Updated June 16, 2020
As a small business, efficient marketing is critical. Most small businesses do not have comparable budgets to large corporations, despite having to compete with them for the same customers. However, by taking advantage of free marketing solutions you can drive significant demand without fronting a large cost. Below, Credibly highlights 11 of our favorite small business marketing strategies that you can support on a budget.
1. Understand Your Target Audience
Even in the absence of formal market research, every business should have a thorough understanding of their target audience. After all, most companies have customers who share very similar needs, attributes, or characteristics that your company’s product or service solves. The better you understand your target audience, the more effectively you can market to them.
Buyer personas are a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer-created based on market research, customer data, and a few educated assumptions in order to help you better understand and relate to the market segment you are targeting. By analyzing trends, behaviors, similarities, and patterns amongst your relevant audience, you can create a hyper-targeted marketing and sales strategy that is tailored to the persona’s desires, challenges, and pain points.
For example, if you own a business that sells diapers, your buyer persona will likely consist of couples between the ages of 25-40. By extrapolating the persona, you can make inferences about their interests, media consumption, and shopping habits to plan marketing campaigns that focus on reaching only the most relevant prospects, in turn saving you money while boosting sales.
2. Develop a Marketing Plan
One fatal mistake many business owners make is not coming up with a marketing plan. Without an understanding of where you plan to spend your marketing dollars and why it’s common to see zero return on investment.
Rather than coming up with marketing ideas and executing them randomly without measurement, it is more effective to have strategies implemented at specific times, for specific durations with measurable results. By crafting a marketing plan that clearly shows the actions and steps, timing, and cost, your company will be better positioned to meet its sales goals and stay on budget.
3. Create an Online Presence
Having an online presence is critical, even if your business does not sell products online. It is of the utmost importance that you have a business website, social media platforms, and a Google My Business account to ensure that you establish and grow your digital footprint.
The majority of people who hear about your business will likely start by researching your business online and if they do not know that you exist, you will lose out on many potential customers. Even if you never plan to run digital ads, growing your organic and local presence through your digital assets can help you establish a reputation within your industry and local community.
Everyone who visits your website, social media profiles, or local listings should be able to understand what your business offers and how to contact you if they are interested. Creating social accounts and local listings is free and if you have the ability to create your site in-house, your only costs will be the domain and hosting package.
Cost: Free, except for website domain purchase and hosting
4. Build Relationships with Customers
While many businesses choose to spend all of their marketing efforts on new acquisitions, it is typically far easier and far less expensive to upsell an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one.
Providing excellent customer service and engaging existing clients is the key to relationship building. For example, if you own a restaurant it is important to attract new customers, but it is even more important to provide excellent food and service with each visit to ensure you give them a reason to come back. Great restaurants have been known to follow up with their guests days or weeks later to thank them for their visit, which shows the customer they are important and sets a great expectation for the next visit while also helping to remain top-of-mind.
5. Use Social Media
Now more than ever, social media marketing is a key tactic to inexpensive marketing. Smartphones are commonplace and the majority of people use social media daily. With the ability to easily find out information about any business, its product offerings, and what it stands for, consumers are no longer reliant on paid advertising to discover new businesses.
Because each social media platform has different strengths and weaknesses, it’s critical that you understand how to leverage each individual platform. Facebook is great for promoting events and creating groups, Instagram is a great means to show your culture and new products, and YouTube is great for establishing subject matter expertise by offering free tutorials. By properly leveraging each channel, you should be able to build a large organic following of relevant prospects for free.
6. Test Co-Marketing
Co-marketing is a collaborative marketing strategy in which your business partners with another company to co-promote a product or service and share the results. Co-marketing can be mutually beneficial to all parties involved because it allows companies to be more cost-effective by pooling together resources, sharing audiences of similar prospects, and fostering a positive long-term relationship between multiple companies (and sometimes communities).
Co-marketing is typically done between adjacent/complementary businesses, not direct competitors, to ensure that no sales are cannibalized. An example of co-marketing could be a lawn care company teaming up with a home cleaning service to provide a giveaway or bundled pricing. Another interesting real-life example of co-marketing is Uber and Spotify’s campaign in which they collaborated to allow Spotify users to play their favorite playlists on their Uber trip.
7. Write a Blog
Writing blogs can be an effective way to market your business as the upfront costs are low but the potential exposure and subject matter expertise are massive. By providing information that people need, a business can establish itself as an expert in that space and draw in customers who might just be researching potential solutions to their problems and objectives.
For example, a daycare company might have a blog about how to protect children from harmful sun rays at the beach or park, because the audience for that blog post would be the same as a daycare: parents of young children. By adding value and flaunting your expertise in front of new audiences, you should be able to capture new, highly interested prospects.
Cost: Free, if you do it yourself
8. Offer a Free Trial, Consultation or Event
Products or services that are completely new ideas or expensive often prohibit interested prospects from buying as the purchase has a much higher associated risk. In these circumstances, it may be easier to sell if the customer can “try before they buy”.
If you are confident that your product will be well-received by customers, it can be very effective to offer a free trial or host an event in which the customer can try it out. The idea is that they will enjoy the product so much that they choose to purchase it for themselves, and then refer other customers through word of mouth.
For example, if you are selling a new cosmetic product, it may make sense to produce a trial size that you give away for free or for a reduced cost. That way, you can show customers proof of concept at the first purchase and secure a long-term customer.
9. Measure Results
It is important to understand which of your marketing strategies are working so that you can allocate all of your marketing efforts and spend to the most effective activities and campaigns. However, if your business does not operate online, you may only have so much customer data. One great way businesses get around this is to ask customers how they found you at the point of sale. Most will be happy to tell you and they may even help you identify new effective marketing channels.
For companies that operate online, Google Analytics is a great way to see where your online traffic and sales are coming from (social media, organic search, etc.). Ideally, you will be able to pair analytics data with customer insight to better understand your customers and marketing effectiveness. As you gather results, you can reallocate resources to optimize your budget and grow your business.
10. Utilize Email Marketing
Email marketing is a fantastic means for converting customers, especially if your business specializes in online sales. Email newsletters can help nurture and close customers who aren’t buy-ready at the first interaction but are generally interested in your product offering.
Email marketing is effective because it can be highly personal, highly targeted, and incredibly low cost. And with the onset of smartphones, email marketing also allows your company to reach people while they are on the go.
However, it is critical to measure the impact of email marketing and your audience growth because email marketing platforms are not free. For it to make sense, the benefits must outweigh the costs, so we recommend having a granular understanding of how frequently you plan to engage each audience segment.
Cost: Varies, typically charged monthly
11. Learn SEO Basics
Lastly, learning a little about search engine optimization (SEO) can really help your business thrive. Optimizing a business website for search engines typically pays off better than online advertising in the long run as your presence does not disappear when you stop purchasing ads.
You should familiarize yourself with the basics of SEO, which is essentially the process of increasing website traffic by increasing the visibility of your website on search engine results pages. Through backlinking, keyword targeting, and off-page optimization, you can help your web pages climb the rankings, in turn generating more traffic from the most relevant leads.
CONCLUSION: Marketing can be very expensive, especially if your strategy is to outspend your competitors’ advertising costs. But by choosing the most relevant low-cost and free options for your situation and executing properly, it is possible to outperform your big business competitors without spending much money at all.
Director, Marketing & Strategic Partnerships