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12 Ways to Market Your Small Business on a Shoestring Budget

Updated: Apr 1

Are you struggling to reach customers this year? What about worrying about making rent to keep your doors open? You're not alone. With interest rates rising and other poor economic indicators it can be hard to maintain profitability for the average small business.

Don't fret however, there are many ways that you can still effectively market your products and services without breaking the bank. It is quite possible to still generate the brand awareness, leads, and sales that you're looking for to feed your small business.

Business owner relaxing looking out at some mountains

Take a breath, and instead of fixating on your budget limitations, focus more on your customers. The first thing to keep in mind when minimizing your marketing budget is how you can maximize the impact to your target demographic. Small businesses especially have a tendency to waste massive amounts of their marketing spend on failed targeting.

With these 12 marketing tips, you can reach customers, spark their interest, and start attracting fresh leads. All while reducing or at least containing your marketing budget! You can improve your ROI while growing your business without stressing about overspending.

Are you ready to kick 2023 into high gear? Give your small business marketing the turbo boost it needs with these 12 easy marketing strategies for a shoestring budget.


1. Produce (cheaply) and Share Engaging Videos

Let’s face it, you should have been doing this a long time ago. Not only do videos provide fun, interactive ways people can view your business, they also are loved by the Google Gods. Perhaps the leads were coming in from other avenues so much so that you didn’t feel the need to dedicate that time. However, with the possible reduction of ad spending, suddenly something “free” should move up your priority list.

A couple looking awkward in a holiday photo
They aren't shy, neither should you be!

Keeping up with the latest content marketing trends can help you appear relevant and engaging with customers. Videos provide you with a method to display your company’s personality. No longer are you merely a cold, heartless sign on the street. NOW you’re the silly group of people working to create a positive environment for your customers. Make sure to include your entire team so that viewers see employees that are normally behind the scenes. Videos don't have to add anything to your budget to start creating content, either.

Go ahead and grab your smartphone, tripod, and start rolling!

Video content is becoming even more popular this year. In fact, almost 70% of consumers prefer video over text to learn about a product or service. Adding video to your website landing pages can even boost conversions by 86%.

As an added bonus, once you produce the content, you can use the videos for your search engine optimization strategy, pay-per-click advertising landing pages, and emails. They can help you draw in a fresh audience through social media, too.

In fact, almost 90% of marketers are satisfied with their video social media marketing ROI.

More importantly to this article, you don't need expensive software or equipment to create an engaging video. Your modern phone, a phone tripod, and maybe a microphone are all you need! Also, consider different video formats you can experiment with, including:

infographic with a list of video formats against a mountain backdrop

In order to choose your format, focus on your target audience. What do they care about? What do they want to gain from your videos?

Keep your videos personal, fun, and engaging. Then, use the tools at your disposal to clean up your videos and start posting!

2. Leverage AI and Publish Quality Blog Posts

small business owner kicked back reading a helpful blog

We will get to the AI portion eventually, but there are a few steps you need to take first to ensure you have a robust blog content creation process.

One quick, easy way to prove the value of blog content is to remind you that you’re currently reading OUR blog post. We have created content that hopefully you enjoy and provides you knowledge. Chances are high that there are people out there with needs for whom you could provide solutions.

Research Keywords and Phrases

Let’s start by conducting some keyword research to learn more about your target audience. The idea here is to find the terms that people literally type in to find the solution they are looking for. Something like: “why is my AC blowing hot air?” If you’re a HVAC service company, you can bet the farm you’d love for your blog, and therefore your service, to pop up. How you do that is to write a blog that answers that literal question.

For a great example here at Out of the Box Advisors, we wrote a blog a while back titled: “Empowering Questions to Ask Your Business Coach” The idea that we were trying to solve was for business owners who are paying for a business coach but don’t know how to maximize their benefit.

An image with blogs ranked in a report
Blogs Can Help People Find You

By doing the research for what people search for, we have positioned our post to rank second among 92 Million+ results! Not trying to brag, just trying to show you the power of blogs!

We prefer SEMRush for our keyword research, but you can use any tool you prefer. Google has a free one built into Google Ads as well. Focus on long-tail phrases, like above, that have a high search volume and low competition versus short keywords like “Air conditioner.”

Then, start creating content with these keywords in mind.

Creating the Content for SEO

Business guy about to chow down on a big burger
No... EAT, not eat.

You can improve your ranking on search engines like Google by appealing to EAT (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness). As you create your blog posts, show readers your unique expertise by using examples from your own experiences. Use data, studies, and research to support your ideas to build your authority on the subject.

But the primary focus on the blog should NOT be to get a sale. You want to solve the question they were looking for and then gently guide them to contacting you. This builds trustworthiness for both the consumer and the search engines.

Potential customers will start to see you as a helpful, credible resource within your industry. As more people visit your website, your search ranking will improve. Then, you can generate more traffic and leads!

Leveraging AI to help you create content

This leads us into the hottest item in marketing for 2023, Artificial Intelligence. This technology is going to change just about everything when it comes to content creation. As a general example, you can literally just say "Write me a blog about XYZ" and in a matter of seconds it will kick out a blog.

a half put together android that is powered by AI
AI is both powerful and scary!

We chose to hold off of this nugget of info for last for a critical reason: unique content.

Most of the process we describe above comes down to producing quality, informative information for your potential customers. AI can absolutely achieve those objectives. However, the key is that all AI bases its information and responses on the historical record of all other information out there. In laymen's terms, nothing it produces is entirely unique.

We strongly recommend that you utilize AI to create outlines and the core content, but you absolutely MUST tweak and rewrite whatever it kicks out in your own words.

While this is all speculative and no one truly knows the impacts on content creation, it is our hypothesis that with so much similar content flooding the internet (think every HVAC company starts writing the same articles) that the uniqueness of content is going to drive SEO. Everything you see on this page was written by a person, not AI. We strongly believe that that extra effort is what is going set company rankings apart in the very near future.

3. Use Search Engine Optimization

Snake oil salesman holding a bottle of SEO oil
Don't trust 'em - SEO Oil Salesmen

This one should be a no brainer seeing as though you probably get a call at least once a day from some company promising you the world with SEO. Except this article is more about doing more for less and if you do it right and put the personal time in you can control some of your SEO destiny with minimal costs. If the budget allows however, absolutely consider a company that specializes… just be careful, there a TON of SEO Snake Oil companies out there.

About 60% of marketers say inbound marketing is their best source of leads. With search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing, the idea is to draw more people to your website. Once there, you can convert these visitors into leads and customers!

The basics:

SEO efforts are designed to boost your website's ranking on search engines like Google. If you can reach the top of the page, consumers will see your business first. You can appear in front of competitors, making your business look like a credible resource within your niche.

paper craft rocket taking off
It's not rocket science!

In fact, about 93% of all global website traffic starts from Google Search, Images, or Maps. If you're struggling to reach consumers on a tight budget, SEO can help. Doing it in house can be “free,” with the obvious costs being your time as the business owner. But when things are tight, we do what we must to grow under the given conditions.

Search engine optimization is a long-term marketing strategy. Improving your ranking for a number of search keywords can expand your reach and ROI over time. Once things turn around economically you can then hire a specialist to maintain your momentum.

To optimize your content for SEO, use your target keywords in the:

  • Page title

  • URL

  • Header / sub-header

  • Opening and closing paragraphs

  • Body text

  • Image alt text

Don’t forget to keep up with the latest, ever changing SEO trends, especially AI!

The Budget:

A wizard student practicing their SEO spell
It's not magic either!

If you’re doing it right, you’ll be following all or a number of the tips in this guide. Almost all of the items we list here have an impact on your SEO.

Take the blog recommendation as the obvious example: if you’re writing blogs, you’re creating content around a target keyword, which then can help you rank via SEO.

If you’re not confident in your ability to maximize SEO yourself, then you could easily focus on maximizing all the other items on this list and SEO will occur almost as a side effect. Either way, SEO is going to be affected and improve!

Optimizing your content for SEO can help turn the rest of these small business market tips into successes!

4. Create Informative Infographics

Look at your blog posts. Are any of them full of stats and data? You can reformat those data filled blog posts into an infographic! This will allow the information and statistics you’re trying to share to be more easily digestible for your reader.

Infographics should be eye-catching, informative, and engaging. You can use free online tools like Canva to create a crisp, stunning infographic. We have a paid account, but our example below was created without a single membership level item.

Infographic Example

Infographic examples with some silly data points
Read carefully!

Make sure to include your brand colors. Brand consistency can help you build awareness and recognition. In time, consumers will recognize your brand on sight. Don’t mind that we didn’t do that in our example. We were excited about the ‘90s Theme and couldn’t resist!

5. Start Sharing on the Social Platforms

It's not enough to start creating content for your small business marketing strategy. You need to share your content, too!

picture of a business owners desk about to post on social media

It is extremely likely that you have a business account across all the various social media platforms, but we would guess that it is an underutilized medium. Even those small businesses that post often tend to make some fairly common mistakes that undercuts their power to build business. That’s precisely why it was listed as one of the 10 Small Business Marketing Mistakes You Should Avoid.

You've already completed the first three items, right? Head on over to your social media to share those videos, blog posts, and infographics. Make sure to use a fun, engaging caption that speaks to your target audience. Then, add a call-to-action to direct readers to your content.

As part of your video and blog strategy you should be posting a corresponding post on social media. Of course, you want people to like the post and read the blog, but what you “really” want is that traffic to your site which then leads to better rankings with your SEO.

social media like above a girl holding a phone

The other end of the spectrum here is to utilize social listening. For example, you can utilize a brand mentions campaign. We use a more advanced version with SEMRush, but you could do the quick and easy by setting up Google Alerts for your business’ name.

The idea here is to learn what people are saying about your business. Be it praise or scorn, you’ll gain business intelligence from listening to what people are saying about you on social media (or other platforms depending on your tool).

OH! And don’t forget to comment back when people start talking about your post! Try to avoid the impulse to ask them to purchase your product, but rather try to engage them as if you’re in a friendly conversation. Address their comment literally.

infographic showing examples of dos and donts for small business commenting

By adding social media to your marketing strategy, you can keep reaching customers while marketing on a budget.

6. Host a Webinar

Lady doing a business meeting online with no pants

If we have learned anything in the recent past it has been to be tolerant of teleconferencing. It has even produced a culture of habits on its own; we’re looking at you people who refuse to wear pants.

Leaning into this method can certainly be an easy way to engage potential customers without having to spend. Since we have all become accustomed and used to watching information via a Zoom meeting, then that means people are going to be more open to receiving your value proposition via that same tool.

You can host a fun, informative webinar or web-conference for your audience. A TON of small businesses, especially in the fitness industry have shifted gears to provide their classes via a webinar. Yoga classes delivered right to your home, so why not classes from home maintenance to retirement financial advising?

Consider bringing in influencers and guest speakers to add value to your webinar. Not only will this be a saving grace in figuring out how to fill the time slot for your class, but it empowers you to partner with other small businesses to provide them this line item for their own content creation. Try to find ways for how you can be a guest on their programs as well!

woman drinking coffee while starting a webinar on her computer
Reach Customers Anywhere

In order to prepare to launch your webinar, create a landing page on your website to start accepting sign-ups. Regardless of your web design program you should be able to fine an event plug-in, like Wix Events. This will act as fresh content for your site, again tying back in to SEO!

Cap your prep off with marketing the event on social media, too. If you’re selling tickets perhaps consider paying for a service like Event Brite to help boost ticket sales.

One last tip: make sure that you record the event! This is two birds, one stone situation. You can repurpose the recording as video content for your site. If it was a ticketed event, you could even sell access to the recording as residual cash flow!

7. Work with Influencers

Do you know any influencers in your industry? Influencer marketing can help you expand your reach to a new audience.

Choose an influencer that suits your niche. Then, ask them to share their thoughts on your products or service. Provide them with a link they can share to your website, too. Typically, such an endorsement will require compensation from an influencer, but try to leverage a barter if possible, in order to keep within your budget.

Working with an influencer allows you to leverage their existing brand trust to draw in new customers. If Nikola Tesla were to speak to the effectiveness of your Electrical company you can bet that your business gained some credibility! …well as long as Thomas Edison doesn’t continue to badmouth AC power.

Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison comparison image
Seriously, Tesla was amazing!

Unsure of who the, not long dead, influencer is of your industry? Why not BECOME that person?

Seek out businesses out there that could benefit from your expertise and offer to create or participate in content for their business. Start making regular Press Releases and engaging as an expert on local news programs.

It’s not easy to secure that spot, but once you do your business will be absolutely sought out by both consumers and other small businesses.

8. Send Out Effective and Useful Emails

person sending marketing emails from their phone
It's alive and well!

Email marketing isn't dead! In fact, it's still an effective means of keeping people informed about your business.

You can use email marketing to send out newsletters, conduct customer on-boarding, request referrals from your customer base, or update consumers with company news. Consider sharing coupons and discount codes, too. Offering discounts in exchange for subscribers can help you attract new email sign-ups.

It can also encourage subscribers back to your website, allowing you to make repeat sales!

The potential for email marketing is still relatively endless. Sure, the competition is stiff, but there aren’t many things out there that as cost effective as email which is the whole point of this article anyways!

a diagram showing the flow for managing a CRM
Customer Relation Management

We prefer tools that combine CRM elements like AgileCRM, but you could go the basic route like MailChimp or Constant Contact. The best bet is to choose one that has the design tool that works best for your skillset. Make sure that you include that Call to Action too!

Bonus Tip: If you happen to be also in the market for a new website as part of your marketing strategy, then we highly recommend Wix. Our website, and therefore this blog, is utilizing Wix and as you can see it can produce wonderful, professional sites. But more to the point, things like email marketing comes built-in! Which means you can save some budget on an email tool while still having a solid capability.

One more thing: linking the ideas within this article is critical to maximizing the effectiveness on a budget. In that spirit, make sure that you’re sending out emails notifying subscribers and customers every time you post a new blog. It all goes back to traffic, which then leads to positive SEO.

9. Encourage User-Generated Content

Do you already have a crowd of loyal customers? Ask for their help. User-generated content is a both free and builds valuable rapport not only with your current customers, but also your potentials! This is similar to AI, you might already have a vast pool of content already out there waiting to be tapped.

Kids competing in a pie eating contest
That's one way to do it...

We are a major fan of running contests as a means of lead generation. You can run a contest asking for followers to share photos of themselves with your product as one simple idea. Oh, and make sure you make a hashtag for each contest.

When they share these photos with their own audience, your brand awareness will grow!

One company we know of in Florida has a puppet (don’t worry, we eye rolled too) that they bring to every event. However, it has become a local tradition for people to take a picture with the puppet and post it on social media. As of this writing, they have ~2,300 engagements on Facebook this week, most of which are puppet pictures.

If you’re a service-based company then consider asking your customers to write testimonials. We don’t mean the two sentence Google Review, we mean a short story about their problem, how you solved it, and their experience. Not only is the great user-generated content to post on your website, but it will aid you in closing the next sale as well.

Older couple modeling some clothes in a retail store
The perfect models!

If you’re a retail business, let’s say a clothing store, perhaps you’ll ask them to put on a fashion show. Market it as a ‘real’ fashion show. Real customers wearing your clothing showing how the average person might look and feel in your product.

Or for the food-based businesses out there, maybe you allow them to create you next dish or drink? In fact, why now go ahead and add a special item every month that was designed by a customer? You just KNOW that they will have all their friends and family by to try it. You never know, it might turn into your next best-selling item that you put permanently on the menu.

10. Start a Referral Program

Referral programs are another way you can leverage existing brand trust to promote your business. Reward your customers for sharing the news about your brand each time they refer another customer your way.

From a budgetary view, providing incentive for referrals doesn’t add an expense in a literal sense. Of course, it’ll reduce the profitability of the new sale, but almost always you’ll end up on top. This is especially true for businesses with recurring services.

There are a number of ways you can influence people to give you a referral. The easiest being just simply asking with no qualifiers of any sort. You’ll likely get a few from your most loyal customers, but they were going to recommend you anyways.

a gift card with a bow on it.
Taking us out to dinner?

We recommend giving a literal cash valued item, like a Visa Gift Card, in return for the referral. We prefer this method over discounts because it is quite possible that you receive a referral from a person who would not benefit from a discount in some way.

For example, it wouldn’t make much sense for us to give out discounts on small business coaching because then we would only be incentivizing small business owners to give referrals. Make sure to give something that anyone can use with ease.

Cheap plug: Our referral program here at Out of the Box Advisors is that we will give you $250 for every client that you refer and signs on with Business Coaching for at least 3 months.

Silly infographic showing a kitten and a puppy

However, if it makes more sense for your business to give discounts, then try to craft the offer to maximize referrals. Something along the line of: “For every referral, we will give you 10% off your next invoice!” Then you can market your referral offer in some way like: ‘refer 10 people and you’ll cover your entire next invoice.’ We recommend designing your message that fits your business; we are simply paraphrasing here to convey the idea.

Once you have your program designed, you need to ensure that you are consistently pushing the program. Include the offer as a mainstay on your invoices, always have a reminder in your newsletters, and absolutely create a page on your site dedicated to your program. This isn’t a one and done type of campaign, you’ll always want referrals, so you need to always have the engine running.

It is CRUCIAL that you run your program by your legal team. Make sure that you are in compliance with local laws and that you have your I’s dotted and T’s crossed so that some jerk doesn’t try to manipulate the system and cause significant headache.

11. Go Old School, Keep Networking

As you use these small business marketing tips, don't forget to put yourself out there! Attend events that are relevant to your industry, or are designed for local business owners, and keep networking. Most events that you can attend are free, so the only real cost is your time.

Group of business professionals at an after hours network function

Try to foster relationship that can mutually benefit other small businesses as well as your own. Whatever you do, do NOT go in and try to sell people your product. Especially in the context of this article; you’ll be wanting to find those influencers or guests for your webinars or experts to write a guest blog for you, etc.

Make connections with other people in your industry even if they are competitors. You never know when you may have a mutual interest. We had one client whose industry was the subject of massive negative press. Our client was not involved directly, but that press can impact the industry’s sales as a whole. This would be the time to work WITH your competitors to help reestablish the confidence in your industry. Yes, it may help your competitors, but it’s also helping you equally.

Try to find persons from tangential industries. Plumbers to your Pest Control business for instance. Maybe one of your technicians is servicing a customer and they discover a plumbing problem. Create that type of referral network so that when that plumbing company encounters a pest problem, they call you.

Additionally, you can team up for blog and video content that have intertwining messages. Realtors writing about how important reputable home inspections are for your upcoming blog.

12. Ask Customers for Input

Let’s start by talking to your happy customers. Ask them to share their success stories and love for your brand. Then, turn their reviews and testimonials into fresh content.

Image with a few testimonials about a company laid out aesthetically

For example, you can create a testimonial video to share on social media and your website. You can also turn individual reviews into a series of social media posts. Either way, you can build brand trust and loyalty by showing customers how much people love your brand.

Realistically, you should be talking to every single customer in some way. We highly recommend implementing some sort of Voice of the Customer program. This is just a fancy name for customer satisfaction surveys.

We’ve put a lot of emphasis on the positive customer comments for the sake of this article, but truly the real value in surveys comes in the form of criticism or constructive ideas.

When operating on a shoestring budget, finding efficiencies and improvements can translate into both savings and revenues. If a customer has a suggestion on how to improve, heed it as best you can. There is a strong chance that they are not the only consumer out there thinking the same thing. If you make that change, you’ll be better positioned to capture the next sale.

Bonus: Ask Employees for Input

Business owner asking her employees for ideas

You may be the boss, but your employees have immense knowledge about how your business could improve.

We all have that tendency to brush off employee’s complaining as just that. However, it is extremely beneficial to take a moment and investigate each recommendation or complaint. You may just find a better way of doing things, but at the very least you’ll show your employee that you care. That care translates into loyalty and productivity.

Oh, and make sure you snap some pictures for those socials while you're at it!


Give Your Small Business a Big Boost: 12 Ways to Market on a Shoestring Budget

Marketing doesn't have to break the bank. Instead, consider these 12 small business marketing strategies you can use on a budget. With these tips, you can expand your reach and boost business in 2023!

Ready to implement some of these ideas into your business?

Book a marketing coaching session with our experts today to maximize your company's potential!

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