16 Free or Affordable Marketing Ideas for Small Business

Jun 10, 2021

Business Owner Marketing His Business Online

When was the last time you used a new affordable small business marketing idea—not simply came up with one but used it?

If it’s been a long time, or if you feel your marketing has stalled, then you’ve landed on the right post.  

We’ve put together a list of 16 free or affordable marketing ideas you can implement for your small business. What’s better: you can start using the list right away to begin to better market your small business.

1. Launch a Small Business Website

Business woman setting up her ecommerce store

A small business website is your online base camp.  It’s an asset that gives your business legitimacy and attracts and converts customers. 

You can create a business website in three ways:

  • Use an affordable platform and site builder
  • Buy a website template and create the site yourself
  • Hire a developer

For simplicity and a faster completion time, the use of a template is your best bet. You can buy templates from dozens of website theme marketplaces. Popular user-friendly options are Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify

You decide on and buy a domain, you have your hosting configured, you tweak the template you bought to meet your needs, and—bam!—your website is launched. 

Your total cost of buying a domain, web hosting, and a theme? Often under $300!

The marketing potential granted by a website is potentially endless. In fact, almost every tactic shared in this article will leverage a site in some capacity. For that reason, we can’t stress the need to have a website as a marketing tool enough.

Now that you have a website, how are potential customers going to find you? Answer: Google Maps. 

2. Add Your Business to Google Maps

Man using Google Maps to locate a business

People turn to Google Maps to find business information. Is your business listed on Google? If not, it should be!

Google My Business is a free service that lets business owners add their small business listing to Google Maps. 

Upon verification of your business by Google, you can then update your business information and leverage the listing to drive people to your brick and mortar shop or online store. 

You can then entice sales via your Google Map listings with the following:

  • Customer reviews
  • Advertising/promotions
  • Posts and updates
  • SEO value for your site
  • Customer photos

Here is an example of a Google Map listing:

Sample of a Google Map listing

There’s no downside of having claimed a Google My Business listing. Did we mention it’s free?

Make sure setting up a Google listing for your small business is high on your marketing priority list. 

As we mentioned, this type of listing works just as well for a virtual shop as it does a physical store. If you don’t have physical space for your company, or if you have a home-based business, and you’d like a company mailing address, there are options.

One option is to use our virtual office mailbox rental service. A virtual mailbox will give your business a professional air with an address that isn’t your home address.

3. Create Social Media Profiles for Your Business

A businessowner managing his business' social media accounts

There are dozens of great social media platforms you can affordably use to market your small business. 

Why? Because social media lets you: 

  • Connect with your audience, audience meaning potential customers
  • Share content, engage, and spark discussions about your product, service, and team
  • ‘Lock in’ your online branding

Social Media & Branding

As you get ready to create your corporate social media accounts, start by digging out your brand guide. A company’s brand guide includes digital files of your logo, corporate font, brand colours, design elements, photography guide, verbiage, and guidelines around the proper use of your brand. 

If you don’t have a brand guide, there are many marketing agencies who would be happy to create one for you—and it doesn’t need to cost a fortune. 

Keep these files handy to create continuity across all claimed social media profiles.

Once you’ve collected your branding assets, set up on a business account on the following:

You could also explore platforms like TikTok, Pinterest, and Snapchat depending where your ideal target audience hangs out.

Claim your business social media profiles, or handles, to further build a strong online presence for your brand. From there, you can begin to explore all kinds of other social media marketing tactics. 

Once your social profiles are up and running, it’s time to start marketing your small business. 

4. Create and Share Content

A photographer getting ready for a photoshoot

When we talk about content, we’re referring to anything that you can make digitally then share with your online followers. Content includes:

  • Copy
  • Photographs
  • Infographics
  • Memes
  • Podcasts
  • Music
  • Videos
  • Graphics

…and many others.

You can leverage the content your business creates and releases to attract leads, spark interest about their brand, and close sales. Any of the content types we mentioned above can help you accomplish these goals. The easiest entry-point to content marketing, though, is blogging. 

The benefits of having a blog

A woman writing a blog

Publishing a blog involves writing about topics that interest your audience. (You’re doing it right now— see how it works!). This blog post is a real example of content marketing. 

Write about subjects you know your audience would like to learn about. Examples of this could include:

  • Answering common support questions or FAQs, 
  • General topics about your business and its industry,
  • New topics found through competitor research (What are your competitors writing about? Write it better!),
  • User feedback or reviews,
  • Tips and advice based on your years of industry experience.

Every piece of content shared online is another point of contact between your small business and your target market. Think about how powerful that could be in terms of marketing.

Blogs & SEO

Remember the Google My Business profile we mentioned in marketing idea #2?  Well, Google comes into play with your blog, too. 

A high-quality, useful blog lets Google know your business creates valuable content relevant to your industry and viewers. Google will reward you for this—meaning they’ll rank you higher than the competition when people search for a related topic online. 

This is called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, and, one again, it’s free. All you have to do is start writing. 

5. Grow An Email List

A woman typing out an email

Every small business needs an email list. We repeat: every business needs an email list.

We don’t mean you should have an email list to blast subscribers with updates, news, sales, and promos. We mean offering newsletter marketing that people want to receive.  

An email list should provide value to members of the list—not simply sell, sell, sell. People appreciate when you give them something in exchange for their time and attention, which in turn results in more sales.

Email Marketing Platforms

There are plenty of great email marketing platforms you can use to build your small business email list:

Most of these service providers offer similar easy-to-use functionality. If you’re new to email marketing, we recommend you dive into your provider’s ‘how-to’ documentation to get you started. 

How to collect subscriber emails

A woman checking online orders from her shop

Once you’ve signed up for email marketing with one of the above platforms, it’s time to build the list. Here are the some of the easy ways to grow your list:

  • Offer a leda magnet, or a free offering people get when they sign up for your list
  • Make it easy for people to subscribe. Add an email opt-in on your website, on social media, and in pop-ups on your site.

What should you share via email marketing?

Once you’ve collected a list, it’s time to communicate with them. The following are ideas for the types of content you can share via your digital newsletter:

  • Exclusive content (Much like blog posts, only shared exclusively with your list)
  • Personalize content for each subscriber
  • Offer industry insights and a behind-the-scenes sneak peaks
  • Share customers and clients stories and testimonials
  • Give away free gifts
  • Invite them to subscriber-only events, like a subscriber-only shopping night at your store
  • Offer them a promo code for your online shop

If you continue to deliver a great user experience through your email marketing on a continuous, but not overbearing, schedule, your small business email list and sales will grow. 

6. Engage on Social Media

Businessowner interacting with her business's online followers
Yougn fashion designer with tablet standing by rack between clothes on hangers and searching in the net

Source: Pressmaster/Envato Elements

Social media marketing is about engagement. We engage with other individuals and we engage with brands. 

Your social media presence can become an incredible marketing force if you keep this in mind.

Start a conversation

One of the best ways to start and grow your social presence is with great conversation. 

People want to engage with people, so don’t make them feel like they’re engaging with a robot. Stay away from heavily templated replies. (Although there is a way to know when to use a template and when not to. Read more here.)

Don’t simply post n’ split. Instead, 

  • Ask questions, 
  • Share great-quality content, 
  • Respond to comments, 
  • Keep an ongoing presence on your social media profiles,
  • Notice an interesting conversation you could add to? Join in!
  • Share your small business values, 
  • Encourage the use of branded and specific hashtags so people can follow along with a conversation
  • Lift the curtain on your business with behind the scenes content, 
  • Be funny, creative, and entertaining, and 
  • Engage with your audience in an authentic way. 

If your social presence is entertaining and engaging you’ll build a following. A bigger following means you can market your small business to more people. 

7. Fans & Recommendations

An influencer posting new content

The term influence often gets a bad wrap. The idea that a person posts content exclusively for the reward of free product or money, and not because they like a brand, can seem inauthentic. 

Micro-influencers, however, are a different story. 

Turn fans into micro-influencers

Within your audience and customer base there are die hard fans. If these people have a following on social media, they’re potential micro-influencers, or ambassadors, for your brand.

How can you find your revving fans? It’s easier than you think:

  • Look through your customer list and pick out those who repeatedly buy
  • Look to see which of these people are active on social media (and if they have a following, that’s a bonus)
  • Reach out and ask them if they’d like to help spread the word about your company

There’s a good chance you have a few of these customers within your community. When you ask them to genuinely spread the word about why they love your business, most often they’ll jump at the chance. 

Everyone likes to help. Everyone likes to feel useful and special. A request like this to your true fans will empower them to share their recommendations and experiences with others.

Business-to-business shout-outs

You can even use this tactic for business-to-business online marketing as well. If you’ve worked with a company that you love, give them kudos through your social media profiles.

8. Hold a Contest or Giveaway

Business owner announcing a giveaway contest

Who doesn’t love to win something?

Harness this power of a free giveaway to build awareness of your brand!

Contests offer a great way to build longer-term brand awareness because they involve engagement. Giveaways, on the other hand, are shorter term awareness-builders because they tend to require a quick entry to participate.

Contest tips

If you choose to go the contest route, consider this:

  • Select a great prize, ideally something made or offered by your company
  • Make engagement part of the requirements for entry
  • Look at competitors to see how they’re running contests and mimic the ideas you like
  • Use contest tools to promote, manage, and finalize the contest. 

Two of our favourite contest tools are SweepWidget and ShortStack

Giveaway Tips

As for giveaways, we recommend:

  • Pick something simple and easily deliverable (think digital here),
  • Use brand elements to build exposure,
  • Align you giveaway (or contest) with a launch of a new product or service, or a anniversary or other milestone for your small business
  • Expect a lot of spam entries, 
  • Connect with and highlight the winner, and 
  • Reach out with and engage with all participants

Contests and giveaways are fun marketing ideas for a small business when they align with your corporate values.

Be mindful to not do contests or giveaways too often as this can cause ‘contest fatigue. In other words, people will start ignoring them and they’ll have the reverse effect you’ll want them to have.

9. Leverage the Power of Video

A business owner leveraging videos to market his business.

Video is a fun and creative way for people to take in your brand messaging. 

Video is also the most powerful online marketing tool today. By 2022, it’s estimated 82% of all content consumed on the internet will be video. 

To get started with creating video content, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Video recording device, like a smartphone or webcam
  • A decent microphone
  • Video editing software, depending on how fancy you want to get with your videos

Video recording equipment specifics

  • For video, a 1080p webcam or mid-range video camera will do the trick. 
  • For audio, an inexpensive clip-on microphone works wonders; there are even wireless options available. 

We can’t emphasize the need for an external mic enough. When you create video with high-quality audio, you exponentially increase views and appear more professional. 

Video creation and publishing tips and how-to’s

  • Pick interesting topics your audience will gravitate towards
  • Record your experience, insights, tips, and FAQs about said topic
  • Add branded graphics and audio elements 
  • Upload your video to a hosting site, like Vimeo, YouTube, or, in the case of shorter video, TikTok or Instagram Reels or Stories.
  • Optimize it with a great title, description, and hashtags
  • Reuse and share the entire video or potions of it on various platforms and in various locations, e.g., on your website, in a blog post, on social media 

Bam!—you’ve created your first piece of video content. 

10. Host a Workshop or Webinar

A business owner conducting a webinar

Workshops and webinars are powerful ways to create deeper connections with customers. 

The workshop or webinar could be free as a marketing tool or you could ask a nominal fee to attend as a revenue generator. 

Where should you start, then, when planning to host an event for your business? We have a step by step process for you to follow. 

How to plan a workshop or webinar

  • Decide on an interesting workshop topic related to the product or service you offer,
  • Pitch the idea to your inner circle of associates and customers to gauze interest,
  • Finalize the concept and write out the content for the webinar,
  • Design and create downloadables or deliverables for the workshop,
  • Make a schedule and set a date and time,
  • Book a meeting room rental, if you’re doing a live event, and
  • Host the workshop

Use these intimate events to talk about business on a deeper level and offer your clients and customers something the public doesn’t get.

11. Offer an Affiliate or Ambassador Program

A brand ambassador opening a PR package

An affiliate program is a lot like asking for referrals except you give a kickback for sales or leads received through the affiliate’s efforts. 

The affiliate process 

The affiliate process works like this:

  • Pick out an affiliate software for your program
  • Decide which products or services will be included in the program as perks
  • Set a percentage for the affiliate rewards or compensation
  • Outline program participation rules
  • Design and write program marketing resources you’ll provide to affiliates, including social media content, copy, imagery, and branding rules
  • List the affiliate program on your website and advertise it on social media
  • Vet applicants and on-board those who align with your corporate values

Depending on the size of your company, you could assign the affiliate program to be part of the responsibilities of your marketing and communications team. As the experts in small business marketing, they can do the heavy lifting of attracting and supporting affiliates. 

12. Hand Out Business Cards

A simple and yet still-used small business marketing idea is the business card. Easy and cheap to design and print, they offer a simple way to spread the word about your business.

How to design an effective business card

  • Choose a card template or have one designed. Companies like UpWork or Fiverr all offer designers who can design a card for you affordably, or you can design one yourself using Canva
  • Upload the design to a print company such as VistaPrint or Moo.
  • Finalize the design, pay for your order, and wait for delivery

Once your new business cards arrive, you now have a simple way to promote your business whenever you network. 

13. Ask for Online Reviews

A customer leaving an online review

If you’re not ready to ask people to give you a shout-out on social media, or if they say no, ask them to leave you a review online instead.

Reviews go a long way to building your company’s reputation. 

Benefits of Online reviews 

Online reviews do a few things for your business:

  • Offer feedback you can use to improve processes and products
  • Lets people know your authority, value, and what to can expect when buying from you
  • Builds your reputation as a trusted brand
  • Shows potential customers what kind of service they can expect from you when things go wrong

Like referrals, reviews require an ask from you to make them happen. 

How to ask for reviews

  1. First, don’t be afraid to ask for a review. People are often flattered when you ask them and willing to help promote a brand they love. You can ask through your email marketing, on social media, or on your website, 
  2. Direct people to your website, Google, or social media to leave a review, 
  3. Make your reviews public on your site, and 
  4. Use comments and testimonials on your website as additional marketing material

What are the benefits of reviews?

The more positive reviews you receive on Google, the better Google ranks you. Reviews are huge assets to improving your SEO and, luck for us, they’re free.

14. Partner with Local Businesses or Charities

Source: seventyfourimages/Envato Elements

Partnerships are often an under appreciated marketing tool. 

Plenty of other small businesses are looking for ways to build brand awareness and are seeking ways to connect with new customers. Partnering with other local businesses or charities can help your business and theirs achieve these goals. 

How to build small business partnerships

Two business owners going into a partnership

Here are several suggestions for building relationships with like-minded small businesses:

  • Join a coworking office
  • Reach out to them through social media (using Direct Messages, or DMs)
  • Attend local business networking events
  • Research businesses you’d like to partner with and send them an email, or drop into their office or store
  • If there’s a charity whose work matters for you, reach out to them yourself 

Pound the pavement and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the momentum you can build when it comes to developing partnerships.

15. Start or Contribute To a Podcast

A man doing a podcast

Podcasts are a popular and fun marketing idea you should explore for your small business.

There are two ways to use podcasts for marketing: the free way and the not-so-free way. Here’s what we mean. 

Types of podcast marketing

  • Start your own podcast – not free
    • Involves buying a decent microphone, scripting topic(s), editing and producing episodes, and publishing them on a poplar podcast platform
    • Podcast services include Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or SoundCloud
  • Be a guest on podcasts = free
    • Connect with a podcast host or producer of a show relevant to your work or industry 
    • Ask to be a guest on their show

The concept is the same as publishing blog posts or videos. The biggest difference between the two is, happily for some, there’s no video recording. 

If you have the gift for the gab, and can’t be bothered to do your hair every time you want to create a piece of content, consider podcasting. It will help you build authority as a brand and extend your reach to new potential customers. 

16. Network

Business owners networking
Diverse business shoot

Finally, there’s networking. Wait! Don’t leave. We promise networking is better than it sounds.

Consider business networking a form of fun mingling. Use it as an opportunity to meet new small business owners, help and support them where you can, and connect others who you think should know one another. 

Commit to Using Affordable Marketing Ideas

Woman using affordable marketing ideas

We hope that if this article has taught you anything it’s that small business marketing strategies needn’t be expensive. In fact, many of them are free.

Plenty of business owners love reading about marketing ideas and strategies,  how many take the concepts and apply them?

You can be that owner. 

Choose one or two of the marketing ideas in this article and commit to them. Then, after a few months, check in to see how they’ve helped grow your customer base and increase sales. 

Once you’re comfortable using those, come back and try another one! 
Want more small business marketing tips and insights? Visit our blog!

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