For large companies with big advertising and marketing budgets, a few hundred dollars is a drop in the bucket. With the amount of capital they have at their disposal, they can easily throw money at search engine ads, premium leads, paid social media, and more.
But for small business owners and entrepreneurs, every dollar counts, and each investment has to pay off with an immediate or short-term return on investment.
Luckily, in this modern digital age, there are copious free and low-cost options for any business on a budget. Bootstrapping your small business marketing budget is as simple as following these top marketing tips:
1. Prioritize local search
Search engine rankings are more important than ever, especially if you have a physical location. Think about it: What’s the first thing you do when you need to buy something? You look online. Whether you plan to buy it online or visit a store, you’re likely going to start with a web search to do your research or track down the closest store.
Google My Business is a critical and free first step that everyone should include in their marketing mix. Claiming your business online with Google lets you adjust how your business appears in search rankings and on maps, including your hours, location, photos, and customer reviews. One reason this step is crucial is because 50 percent of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphone end up visiting a store within 24 hours, and 34 percent who search on their computer or tablet do the same.
2. Invest in content marketing
Content marketing can be a free and effective way to position you as an expert in your field, and it allows people to naturally find you through search engine rankings and social media websites.
Content marketing involves creating and distributing helpful material that's audience-focused and serves the purpose of boosting customer acquisition. One of the most common forms of content marketing is blogging, either on your own website or guest blogging on other companies' websites. The former helps grow your own audience, but the latter extends your reach to other relevant audiences. Blogging best practices include:
- Creating evergreen content that is timeless and will stay useful and relevant for years to come;
- Focusing on informing instead of selling to position your company as a trustworthy brand worth doing business with;
- Publishing content consistently on a set schedule to boost search rankings and, more importantly, to build and retain a loyal readership and establish your business as a useful resource.
3. Replicate what’s working
Chances are you know of at least one competitor or industry-adjacent brand that's killing it with their marketing. Keep an eye on your competitors' marketing efforts using tools like Brand24 (premium) or Google Alerts (free). Google Alerts, in particular, is a service that everyone should be using because it seamlessly tracks online mentions of your company name, product name, competitors, industry keywords, and more—all on autopilot.
For example, if your competition is outranking you on search engines, take a look at their blog posts and website content. How can you replicate that success, or, ideally, do it even better? Use competitor monitoring to see where they're getting mentioned. Are they guest blogging on industry websites? Are they leveraging press releases to get the word out about new features? Whatever's working for them will likely work for you too, and potentially you can make it work even better.
4. Leverage email marketing
Email marketing still reigns supreme because of its massive return on investment. For every dollar you spend on email marketing, you can expect a return of $38, on average. Email marketing can be used to strengthen your relationship with customers, help bring in new ones, spread brand awareness, and much more. Ensure you regularly keep your email list clean by using an email verifying tool. This will keep your sender score high and ensure better deliverability so you stay out of the spam folder.
5. Post on question & answer sites
Sites such as Quora, Yahoo Answers, and Reddit are indexed by search engines, and if you post correctly and tactfully they can provide a steady boost to your site traffic. Quora, in particular, has become a go-to source for marketers to drum up content ideas, establish authority, and drive traffic.
“On Quora, your target audience literally comes out asking what they’re looking for in their lives. You just have to be there with the best answer.” ~ Gilles De Clerck, of Right Inbox
With most Q&A sites, you have to answer questions honestly and objectively. If it makes sense to add a link to your brand or product, then do so, but proceed with caution. If your answer reeks of self-promotion, your post will be removed, you won’t gain any traction, and those in the comments section may tear your post to pieces. Instead, follow the same best practices from the content marketing section above. Post evergreen content that is useful, not salesy, and if possible, post often within a certain niche or subject to establish yourself as an authority figure.
6. Display social proof
People love reviews and testimonials. They eliminate analysis paralysis, enhance credibility, and prevent buyer's remorse. And best of all, they're free. Ask your happy customers for feedback, reviews, and testimonials via email, surveys, or even in-person. Then take that feedback and share it for all to see.
Your website is a great place to post social proof, preferably on the homepage or on landing pages where visitors might be weighing their options if they're still on the fence. Social media is also an excellent place for sharing customer feedback. Consider using a site like Canva to make quotes into images that are shareable and eye-catching.
An example of a social graphic made in Canva
7. Carve out time for face-to-face marketing
It’s been said that marketing has lost its personal touch, but it doesn't have to be that way. There are still local events, seminars, trade shows, pop-bys, meetups, and more you can add to your marketing mix. The sky's the limit here. You can even consider sponsoring events or holding your own event to get more face-time with potential customers or referral sources.
Some of the most loyal business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) relationships come from human connections, which are hard, if not impossible, to replicate via email or social media. That’s why carving out at least some time to visit your customers or referrals in-person can give you much-needed insight into your audience’s wants, needs, and desires.
The critical but often-overlooked step here is to come prepared for any face-to-face meeting. A little forward planning, such as researching the prospect and their company, preparing pricing options, and having some semblance of an elevator pitch or slide deck in your pocket can pay dividends.
8. Engage on social media
Social media marketing is a no-brainer for businesses looking to get their message out on a budget. Whether you're B2C, B2B, or something in between, remember that you aren’t selling to companies, but to people at companies. Since 77 percent of Americans have a social media profile, you’ve got a solid chance of catching a prospect’s attention in any industry.
When it comes to social media marketing, it’s best to keep things relaxed and relevant. Try to keep your page on topic, and don’t stray too much into uncharted or unrelated topics. Make a habit of responding to all comments on your page to encourage and facilitate more engagement. Also, make time to engage with other pages in your niche to maximize your exposure beyond just your audience. Lastly, leverage freelancers on sites like Fiverr or Reddit to craft custom logos, graphics, and other visual content that can help you truly stand out amongst all the noise.
With a little creativity and ingenuity, stretching your marketing dollars is easier than you think. While there are plenty of situations where spending copious amounts of money will yield a good return on investment, there are still countless low-cost and free options that are worth investing time, effort, and a smaller piece of your budget into. In the end, the best course of action is to capitalize on these resources, while also experimenting with other premium marketing services and advertising platforms, until you find the winning formula.
Sujan Patel is a leading expert in digital marketing. He is a hard working and high energy individual fueled by his passion to help people and solve problems. He is the co-founder of Web Profits, a growth marketing agency, and a partner in a handful of software companies including Mailshake, Narrow.io, Quuu, and Linktexting.com. Between his consulting practice and his software companies, Sujan’s goal is to help entrepreneurs and marketers scale their businesses.