.

Use CRM software to measure email goals

A CRM (customer relationship management) system is a must-have for email marketing, both for managing your mail-outs and for keeping track of open-rates and subject line strategy. Mailchimp and Hubspot are two well-regarded CRMs with free plans and built-in marketing analytics features. A CRM can double as a marketing automation platform, too, giving you extra return on investment.    

Explore offline outcomes with surveys and tracking codes

Although offline marketing doesn’t give you the same ease of measurement as the digital kind, you can still keep tabs on key metrics and measure marketing success.

Tracking codes

Add a unique code to your promo campaigns, so that customers redeeming a special offer will be ‘tagged’ with the marketing channel that brought them in. For example, you could have the code ‘POSTER’ for anyone who saw the offer on – you guessed it – a poster. When the promo is over, you can tally up your codes and see which channel was most successful. Although it requires a discount to work, adding codes is totally free and an easy way to get more from your marketing.


The humble survey can give you fantastic insights on your marketing effectiveness. The beauty of it is that it gives you qualitative as well as quantitative data – you get real opinions as well as scores. You can use software such as SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics, which both have free versions, to gather customer input on your marketing, test out different versions of ads, and gauge brand awareness.


Want more tips on making your marketing magic? Build your skills with our guide to online advertising


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