Running a small business often means working on a tight budget and a tight timeline, but there’s no reason to sacrifice your marketing efforts. Try these cheap marketing strategies that are effective but don’t break the bank.

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How-to Guide: 4 Ways to Run an Efficient Small Business


Create a Google My Business account

Cost: Free

When you’re running a small business, getting discovered is high on the list of priorities. What many small business owners don’t realize is that the first step to being found on a local Google search is claiming, completing and verifying your Google My Business listing.

If you’re looking for an effective marketing strategy to hit the ground running, this is where you start. The listing allows your business to be found on Google Maps, Google Search and in the Knowledge Panel. If you’re looking to work your way up the local search results, make sure you optimize your listing.

Tap Into Local SEO

Cost: Free

The way search engine, Google, is set up, if you want to land on page one, you’re going to have to put in the work. Google’s algorithm populates the most relevant, accurate, high-quality content on page one. Because this isn’t pay-to-play, small business owners have a chance to be discovered organically.

SEO tips that will benefit your business in the long run:

  • Add location-based keywords to your website
  • Get included in online directories
  • Write location-specific blogs

Run for Business Awards

Cost: Free

Gain name recognition by putting yourself out there. Applying to business awards is rewarding for several reasons. Look for business awards that offer badges that you can place on your website and executive emails.

When customers see badges, it builds the trust and credibility that leads them to make more purchases. When potential investors or partners see badges, they know you’re serious about results and worthy of the risk.

Get Active on Social Media

Cost: Free

If you’ve created a business account on social media great! If not, what are you waiting for? Meet your customers where they are and make an account with the original heavy hitters like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

The goal is to stay consistent to build a community. If you’re using software to manage your business, it may offer social media scheduling. Scheduling ahead is a great way to avoid forgetting to post when you get busy on the job.

Social media allows your business to:

  • Use posts to build buzz around recent content you’ve created, further driving website traffic
  • Create short, easy-to-digest content linked to longer pieces, like blogs
  • Connect with followers using your brand voice
  • Poll followers for their opinions and feedback
  • Share behind-the-scene glimpses at projects in the works

Turn your loyal customers into ambassadors by encouraging them to tag your handle or business location in their posts. You can even reshare your customers’ content onto your social media and tag them.

Broaden your reach even more by using hashtags. Need to plan your social media goals? Get the guide.

72% of the public uses some form of social media.

Record Helpful Videos

Cost: Free

Keep the social media posts rolling on platforms where videos shine like YouTube and everyone’s favorite time-suck, TikTok. Posting helpful tips and DIY videos is a great way to connect with your customer.

The best part about sharing videos to apps like TikTok, Instagram and Facebook is that you don’t have to be a professional to get the point across.

Use videos for:

  • Showcasing unexpected ways to use your products
  • Fun how-to demonstrations
  • Interviews with your staff or industry experts

Just make sure you brand your work and add a call to action to encourage traffic to your pages, website or storefront.

Link Up on LinkedIn

Cost: Free

We’re going to wrap up social platforms with one of the more under-utilized social sites. Networking on LinkedIn goes beyond adding connections or looking for jobs.

Create conversation-starting posts or just share your most recent blog. If you rather join a conversation than be the one starting it, contribute to the platform’s forum conversations. Share what you know, learn what you don’t and build your brand while forming genuine connections.

Craft Your Email Marketing Plan

Cost: Free

Get in touch with new visitors and keep current customers in the loop by developing an email marketing strategy. Consider this an updated version of sending mailers. This method is tried and true, which is why it’s still one of the more reliable routes to having healthy customer retention.

From offering coupons, sending updates on product re-stocks or even just reminders on upcoming appointments — email marketing can keep your customers engaged.

Create an email marketing strategy that works:

  • Get creative with your subject lines
  • Add offers into each email to encourage customers to take the next step
  • Use A/B testing to discover what best resonates with your audience
  • Avoid being sent into the spam folder

(Yes, you can execute this all from your free email inbox, but this is one area you may want to consider investing more than the cost of lunch, when your budget allows for it. Adding list management, marketing automation and segmentation will make your email marketing even more successful.)

Collect Ad Promo Credits

Cost: Free – Under $10 with a cap

Have you thought about running an ad? Perhaps you’re not liking the idea of spending buckets of bucks in the ad process, and that’s reasonable.

The good news is that sites like Google and Facebook are constantly offering ad credits up to $5 for users to boost their content. Take advantage of those moments, especially when the content is already performing well.

With just a $5 Facebook ad, you could reach up to 1,000 people that you can target geographically, demographically and by interest. (Hint: You’d be spending that on postage alone for a printed direct mail piece.)

There’s also no shortage of discounts and coupons, so even if there’s only $10 in the budget to spend, you’re able to make it stretch.

You’ll want to be sure to brush up on any analytics skills you have so you can be sure you get the best results you can.

The Guide to Running an Efficient Small Business

The Guide to Running an Efficient Small Business

Eliminate time-wasting tasks and get back to business.

Give Guerilla Marketing a Go

Cost: Free – As low as $15

If you’ve got time or creativity, try out guerilla marketing. It could be as simple as hitting the streets to leave your social media handles or mini ads chalked on the sidewalk or as bold as creating a sand sculpture that represents your brand.

Maybe you’re low on time but have a few dollars to spare. Consider having branded custom stickers made for you to paste on bus stops, city bulletins or abandoned building’s windows if you’re some sort of a rebel. The goal? Make a passerby look twice.

Build a Customer Referral Program

Cost: Free

Your customers are walking advertisements. Incentivize them and they’ll talk even more. When potential clients hear about your product from someone other than you, your credibility goes up.

Customers referred by a friend are four times more likely to make a purchase. How do you like those odds? Reward those current customers who are bringing in new customers. Offer a free piece of merchandise or maybe a free class.

74% of consumers consider word-of-mouth to be the primary factor behind their purchasing decisions.

Create Content

Cost: Free

Make posting content onto your blog a regular part of your week. It’s a simple and fun way to use your brand voice to drive traffic to your website and creates opportunities for engagement.

Don’t worry about using outrageous words you find on the thesaurus website. Speak in terms that feel natural and resonate with your audience.

Join Forces with a Partner

Cost: Free

Remember when we mentioned putting yourself out there and making connections on LinkedIn? This is why. Teaming up with another small business to become industry partners is a game-changer.

We’re not talking about linking up with one of your competitors but rather a business related to your industry. Partnering with another business means double the exposure.

For example, Raul owns a yoga studio in his downtown area. He wants to do a fitness workshop every month to put his name out there for more than his current customers.

He has the idea to call Tyger, who owns a gym that specializes in strength training, and Carol, who teaches dance, to team up. By inviting only their current members, they’ve each tripled their own exposure.

Couple that with the idea that each guest will bring a guest and Raul has built the perfect partnership.

The Guide to Running an Efficient Small Business

The Guide to Running an Efficient Small Business

Eliminate time-wasting tasks and get back to business.

Have a Social Media Contest or Giveaway

Cost: Free – $30

This one can get a little dicey, but it’s worth it because you don’t need a ton of resources to pull it off.  Check out your inventory to see what you can manage.

Do you have enough products to put together a basket with a retail value of $300 without hurting your bottom line? Can you offer a service for free? This may seem like you’re digging into your own pockets; however, those participants are leads for future business.

Industry-based contest ideas to try:

  • Spa/Salon: Massage voucher, a gift basket of products, choice of in-house service, manicure
  • Fitness Center: Customized meal plan, one month of unlimited classes, 3-class package
  • Restaurant: Free appetizer, event catering package up to a certain amount
  • Photography: Free headshot, 3 photography lessons, mini holiday shoot

Host Classes or (Virtual) Events

Cost: Free – $20

This can be as free, or not, as you’d like to make it. While you can plan and promote the event yourself, there’s always the option of teaching a masterclass at an event hosted by another business.

Doing this allows you to tap into an audience you haven’t had access to yet. Connect with them and offer attendees a discount to your next webinar.

Switching to the digital age has made hosting events convenient by adding the option of saving thousands on renting a physical location. Zoom’s base membership is free with a $19.99 plan for businesses.

Price your event appropriately so you’re paid what your knowledge and planning efforts are worth. Even if you’re just getting started, a $5 ticket to a Zoom webinar will help cover the subscription plan and even pad your pockets so you can participate in other cheap marketing strategies.

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