Woman yelling through bullhorn
Marketing your business doesn't have to be expensive to be effective. — Getty Images/SIphotography

As a small business owner, you know you have to spend money to make money. This can be difficult when you’re on a tight budget, and you may not have the spare cash for big, flashy ads and public relations campaigns.

Fortunately, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can create affordable, effective marketing plans to help propel your business forward. Here are some tried-and-true marketing ideas from business owners who made their small budget work.

1. Personal engagement

Movéo Fit Co. started as a simple idea when owner and fitness aficionado Becky Peavy broke her back. After recovering from her injury, she wanted to make fitness fun for herself. Her friend Jennie Leeper (now co-owner of Movéo) offered to create a donut-themed yoga mat for Peavy. Ideas came freely and they developed a mission to “create a community around our products where everyone is accepted and boldness, uniqueness, and authenticity is celebrated.” Soon, they had a new fitness company, but little money to market it.

“Personal connection is my driving force in marketing,” Peavy said. “We’re a startup, so I have more time than money.”

Peavy promotes Movéo by engaging with people who are interested in fitness online and in person. She creates free content by hosting workout sessions on Facebook Live, encourages others with likes and comments and constantly keeps Movéo front and center on social media.

2. Target local media

Alyssa Smith had a business, but no savings with which to fund it. When it came time to market her luxury jewelry business, Alyssa Smith Jewelry, she turned to social media marketing and local media for a boost to her visibility and sales.

“Local press love local news, and if you can think of an interesting enough angle, they will often feature your story,” Smith wrote in a Startups article.

The young entrepreneur also pitched story ideas to magazines, but she offered to write guest columns about her experience as a small business owner. Initially, she targeted smaller magazines, which helped her build a portfolio of articles. She was then able to contact larger publications to pitch, that were more likely to consider her columns.

3. Content is king

Don’t underestimate the power of free. Your small business website should offer more than just your contact information and some photos. The marketing experts at Spork Marketing suggest you offer unique content that’s also useful. They advise spending a few hours every month maintaining a blog for your website.

As you’re creating your blog strategy, make sure your content is informative and provides value for the reader. This will give your audience a reason to come back to your website. It will also establish you as an authority in your industry, which ultimately builds trust for your brand.

[For more on marketing via social media, see 6 Essential Steps to Creating a Social Media Marketing Strategy.]

Don’t underestimate the power of free.

4. Get recommendations from credible experts

Having a unique product or service that fills a gap is only one piece of the puzzle — getting everyone on board with it is another. Deep Bajaj took a different approach when he realized retailers weren’t going to put a product that helps women stand to urinate on their shelves.

The founder of PeeBuddy sought doctors to recommend the product to those who might have difficulties sitting and standing, such as pregnant women or those suffering from arthritis. Soon, pharmacies were stocking his product, and other retailers followed suit.

5. Give away to get attention

Peavy of Movéo said when she does spend money for marketing, she does so by offering her exercise mats, workout towels and resistance bands for organic marketing. She specifically targets micro-influencers, brand advocates with a smaller, but very deeply engaged niche audience. While these micro-influencers may not have hundreds of thousands of followers like traditional celebrities or larger influencers, they do “offer opinions that are deeply trusted by their followers, who are generally like-minded folks looking for real talk,” according to SnapApp.

“We send products to everyday people ... so they can do online giveaways in their fitness groups,” Peavy said.

6. Think like a customer

To acquire customers, you have to get into your customer’s head. Consider your product or service and ask yourself how a customer would go about finding it. That’s what the founders of Airbnb did when they were trying to find both the supplier and customer for their home-sharing business. Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia asked themselves where they’d go to find cheap stays in a city. The answer for them was Craigslist. They pitched the idea to homeowners offering rooms and homes as vacation rentals, and thus the $38 billion business was born.

[For more on Airbnb, see Airbnb for Work Expands to Include Non-Business Travelers.]

“Poaching customers is something all competitors do in different ways,” Harvard Business School professor Thales Teixeira said in an interview for Harvard’s “Working Knowledge” blog. “If you are a website and you are providing content to users publicly, others can grab that information.”

The key to making low-cost marketing ideas work for your small business is to make sure you’re targeting the right audience, you’re providing something valuable in exchange for them getting to know your brand, and don’t forget persistence and perseverance.

[For more on rising above your competitors, see 6 Strategies to Steal Your Competitors' Customers.]

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.

Published February 25, 2019