For many small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs, budgets are tied up trying to run their business and the thought of spending thousands of dollars on advertising is not only intimidating but unfeasible.
Luckily, there are dozens of clever marketing tactics that require little to no upfront financial investment. We’ll cover some of our favorite and most effective budget-friendly marketing strategies below.
Google Business Profile
A company’s Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business) refers to the business listing that appears within Google’s search results and Google maps. Creating a profile is completely free and can be a great way to help boost local SEO and start getting discovered in local markets. Businesses can display photos, list their hours, share their menu, take reservations, include contact information, collect reviews, and post about promotions or even highlight certain services.
The stronger the profile, the higher it will appear in Google’s search results and the more likely users will find it. One of the best ways to strengthen a Google Business Profile is by collecting Google reviews from loyal customers, so don’t forget to ask your satisfied clientele to leave a review on Google.
Content Marketing & SEO
Who needs to advertise when you can create a viral video? Well, that’s the spirit of content marketing. While it’s certainly not as simple as just posting video content and watching it go viral, the goal of any content marketing strategy is to create blogs, e-books, videos, podcasts, infographics, and other content that is engaging and connects with audiences in a meaningful way. The best result would be that users might even share their contact information just to view the content or share it with their friends and coworkers.
For small businesses without a lot of capital to spend on digital advertising like pay-per-click (PPC) and Google Ads, creating rich, valuable content is one of the best ways to help drive organic traffic to your website. Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is the ongoing process of improving a website’s ranking in search engines through this strategy. One way to accomplish this is by ensuring that an organization’s website contains content that its target audience is searching for through blogs and landing pages. While climbing the ranks of Google’s search results takes time, it can yield a steady stream of users that are already looking for your company’s products and services.
Important to note: When it comes to content marketing, don’t get too hung up on the production value of what you are creating, as things can get very expensive very quickly. The most impactful content is that which is authentic. Whether it’s a 15-second Tik Tok video or a weekly newsletter, focus on what you’re comfortable with and tell an authentic story.
A great way to garner notoriety and publicity for a business is through awards. From national publications like Inc. and Fortune to local organizations such as a chamber of commerce, there are hundreds if not thousands of groups awarding small businesses for the great work they do, the culture they’ve created, the impact they’ve made on their community, and more. Often free to apply, these awards can be another savvy tactic for spreading brand awareness and building client trust. As most awarding organizations heartily publicize and promote their winners, those awarded organizations can capture a large amount of organic audience reach and exposure.
Social Media Marketing
By now, we’re certainly all aware of the ubiquitousness of social media, but what many small business owners may not be aware of is social media’s ability to spread brand awareness and generate new business without having to spend a dollar on advertising. Similar to content marketing and SEO, a strong social media strategy starts with engaging, relevant content. But there are also other tactics to drive engagement such as contests and giveaways, user-generated testimonials, partnerships with other businesses, and more.
One of our favorite examples of a business leveraging social media to its fullest potential is Veja, a mission-driven French company producing sneakers made from sustainable and recycled materials. One of their core tenants, however, is a refusal to advertise. That’s right, no ads. Zero. They realized that they could roll their marketing budget into making even better products and so they now rely on getting creative and using more budget-friendly marketing strategies, such as social media. Scrolling their Instagram, you will find a never-ending stream of engaging photography, brand partnerships, and user-generated content, which has undoubtedly contributed to their continued success over the years.
Though they certainly existed before the pandemic, webinars have experienced a renaissance in recent years and are being used more widely than ever. A webinar or virtual event is a way of inviting prospective clients or customers into your business without anyone having to leave their home office. Webinars are a great event to promote on social media and via email, and the recordings can be used as valuable video and audio content afterward. Organizations on a budget can create a Facebook event promoting the webinar and only need a video conferencing platform of their choice to execute.
When budgets are tight, it’s crucial to lean on your current customers. Word of mouth, testimonials, and reviews are some of the most effective means of building trust and customer loyalty. Taking it one step further, many businesses have found further success by incentivizing referrals from their clients and customers.
For example, Airbnb crafted a referral program that awards referrers approximately $20 off per stay and those referred nearly $50 in account credit. As a result, they saw referrals increase their bookings in some cases by 25%-300%. While Airbnb is still paying for their leads through account credits and discounts, they don’t have any upfront costs to acquire those new customers. Referral programs are a great way to cheaply leverage a business’s loyal customer base, as most people are significantly more likely to trust the recommendation of a friend rather than a spokesperson in an advertisement.
Forums & Groups
Your customers have questions, and likely, they’re searching online to find answers. From Reddit, StackExchange, and Quora to Facebook and LinkedIn groups, there is an endless stream of users asking questions. By tapping into these communities, brands can help serve as a resource. By perusing forums and joining relevant groups on social media, companies can seek out prospective customers, interact with them, and answer their questions directly. These resources are often free to join and the only real investment is the time it takes to offer advice, comment, and share resources.
Putting It All Together
Whether you’re an entrepreneur just setting out or a large organization managing interdepartmental marketing budgets, it’s vital to take advantage of the free tools and cost-effective strategies available.
We would also like to share honorable mentions for email marketing and influencer marketing, which are also incredibly effective and affordable strategies for spreading awareness and connecting with audiences, but which can sometimes require small fees related to the email marketing platform or free products given to influencers.
An integrated, effective marketing and communications strategy for any business is one that leverages as many of the above-mentioned tactics as possible. From there, as the business grows and marketing budgets increase, organizations can start to weave in more expensive marketing strategies, such as social media advertising, PPC advertising, Google Ads, paid media placements, print advertising, and more.