16 Free and Inexpensive Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses on a Budget

Jun 10, 2021

Free and inexpensive marketing ideas for small businesses on a budget

When’s the last time you entertained new marketing ideas?

Not just read them over but committed to trying them? If it’s been a while then you’ve landed on the perfect post to rekindle your commitment to business growth. 

Marketing doesn’t always need to be costly. We’ve put together a list of inexpensive and FREE marketing ideas that anyone can implement for their business.

1. Launch a Small Business Website

A small business website is your base camp for all things online. It’s an asset that attracts and converts online users.

You can create a business site in three ways:

  • Using a free site builder and platform
  • Using site templates and a bit of DIY
  • Using developers (in-house or 3rd party)

For simplicity and a faster time to market, using a template is probably your best bet. You can buy templates from dozens of website theme marketplaces. Once a domain and hosting are configured, it’s now a matter of tweaking the theme to your needs.

Your total commitment with domain, hosting, and themes? Often under $100!

The marketing potential granted by a site is nearly endless. In fact, almost every tactic shared in this article may leverage a site in some capacity. So, make sure you have one ready as you commit to growth!

2. Claim Your Business on Google Maps

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

Google My Business is a free service that lets business owners claim their online listings in Google Maps. Upon verifying your business, you can update information and leverage this listing to drive people to your shop or online store. 

You then have several ways to entice sales via Google Map listings:

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

There’s no downside of having a claimed Google My Business listing. So, make sure it’s high on your marketing priorities! Did we mention it’s FREE?!

Note: If you’ve yet to set up a physical space or working from home then you could use our Virtual Office mailbox service, giving you a professional business address you can market that isn’t your basement.

3. Build Out Profiles on Social Media Platforms

There are dozens of great social media platforms your business should be on.

Why? Because:

  • It lets you connect with your audience
  • You can share content and spark discussions
  • Platforms ‘lock in’ your online branding

Start by creating or digging out your branding kit. This would include items like your logo, font & colour choice, and all those little elements that make your brand unique. Having these items lets you create continuity across all claimed social profiles!

Once you’ve got the branding assets, set up on (at minimum):

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

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

Claiming your social media profiles is one element of building a strong online presence. From there, you can begin exploring all kinds of social media marketing tactics! 

4. Start Creating and Sharing Content

The king of all free marketing ideas is content.

Content is everything: words, photos, video, sound, and more.

Your business can leverage content to attract leads, spark interest, and close sales. You can accomplish this through various content formats but, perhaps, the easiest entry-point is through blog content. This involves writing and publishing posts about topics that interest your community (like how you’re reading ours right now… See? It works!). 

This post is a real example of marketing content!

You can also explore content formats like:

  • Photos
  • Infographics
  • Memes
  • Podcasts
  • Music
  • Videos

…and so many others.

Start by touching on subjects you know your audience wants to learn. This can include answering those common support questions you receive, or general topics about your business and its industry. You can then explore new topics found through competitor research, user feedback, or industry experience.

Every piece of content shared online is another point of contact between an individual and your brand.

Think of how powerful that is in terms of marketing!

PLUS — great blogs lets Google know that you create valuable content and are relevant to your industry and Google rewards you for this—meaning Google will rank you better when people are searching. And again… FREE!

5. Create and Maintain an Email List

Here’s a revolutionary way to think of an email list:

What if the list got the same treatment as the business blog?

This means putting as much effort into creating engaging email content as you would the blog. You’re not blasting subscribers with alerts, news, and promos — you’re developing an amazing asset! Something people want to be a subscriber to. You need to provide VALUE—don’t just sell, sell, sell. People appreciate value, which in turn results in sales.

There are plenty of great email marketing platforms to get you started:

  • Drip
  • Constant Contact
  • MailChimp
  • GetResponse
  • Aweber

Most of these email services function the same so if you can learn one then you’ll pick up on the others. Each also offers a ton of documentation to help you set up and maximize its use.

Once the list is active, you could try things like:

  • Exclusive content (much like blog posts)
  • Personalize content for each subscriber
  • Conduct micro-series and experiences
  • Offer industry insights and a peek behind-the-scenes
  • Share user stories and experiences

Continue delivering a great experience by following a flexible email marketing schedule. As the value of this list grows, so too does its marketing potential when you’re ready to promote! 

6. Spark Conversations via Social Media

People turn to social media to… wait for it… socialize!

A good chunk of this socialization is with brands.

Your social media presence can become an incredible marketing force if refined. One of the best ways to start and grow your social presence is through great conversation. Specifically, you should engage with your audience and their followers!

Speak your mind and engage with your audience in an authentic way. People like to engage with people, so don’t make them feel like they’re engaging with a robot. Behind the screen you are a person.

  • See an interesting discussion you know something about? Hop in!
  • Have something to say about what your brand believes in? Share your position and slap on a hashtag.
  • Want to call out other brands on their BS? Tag them and let it rip!

If your social presence is entertaining and engaging then you’ll create a following. Now you have a bigger audience to drip marketing messages!

7. Ask for Business Referrals

Within your audience and customer list are those who are die-hards for your brand.

They’re the type to become brand ambassadors. And they’re powerful. Treat those people good.

If you can ignite a person’s passion for your brand then their words become an incredible referral funnel!

It’s easier than you think:

  1. Check through your customer list and see who’s repeatedly buying
  2. See if these individuals are active on social media (and have a following)
  3. Reach out and simply ask if they’d share the gospel with their followers

There’s a good chance that you’ll have a few individuals like this within your community. They’ll feel empowered and thrilled to share their experiences and recommendations with others. Often, all they need is a little nudge.

You can also apply this tactic with the professional network you’re developing.

Connect with fellow business owners you do business with and ask if they can refer yours. Reciprocate the efforts by referring business to theirs. This creates a powerful referral funnel that grows and grows!

8. Hold a Contest or Giveaway

People love free stuff.

You may harness this love of free stuff to build awareness of your brand!

Contests offer the best avenue for building the brand’s presence because there tends to be an expected engagement. Giveaways, on the other hand, are more of a quick pop of interest because it often only involves a simple entry.

Consider this if you choose to do a contest:

  • Pick a great prize (if this is something offered by your business then that’s even better)
  • Make engagement in the contest something that’s social such as sharing a story or uploading a pic
  • Use contest tools to promote, manage, and finalize the contest

Have a look at contests done by your competitors for a few good ideas. Otherwise, do an internal poll with your team or best customers to see what people would engage with.

As for giveaways:

  • Pick something simple and easily deliverable (digital items are good in this regard)
  • Expect a lot of broad entries (ie. spam), so use branding elements to at least build exposure
  • Settle up with the winner, and reach out and engage with participants

Contests and giveaways make perfect marketing ideas for a small businesses when it aligns with a launch. You can use that momentum to announce a new product and garner some hot leads.

Note: Be mindful to not do giveaways constantly. If you do this, you’ll find that the majority of people following you are only following you because they like free stuff, but may not be your target audience or valuable followers.

9. Leverage the Power of Video

Blogs are great and all but a lot of our content consumption is moving to video.

Video, being the multi-media format it is, can do a ton for engagement and branding. The mix of audio and visuals glues people to the screen, they’re primed for your marketing messages. Video is also all-around fun to create and consume!

Getting into video is super easy.

You’d need:

  • Video recording device (your smartphone is perfectly adequate – no need to get fancy)
  • A decent microphone
  • Video editing software

Your smartphone likely has a camera that’s perfect for recording. Otherwise, a 1080p webcam or mid-range video camera will do the trick. For audio, a simple $20-$30 clip-on microphone you see everywhere on Amazon works wonders (this instantly makes your video seem more professional as opposed to super amateur where all you can hear is the wind rushing past the microphone). As for editing, you could use software like DaVinci Resolve or Adobe Premiere, or editing apps online.

Creating and publishing video is as easy as setting up the recording:

  1. Pick interesting topics held by your audience
  2. Record your answers and insights about said topic
  3. Add in some graphic and audio elements to add excitement
  4. Upload it to a video hosting site (i.e. YouTube)
  5. Optimize it with a great title, description, and tags

Bam! You now have an awesome piece of content for your community.

You can even reuse this video such as embedding it alongside a blog post. Or, you could strip out the audio for a small podcast. The image stills from the video, also provide neat media for social shares, too!

10. Host an In-Person Workshop

Intimate workshops are a powerful way to create life-long brand ambassadors.

These experiences typically involve only a handful of individuals. It’s like a VIP experience for your biggest fans.

Try this:

  1. Decide an interesting workshop topic
  2. Pitch the idea to your ‘inner circle’ of associates and customers
  3. Finalize the concept and make an itinerary
  4. Book a meeting room rental
  5. Host the workshop

The workshop could be a free event for your best customers. Or, it could be a new revenue model to explore!

You’ll also have these intimate moments to talk about business on a deeper level. This could be an amazing opportunity to pitch fellow business professionals. Or, lock in stronger contracts with high-profile customers.

11. Implement an Affiliate Program

An affiliate program is a lot like asking for referrals…

…except you’re giving a kickback when people take action and convert.

The process goes a little like this:

  1. Pick out an affiliate software for your program
  2. Decide which products/services are included in the program
  3. Set a pay percentage and program/participation rules
  4. List the affiliate program on your site and within directories
  5. Vet applicants and on-board those who align with your goals

You will also provide affiliate resources to help them launch campaigns – like:

  • Blog and email content
  • Ad copy and designs
  • Affiliate support

You could even go as far as setting up a team specifically for managing the affiliate program. Bring in bright minds within the affiliate management space, and set them up in a coworking space. There, they can work together in attracting and supporting affiliates. This endeavor may be the very thing your business needs to achieve its next big milestone!

12. Pass Around Business Cards

Sometimes the simplest small business marketing ideas are best.

Business cards remain an essential marketing piece for your business.

They’re easy to create and print (for cheap):

  1. Get a nice card template or have one designed via UpWork or Fiverr
  2. Upload the design to a print company such as VistaPrint or Moo.com
  3. Finalize the design, pay up, and wait for delivery

Now, you’ve got a simple way to promote your business whenever you’re interacting with people. Whether it’s a business meetup or just having coffee down at a local shop, a card gets people talking. With a good pitch and presentation, you can turn the act of handing them a business card into a powerful marketing funnel!

13. Encourage Online Reviews

One of the biggest barriers to online business is the lack of physical interaction. We still yearn for face-to-face time, especially when it’s a big buying decision! Reviews are one of the best ways to overcome this barrier.

Online reviews do a few things for you:

  • Offers great feedback you could use to improve processes and products
  • Lets others know your authority, value, and what others can expect
  • Be leveraged to expand content and improve marketing efforts

Like referrals, often all that’s needed is a little nudge for them to happen.

Ask for them.

Don’t be bashful about asking for reviews, especially from your best customers. Many are more than thrilled to share their experience and help promote the brand they love.

Have them share reviews on social media, Google My Business, and other review platforms. This makes them accessible to others as they do research. Who knows? The review may be the thing needed to convince and convert someone!

BONUS: Did you know that the more (good) reviews you have on Google, the better Google ranks you? Reviews are huge assets to improving your SEO (Search Engine Optimization). And yes, you guessed it… it’s FREE!

14. Partner with Local Businesses or Charities

Partnerships are the next level of referrals.

Plenty of other businesses are looking for ways to build their brand’s presence. They’re also seeking ways to tap into new markets and communities. Partnering with local businesses or charities can achieve these goals!

Looking for a great place to break the ice with business peeps? Our virtual golf simulator would do the trick! Otherwise, you could attend local business meetups or events. You could also go around and drop off a business card and strike up a convo. Or, perhaps you could expand your network by joining a coworking space where you get to rub shoulders with many local business owners like yourself, and blossom new partnerships naturally.

All it takes is an outgoing attitude.

Vet these partners accordingly and then work together on something amazing!

15. Start (or Contribute To) a Podcast

Podcasts are super popular and are a fun content format you should explore.

Try it two ways:

  • Start your own with a decent microphone, topic(s), and publication via podcast services
  • Become a guest on popular podcasts from within your market and industry

The concept is the same as publishing blog posts or videos. Except, you’re doing a lot of talking. Some of you reading this may find this format ideal because you’ve got the gift of gab!

Use podcasting to build your authority and brand image, and share some of the exciting things you’re launching. It’s your platform, so why not use it to educate and promote?!

16. Get Out There and Mingle

Lastly, and this is a quick one: get out there and mingle!

We’ve all spent a ton of time inside the last while. Things are starting to get back to normal, and people want to socialize. This includes business meetings, events, and the like. So, use this opportunity to network and pitch your business.

Commit to Exploring Marketing Ideas and Strategies

Plenty of business owners love reading about marketing ideas and strategies…but how many are actually taking the concepts and putting them to work?

Don’t be that person that jumps to the next shiny object. Commit to one of the ideas from this post that stood out the most. See if it moves the needle for your business. Then, come back and try another one!

Want more insights to help your business grow? Be sure to check out more business tips on our blog!

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