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You need to spend money to make money, or so the saying goes. For the most part that’s true: getting your products, services and brand in front of potential customers is usually a matter of paying for advertising or investing in professional marketing services. This can be a challenge for small businesses that may not have a huge budget to work with.
Thankfully there are other ways to spread the good news about your business. Today we’ll be looking at 25 free and low-cost marketing ideas that offer a cheaper way to get your name up in lights.
Ready to make the most of marketing? Read on to find out how.
25 free and low-cost marketing ideas for small businesses
1. Make the most of email
In the days of social media, email might seem old hat. But offering an average return of $23 for every $1 spent, email marketing continues to be one of the most effective forms of marketing there is. Square Marketing is a tool designed to help you make the most of this opportunity, allowing you to create, send and track email campaigns in minutes. What’s more, this solution is super cost-effective and comes with a 30-day free trial!
2. Set up a Google Business Profile
Formerly known as Google My Business, Google Business Profile is a valuable tool that a modern small business can utilise. Setting up a profile will instantly add your business to Google’s directory, at which point you’ll come up as a search result across Google’s many platforms, from the search engine results page (SERP) to Google Maps. The best bit? Setup is 100% free!
3. Make use of local SEO
Local search engine optimisation (SEO) is the practice of ensuring your business comes up as a result when someone conducts a local web search – any search that includes the area you operate in. Setting up a Google Business Profile complete with your address will get you halfway there, but making the most of local SEO will rely on you inserting location-related keywords into your profile and throughout your website (e.g. “Sydney plumber”.)
4. Make use of Google Analytics
How well is your website performing? Do visitors hang around, or do they leave as quickly as they arrive? Do customers follow a certain path to purchase? Do some web pages perform far better than others? These are the sorts of questions answered by Google Analytics, a free tool that monitors the performance of your website and helps you to identify areas of improvement.
5. Set up social media profiles
Love it or hate it, social media is becoming ever more critical to business success. A couple of decades ago it would’ve been mind-blowing to think that you could reach almost anyone in a couple of clicks, and target the exact customer you want, by spending a couple of dollars or less. You can set up social profiles on whichever platforms your target audience uses – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok and YouTube, to name but a few – but start by focusing on a couple of the most important.
6. Post on social media
Once you’ve set your profiles up, it’s time to get posting! Remember that you’ll only gain followers if they feel as though there’s something in it for them, so go easy on the ads and focus on entertaining or educating your audience instead. Social media is a long-term marketing strategy – it’s about building brand awareness and trust. Do that well and the sales will eventually come.
7. Tag people and brands in posts
You can pay to get in front of new audiences on social media, but one way to expand your reach for free is to tag people and brands in your posts, which grants you access to their audiences. The tagging should be genuine – you should know the person or brand that you tag, and you should ideally get their blessing before you do it. Tagging some Hollywood celebrity that you haven’t so much as seen in real life can do more harm than good.
8. Use hashtags
Another free way to expand your social media reach is through hashtags. Hashtags make your post more visible by allowing people to search with keywords on social media in the same way you can on Google. Hashtags are particularly powerful on Instagram, where you can add up to 30 on each post and 10 on each story.
9. Network on LinkedIn
If your company is in the business-to-business (B2B) space, no social media platform is as important as LinkedIn. The professional social network, on LinkedIn there exist groups dedicated to any and every commercial topic and interest. By joining these groups you grant yourself direct access to a highly targeted group of potential customers. The same social media rules apply here as elsewhere – you should aim to educate, entertain and engage with the group, not advertise to it.
10. Publish a blog
A company blog might be more valuable than you realise. You not only get the opportunity to share your knowledge, but you can also work your way up the search engine results page. By cleverly integrating relevant keywords, you make your website more Google-friendly.
11. Create visual content
A picture tells a thousand words, which makes visual content incredibly powerful. By using a tool like Canva to create beautiful visuals, you can get your message across in a more clear and more compelling way.
12. Make use of video
There was a time, not so long ago, when the video was a high-end advertising option which involved a professional crew shooting a production to be broadcast on TV. These days, the lower the budget of your production, the more authentic it can feel; think scrappy TikTok videos and Facebook live streams.
13. Recycle your content
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with reposting social media content or republishing blogs. In fact, it’s one of the most efficient and effective marketing strategies there is. Review your most popular posts and blogs, update them where needed, and re-release them on different platforms.
14. Attend events and trade days
There’s a lot to be said for simply getting your face and your brand out there. For a customer to buy from your brand they first have to trust your brand, and to trust your brand they have to be aware of your brand. Brand awareness can be a struggle for small businesses, so shaking hands and making fans at industry events can help a lot.
15. Host an event
Do you have the knowledge to share? Why attend an event when you can hold your own? Hosting an event can be a great way to market your brand to potential customers, as it provides them with value while allowing you to showcase your personality and expertise. Keep costs down by hosting the event at your business premises.
16. Run a webinar
As demonstrated during COVID, you can also do all of the above over Zoom! Webinars are a fantastic lead generation tool, as attendees offer up their contact information in order to join the session digitally.
17. Apply for awards
Becoming an award-winning business might be easier than you think. Every industry will have a range of annual awards that you can nominate yourself for, and if you win you can shout it from the rooftops! You’ll enjoy an instant boost in credibility and you’ll be able to create plenty of content to share online.
18. Get creative with guerrilla marketing
Why should marketing be a drag? As a small business, you should be able to have some fun with it. Guerrilla marketing is about capturing the attention of your audience in an unconventional or surprising way. Check out our guide to Guerrilla marketing for inspiration.
19. Form brand partnerships
Like the nightclub with the kebab shop next door, some businesses naturally complement each other. Brand partnerships seek to make the most of this symbiosis, with two companies teaming up to gain access to each other’s audience while also offering customers added value. Such mutually beneficial partnerships can be difficult to find, but they can be incredibly valuable.
20. Encourage ratings and reviews
People trust people, which is why ratings and reviews are so valuable. As a small business, you should actively encourage your customers to leave reviews, as this builds the ‘social proof’ that will lead other potential customers to trust and buy from your business. It’s also important to see bad reviews not as a problem, but as an opportunity to showcase who you are in your response.
21. Encourage customer referrals
Reviews are valuable, direct referrals are even more so. While your happiest and most loyal customers will organically refer other people to you, this won’t often lead to bulk referrals. Consider creating a system in which referrals are incentivised – offer customers a discount or freebie if a friend makes a purchase.
22. Encourage employee advocacy
Customers aside, there’s another group of people whose voice can prove a valuable marketing tool: your own team. Employee advocacy is about encouraging your team members to share their inside experiences of your business. This can showcase your culture and values, humanise your business, and sell your brand to customers and talent alike.
23. Run a contest
Pop your business card in a bowl. Score a raffle ticket with every purchase. Tag a friend in a social media post to win prizes, prizes, prizes. People love the excitement of a contest or giveaway, which makes such competitions a fantastic marketing opportunity. You just need to ensure that they’re structured in a way that allows you to collect contact information/followers or get your brand in front of your target audience.
24. Put your name up in lights
Do you have any advertising space that is currently sitting unloved and unutilised? Your company car, your shop windows, your Facebook profile banner and other areas offer opportunities for low-cost advertising. Have a look around your physical premises and online presence for places to put your name up in lights.
25. Get involved in local events
Sometimes marketing is simply about being seen. Get involved in local events and meet some people outside your normal circles. You never know where a new connection might lead!
These are just 25 examples of low-cost marketing ideas that a small business can take advantage of, but there are many more. Making the most of all this opportunity is on your shoulders, though you’ll often need the help of modern technology. That’s where we come in.
At Square, we have created a complete suite of tools for small businesses to lean on, many of which have been designed to help small business owners market better. If you’re ready to get your brand out there, Square is ready to help.