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31 Ways to Market Your Business on a Budget Using these 31 low-cost marketing ideas, you can take your business to the next level. Plus, marketing and advertising advice from industry veterans.

By John Rampton

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As the old adage goes, you have to spend money to make money — so if you want your business to grow, you need to devote resources to marketing and advertising.

But if you're on a tight budget, you don't have to wait until your coffers are full. Instead, use these 31 low-budget marketing and advertising ideas to get your name and product out there without breaking the bank. Be sure to read on for key tips from advertising experts about how to scale your promotional efforts.

1. Hone Your Pitch

You never know who you'll run into, so always be prepared to market your business. The most effective way to do this is by having a compelling elevator pitch — something that you can break out in a moment's notice without it feeling too rehearsed. It's not easy, especially because most people have short attention spans.

How can you perfect your elevator pitch? A few tips:

  • Know what motivates your audience.
  • Tell a concise story that shows your expertise.
  • Anticipate key questions about your competitive advantage.

2. Get Involved in Your Community

When people think of marketing, they often think of large-scale national campaigns. But sometimes it's best to think small and see what's happening at a local level. Sponsor a 5k race or a Little League team, set up a table at a local event or print bookmarks and leave them at the library. Your own community is probably more dynamic than you think, so don't overlook ways to grow your business right at home.

3. Ask for Referrals

Referrals are among the most effective — and cost-effective — ways to generate new business. The problem is, people often feel uncomfortable when asking for referrals. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to do it without having to feel awkward or desperate. Here are a few of ideas to get you started:

  • Ask for referrals via email, in person or at the bottom of your invoices.
  • Focus on your best client or customers.
  • Offer incentives like a gift card, discounts on future work or small gifts.
  • Make it easy. Use email scripts or plugins on your site.
  • Give referrals yourself. Paying it forward builds goodwill.

4. Join In-Person Networking Groups and Events

Networking is key. After all, it's one of the most effective ways to build meaningful relationships that can help grow your business. If you haven't already, join face-to-face networking groups in your community, such as your local chamber of commerce. These organizations frequently hold business mixers and other events that will help you connect with potential customers.

Check out local business events on Meetup.com, or see what events your local chamber or small business association is hosting.

You can also become a member of business organizations, like Business Networking International, the Young Entrepreneur's Council, the Entrepreneur's Organization, or SCORE. It's also worth keeping an eye out for industry-specific trade shows, which can be great sources of information and lead to important connections.

5. Apply for Business Awards

It's common for industries and organizations to give awards honoring the best businesses for customer service, overall value, community impact and more. In many cases, you just need to apply to be in the running. If you win, it will boost the credibility of your business.

Many local newspapers and magazines will also give these awards annually, and when there are reader's choice categories you can encourage your network to vote for you.

6. Target Influencers

With the dominance of social media, working with influencers has become a popular method of marketing. Influencers can promote products to audiences you might not reach with traditional advertising strategies — just make sure you find an influencer specific to your industry (you don't want to work with someone who is reaching the wrong audience), and offer that person free products or services in exchange for a review.

7. Practice Cold Calling and Emailing

Even in today's world, cold calling and emailing can still be effective ways to obtain new business — and the practice doesn't cost you anything but time.

Of course, there's more to it than just picking up the phone and calling someone, or sending them an email. Here are some pointers:

  • Don't focus on the sale. The idea is to create an opportunity for you to make your pitch.
  • Prepare an effective opening statement that includes greeting, introduction, the benefits of your product/service and a transition to a question or conversation.
  • Prepare a script so that you can answer any questions or concerns.
  • Set up an appointment — you can share your calendar with them so they can see your availability and select a time that works for them.
  • Always be pleasant to whoever picks up the phone or responds to your email.
  • Be persistent. It may take three or four contacts to set up an appointment.

8. Offer to Speak

There are plenty of opportunities for you to speak in front of an audience. In fact, industry conferences, volunteer organizations, local business groups, community colleges and libraries are usually in need of speakers. As a result, you'll get some name recognition, contacts and publicity. You could also offer to host an event or class, which would broaden awareness of your business and connect you with potential customers.

9. Publish Top-Notch Content

One way to get your business noticed is by writing content that readers find valuable. To that end, consider adding a blog to your business website and publishing useful advice about industry trends, product-specific updates and behind-the-scenes looks at your business. Share the content on social media channels and you can grow an audience of potential customers.

You can also write for industry publications and build a reputation as a subject-matter expert in your field. Reach out to industry organizations or publications that accept contributor posts, build a relationship with editors and prove your expertise.

10. Repurpose Your Content

Do you have old content out there? If so, you may be able to recycle it and grow your audience on additional platforms without having to create brand-new assets. For example, you could take a study you conducted and make it into an infographic, you could take a collection of blog posts on a specific topic and create an eBook or the podcast you just taped could become a YouTube video. You don't have to start from scratch each time you produce content, but you shouldn't merely reuse content without tweaking or refreshing it for the appropriate audience.

11. Collect Email Addresses and Start a Newsletter

Email is a huge player in online content marketing and advertising. Make sure you're growing email lists and managing your outreach with an email-marketing program like Mailchimp, HubSpot or others.

When you publish content, send it to your email lists via a newsletter. This will keep potential customers tuned into all the valuable information you're publishing — which will strengthen your business reputation — while also keeping them apprised of special discounts, events and business updates.

12. Host Webinars on Your Site

Hosting webinars can be costly; however, some companies offer free or low-cost options for small business owners. Some cheap options are MeetCheap. If you are looking for an even cheaper option, YouTube Live Streaming is 100% free, provided you have a verified YouTube channel.

13. Run an Online Contest

Promotional giveaways and contests can be effective ways to build awareness and introduce your business to potential customers. Ideally, your contest or giveaway should contain your products or services, such as the chance to win a free subscription to your service or a recently released product. Promote the contest on social media and don't forget to announce the winner. Just be sure that you abide by your state's rules for running a contest.

14. Give Your Product Away

This may sound counterproductive, but don't hesitate to offer people a free trial of your service or a free sample of your product. If they like what you're offering, they may well purchase more of your products or services. You can also offer coupons to get customers in the door for the first time and, hopefully, keep them coming back.

It might also be worth designing swag — keychains, water bottles and shirts — with your logo and giving it away at events. This free branded merchandise can raise the profile of your company and help it become more of a household name in your market.

15. Create a Free Google My Business Account

If you want your business to show up in local search, a Google My Business account is a necessity. This will ensure your business is visible not only on search but also on Google Maps.

16. Create a Free Yelp Listing

If you are a local business, consider adding your business to Yelp. It's free, and can be a great way to increase your visibility in the search engines.

17. Secure Your Online Presence

Hopefully, you've already listed your business on search engine local directories, as well as created pages on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Even if you don't intend to use social media often, it's smart to future-proof your business name by securing social handles.

The same is true for your website: You should secure your domain name as soon as possible, and make sure you stay up to date on renewals. You can confirm your information – such as your website, business owners and contact information – are correct and current by using tools like Yext.

18. Get Free PR with HARO

How does free PR in national magazines and websites sound? Create a free account with HARO. (Help a Reporter Out) and respond to relevant media queries.

19. Create Business Cards and Other Materials

It's very easy to design and order your own business cards these days. Keep them handy wherever you go and don't be stingy about giving someone your card. Doing so will help you broaden the reach of your business. Other materials — like informational one-sheets or postcards — can also be effective ways of marketing your product or services. If you attend events, you can hand those materials out and connect with new audiences.

20. Start a Podcast

Starting a podcast doesn't have to be expensive — you just need to purchase a microphone, understand the basics of hosting and learn how to edit audio (or hire someone to edit for you). With consistency over time, your podcast can build awareness of your business, showcase your knowledge and humanize your brand.

21. Make Your Outreach Personal

If you have existing customers, take the time to show them how much you appreciate their support. You could do this by writing them a handwritten "thank you" note or giving them a shout-out in a video or podcast. This goodwill is likely to make an impression, and may even lead them to tell others how you went above and beyond to make them feel important.

22. Make the Most of Employee Email Signatures

This is a simple and cost-effective way to market your business. Just have your team add a short sentence with a call to action in their email signatures along with your logo. Now, whenever they send out an email, there's an unobtrusive marketing message being seen by potential customers.

23. Respond to Queries

Take the time to answer questions in places like Google's business reviews, social media comment sections, or sites like Quora. Monitoring online forums that are relevant to your industry is also a great place to respond to potential customers. This is a simple and cheap way to build trust and potentially get noticed by a new audience.

24. Get Serious About Social Media

It takes time to be active on social media and grow your audience, but if you know what you're doing, you can have a real impact without having to spend much money. Create a Facebook Group and invite people to follow it, launch an Instagram account and post pictures or videos of your product, start connecting with people on LinkedIn and consider even making a TikTok account. If you have a limited advertising budget, it could be worth spending money on social media to build a following.

25. Embrace "Guerilla Marketing" and Other Unusual Ideas

Effective advertising and marketing involves putting in more effort than your competitors. Don't be afraid to pound the pavement and put hangers on doorknobs, place flyers under windshield wipers or brand your vehicle. Guerilla marketing involves doing the things others might not expect, like creating an installation of street art, projecting your logo onto the side of a building or even planning some type of publicity stunt. There are many ways to get people's attention – becreative.

26. Take advantage of Facebook and Google's free ad credits

Facebook and Google are always giving away free ad credit vouchers. When you are signing up for services like web hosting or Google Ads, take advantage of the free vouchers they offer and take PPC (pay-per-click)_advertising for a test drive.

27. Spend on Advertising for Key Demographics

If you're trying to advertise with a limited budget, you need to make sure you're getting high value out of your spend. One key way you can do this: target your advertising spending based on audience demographics. Use tools like Google Analytics and social media data to figure out the demographics that define your customers. Maybe most of your customers are college educated and between the ages of 31 and 45. Use that information to target your advertisements on various platforms.

It's also worth looking for promotional credits. Digital campaigns can get pricey, but you may be able to find discounts from Google or social media sites that offer incentive programs for first-time advertisers and allow you to target specific demographics.

28. Collaborate with Affiliates and Other Partners

Teaming up with another business related to your industry is a great way to introduce your product to a new audience. You can do this by collaborating online — by hosting a webinar, for instance — or by hosting exclusive in-person events together. You could team up with a local brewery for a networking event, or host a customer appreciation night in conjunction with a business with whom you share referrals.

If you offer a digital product (like an ebook), you can also look into affiliate or agencies and resellers, which earn a commission by marketing your product and generating leads. However, you'll need to make sure your pricing structure takes into account their fees.

29. Take Advantage of Audio Advertising

According to the World Advertising Research Center, there is a big gap between time spent with audio and its ad spend — meaning there are huge opportunities for advertising on podcasts, radio shows and elsewhere. Programmatic audio advertising (the automated selling and insertion of ads) enables a data-driven approach that produces efficient targeting and measurement. Audio hosting platforms like Spotify, SoundCloud, Pandora and others rely on a process called dynamic ad insertion, which advertisers can use to serve ads in both live and on-demand content.

30. Consider Advertising Outdoors

Advertising outdoors is one of the original forms of business promotion. In the industry, it's referred to as out-of-home advertising, but the concept — which includes billboards, yard signs, digital projections and other creative approaches — is a relatively simple one. Before you start thinking it's outdated, data suggests out-of-home advertising is still effective.

Plus, with detailed analytics now available — movement patterns, audience saturation and more — you can optimize outdoor campaigns beyond previous capabilities.

31. Don't Forget Newspapers and Magazines

While print media isn't as strong as it once was, newspapers and magazines can still offer valuable advertising opportunities — especially at the local level and for those trying to reach an older audience. The costs will vary based on several factors: the publication you choose, the size and color of your ad, the frequency and whether or not it will also run online. Print media with larger circulations will be more expensive, but don't overlook community bulletins or local media where you can still get good value for cheaper.

Bonus: Advertising Principles to Follow from David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy, often referred to as the "father of advertising," was a British executive who ran one of the most successful ad agencies of the twentieth century. His clients included Schweppes, Rolls-Royce and Shell, and his principles have been studied by marketers for decades. In Craig Simpson's book, The Advertising Solution, Ogilvy's principles are outlined as follows:

  1. Creative brilliance: Marketers need to come up with concepts that not only catch their best targets' attention, but also sell them on the product. Ogilvy was a proponent of the "big idea" — a concept that cap­tures the imagination of your audience and puts your product (or yourself) on the map.
  2. Research: Ogilvy didn't believe in blowing smoke. His copy was meticulously based in fact, and he did careful research about a product that he could then build a campaign around.
  3. Actual results: Ogilvy was a strong believer in judging the quality of an ad by its success at selling the product. Always test the outcome of an ad, and if it isn't selling, make changes.
  4. Professional discipline: Advertising executives were not dabblers in the creative realm. They needed to hone their craft and develop programs to train the next generation of adver­tisers.

Three Rules for Shameless Success

Debbie Allen, an entrepreneur, business mentor and author, has published several books about the importance of sales, marketing and advertising. In Success Is Easy, which she published in 2019, Allen writes about the importance of self promotion.

"It's easy to promote yourself when you believe in the value of what you offer," she writes in her book. "To move to a higher level of success, you must practice promoting and selling in ways that may feel uncomfortable at first. Next time you experience a feeling of discomfort in self-promotion or the feeling of rejection creeps in, move toward it instead of away from it."

Allen offers the following three rules for shameless success:

  1. Have your own personal style. Dare to be differ­ent.
  2. Never give up even when others don't believe in you or your ideas.
  3. Stand out. Position yourself in front of the right people to get noticed.

Now that you're armed with these marketing and advertising ideas and you've heard from the pros, it's time to put these lessons to work. Pick a handful of approaches to try first, create an advertising plan and work with your team to spread the word about your venture. Even if you don't have a huge promotion budget, with creativity and a thoughtful strategy, you'll reach an engaged audience and grow your business prospects.

John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is founder of the online invoicing company Due. John is best known as an entrepreneur and connector. He was recently named #3 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine and has been one of the Top 10 Most Influential PPC Experts in the World for the past three years. He currently advises several companies in the San Francisco Bay area.

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