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Top 10 tips for marketing on a shoestring budget

Many small businesses are put off by the perceived cost of marketing but, thanks largely to the internet, there are a wealth of opportunities for you to reach potential customers without spending a small fortune – some of them are even free!

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Many small businesses are put off by the perceived cost of marketing but, thanks largely to the internet, there are a wealth of opportunities for you to reach potential customers without spending a small fortune – some of them are even free!

1. Be creative

Marketing doesn't have to be a boring chore. To get your message across to potential customers you should put as much of your personality and passion for your business into it as you can. Think of all the different ways you can reach customers and what you could do to get their attention. Brainstorm your ideas, be as crazy and outlandish as you like, then go through them and pick those that you can realistically do. You never know, this exercise might even produce a completely new product idea or an untapped market that you'd never thought of before.

2. Only market in the right places

Before you use up all of your valuable marketing resources, do your research. Don't waste your money on advertising on a website or spend your time trying to get a quote in a publication if none of your target market is likely to see it. Think about who your target market is and then find out what publications they read, where they meet and how their buying choices are influenced.

3. Create a newsletter

Email marketing is one of the most cost-effective options available to small businesses. By creating and allowing customers to sign up to a newsletter, you establish a regular means of communication between you and your customers. You can let them know about new products and services, give them special discounts and run competitions. For more information read our guide to getting started with email marketing.

4. Use social media

Another way to promote your business that is completely free is by getting involved in social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Again, pick the sites where you know your target market is active.

For example, if your market is made up of teenagers/young adults or your product is social, you should have a presence on Facebook. If your market is made up of professionals or is industry-based, you may be able to find them on LinkedIn and Twitter.

It almost goes without saying that if your target market is not computer literate, you probably won't find them on any of the above! The uses of social media are two-fold for businesses; you can use it to communicate with customers and listen to what they have to say about you. Both are equally important. For more information read our tips on making social media work for your business.

5. Make the most of your website

Your website is your most valuable marketing asset. Make sure all the pages are well-optimised for search engines, especially those pages that describe your products or services. Once you've got people on your site, make sure that it's easy for them to buy from you.

Even if you don't sell online, make sure that your phone number, contact details or call back form are displayed prominently so that people can get in touch with you quickly if they're interested. For more information read our guide to making your website work for your business.

6. Go to networking events

Networking on the internet may be easier and less time-consuming to do, but nothing beats face-to-face contact. You usually have to pay a fee to attend networking events, but this nominal cost can often be justified by the number and quality of contacts you make. Networking is not about selling directly to every business person you meet, but about them getting to know, like and trust you so that they then feel comfortable recommending you. For more information read our top networking tips for business owners.

7. Promote recommendations

Satisfied customers are your best marketing tool. If they're happy with your service, make it easy for them to tell other people so. Ask them to write a review for your website or promotional literature, or, even better, offer them an incentive to recommend a friend. Their friend could get an introductory offer and they will get a small thank you present that doesn't cost you much to produce (for example, a discount or surplus product).

8. Build affiliate partnerships

Work with other companies who are targeting the same market as you, but offer a non-competing product or service. By creating a partnership you can create an arrangement in which you both win – and your customers get a better deal.

For example, a wine merchant could team up with a local restaurant that allows customers to bring their own bottle. Restaurant customers would get a small percentage discount on a bottle of wine and the restaurant would waive their corkage charge. That way the customer is better off buying from both businesses than if they went elsewhere.

9. Make friends with your local journalist

If you operate on a local level, your local business journalist really should be your best friend. If you don't know who they are, find out and try to foster a mutually beneficial relationship. You can find more information on the dos and don'ts of dealing with local journalists in our guide to getting your business in the local newspaper.

10. Start a blog

A blog is a great way to keep your customers up to date on developments within your business, plus a great opportunity to show potential customers the people behind the business. Rather than using it as a sales tool, a blog should be used to engage people and get them talking about topics that are relevant to your business. Blogging is not right for every business, but as one of the fastest growing areas of the web it cannot be altogether ignored.

Even if you choose not to blog, your customers might read other blogs which you can become involved in by commenting on posts. Or, if you think you have a story that is relevant to a blog which reports on your industry, you can send a press release to the blogger, the same way you would a journalist at a newspaper. For more information find out how you can boost your business with a blog

For further advice on marketing your business, Forum members can call our helpline on 0845 130 1722.