Startups and small businesses on a budget can still promote themselves successfully with a little time and effort. We detail 13 cheap or totally free small business marketing ideas below 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. Read these small business marketing tips and find out to power your company to the next level.
1. Get on the Map With a Google Business Listing
Google rules the realm of online search. But they are a benevolent ruler, providing free tools for analytics, trends, guidance for best practices, and a free Google Business Profile for all. Having a Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Profile) is essential, especially for local businesses, as profiles are often displayed alongside top organic search results when someone searches for products or services like yours online.
Your Google Business Profile is the key to (literally) putting your business on the Map, and thus, one of the top small business marketing tips for every startup or growing company. For example, look what happened when I searched Google for “Tacoma restaurants.” Right at the top of the search engine results page (SERP), and not even preceded by ads, Google served up the Maps version of the local three pack.
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. If you do have one, make sure that you have a plan for how to get more reviews to rank higher on Google, as customer reviews also determine which businesses get into top rankings on the map and in organic search results.
2. Work the Social Platform Your Audience Loves the Most
It’s likely that you have read an article or been told by an expert that you need to be on several social media channels. You might have even created profiles on several platforms and posted frequently to little avail. The fact is that small business marketing ideas put into action on social media don’t always produce a return on the investment of the work put in.
What if, instead, you chose one platform for social media marketing, invested some time to thoroughly learn how to use it, and rocked the socks off your audience there? By focusing on the social media platform where your audience is most likely to engage with your brand, you’ll save time and are far more likely to see a return.
For example, the Instagram profile of Lamppost Coffee is practically inviting you to come in for a cup of freshly ground and made coffee. This locally owned shop is banking on you seeing the friendly faces of its staff and making it a point to return for another cup.
The expertise you need to make social media marketing pay off with leads and sales is just a click away. Sites like ours and others, such as HubSpot Academy and SkillShare, are packed with cheap and free marketing ideas, including tutorials, video lessons, and courses on social media marketing strategies and ideas for small businesses.
3. Develop a Signature Visual Brand Style
Developing a signature visual style makes your brand more memorable. Going back to an example from Instagram, Sure Oak’s Instagram profile is intentional. It puts the spotlight on customer reviews, sandwiched between photos to help you connect with its team and data points to back up the company’s offerings.
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 UPS’ signature brown delivery trucks to the iconic font of Coca-Cola, brands that create memory points like these are more likely to stay top of mind.
Consistent use of color and image or graphic types are the foundation of developing a signature brand style for your small business. The online graphic design platform Canva outlines how to pick the right brand colors and then makes it easy for you to create graphics for social media, your website, print marketing materials, and more. Even with the free plan, you can upload your logo to Canva and keep it handy for when you want to add it to graphics you create there.
Plus, all your projects will be in one place, which makes it easy to stay consistent with each new visual you create. With a paid plan, you also get access to Canva’s brand kit. This allows you to quickly and easily infuse your brand’s signature style on everything from your business cards and social media to visuals for your website, email marketing campaigns, direct mailers, brochures, and more.
Don’t have time or an eye for design? Hire a Fiverr marketing or graphic design pro for as little as $5 to help you define your brand’s visual identity and create memorable marketing materials to promote your small business.
4. Use Customer Personas to Create Laser-focused Campaigns
To be effective, your small business marketing ideas hinge on whether they actually reach your audience, and then when they do, if they work to convert them. Reaching your target audience today is no mean feat. All throughout the day, the people you would most like to attract are encountering hundreds (if not thousands) of brand messages and ads.
One way to cut through the clutter is to use customer personas to guide your sales and marketing campaigns from beginning to end. Customer personas are profiles that represent 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 that make up a given customer persona should then dictate the marketing channels you employ to reach them, the messaging of your campaigns, the visuals used, and so on. This makes it more likely that your marketing material will reach your ideal client types and will be more persuasive since it’s tailored to the prospect’s likely needs and wants.
In turn, your campaigns will be more effective for lead generation and sales. Plus, you won’t be wasting time and money on marketing to the wrong leads or with the wrong messages. Learn more about how to create customer personas, including a free template you can download and use to build customer profiles for your business.
5. Lean In to Email Marketing
Like social media, email marketing can feel like another chore you have to do to promote your small business that doesn’t always pay off. If you’re just sending the obligatory monthly e-blast, chances are you aren’t seeing a lot of conversions and sales as a result. The good news, though, is that there are dozens of ways to use email for marketing.
Instead of abandoning email marketing as ineffective, lean in. There are so many ways to use email to implement your small business marketing ideas—and most won’t cost a thing beyond your time.
Set up auto-responders so that someone signing up or submitting a webform gets an immediate electronic greeting. Send new customers a digital welcome packet or a series of onboarding emails. Reach out to clients with a feedback survey. Extend some kind of offer or incentive encouraging repeat customers to leave a review for your business on Google or inviting a lapsed customer to come back.
If you’re looking for the best providers, two on our list of the best email marketing software for small businesses are Mailchimp and SendX. You can use Mailchimp absolutely free as long as your list doesn’t exceed 2,000 contacts. This includes setting up auto-responders, segmenting your list, and automating drip campaigns to move prospects through the buying journey.
SendX doesn’t have a free plan, but as your list grows, it’s the most affordable. Like Mailchimp, with SendX you can send newsletters, target segments, and set up automations to nurture leads. Unlike most email marketing platforms, however, all of SendX’s features come with every plan and you can send an unlimited number of campaigns. Your cost is solely based on the size of your list.
6. Get Free Ad Credits to Promote Your Small Business Marketing Ideas
What’s more fun than spending other people’s money? There are a number of ways to get free Google Ads promo codes and credits to kick-start a marketing campaign or convert prospects who are ready to buy.
In fact, Google Ads often has an offer for new customers. As of the time 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.
You could even have free credits available and waiting for you to claim through providers you are already using. For example, Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly all include $100 in free Google Ad credits in website builder plans, as does top WordPress web hosting company Bluehost.
7. 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).
Once the contest begins, you’ll then want to 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.
8. Use Contests for Social Proof & Growing Your Contact List
Social proof refers to any type of de facto endorsement someone gives your business, products, or services. One of the most common examples of social proof is when someone follows your brand on social media or likes or shares something you posted. They are, in effect, giving your brand a public thumbs-up, giving proof to others that your business is a good one.
Contests give you an opportunity 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, and then determining the winner. Vote-based contests often bring the most traffic to your website or social contest landing page since the entrants themselves are encouraging the people they know to vote for their entry.
You can also leverage your landing page beyond voting. It can showcase a new customer offer or you can set up a pop-up notification asking for an email address in order to receive a discount on their first order. And this isn’t the only way contests can help you build your email contact list.
For example, most “best of” contests require registration, including an email address. If your contest is seeing high engagement, people may be willing to provide an email address in order to vote, or in order to vote multiple times or in multiple categories, or to get the 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.
9. Systematize Referral Marketing
Many small business owners say that referrals are their best marketing tactic—yet very few actually have formal programs to generate more referrals. Some businesses have programs but don’t promote them often or effectively, and so don’t get the maximum benefit from them.
Check out our list of loyalty program ideas and examples for more inspiration. Also, keep in mind that your referrals can come from outside of your existing customer base. You can develop incentivized referral marketing programs for employees as well as customers.
Employees can also be doubly incentivized not only to refer new customers, but also with an employee referral program that helps you attract top talent more easily. In turn, having an engaged and high-performing workforce nearly always results in higher customer satisfaction and sales.
As you build relationships in your industry, you may also have natural referral partners you can work with for mutual referrals. Examples include real estate agents and mortgage agents who exchange leads or real estate agents who pay commissions to agents who send them clients from another state. Learn more about referral partners in our article detailing the best referral sources by industry.
Unsure where to start? Get seven free referral email templates and learn how to use them to improve your referral marketing efforts.
10. Spend a Little to Get a Lot From Local SEO
Local search engine optimization (SEO) includes specific optimization tactics for online marketing that help your website rank higher on Google, especially when someone is ready to buy. Any business that depends on attracting customers or clients within a given location can benefit from understanding what local SEO is and what they can do to increase local visibility.
Many local SEO tactics can be completed for free, such as creating a Google Business Profile, setting up a business Yelp account, and ensuring that the location is included in your website’s content. Likewise, getting more positive reviews on Google also benefits local SEO and can land your website higher up in search results, giving your brand more exposure and driving more traffic to your website.
There are also affordable local SEO services available to small businesses. For example, BrightLocal plans start at $29 per month. The base plan includes local reviews and rankings tracking, citation audits so you can see and more easily manage all of your business listings, and insights to get more from your Google Business Profile.
You can also hire local SEO experts from $10 to $15 per project on Fiverr. However, if local SEO is vital to your company, we suggest you request a free consultation with the experts at Hibu. They will show you what your brand’s online visibility is now and outline the best way to take it to the next level.
11. Drive Web Traffic With Content Your Audience Craves
As is evident with many of these small business marketing tips, your website plays a critical role in attracting and converting prospects. So we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about how your website can become a lead magnet in and of itself through content marketing.
The means, really, is simple. Publish content your audience wants to consume. Keep in mind that this may mean you are publishing content, such as blog posts, that have nothing to do with the products or services you sell.
This is another time when customer personas are going to be invaluable. The whole point of content marketing is to create search-optimized content that serves your target audience’s interests. The content then brings members of your target market to your website (usually through organic search), where they receive something of value, even if it’s just information.
In turn, this increases brand awareness and helps you build trust (after all, you gave them something valuable for free). Ideally, you will also publish content that your audience craves so much that they are willing to give you something, such as a mailing or email address, in return. Find out more about what content marketing entails and how to implement a content marketing strategy for your business.
12. Hold a Webinar or Event
The most effective small business marketing ideas ultimately foster interaction with prospects and customers, and that is especially true with educational events. Webinars and in-person classes are very effective for lead generation and for converting prospects into customers, as the attendee already has at least a general interest in the topic being covered.
This is another instance where the topic of the event might be far removed from your products and services. As with web content, it should be on a subject that aligns with the interests of your ideal customers and its content should be valuable. For example, a winery might host a cooking class event with a chef or a class on flower arranging to attract a specific type of customer.
In other cases, an event could be closely related to a small business’ offerings. A salon owner interested in selling memberships might hold a fashion show with models for hair and makeup promoting the value of purchasing a membership. Or they might hold a demo on how to apply makeup or use styling products and tools at home to increase retail sales.
The same holds true for online events. If you are able to present a topic likely to attract members of your target audience, webinars can be a very effective way to generate leads and grow your email list. If not, think about whether you know someone who could.
For example, a financial adviser could enlist a marketing professional to co-host a webinar on the best small business marketing ideas. Similarly, they could invite a tax accountant to explain the impact of recent legislative changes on investments in a webinar or even in a podcast format.
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, or 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.
13. Publish Press Releases
Last but definitely not least, make writing press releases a regular part of your marketing and promotional tactics. 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 be looking for 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 it look that much more legit when someone is researching your business.
Stuck for ideas? Find out which occasions or events warrant the writing of a business press release and get a seven-step process for how to get local press coverage.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How can I get free marketing for my business?
Nearly all of the small business marketing ideas above can be done for free. However, the best way to get free marketing to promote your business is to get referrals from brand champions, or advocates. These are people who highly trust and value your business and are willing and likely to recommend your business to their friends, colleagues, and loved ones.
Creating them is all about providing a superior customer experience and ensuring they perceive a high value in your brand and its products or services. Those who appreciate your brand the most may even recommend your brand to others spontaneously. However, you should also systematically reach out to your customer base to invite reviews and promote your referral programs.
How can I market for no money?
There are many ways to market a business with no money. Free website builders allow you to build fully functional sites complete with a domain and SSL certificate, appointment booking tools, web forms for lead generation, SEO, and ecommerce. Email marketing software like Sendinblue and Mailchimp let you prospect and nurture leads at no cost. Social media is free to use, and there’s no cost to get a Google Business Profile or Yelp business listing.
How do I advertise on Google for free?
Google Ads offers free credits (or matching free ad credits) to new Google Ads accounts. In addition, free ad credits are included with Bluehost web hosting and Bluehost Builder WordPress hosting and site builder plans. All-in-one site builders like Weebly, Squarespace, and Wix also provide free Google ad credits in plans.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to the cheap and free small business marketing ideas you can undertake to grow your company. From digital marketing and ensuring your website is optimized for search to building out your referral network and using contests to increase brand recognition, these small business marketing tips are essential for growing a thriving company.