Team meets to discuss marketing strategy.
Working with microinfluencers, incentivizing referrals and launching affiliate programs are all great ways to get started. — Fizkes / Getty Images

A commonly accepted best practice is to benchmark about 2% of your sales revenue for marketing and advertising. That may not seem like much, but it can disappear quickly. Optimize the ROI of your marketing budget by investing in these inexpensive marketing ideas that can deliver a lot of bang for your buck.

[Read more: 7 Creative (and Free) Ways to Promote Your Business]

Incentivize customer referrals

The data is conclusive: Your existing customers are your best advocates. People who hear about a product, brand or service from a friend are four times more likely to make a purchase. And referred customers have a 16% higher lifetime value as compared to a customer who wasn’t referred. Word-of-mouth marketing (WOM) is how Rent the Runway grew to a $1 billion valuation in just ten years.

Use your loyalty program to encourage customers to tell others about your products or service. Structure your campaign in what is called a “double-sided reward” format, meaning that your existing customer and their referral are both rewarded when the referral makes a purchase at your business. Dropbox, for instance, grew 3,900% in 15 months between 2008 and 2010 by rewarding referral program participants with more free cloud storage, first after sending an invite to the platform and again when the referral completed a sign-up.

Make the most of user-generated content

User-generated content, or UGC, is any type of media content created by a person rather than a brand. UGC is beneficial for two main reasons. First, you don’t have to pay to create the content. And second, it fosters the same trust and authentic connection as WOM. Research shows that consumers trust UGC 50% more than other types of posts. When a potential new customer sees UGC, they are left with a positive impression that’s more powerful than any marketing message coming from your brand.

There’s a good chance your loyal customers are creating content that you can leverage in your marketing campaigns. UGC can be a review left by a happy customer, a picture of your sidewalk sign posted on Twitter, or a photo of your most popular breakfast dish shared on Google Reviews. Find and amplify great UGC by looking on social media to see if there are great images with your location tagged. Always ask permission before reposting to your wider audience.

[Read more: 10 Smart Ways to Leverage User-Generated Content]

When working with Instagram influencers, expect to pay roughly $1,000 for every 100,000 followers the user has.

Work with micro-influencers

Social media micro-influencers, those with a smaller number of followers (usually around 10,000 or less), can actually have a much bigger impact on your marketing initiative at a fraction of the price.

Because micro-influencers operate on a smaller scale, they’re able to form authentic connections with loyal followers who trust their recommendations. Micro-influencers interact online more frequently with their followers by responding to messages, comments and building genuine relationships. By some estimates, micro-influencers attract more than four times the engagement than bigger personalities. Pura Vida Bracelets was able to grow their social media accounts by about 40,000 followers per month through partnerships with micro-influencers.

Expect to pay about $1,000 for every 100,000 followers an Instagram influencer has on their account. Costs can quickly add up, unless you work with a micro-influencer who can generate better ROI for your marketing budget.

Publish on “niche” social media sites

There’s some debate as to whether or not it’s a good use of your marketing budget to advertise on sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. There’s a lot of competition of attention on those platforms, and depending on your marketing goals, you may burn through money without seeing tangible results.

However, sites like Reddit and Quora offer affordable alternatives for creating meaningful connections with potential customers. Rather than buying ads, spend some time answering user questions and educating people about your specific market.

“To market on Reddit, you need to find a niche — known on Reddit as subreddits, or message boards — related to your industry or business. There, you can find scores of people already interested in what your business has to offer — if you do it correctly,” reports Fundera. “You don’t want to overtly advertise on Reddit without making it feel authentic to the community, so study your subreddit thoroughly before opting to post.”

Spend time engaging with potential customers to get your brand out there without having to pay for display ads that might not get seen. This strategy is both free and more effective.

Look for ways to get free press

Unless you work with a PR agency, you may not know how to get publicity for your small business. But there are free tools you can use to get reporters to feature your business and bump up your profile. Here are a few to try:

  • HARO (Help a Reporter Out): Get on this list to receive emails from verified journalists who are working on a story and need an expert source to contribute a quote or other input.
  • ProfNet: Connect with journalists who are looking for experts to feature in their news releases.
  • SourceBottle: While similar to HARO, this service is oriented toward product reviews and securing sponsorships.

Getting your business out there in the press is good for visibility and for SEO.

Launch an affiliate marketing program

Affiliate marketing is another way to capitalize on WOM. Where a standard referral rewards program targets your existing customers, an affiliate program leverages third-party partners to bring in new leads or sales. Your vendor partners, other neighborhood businesses, and personal network can participate in an affiliate program to help bring in new sales or leads.

Affiliates earn a commission on every sale, meaning there are minimal upfront costs and most affiliate marketing programs have high ROI. If you don’t have a sales team, an affiliate program could be the way to go.

Offer a free webinar

As most of us have shifted to working remotely and online, webinars can be a great networking tool to bring in new leads and create content you can use ad infinitum.

“These courses are usually between 30 minutes to an hour and allow you to give tips and answer questions related to a topic your brand is familiar with. While this strategy can help you boost your credibility in your field, they can also offer you potential leads and sales opportunities,” wrote the experts at Hubspot.

All you need to get started is a microphone and a platform. Introduce a new product, showcase a recipe, or provide a how-to for using a product or service at home. Make sure you record your webinar for future marketing purposes.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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