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Your Message: From a Whisper to a Scream Check out these low-cost marketing ideas for your new business.

By Gwen Moran

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You've got a great idea and a plan to turn it into a business. Now all you need are customers--and to get them, you need to spread the word about what you're doing. One problem: Your marketing budget makes your grade school allowance look like a princely sum.

Not to worry. There are plenty of ways to promote your business without spending a lot. The key to effective penny-pinching promotion, say marketers Travis Miller, 32, and Jimmy Vee, 33, founders of Orlando, Florida-based Gravitational Marketing, is to apply creativity to established techniques and emerging opportunities to reach a specific audience. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Get Profiled
In 2007, when Seth Mendelsohn founded Simply Boulder Foods LLC, a Boulder, Colorado, company that makes gourmet sauces, he started posting profile pages on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Mendelsohn, 31, estimates he has "a few hundred followers, and they all want to hear about our company," which has projected 2009 sales of more than $100,000.

Some of these sites allow users to start special interest groups or fan pages, which Miller says you can use to talk about your products and build bigger audiences.

Make Yourself a Star
Perhaps you've never thought of yourself as the next Larry King, but today's media vehicles make it possible for you to host your own show--for nothing. PR expert Karen Taylor Bass, 42, author of You Want Caviar, But You Have Moneyfor Chitlins, hosts her own show on the free network BlogTalk Radio, a social radio network where hosts can create free, live, call-in talk shows using an ordinary phone. The shows are archived and available for download as podcasts. You can also post podcasts to your website or shoot your own videos and place them on YouTube or in your blog. "Don't forget public access television, where you may be able to create your own show and reach local audiences for free," Bass says. Business owners should check with their local cable companies for terms and restrictions.

Pluck from the headlines
Publicity 101 tells you to build a media list and send relevant news releases to the contacts on it. That works, but Stacey Dolezal Susini, 35, a former TV news reporter and the founder of Zontis Public Relations in Dallas, says you can get even more mileage by watching what's in the news. First, understanding the beats--or specific topics and regions--each reporter covers can help you better target your list. In addition, by piggybacking on existing headlines, you can put yourself in the spotlight. "Is there a charitable organization in trouble? If so, host a food, coat or clothing drive for them at your place of business," she suggests. Then call your local media and tell them what you're doing.

No time to compile a media list on your own? Try services like Contacts on Tap, (which costs as little as $395 for a year-long subscription (and offers a 15-day free trial), or use a service like Bulldog Reporter (, which lets you build a list, then pay $2 per name.

Go for the Demo
By demonstrating your product or service, you get to show prospects firsthand why they should buy from you, Mendelsohn says. While he now has a hectic grocery-store-demo schedule, he got his start at local farmers markets that only charged him a percentage of the day's sales.

"Look for local events where you can connect with a lot of people, then let them know where they can buy your product in the future," he says. Get more mileage by filming your demo or presentation and posting it online.

Find businesses in your backyard
Got local businesses that would be good customers? Susini suggests offering employee incentives to various businesses. Call their headquarters and ask how you can offer discounts or other special offers to their employees. If it's a good fit, the HR department will promote your business to staffers without you having to do more than ring up sales. Similarly, she says, you can cross-promote your business with other businesses, offering discounts to their customers--and vice versa.