Free (or Low Cost) Marketing Ideas for Small Business

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Succeeding with your small business without an advertising and marketing budget is possible, depending on your industry. But, for every industry, free and low cost marketing methods can be used to boost sales without spending much. Here are some ideas for how to expand your customer base with low-cost marketing.

How Much Do You Actually Need to Spend?

How much you need to spend will depend on your business and your industry. If you are a retail shop then a certain amount of advertising will be necessary, perhaps. If you are a service business, you may need to spend some money on marketing.

In the construction industry, for example, you are likely to know people in the industry before you start your own business, and a few telephone calls to a few acquaintances may be all that is necessary to get the ball rolling. After that maintaining contact with as many industry people as possible could get you all you the business you want.

Leverage Friends, Family and Acquaintances

In fact, I would encourage a small business, regardless of the amount of money they have available, to leverage their friends, family and acquaintances. Make a list of everyone you know (or, more importantly, who knows you), call these people and ask for their help.

Tell them briefly about your business (in no more than 20 seconds) and ask them who they know who could help you get started or expand. Ask your friend to speak to their friend and tell them something about you, then call your friend’s friend and ask *them* if they know someone who could help you.

As long as you are asking for help, you are likely to get help. Start selling and trying to get an order and people clam up. That sort of thing makes it a cold call and people don’t like cold calls these days. But ask for their help and people are less likely to blow you off. If they can help you, they will pass you on. If they want what you have to offer, they will tell you, “Hey! I need some of that. Come and see me!”

I guess you could call it networking. I call it leveraging.

Other Simple Ideas

Here’s some other simple ideas.

  • Good Base Materials (business cards, brochures, flyers, website) are the first thing I would invest in.
  • Then Public Relations (Press Releases and Other Media Marketing, local Chamber of Commerce, community events/activities)
  • Establishing great lead generation (special reports, list building, customer referral programs)

For most small businesses these activities can be done for relatively low cost. And can create enough of a return to start costlier marketing efforts.

1. Business Cards

To get 250 or 500 business cards, even if they are just black and white with your name and address and business details, should cost less then $50. Give them to everyone you meet. If you think that someone you meet may know someone who needs your services …. then give them two and ask that they pass it on to someone else who they think may need your services.

2. Flyers

If this seems like a suitable means of advertising for your business it can be done for very little. Copies can be had for about 6cents a page or less, in black and white. So for 500 A4 flyers this is $30. Or do A5 and get twice as many for half the price. Getting them into mailboxes or hung on doors is another thing. But sometimes you need to invest a little time to get some return. Later on it may be smarter to pay someone else to drop them off. But if you are really scrapping for dollars …. doing it yourself is low cost.

3. Public Notice boards

Many shopping center’s have public notice boards. Some require that you use provided cards to write your message on. Others allow whatever to be put up. While sometimes they start to look messy, it can be a way to get your name out a little more.

4. Classifieds

Often it can be quite expensive to buy display ad space in newspapers. However placing a classified add can be relatively cheap. Most papers have a section that has business categories, and you can advertise in the most relevant category. It is lower cost, and you may be advertising alongside other people in the same type of business, but I think the response to a lot of classifieds are pot luck mostly anyway.

5. Adwords

While many people do send hundreds or thousands of dollars per day on AdWords marketing, It is by far the lowest cost way to get into search results (admittedly to the side and not always at the top) and take advantage of online markets. But if you have a fairly low competition market, spending $1 per day at 9 cents a click is hardly going to kill you. That is just $30 per month, assuming that you use the full $1 budget each day.

6. Joint Ventures (partnering)

A small business could also partner with other small businesses. For example, a retail store could partner with two of their business neighbors. They could promote a special event together in the local newspaper. Say a 1/4 page ad costs $300 and they want to run the ad for three days prior to the big event. If one business were to do this it would cost them $900 but by partnering with the other two businesses it only costs each business $300. This would get them three days worth of ads at the cost of just one day …. and their event becomes even bigger by being part of a multi-store event potentially drawing in the other stores customers as well as their own.

7. Creative Marketing

Take full advantage of YouTube and start your own very free and very noticeable viral marketing campaign. All you need is the default Windows Movie Maker, perhaps a few sound clips of yourself (or video clips) talking about your business and images that give the viewer a proper and clear visual as to what you are trying to sell, promote, etc.

Having a few of your blogging friends add your logo or banner to their website wouldn’t hurt, either, that way two or three keywords pertaining to your business could be added to their site header making their blog show up in more results, meaning your ad would be given a wider audience. Everyone wins. Search the web for radio stations that only broadcast online, and check out how much they charge for advertising plugs on-air.

8. Give-Aways

T-shirts, buttons, magnets, mugs, bumper stickers, car door magnets and anything that the average person uses daily is another great way to promote. Spend a small part of your budget on any of the above and hand them out for free. You’ll be remembered for it, and gain profits.

What’s the best free or low cost marketing approach?

The best and cheapest way to market a business is to use ones existing customers fully. Simply give them a “How’s things?” call every other month or two and you’ll be surprised at how much extra business this generates.

You should also ask all customers … once you have fulfilled your promises to them … for a couple of referrals. Ensure that they are good referrals and you’re closing average will be above average.

Here is a real world example of one small businesses experience.

My wife needed some work done on her car but didn’t want to pay the high price quoted at the local dealer or garage. She was out running some errands and happened to pick up one of those “Thrifty Nickle” weeklys at the mall. You know those publications that advertise local businesses.

She found an ad in there for “JB’s Auto Services”. She called him up and “JB” came right to the house and fixed her car … at a price she did somersaults over. JB has even found me broken down on the freeway and got me back on “my wheels”. He’s come to our house many times, found me on the freeway, gone to my daughter’s college campus, caught up with my son’s car in the parking lot at his work, and lots of other “going out of his way to take care of us”. I could tell you a ton of stories where JB saved the day. Service, service, service … caring about us and the situation. Doing whatever it takes to get things right … at a cost much less than what it was really worth (in both quality and customer service).

JB now has his own garage and still will come to wherever we are with his “mechanic on wheels van”. If he can’t fix it onsite … he now takes it to his very own garage. He gets the parts at best price, arranges for state inspections, works with insurance companies (if necessary … do you have kids? LOL), and basically does everything soup to nuts … at all hours of the day and night. Plus … with a smile, a chuckle, a hug, and a “God Bless”.

Needless to say we’ve referred probably 15-20 “new customers” to JB ourselves. Plus each of our friends has probably referred 5-10 apiece. That’s just us and our experience too.

So from that one little ad in the Thrifty Nickle (which we found out later JB ran for only 1 day) … we found our own personal “mechanic with a heart”. Now JB has his own shop and a ton of referal clients just from us and our friends. We also have a good friend who is more than just “our car guy”. He’s become very popular in our community and his business is booming. More than enough work to keep him VERY busy..

Moral of the story … from little acorns grow big trees. You can start small … and no telling what you’ll grow into.