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43 low-cost or free advertising and marketing ideas for small businesses

Is it possible to advertise for free or on the cheap? It turns out you don’t need a massive marketing budget to boost your business profits. The key to success is to ensure you have a clear goal and target audience. Once you know what you want to achieve and who you’re selling to, there are plenty of low-cost marketing and advertising techniques that will help you achieve your goals without breaking the bank.

  • Take advantage of social media – Free to set up, the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter offer vital exposure to your target audience on a daily basis.
  • Get creative with content marketing – Regularly publishing and contributing to online content – both on your site and third party sites – will boost your business’s credibility and help with SEO.
  • Grab some free media coverage – Use PR techniques to generate media coverage for your business from press releases to celebrity endorsements.
  • Hustle, hustle, hustle – Never miss an opportunity to promote your business wherever you are. That includes everything from printing business cards and vehicle advertising to getting out there and drumming up business at events.

We’ll go into these in more detail later on. But first, before you begin marketing your business, you need to make sure your digital channels are in a position to capitalise on the expected traffic from your marketing activity. For example, there’s no point promoting a website that reads poorly or is slow to load; or signpost to social channels that are rarely updated.

Tips for setting up a website

Most businesses are expected to have some form of online presence. Usually, that means having a website. As well as being a place to sell your products and services, your website adds that all-important credibility to your business and acts as a basecamp for customers seeking further information.

Keep it simple

If your goal is to provide information and encourage enquiries, your website doesn’t have to be complex (and expensive). Sometimes the more straightforward you can be, the easier it is for customers to understand your product/service and get in touch.

For example, if you’re a builder, a website with an ‘About’, ‘Services’, ‘Price List’, ‘Testimonials’ and ‘Contact’ section is all you need. Customers need to know who you are, what you offer, rough prices, reviews of your work and how to get in touch. Address the customers’ needs straight away and you’re likely to get more enquiries.

Focus on being user-friendly

Ensure your website is responsive to mobiles and iPads. Make getting in touch super easy. Ever get frustrated when you tap on a phone number and it doesn’t launch a call? Or click on an address on a ‘Contact’ page and it doesn’t launch in Google Maps? Your web builder should be able to implement this fairly easily.

Upsell to existing customers

The ‘Thank You’ page is an opportunity to promote similar products or unique discount codes so customers shop with you again. Promote a ‘Recommend a Friend’ discount so you can capture another email address for your database.

Submit your website to relevant directories

Once your website is up-to-scratch, submit it to any relevant directories. This is particularly important if you’re in an industry where customers are looking for reasons to trust you e.g. a tradesperson.

Directories such as Checkatrade and MyBuilder will be the first port of call for many customers. If you run a restaurant, hotel or attraction, monitor sites such as TripAdvisor and ensure any unhappy customers are visibly addressed on the platform.

2022: the year you became a marketing guru

Consider social media an extension of your website: another shop window for you to promote your products and services. Like your website, it’s a way to put your products in front of prospective customers and entice them in, and can be one of the most effective free business advertising techniques out there. However, social media can be so much more than a free advertisement channel for your products and services. It’s a way to forge a human connection with your followers and draw devotees to your brand.

TIP: Free to set up, any social channel you create must be monitored daily to ensure customer enquiries are responded to quickly. You should also post regularly otherwise your pages become stale and it will reflect poorly on your business. If you can’t commit time to monitoring and updating your social channel/s it isn’t worth setting them up. Unmonitored social channels can do more harm than good.

1. Create a Facebook page for your business

Make sure to include your phone number, address, email address, opening times – essential contact info as well as a company overview. If you’re working on your website, your Facebook page makes a good interim option. You can also use your Facebook page to drive direct sales to your website.

For example, The Book People does this really well with the Shop section on its Facebook page, driving its social community to the checkout on their website. Throughout their posts, they use an engaging mix of content to generate conversations around books which encourages community growth and sales.

2. Set up a Twitter profile

Follow Twitter profiles and like/retweet posts that are relevant to your business and customers’ agenda. Daisy Park – a gift and homeware shop in Devon – does this really well. They also produce some informal behind-the-scenes content for their 10k followers. This might include, for example, a series of tweets showing them fulfilling customer orders.

3. Connect with other businesses and local networking groups via LinkedIn

4. Set up an Instagram page

“We have been using social media more and more as we’ve grown,” says Joe Thomason of Green Dog Walking. “Luckily we have a great subject to use…dogs!”

For example, The Big Cat Sanctuary posts beautiful images of its big cats alongside stories and details explaining how to get involved in supporting wildcat welfare. With 17k+ followers, it’s an organisation that has refined what works best on this channel to meet its awareness goal. This particular video of a jaguar eating an egg on Easter Sunday shows how clever you can be when it comes to coinciding your content with seasonal events.

5. Create a Pinterest page

Again, Pinterest is more appropriate for brands that can produce visually appealing content. Encourage traffic to your website by pinning an image directly from it or uploading an image you own and editing the link to point to the relevant page on your website. Don’t solely promote your products or services on this channel. Ensure you pin other images to topical boards to showcase the inspiration behind your brand image.

6. Invest in Facebook ads

Facebook ads allow you to access and target a huge audience, filtering by niche if required. You can split test your ads so you can work out which is the most successful and where to re-channel your budget.

“The ability to target fans of specific TV shows who are a certain age and live within a certain radius of us is an incredibly efficient way of reaching potential customers,” says David Middleton of Escape Room business, Bewilder Box.

You can start with as little as £100 for a simple advertising campaign. You can add extra budget easily if your results are profitable. If your audience uses another social media channel more regularly, advertise there instead.

7. Support your social channels on your website

Email marketing and newsletters

What is it?

Email marketing and newsletters help you keep in touch with your customers. They allow you to send advertisements, updates, sales messages, and important information about your services or products.

What’s the benefit to my business?

Personalisation – send personalised, relevant messages to customers at exactly the right time. You could, in theory, completely tailor the experience to each customer, depending on how much data you have access to.

Cost-effective – deliver content straight to people who are interested in your brand. There are lots of free or low-cost platforms available and, once you’ve set up a few email templates, you can send as many as you like. You’ll also be avoiding the costs of sending things in the post, or displaying expensive signs in public advertising spaces, and hoping people see it.

Instant results – directly measure the results of your emails (which isn’t possible with traditional forms of marketing where you can only estimate). Most tools let you see how many people have opened, or clicked on, your email within seconds of sending. Some will also let you see how many customers bought a product after seeing your email.

Adaptable – easily adapt the tone, messaging and style of your emails to make them consistent with your website, if you have one, and if you don’t, it’s a great place to build it up from.

How do I do it?

an email service provider (ESP) or customer relationship management (CRM) platform (which isn’t as complicated as it might sound). They’re ways to create an email, upload your contacts and send an email. Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, and Constant Contact are worth looking into if you’re a small business.

an email template. You’ll need at least one to be able to send emails, but most ESPs can provide these for you. For example, Mailchimp’s wide choice lets you vary the layout of your emails. If you search for ‘responsive templates’, like these templates from Campaign Monitor, they’ll be formatted correctly on both desktop and mobile.

good content ideas. Your message needs to be timely and relevant to engage your target audience. Keep it simple and don’t overwhelm customers with too many emails. Give the recipient a reason to open your email, and follow this up with a message that helps them do something or invites them to ‘buy now’ or ‘learn more’. You might also want to share a discount code to use on your products or services.

data. You can’t send marketing emails without people to email. Stay on the right side of the rules and regulations on customer data protection introduced with GDPR in 2018. It’s important to make sure you have the required consent to email your customers. Read our guide to GDPR to understand the details.

Good examples from other businesses

Bigger companies like ASOS and Uber do emails really well, if you want a standard to aim towards. They use data and website/app behaviour to create perfectly tailored email messages.

But smaller companies can be just as effective. The best thing to do is to sign up to emails from a range of companies, including some in a similar field to you, and see what lands in your inbox. You’ll start to get a feel for what they send and how often, and you can use that as a starting point.

Monitor and measure performance

With more ways today than ever to market your business, it is vital that any campaign is supported by a strong performance tracking plan. From banner ads to content marketing, collecting data on what customers respond to will help you tailor your future efforts to be more successful. Most advertising methods have built-in detailed tracking on everything from demographics to the number of impressions; this information can help you compare previous advertisements and allow you to make informed decisions on where best to focus your time and resources.

If you are one of the thousands of businesses that had to close down shop in order to prevent the spread of COVID, you may feel skeptical of what the future holds. However, with the distribution of the vaccines, declining cases, and eased restrictions, now is an opportunity to come back stronger than before. An effective way to do so is to up your marketing efforts. Whether it’s improving your brand awareness through social media platforms or creating a rewards program for your existing customers, there are many ways you can attract and maintain customers. Now that you know how to promote a new business, you can implement the small business promotional strategies listed in this article to attract new customers and build relationships with neighbors as you reopen.



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