Inexpensive small business marketing strategies to try

7 min read
Amanda Schewaga

No one understands being in a cash crunch better than a small business owner. Getting a new business up and running requires resourcefulness and penny-pinching — so the early days often feel like a constant lesson in frugality. So in this post, we’re going to explore small business marketing strategies that don’t cost much.

There are plenty of affordable small business marketing strategies that will still yield impressive results.

In fact, these strategies often contribute to more sustainable success, which will help you outperform your high-splurging competitors in the long run.

So, what are these affordable small business marketing strategies?

Editor’s note: When it comes to marketing tactics, a business website is an obvious first step. Get one with Websites + Marketing now. Fast, easy, free.

1. Referral programs

Referral programs depend on current customers who are happy enough with your products or services that they’ll refer others to your business. You already have customers — why not enlist their help to get more?

Customers need a reason beyond excellent products and service to refer you.

If you own a mission-based venture, consider making a charitable donation each time an existing client refers a friend to your business. Or you could apply a discount to their next bill or offer them a free one-month service upgrade when they refer people to you.

Whatever you choose, make sure you communicate the benefits of referring a friend to your loyal client base.

2. Instagram contests

The key to running a successful Instagram contest is understanding what your followers are interested in so you can offer a prize they can’t say “no” to. Would they appreciate:

  • A free product or service?
  • A $100.00 credit they can apply to a product or service of their choice?
  • A custom one-of-a-kind product that no one else will ever have?

You’ll want to weigh your options carefully. Oh, and don’t forget to be SUPER specific about the actions required for entry (commenting, sharing, submitting a photo, etc.).

Related: How to manage a business Instagram

Smartphone with handmade notification symbols above it
Got a knack for taking great photos? Instagram is for you.
Photo: Cristian Dina from Pexels

3. Weekly social media series

Consistency is essential for growing a loyal online following. So, why not commit to a weekly series? This is one of the best small business marketing ideas for those with busy schedules, since you can pre-record a video or podcast episode during your downtime and then schedule it to go live later.

Or, if you prefer to ad-lib, you can prepare your talking points in advance and then go live on Facebook or Instagram each week. It’s entirely up to you!

Related: The ultimate guide to Facebook Live for business

4. Customer-submitted content

User-generated content is a golden opportunity for entrepreneurs wondering how to market a small business on a budget.

Sharing your followers’ photos and comments makes them feel good and solidifies their loyalty to your brand.

You can take this one step further by asking your followers to submit art that you’ll use for an upcoming product or videos to be used as the end screen of your next YouTube video. All this tactic takes is time.

5. Instructional videos

Baker Seen Through a Cloud of Cocoa Powder

As a small business owner, you specialise in something. Whether it’s wedding cakes, zero-waste living, pet grooming, craft beer or plumbing — you know a lot about what you do.

So why not share your knowledge with the world?

Low-cost marketing for small businesses is all about getting creative and putting yourself out there. Depending on your industry, you could film a three-minute video on:

  • How to make homemade ganache
  • How to properly measure the windows in your home for replacement
  • How to unclog your sink

You may be surprised at how many people are interested in learning what you already know!

6. Downloadable tip sheets

This is one of the least expensive small business marketing ideas you’ll come across. You just need to have a good eye and some basic design skills!

Again, think about helpful tips that are related to your product or service.

You can create a tip sheet using one of the many user-friendly (and cheap) graphic design tools available on the internet like Canva or Easil to create your PDF (this is a common file format).

Then simply export it and make it available as a free download on your website. Better yet, offer it as an incentive to get people to sign up for emails from you.

Pro tip: Be sure to include your logo and contact information at the bottom of every tipsheet! If you’re lucky, people will print it off and stick it to their refrigerators. Think about how often they’d see your business name!

7. LinkedIn outreach

LinkedIn is arguably the best social media platform for connecting with like-minded professionals within your industry or forming profitable relationships with other business owners.

Thus, this affordable small business marketing strategy should never be overlooked. You just need to create a message that you can send out to potential contacts within your network.

LinkedIn has a search tool that enables you to find potential clients in your own network, so it doesn’t have to feel like sales. Think of it as expanding your own connections.

These templates from Hatchbuck are an excellent place to start— just be sure to add your own personality and update the recipient’s information before you hit “send.”

Group of people sitting around a table working on laptops
Don’t overlook the possibility of finding customers through professional networks.
Photo: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

8. Business networking groups

No matter where you live, there is likely a professional networking group in your community (or nearby, at the very least). Attending networking events — either in person or digitally — is an excellent way to connect with potential business partners or professionals who may be interested in exchanging services pro bono (for free).

Check your local MeetUp listings or connect with your small business association to learn more about the opportunities in your area.

Related: Top small business conferences Canadians should consider this year

9. Yelp (particularly if you own a restaurant or cafe)

When we think about online marketing platforms, Yelp is rarely the first to come to mind.

For brick-and-mortar businesses, Yelp can be a powerful promotional tool.

In fact, a one-star increase in Yelp rating was linked to a five to nine percent increase in restaurant revenue in a study by Harvard Business Review.

Maintaining an up-to-date Yelp profile, responding to customer reviews, adding your restaurant menu and keeping your business hours current are all great ways to make the most of your Yelp presence.

10. Online community forums

If it exists, there’s an incredibly good chance there’s an online community of enthusiasts who like to chat about it. These dedicated forums cover a never-ending range of topics, for example:

Whatever industry you’re in, there’s bound to be an online discussion forum where you can contribute to conversations and build relationships with your ideal customers.

Your approach should be stealthy here, monitoring conversations and offering your professional advice when appropriate. In time, people will begin to think of you as the [fill-in-the-blank] expert.

10 cheap small business marketing ideas to try

And there you have it — 10 affordable small business marketing strategies you can benefit from without emptying your wallet! There’s no need to do all 10 either — pick one or two to start and see where it takes you! Then add others as you have time.