Low cost marketing ideas for small businesses with zero budget

Editorial Team

11 min read
Woman creating content for social media

For many small business owners, money is always top of mind among concerns for business growth. In a Q3 2023 survey by MetLife and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, financial concerns landed in three spots among the top four biggest challenges small business owners face. Inflation costs, revenue, and rising interest rates are among small business owners’ most pressing issues.

Many small businesses have limited budget constraints, which makes many owners wonder how to market a new business without money. Some have been bootstrapped, while others face investment and loan limitations.

The good news is, there are many free and low-cost ways to market your small business. Consider the following out of the box ideas for marketing to create your own unique small business marketing strategy.

Leveraging social media

Most of the biggest social media sites for businesses are free to sign up for and use to reach new leads and current customers. These online marketing channels provide a wealth of opportunity to build awareness for your brand, make sales, and increase loyalty.

The benefits of social media for brand exposure

Social media channels can help your brand reach new audiences and build relationships with those who follow you. Some of the advantages social media marketing offers include:

  • Brand identity control: Each social media site you have a presence on can act as another brand website for your business. On each social site, the business owner can list accurate contact information, add details related to a vision and mission, and control the content that’s posted from the brand, as well as content posted by others. When people search for your business online, each social media page becomes a positive search result for your business. This can also help businesses in need of reputation management to push down any negative results, like news articles, for example.
  • Curated content: There are so many different types of content you can share on social media. These include brand and product/service announcements and news, content that shows off your company culture, discussion starters, polls and questions, and content shared from other pages you’re aligned with. Social media is also a great place to find user-generated content that you can share in other marketing channels. For example, you can find customer testimonials, photos, and videos on social media that positively promote your brand. With user permission, you can use this content in other marketing materials, like your brand website.
  • Keyword search: Each social media site is also a powerful search engine. For example, on Facebook, there are 1.5 billion searches each day. Just like traditional search engines like Google, your small business can optimize your page and content for keywords people might be searching for on social media sites, which can help you reach more users.
  • Audience engagement: As people start to subscribe to your social channels, you can strategize how to keep them engaged with your business. This might be by offering promotions, sharing exclusive news, or simply interacting with posts. These simple relationship-building techniques can help you keep your business at top of mind for your social media followers and customers.

The best part is all of these social media tactics are completely free. Social media sites can also be powerful paid advertising platforms, as they offer granular targeting features. But posting content, interacting with users, and optimizing your pages and content for search terms are all free.

How to leverage social media as a small business

There are a lot of social media platforms to choose from and only so many minutes in the day. Consider your resources and how to optimize your presence on social media.

  • Identify the right platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok, Pinterest, and Snapchat are among the world’s most popular social media platforms. Each channel specializes in different kinds of content (copy, video, photos, etc.), as well as has a dominant user base (TikTok and Snapchat have younger audiences on average, for example.) To optimize your time, research various channels to see which ones are most popular among your target audience. You can focus on those as you build out a social media content calendar.
  • Create engaging content: Once you know where you want to focus your social media efforts, you can start planning content that will engage users. This might look like food photography for restaurants on Instagram, design inspiration boards for retailers on Pinterest, or flash sale promotions for stores on Facebook. Use the social media site’s free analytics tool to monitor your content performance and see which types of content resonate most with your followers. You can use those insights to optimize future content.
  • Use relevant hashtags and search terms: Every day, different terms may start trending or be more popular, depending on the site. Often, these take the form of hashtags, which are words or phrases preceded by a # sign that are added to posts. Pay attention to hashtags your followers are using on various platforms, and consider ways to incorporate the same ones in your own content. Sites like Instagram and TikTok are particularly hashtag friendly. Enlist people from your team who use the social media sites you’re targeting to pay attention to popular hashtags your brand could also use in your content.

Track your social media performance using each social site’s analytics. You can also pay attention to your website analytics to see which social sites are sending the most referrals to your website. That can help you discover various social sites to consider for your marketing strategy.

Word of mouth marketing for small business

With so much information online to sift through, hearing from your own personal network of friends, family members, and contacts can go a long way in influencing decisions. According to a recent HubSpot report:

  • 92% of consumers believe family and friends more than any kind of advertising.
  • 55% of consumers learn about products through word of mouth, and 40% made purchases based on word of mouth recommendations.
  • 28% of consumers prefer word of mouth recommendations over all other types of product/service discovery.

Each lead and customer you have could bring countless more to your company. Word of mouth marketing is another free way to spread awareness for your business.

Strategies to encourage word of mouth marketing

Word of mouth marketing starts with an attractive business model, which your company can promote through various strategies. Some things to consider:

  • Quality: First and foremost, your business must focus on creating a high-quality product or service. When people talk to their friends and family, they’re not likely to promote a business they don’t actually enjoy. Without a great product or service, it will be much harder to get leads and customers to speak positively about your business.
  • Customer service: Providing exceptional customer service is paramount to building trust and loyalty for your business. Any employee who interacts with customers should receive training on how to properly communicate with customers, solve customer problems, and offer proactive service that provides value. View anyone who comes into your business as a potential marketer for your brand.
  • Testimonials: Word of mouth marketing goes beyond actually talking to someone about a business. It also extends online, on review sites, such as Google Reviews and Yelp. Quality, quantity, and recency all matter when consumers are considering reviews. For ideas on how to encourage customers to write reviews, a good strategy is to mention your review sites when customers express happiness about your brand. For example, if a diner says your restaurant meal was the best they’ve ever had, a server could encourage the diner to consider sharing that sentiment on your review sites. If your business sells products online, promote review sites to shoppers after they purchase.

You can also promote review sites on your business website, social media channels, and in other marketing channels, including email newsletters. You’ll be more likely to get more positive reviews from happy customers, so consider ways to capture the attention of your most satisfied customers to motivate them to spread the word for your business.

Community engagement marketing

Building a strong local presence can also help you grow your business. In your community, your customers can spread the word about your business. You can also partner with like-minded businesses to promote each other, and you can become a leader among locals by becoming an active presence in local events. These are all free or low-cost ways to optimize your marketing strategy.

Some tips for creating a community engagement marketing strategy include:

  • Participate in local events and sponsorships: Keep ears and eyes open to local events that align with your business vision and mission. There might be sponsorship opportunities or ways for your business to participate. For example, a local music festival may be open to local restaurants setting up food and drink stands. A local yoga instructor may be looking for a retail space to hold a pop-up class in. Get to know your customers in person and online, and see what opportunities arise.
  • Collaborate with other local businesses: There are so many ways to partner with other businesses in your locale. These could include sharing promotions with each other’s customers, creating an event together, and promoting referral codes for each other online. Network with business owners in your area to see if like-minded collaborations make sense.
  • Volunteer in your community: Volunteering and philanthropic donations provide other ways to extend your business reach, build awareness, and boost sentiment for your brand. Your team could volunteer together in person at a local organization, like a food bank, where you can meet other people in your community and promote your brand while wearing company attire. You might choose to donate a portion of a day’s sales to a local nonprofit. You could also select a local organization or organizations to donate to throughout an entire year. Talk with your staff about organizations they already support personally to get ideas for your local business.

It is also important to pay attention to local events your followers share on social media. You can cross-promote community events on your own pages to help strengthen the reach of your brand.

DIY branding for small business

Branding for small businesses encompasses the visual and tonal identifiers that represent your business identity, using strategies like a name, logo, vision/mission, and tone of voice. Strong branding can help people relate to your company, which can influence sales. According to a survey by Sprout Social, 76% of consumers would purchase from a brand they feel connected to rather than a competitor.

Consider the following cost-effective branding tips for small businesses to help you stand out.

  • Create a memorable logo and strong brand identity: Look at the values and characteristics that define your business in your small business plan. These can help influence the colors, typography, and tone of voice you use in your branding. For example, if “sustainable” is a defining characteristic for your company, using earth tones and nature-related imagery in your logo and branding might make sense.
  • Design marketing materials in-house: You might hire a freelance designer, but there are also free design tools such as Canva that empower anyone to create marketing materials. You can also use free design tools to sketch out your ideas and help guide a professional who creates the final designs.
  • Define your brand storytelling principles: Draft brand guidelines that include examples of brand-aligned copy and imagery, and examples that go against your brand identity. These guidelines can help everyone from graphic designers to copywriters, so your brand identity stays consistent among all marketing materials.

As you grow your brand, your marketing materials can become more recognizable through a memorable logo, brand voice, and imagery. Branding introduces your company to leads and reinforces relationships with customers, so be thoughtful about how to translate your business’s defining characteristics into your branding.

Marketing is made affordable with the right POS system

Choosing the right point-of-sale system can help you enhance your marketing efforts. POS systems from Clover offer features that go far beyond payment processing.

With Clover, your business can integrate marketing campaigns, such as promotions and loyalty programs, right within your POS system. You can build customer loyalty with every transaction and store consumer data so you can improve how you reach your audience.

Why wait? Get started with a Clover POS System today to elevate your business.

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