Marketing is an integral part of any business’ success. And for local businesses that lack big brand name recognition, it can be even more crucial in generating awareness and attracting potential leads and new customers.

Budgeting for marketing is hard, because you’ve got a lot of other stuff going on. Once you do have a dedicated marketing budget (no matter how big or small), finding affordable, effective ways to promote your business can be even harder.

Here are 11 tips that can help you avoid marketing and advertising sticker shock.

Narrow Your Focus

1. Sharpen your message.

Think about the local businesses that are most successful at beating out the big chains. Typically, they’re the ones that have found a niche or some differentiator that makes them stand out from the competition. Even if you have lots of things to be proud of, choose the 1 or 2 that most reflect your brand and what you want to be recognized for.

Some examples of local business differentiators that make the big brands jealous:

  • Flexible return policy
  • One-on-one consultation
  • Personalized service
  • A charitable giving program in your community
  • Lightning-fast turnaround times
  • Custom quotes and discounts

Once you identify what makes you special, it’s time to market the heck out of it. Ensure your messaging consistently calls out these select, special things about your business – over and over again. Make your differentiators shine in your social media pages and posts, on your business website, and in every single one of your online business listings.

2. Use geo-targeting in your ads, and watch timing closely.

Some of the big guys can get away with advertising in a really broad geographic area for 2 reasons: 1) They can afford it, and 2) They can service it. But because you’re a local business, you may not have the same resources. Be smart with your geo-targeting, limiting your radius as much as possible to your immediate service area.

You can also make sure your ad dollars work hard for you by watching when you run your ads online. It depends on your industry, but certain ads work better in the morning versus the afternoon. Once you find a time that gets you optimal traffic, stick with it!

3. Narrow your social media scope.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which social media network is going to be best for your particular business. That depends on your industry and your social media goals. Think about your average customer and where they’re likely to be spending most of their time. Then, focus 100% of your time, attention and budget on this one social media channel. Pro tip: Facebook is still the most popular social media channel with highest engagement for local businesses. So if you don’t know where to start, start there.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

4. Recycle old content.

Do you go back to the drawing board for every marketing activity you undertake? To make better use of your time, consider creating what we call “boilerplate” language about your business. Dedicate some time to spelling out exactly who you are, what you do, for whom and why. Then, pick a few images you’ll be able to reuse on multiple channels. If you flesh out this content enough, you’ll be able to pull it into just about every marketing activity you undertake.

5. Repurpose print ads in other ways.

If you’ve found that print ads tend to work well in bringing in new leads, keep doing them! It’s likely you’ve spent money getting these designed out and placed in the appropriate publications for your business. Let these take you a little further by considering where else you could use the same ad copy and imagery.

Some examples:

  • Direct mail
  • Box stuffers
  • Leave-behind flyers

Become Your Community’s BFF

6. Partner with other local businesses and community organizations.

Sometimes good business and good deeds go hand in hand. When you participate in your local community, it gives your neighbors a chance to get to know you and your business. While your time may be precious, becoming active in your local community is still one of the least expensive ways to up your marketing.


  • Sponsoring a local sports team financially
  • Volunteering time at a local school or park
  • Donating your services to support a local cause
7. Become a PR expert.

Large corporations pay big bucks for good press. How? They employ entire teams to come up with good-news stories about how they support their local communities. As a local business owner, you have a massive advantage. You are much more rooted in your local community than a chain could ever dream of being. So introduce yourself to local media outlets, connect with trade publications relevant to your industry, and offer your time to local networking organizations as a thought leader and expert in your field.

Protect Your Pocketbook, but Don’t Be Stingy

8. Stay inside your lane.

Just because a bigger brand name uses thicker stock paper and more colors in their brochure doesn’t mean you should too. In fact, if you try too hard to compete, you risk looking too similar to the competition and blending in. In most cases, it’s not worth it to spend your money on the fanciest card stock or ads. Stay true to your budget here, and your return on investment will typically be pretty comparable.

9. Don’t get wooed by agencies or fancy freelancers.

Instead, find a consultant or freelancer who fits your budget. Pro tip: College students are typically in serious need of projects to build their portfolio and resume before getting out into the job market. Reach out to any local universities for cheap or even free help.

10. Stop waiting for organic results to come in, and pay to play.

When it comes to social media, one of the biggest mistakes we see business owners make is believing their organic reach is enough to engage current followers and attract the attention of new customers. But the fact is, on most social channels the only folks you’re reaching with everyday posts are those already following your business. To attract new attention, you’ll need to up your game and splurge a little on boosted posts or targeted ad campaigns.

10 a. Learn the difference between boosting and advertising on Facebook.

Speaking of boosted posts and targeted ads, do you know the difference between the two? There’s a common misconception that boosting posts is the same thing as advertising on Facebook.

Boosting is when you choose a post already on your business page and pay to expand the audience outside of your current followers. It lets you target a specific demographic by location, age, gender and interest. Boosting is great if you’re trying to gain engagement and brand recognition, but aren’t necessarily focused on an immediate sale.

Facebook ads are much more advanced. They offer more targeted options with your desired audience, let you choose the exact timing of your ad, and help you attach a call to action to drive better conversion. These are best used for encouraging website visits, phone calls to your store and more.

11. Trade direct mail for email.

According to the United States Postal Service, 98% of people in the U.S. get their mail daily, and 77% of people sort it right then and there. So it’s no surprise local business owners still use direct mail to gain the attention of consumers who may be ready to act on-the-spot.

But where direct mail is fairly inexpensive, email is even cheaper. Once you bite the bullet and invest in an email service provider or software, you’re pretty home-free as far as additional investment or costs go (unless you intend to buy email lists, which we don’t typically recommend). With the right tool, email is also more measurable than traditional marketing tactics, so you can make sure the work you’re doing is worth every penny.