If you’re strapped for cash but need to expand your small business marketing, stop sweating the budget. Here are simple and effective ways to build your marketing strategy with minimal cost.

Don’t have a huge budget to spend on small business marketing, but feel like you’re losing ground because you’re not taking action? You’re not alone.

According to the SBA, 2017 saw nearly half of small businesses invest less than 3% of their budget into marketing activities. More than half of micro businesses (those with fewer than 10 employees) put even less than 3% of revenue toward marketing.

While the SBA recommends small businesses invest upwards of 8% on their marketing, it’s important to note that there are plenty of tactics you can employ as a small business owner that have little to no cost. In fact, a number of small business marketing tactics take little more than time to execute. Here’s a list of simple, effective ideas you can put incorporate when creating a marketing plan.

Share Awesome Content

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Your audience is hungry for information. When customers search online they’re looking for answers to a question or a problem. Even when they’re just browsing social media, those issues are still in the back of their mind. So, when they spot relevant and interesting content it can capture their attention and put your brand on their radar.

Create, find, and curate highly valuable content that’s relevant to the interests of your customers. It doesn’t have to be specific to your products or your brand. What matters is that it has value to your customers.

This one of the best ways to improve search visibility and expand your engagement on social media. It takes nothing but time and a little research to create highly valuable 10x content.

  • Use industry data and free tools to make your own informative infographics
  • Create product comparison buyer guides that help customers make a purchase decision
  • Draft educational blog posts and instructional videos
  • Use the skyscraper technique to combine a wealth of info into a comprehensive post or guide
  • Share content that sparks emotion, even if it’s just amusement

Making a purchase is 85% emotional. Find ways to use content to forge an emotional connection with your audience using awesome content.

Build a Referral Program

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Owners tend to shy away from investing in small business marketing when they can’t foresee the return on the investment. If you have a limited budget to invest up front, then implement a referral and rewards program.

These programs not only rewards customers for their loyalty and improve the lifetime value of the customer, they also provide rewards to customers who bring you new business. The cost to implement this type of system is manageable even for micro businesses, and the cost of rewards are offset by the increased revenue generated by your referral program.

Build Local and Industry Partnerships

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Your customers have countless hobbies, interests, and needs beyond the products and services you provide. Odds are good that there are other small businesses operating parallel to your own that share your audience.

For those businesses who aren’t direct competitors, that’s a huge opportunity to cross-promote and get your brand in front of more customers. A few ways to do that:

  • Cosponsor a local cause or event
  • Coproduce a valuable newsletter or content piece
  • Cross promote one another through social channels
  • Create exclusive specials and discounts for each another’s customers
  • Recommend products and services that complement one another

Apply for Business Awards

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If you’re good at something your customers should know about it. It’s one thing to say that you’re the best. Customers might take note and judge for themselves. However, if you proudly display an award from an unbiased third party you gain a lot more credibility with your audience.

Most industries have business awards you can either apply to or nominate yourself for consideration. You can also ask your customers to nominate you, or request that they vote for you if the award is decided by a poll. If you win you typically earn the honor of showcasing that award in your stores, across digital channels, and within your marketing materials.

Bring Value to Your Local Community

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Content marketing is a great way to educate your customers and others online, but don’t neglect the opportunity to bring that same value to your local community.

Host workshops, training, classes, and other educational gatherings in your local store. Promote the events to increase attention and get more foot traffic to your location. And, you can keep the cost low by just sharing your personal knowledge instead of hiring a speaker.

Best of all, this approach to small business marketing isn’t seen as promotional. It paints you as a local authority and reinforces credibility in your small business. Think of ways to bring value to your community with events like:

  • Product or service specific classes
  • Instructions and training around topics you’re familiar with
  • Fun educational classes focused on hobbies and local interests

Nurture Your Relationships with Email

Image via Eugenio Marongiu.

Big brands frequently send marketing emails to customers. You should do the same as part of your small business marketing strategy. Capture the email addresses of customers and use services like MailChimp and ConstantContact to stay in touch.

Don’t just send email blasts for product sales and promotions; find ways to bring the maximum value to your customers so they stay subscribed. Types of marketing emails you could send include:

  • Detailed newsletters with industry info, latest blogs, curated content, exclusive deals
  • Follow-up emails after a purchase
  • Review solicitations
  • Invitations to surveys to provide customer feedback
  • Calls to participate on social media
  • Custom content like birthday messages and thanks based on sales history

Email marketing is extremely low cost, and some platforms are even free depending on the number of subscribers you have. Each email keeps your small business in the mind of the consumer, builds authenticity and credibility, and reinforces your relationship with them after their initial purchase.

Get Personal and Get Visual

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More and more businesses are learning that customer service is a huge part of marketing. When you delight the customer you practically guarantee repeat businesses as well as referrals. You also don’t need to sweat follow-up issues when they go away happy.

Find ways to improve the experience your customers have by putting the emphasis on them rather than on the sale. Get personal with them, make them feel valued, and customize the interactions.

You don’t have to be in the store to do that. More and more small business owners are marketing with video and live feeds. This brings their customers closer to the operation of their business while also showcasing their personality. They’re forging personal connections while engaging with customers, and that builds an incredible amount of loyalty among your audience.

If you can’t do video, there are other ways to use visuals. Encourage customers to take pictures and video around your business, with staff, and of products and share them to social media.

Curate that content, share it, boost the signal, and engage with those customers to create a production loop of user-generated content.

Create a Social Presence

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You don’t need to be active on every social channel, but you should have a social presence where it’s relevant and matters most to your customers. Having a profile isn’t enough. You need to load it with content and post consistently to keep eyes on your account.

A lack of a social presence can make potential customers question your legitimacy and how useful you are to customers. If you have few posts, no comments, and no social reviews, it’s easy to assume that you aren’t interesting or helpful enough to be worth the time.

Keep these tips in mind when creating your approach to small business marketing on social media:

  • Post and interact where your customers are.
  • Take on only what you can handle. Don’t stretch yourself too thin.
  • Watch what competitors post and what customers interact with to help you decide what content to share.
  • Use visuals in your social posts to draw in more than twice the engagement of text posts and links.
  • Respond to comments. Engagement is a two-way street.
  • Be human and let your personality shine. Don’t sound robotic by over-thinking your posts.
  • Post regularly, post often, and be consistent.


While tactics like content marketing and cross-promotion can be tested to find the best fit for your small business marketing plan, there is one practice that will always help you stand out among competitors: Always compete on value, not on price.

Much of what I’ve recommended here can boost visibility and brand on a local level as well as online, but visibility is only part of the marketing equation. You need to give people a reason to do business with you. Sell them on your value and show them what makes you unique over competitors. If you try to compete on price, many of your customers will only be as loyal as the discounts they receive. If competition undercuts you, customers will go for the cheaper buy…unless they know without a doubt that you provide more reward for their money.

Looking for more marketing inspiration? Check out these articles.

Top image via Rawpixel.com.