Startups and small businesses on a budget can still promote themselves successfully with little time and effort. Below, we detail 20 cheap or totally free small business marketing ideas to help you do just that, from free digital marketing tools and free advertising to events, referral marketing, and strategies to make your brand stand out.
Easy & Free Small Business Marketing Ideas
Every small business has a tight marketing budget. The good news: there’s no shortage of strategies for free marketing for small businesses. The strategies below all come at completely no cost—all they take is a little time and effort to set up and maintain. Here are the best small business marketing ideas you can do today for free.
1. Get on the Map With a Google Business Listing
Google rules the realm of online search. But it is a benevolent ruler, providing free tools for analytics, trends, and a free Google Business Profile (GBP) for all. Formerly known as Google My Business, having a GBP is essential if you’re starting out building your brand presence, as Google often displays GBPs alongside top organic search results when people search for products or services like yours online.
If you don’t already have one, learn how to set up a Google Business Profile and optimize it to ensure your business can be found in an online search. Then, get more Google reviews so your profile ranks higher in organic search results—the more reviews you have, the higher your profile’s credibility and ranking.
2. Develop a Signature Visual Brand Style
Developing a signature visual style makes your brand more memorable. Recess is a good example of how a business can translate its brand identity into a visual style. See how the brand’s “Cool, Calm, and Collected” tagline can be seen in its post colors and design elements.
Think of how many products or companies you can identify through the visual style they use in marketing materials online and off. From McDonald’s golden arches to the iconic font of Coca-Cola, brands that create memory points like these are more likely to stay top of mind.
3. Use Customer Personas to Create Laser-focused Campaigns
If there’s one way to get your brand in front of the audience you want to capture and to cut through all the noise from competitors, it’s through well-defined customer personas. Customer personas are profiles representing one or more of your main customer types (or the types you most want to target). They include demographic characteristics such as location, education, age, and income as well as interests, hobbies, job titles, and more.
The details making up your customer persona will shape the marketing channels you use to reach them, the messaging of your campaigns, the visuals you use, and so on. Having a clear idea of who your customers are and their needs, pain points, and interests will help you craft marketing strategies that resonate more effectively and eventually generate more leads.
For instance, a Gen Z customer might be more persuaded by marketing campaigns done on social media like TikTok or Instagram. Meanwhile, email and SMS marketing might be more effective for adults aged 30 and above. Many other factors shape your customer persona—having one is one of the most valuable and cost-free marketing ideas small businesses can use.
4. Focus on the Social Platform Your Audience Loves Most
It’s no secret social media is one of the best cheap ways to promote your business, but a common mistake many business owners make is trying to be as active as possible on multiple social platforms. In reality, less is more when it comes to social media marketing. Instead of spreading your brand too thin on too many channels, focus on the platform with the most reach to your target audience to save time and make it more likely to see a return.
For example, a digital marketing service for tech companies can build their brand awareness on LinkedIn to reach business owners and tech professionals who need help in improving their marketing efforts. Although it would be fine to also market on Facebook, it is a broader platform that suits a more general service/product.
Here are some resources to help you get started on your social media strategy:
5. Enter Your Business in ‘Best of’ Contests & Appeal to Brand Champions
If your company is awesome, let the whole world know. From the best place to eat, shop, or be entertained to the best place to work, entering a “best of” contest in your city or ZIP code can garner more brand awareness and sales for your small business.
Generally, it starts with submitting an entry form (or having someone nominate your business) to the contest holder. You can find contests online by joining Facebook communities in your area, exploring websites specifically for your location, or following local government units.
Once the contest begins, implement marketing campaigns to drive traffic to the contest site to get votes from customers, employees, and others who like your brand. You can do this easily and across many channels, including social media, email marketing, website pop-ups, direct mail, customer receipts or invoices, and so on.
6. Engage With User-generated Content
People trust other people more than they trust brands. Because of this, it’s important you appear more than just a business looking to score cash, but a trustworthy presence people look forward to interacting with. One of the most authentic ways to build your brand is through user-generated content (UGC) marketing.
UGC is any content your customers create and share that mentions your brand, and it’s one of today’s most high-return and inexpensive ways to advertise your business. Plus, UGC is driven by authenticity, so it also helps build more brand trust. Not only can this lead to more sales, but 46% of people are willing to pay more for brands they trust according to branding statistics.
Here’s how to use UGC in your marketing:
- Encourage satisfied customers to post something about your business on a social channel (e.g., an experience with your brand, a photo of themselves sporting your brand gear or at your business, and so on).
- Ask them to tag your business profile in the post.
- Once you have a collection of UGC, feature it on your website, social media channels, or even in your physical store to create a sense of community around your brand.
- Engage with the users who created the content by responding to comments, reacting to posts, and reposting content on your own channels.
Find out more ways to leverage UGC in our list of 11 UGC marketing ideas for small businesses.
Advanced Free Marketing Ideas for Small Business
Once you’ve gotten the basic marketing strategies down pat, you can progress on to the more advanced (but still affordable) small business marketing ideas. As with the strategies above, the ideas below won’t cost you any money, but you will need to put in the effort to make them work. From leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to blogging, here are more marketing small business ideas to promote your business.
7. Use AI to Automate & Generate Content
You’ve probably heard the overwhelming wave of news about artificial intelligence (AI) from business giants the likes of Meta and Google. But the good news about AI is it isn’t just for these big players—there are plenty of ways you can utilize AI in small business marketing too. One of the best ways is to help generate content more efficiently.
You can leverage AI to automate tasks such as idea generation, scheduling social media posts, sending emails, and even content generation. We’ve rounded up the top AI content writers you can use to write blog posts, captions, emails, and more for free:
8. Lean In to Email Marketing
Like social media, email marketing is another staple when it comes to affordable small business marketing ideas. However, it all comes down to using it effectively. For instance, if you’re only sending the obligatory monthly blast, chances are you don’t see a lot of conversions and sales. There are dozens of ways to use email for marketing—check out our list of business email examples for inspiration.
Here are a few ways to use emails to connect with your leads:
- Auto-response welcome emails for new subscribers with links to your website or blog
- A series of onboarding emails for new customers
- Drip email campaigns for prospects
- Engage customers with an email feedback survey
- Ask customers to leave a review for your business
- Invite a lapsed customer to come back by sending a voucher or incentive
To find the best promotional email tools for your business, check out our list of best email marketing platforms for small businesses.
9. Get Free Credits for Google Ads
Google ads are generally one of the most inexpensive ways to advertise your business, but sometimes they can even be completely free. Google and other service providers frequently give away free Google Ads credits you can use to drive your campaign at no cost. There are a number of ways to get free Google Ads promo codes and credits to kick-start a marketing campaign, like checking coupon sites or accessing vouchers directly from Google.
In fact, Google Ads often has an offer for new customers. As of this writing, they are giving new customers $500 in free ad credits when they spend $500. Learn more about the ins and outs of how to advertise your business using Google Ads.
10. Drive Web Traffic With Content Your Audience Craves
As evident with many of these small business marketing strategies, your website is crucial in attracting and converting prospects. One way to leverage this even further is by optimizing your website to provide the best possible user experience, both in its content and on the technical side. Your website is your business’ main hub in the digital world, and you want to be sure it leaves users with a positive and memorable impression.
Here are some guides to help you build an effective website:
On your website, publish content your audience is interested in and that addresses their pain points. Find out more about what content marketing entails and how to create a search engine optimization (SEO) content marketing plan for your small business.
Don’t have a website yet? For DIY site building, drag-and-drop website builders like Wix and Squarespace allow you to build a business website and get it online in a matter of hours, starting with a free plan.
11. Keep Up With Industry Trends & Strategies
You need two main skill sets to market your business successfully: general marketing skills and specific skills for your niche or industry. To keep up and stay ahead of the competition, you should consistently be informed and up to date on the latest news, trends, and strategies in your industry.
Here are some actionable steps you can take to stay on top of the trends:
- Bookmark and read marketing blogs regularly
- Follow industry thought leaders on social media
- Attend industry events and conferences
- Subscribe to marketing newsletters
- Follow your competitors on social media
- Sign up for email updates from businesses similar to yours
- Research industry-specific strategies (for example, articles like our guides to automotive marketing strategies or jewelry marketing ideas)
12. Start a Blog to Answer Top Questions From Your Audience
Writing blog posts is a great way to address your audience’s common questions, concerns, and pain points. It also helps you build trust with readers and authority in your field, and drive more traffic to your website through search engines. In fact, according to business blog statistics, 81% of the population trust blog content.
In most cases, you can add a blog and post for free on your own website. If not, then read our list of the best blogging platforms to choose an app that best suits your needs. To get started, first find out what your target audience is interested in, including their most frequently asked questions.
Then, choose a platform, design your blog site, and add and publish your blog content. We have step-by-step instructions on how to start a business blog to help you along the way.
13. Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Infographics & Unique Marketing Materials
Sharing infographics and other engaging content is a surefire way to capture people’s attention. Infographics are engaging and effective because they communicate complex ideas and information in an easily digestible format, which can be very helpful for educating audiences about your product or service.
Infographics come in many shapes and formats, and they can be shared in nearly any marketing channel, from social media to email marketing. But there are also thousands of infographics created by brands every day. To make yours impactful, reserve them for your most valuable information and insights, e.g., to share research insights or to help audiences make decisions.
Here are some examples of effective infographics from Canva:
Canva is a powerful, DIY platform that can help small business owners design diverse, engaging marketing materials for free. Yes, you can create awesome graphics without any graphic design experience.
Low-budget Small Business Marketing Ideas
If you’re looking to make a bigger splash, look no further than the small business marketing ideas below. While you’ll need to shell out a little bit of capital to get these strategies up and running, they generate a good return on investment (ROI) at small business-friendly prices. Keep reading for the best cheap ways to advertise your business.
14. Host a Contest for Social Proof & Growing Your Contact List
Contests allow you to solicit social proof and get exponentially more brand exposure. For example, some brands invite customers to show off their products in the real world with a sweepstakes drawing or voting contest, then determining the winner.
Most contests require registration, including an email address. If your contest is seeing high engagement, people may be willing to provide an email address to vote once or multiple times in various categories or to get results when the contest ends. This, in turn, helps you to grow your email contact list, putting more prospects at the top of your sales funnel.
Social proof refers to any type of de facto endorsement someone gives your business, products, or services. For example, when someone likes your post on social media, they are giving your business the digital equivalent of a public thumbs-up, which is “social proof” to others that your business is a good one.
15. Systematize Referral Marketing
Referrals have long been one of the most tried-and-true marketing ideas for small businesses. This is because referrals are a form of word-of-mouth marketing that helps you build a loyal consumer base methodically and organically. Referral programs are also versatile: you can set them up via social media, email, or direct mail. Find out more about them in our guide on how to get referrals.
To help you set up a successful referral program, check out our resources below:
- Find inspiration with these loyalty program ideas and examples.
- Get seven free referral email templates and learn how to use them to improve your referral marketing efforts.
- Incentivize employees to refer new customers and attract top talent with an employee referral program.
- As you build relationships in your industry, you may also have natural referral partners you can work with for mutual referrals. Learn the best referral sources by industry.
16. Spend a Little to Get a Lot From Local SEO
According to Google search stats, 39.6% of all clicks on Google’s search page go to the first organic result. This only shows that investing in your search engine optimization (SEO) is vital—especially your local SEO. If your business depends on attracting a local audience, you’ll need to gain a deeper understanding of what local SEO is and how to rank higher on Google, in particular.
If you want to do start using local SEO strategies, here are some tips you can do immediately:
- Create and optimize your Google Business Profile
- Use Yelp for business
- Ensure that your location is included in your website’s content
- Gather more reviews on Google
- Tap into affordable local SEO services like BrightLocal
17. Hold a Webinar or Event
Some of the most effective small business marketing ideas are to foster real-time interaction with prospects. One of the best ways to do this is via events like webinars or in-person classes. These types of events give you real, meaningful interaction with prospects and establish your business as a credible authority. They’re also effective for helping convert leads because event attendees already have an interest in the subject you’re covering.
If you are a Google Workspace or Microsoft 365 business subscriber, you already have the means to hold an educational webinar through video conferencing tools. Alternatively, if you plan to use webinars as a major part of your marketing strategy, check out our list of the best video conferencing software for small businesses.
18. Publish Press Releases
A solid yet overlooked small business marketing idea is to make writing press releases a regular part of your campaign. Ideally, you’ll be able to send them out through press release distribution services. But even if not, sending them to local media outlets and posting them on your website still has merit.
Local journalists may seek a local interest story and choose to give your news additional coverage. By adding them to your website, you are adding more content that can help your site get found in online search. Plus, having a “News” page with announcements about your company makes your website overall more credible to the public.
Pro tip: Want more press coverage? Find out which occasions or events warrant a business press release and get a seven-step process for how to get local press coverage.
19. Network & Keep Your Business Cards Handy
Building a strong professional network is key to business success, so it only makes sense that networking can do so much in marketing for a small business. You can establish valuable connections by attending industry events and functions where you’ll find potential business opportunities and leads.
When networking, always bring a stack of business cards with you. Your business card represents your brand, so ensure it’s well-designed and contains all the necessary contact information. Additionally, be sure to follow up with those you meet to solidify those connections. See our list of unique business card ideas for inspiration.
Buying business cards doesn’t have to break the bank. See which printers offer the cheapest options on our list of the best places to order business cards online.
20. Delve Into Coupon Marketing
Coupons are a great way to attract new customers and encourage repeat business because everyone loves coupons. Something as simple as a coupon can make a customer feel rewarded, and it gives a sense of urgency. At the same time, discounts and special deals almost always increase sales, and they’re a solid piece in building customer loyalty.
Overall, coupons are one of the best ways to get cheap advertising for your business. To create a successful coupon ad campaign, develop a coupon marketing strategy, create the coupons, distribute them to your customers, and then track the results to see how you can improve it. Need more inspiration? Check out our list of dozens of coupon marketing ideas and examples.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Some common marketing strategies for small businesses are email marketing, content marketing, social media, physical advertisements like posters and billboards, and sending direct mail advertisements like brochures. Word-of-mouth marketing is also a strategy many businesses use, which can be in the form of referrals, influencer marketing, or user-generated content (UGC). Many businesses also join events like trade fairs as a marketing strategy.
The average marketing budget for small businesses ranges anywhere from $200 to $2,000 a month. However, there are many free and effective marketing strategies small businesses can use, such as social media, email marketing, SEO content marketing, and word of mouth. Meanwhile, paid marketing strategies often involve direct mail marketing, broadcast ads like radio, TV, and billboards, and digital ads on Google or social media.
One of the best ways to get free marketing is through word of mouth from existing customers. These are people who trust and value your business and are willing and likely to recommend it to their friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Other free marketing strategies are organic social media, email marketing, listing on online directories, and sending press releases to journalists and bloggers.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to the cheap and free small business marketing ideas you can use to grow your brand. From digital marketing strategies like social media and optimizing your website for search engines to offline tactics like joining contests and building referrals, use the ideas above as a starting point for building your business’ presence.