8 affordable marketing tactics for small businesses

When it comes to marketing tactics for small businesses, many entrepreneurs feel like they have to break the bank. With so many other overheads to take into account, you might feel like you simply can’t afford marketing. For instance, the MBDA estimates that starting a business venture from scratch costs around $30,000. Of course, this number can vary wildly – some businesses will only need a couple of hundred dollars, whereas others could need close to millions for prototyping and product launches. Moreover, these just startup costs; after that, small business owners need to think about ongoing expenses including staff, rents, office supplies, and a whole host of other types of operational spending.


With so many other costs, some entrepreneurs start to see promoting their venture as a dispensable cost. Moreover, this is especially the case as so many small business owners don’t know how to quantify the effectiveness of their marketing. This is a major catch 22 – after all, making sure that customers are aware of your brand is critical to growing your small business. This is a vicious circle, as company revenue is suppressed and everyday overheads become even more challenging to finance. However, this shouldn’t be the case – in this day and age, effective advertising for small businesses doesn’t need to cost the Earth. Here, we run down eight small business marketing strategies that work with little or no money.


1. The 3 of most important words in marketing for small business – word of mouth

As they say, don’t mess with a classic. Even in the social media age, word of mouth is still one of the best ways to market a small business. For instance, Twitter conducted a study that found 56% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product recommended by peers or friends. In addition, the study also found that people are far more likely to trust recommendations from ‘non-celebrity’ influencers. Customers find this content more trustworthy – and goodness knows it’s significantly cheaper than a paid partnership with a celebrity!


Furthermore, once the ball is rolling, it won’t stop. As more and more of your customers recommend your product, the referrals will only proliferate. Therefore, when it comes to marketing tactics for small businesses, it's a strategy that really works for itself. In addition, you can incentivize customers to recommend your product with discounts for referrals. Often, if you offer a discount, volume will cover the costs – just make sure your existing customers are aware of the offer.


2. Contact local journalists

Again, this is another time-honored marketing tactic for small business that shouldn’t be ignored. Sending out press releases is a strategy that will cost you nothing and deliver big results. We can’t promise you’ll get a front page splash in The New York Times, but often journalists are desperate for content. This is particularly the case when it comes to local small business marketing, as small independent newspapers will likely be excited to announce a new addition to Main Street.


3. Set up social media accounts

OK, so we know we put all the old-fashioned approaches at the top of the bill – but underestimate the power of social media at your peril. Social media is one of the most cost-effective marketing tactics for small businesses, as setting up a Facebook page, Instagram account, or Twitter feed is 100% free. Once you have these tools, you can begin generating engaging, enticing content for your followers. True enough, creating high-quality social media content takes work, but don’t think you have to be super slick right away. As mentioned, consumers tend to prefer relatable content – so sometimes simple behind-the-scenes action is enough to get people talking. In addition, make sure you engage with your followers. This means responding to their comments, soliciting opinions, and doing some likes of your own.


4. Be your own brand ambassador

This is a point that links to that all-important ‘personal touch’ – remember, you are your company’s most valuable ambassador. Therefore, you need to ensure you are marketing your business at every opportunity. Again, instead of going for a hard sell, use subtler tactics; for instance, use your personal social media account to talk about what’s going on at work. This will generate a separate source of engagement and traffic, earning your business new followers and clients. Once again, this approach taps into consumers' tendencies to trust individuals over organizations. Therefore, it's important to make sure you’re leveraging this strategy to its fullest potential.


5. Leverage inbound marketing tactics

Customers like to know that you care. Therefore, creating content like blogs, listicles, or recommendations is a great way to entertain or inform potential customers. Otherwise known as ‘inbound marketing’ this strategy helps your business to exercise its ‘soft power’ over consumers. This type of content shows that you’re committed to customers' interests, successes, and desires – as opposed to merely gunning for sales. Furthermore, if you or someone on your team has a creative streak, you can produce infographics, video content, or podcasts. Not only will this increase traffic to your website, but it can also be the perfect complement to a wider suite of online marketing strategies.


6. DIY SEO strategy

Speaking of inbound marketing, this brings us neatly onto our next topic – search engine optimization. Search engine optimization, or SEO for short, involves figuring out what search terms your customers are using. Sure, you can pay a digital marketing agency to do it, but with a bit of dedication, you can do it yourself. Now, sites like Google Trends are some of the most valuable marketing tools for small business. With a bit of time an effort, you can put together your own list of valuable keywords.


From here, you’ll need to tweak the text on your site and make a few structural adjustments. Furthermore, you’ll also need to consistently produce high-quality content to attract links to your site. Although well-written blogs require work, it’s a great way to diversify the keywords on your site and attract traffic. In the long run, the only expense will be time – and the pay off will certainly be worth it. As a result, SEO marketing represents one of the most cost-effective marketing tactics for small businesses.


7. Thrifty pay-per-click advertising

PPC or pay-per-click ads are another important arm of your online marketing strategy. Although PPC ads are generally regarded as pretty pricey, this actually needn’t be the case. These adverts are only expensive if you target high-traffic keywords. If you go for something a little more niche, it can cost as little as a dollar a day. Although in many cases you’ll get what you put in, when it comes to marketing tactics for small businesses, every little helps.


8. Send email newsletters

Email marketing campaigns are one of the key promotion methods for a business, no matter the scale. This is because email marketing represents a huge return on investment. For example, for every dollar spent on email marketing, a company gets about $44 back – which are numbers you really can’t argue with. However, with so much new data privacy legislation in the works, it’s crucial your list is clean, organic, and compliant. Whereas before companies thought it was an awesome idea to purchase email addresses, this is now regarded as a pretty shady practice – so steer well clear.


Start small and grow bigger

Once a business has consistent cash flow, you’ll have the freedom to begin to invest in more ambitious marketing projects. Once you’re at this stage, you can reflect on which campaigns were the most successful and prioritize these approaches. Furthermore, you may even generate enough revenue to hire someone to help with promotions. Once you have more resources, you’ll be able to deliver even higher quality communications. In turn, this will mean your business will generate even more income. Overall, the fundamental marketing tactics for small businesses are simple – start small, be creative, and dream big.