Many small businesses don’t have the resources to allocate a large portion of their budget to marketing. But that doesn’t mean you need to forgo it altogether. Marketing is essential to the growth and success of a business, and it's important to budget and plan for it.
For all marketing plans, it’s important to know your customer. You must understand your audience and what they are looking for. Advertising content must be relevant and personal to the customer. A little research about your customer can help ensure your marketing dollars are as effective as possible.
Prioritize your marketing channels and content, whether digital, print, email, or a combination. Different audiences require different types of interactions. Match your spending to revenue, and adjust the plan as needed. Knowing how much to spend on marketing is critical, but knowing how to spend the money is just as important. Below are some low-cost and unique marketing ideas for your business!
- Email marketing. There are various platforms, such as MailChimp, that offer free, low-volume email marketing. The free version may eventually require upgrading, which will come with a fee.
- Digital platforms and social media ads. In most cases, businesses can tailor their campaign to fit their budget. There are also resources, such as Google Adwords’ Keyword Planner, to make sure you are getting the most out of your targeting by researching the keywords your customers are using to search for you. Try experimenting with different social media ads without spending too much. You can start by boosting a Facebook post or promoting a tweet.
- Google My Business. Google My Business is a master dashboard that connects your business with customers. You’ll have a free business profile that lets you connect with customers via Google Search and Maps.
- Business directories. These are online lists of businesses at the national, state, or local level. Sometimes directories are niche or industry specific, so be sure to get your business added to any that are relevant. Ensure information about your business is consistent across all directories. Include your business name, address, phone number, business hours, links to your website and social media accounts, a description of your business, and images or videos of your storefront or operations.
- Grow your social audience. You can optimize your social media efforts by focusing on the social media platforms that best target your audience, which could be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, or others, depending on the demographics and interests of your customers and potential customers. It is worth doing some research to find out where your customers are spending their time online. Be sure to post frequently and creatively. Encourage your audience to tag your business in pictures and posts to share their experiences.
- Join Facebook groups. Depending on the nature of your business, local leads can be found by joining targeted Facebook groups. Make sure you have your own profiles that clearly display your business bio. Engagement with people in the group, as well as sharing stories, will help you get more notice and encourage networking and potential customer gains.
- Traditional local newspapers. Advertisements in local papers are often relatively inexpensive. If you’re holding any sort of special event, notify the local editor, and you may get some free publicity coverage! Also, local radio stations may also do the same thing.
- Vehicle branding. There are a few options for putting your business brand on your vehicle. You can wrap your entire vehicle for a mobile billboard effect or, if you want a little less flashy option, you can go for a partial wrap or window decals. Regardless of your choice, you’re spreading awareness of your business whenever you are driving!
- Chalk. If your business is in an area with a lot of pedestrian traffic, draw customers in with color!
- Sidewalk and stair decals. Decals are a quick and affordable option for branding your business outside the storefront. They can be ordered in many shapes and sizes with your company’s logo and/or messaging. They are easy to apply to many surfaces and can be used to promote big sales, announce a new store, advertise new products, provide directions, or create photo ops for social media campaigns.
- Sandwich boards. These are an effective option for summer days. They are a low-cost way to show off the creative side of your business—maybe you could even include a joke or two. If the boards are creative or humorous enough, you could get some social media shares!
- Contests. Running a contest is a great way to gather contact information and create some hype around your business. You can host an online social media contest for a chance to win a service or prize, or you could host a business card drawing and stage an event around the raffle date. Make sure you promote your contest on social media and announce the winner on social media too!
After you’ve done your research and determined your budget and the marketing tools and channels to utilize, you should re-evaluate. Can you afford to do everything you would like to do, or do you need to pull back in some areas to maximize your ROI? There are some fixed costs that you can budget for, such as subscriptions and software, and some costs that will hit your budget all at once. These are factors to consider when planning.
Depending on needs and resources, some business owners may decide it is more cost effective to outsource marketing. This would depend upon your staff and the time they have available.
Finally, remember to test, revisit, and revise your plan. You don’t need a huge marketing budget to promote your business, but you must be strategic.
Disclaimer: As with anything new, do your research before launching new marketing strategies to understand applicable laws and regulations (e.g. email marketing opt-in laws, CAN-SPAM, contest rules & regulations, and even potential community legalities with sidewalks decals or sandwich signs.)