5 Cost-Effective Ways to Market Your Business on a Shoestring Budget

Starting your own business can be an overwhelming experience. Whether you’re figuring out how to schedule employees, trying to effectively manage your inventory, or applying for a business loan, there’s a lot to deal with. On top of everything, you need to attract customers. Marketing is essential to the success of your business, but with all of the unexpected costs that can pop up while you get up and running, chances are your marketing budget isn’t as robust as it might be.

The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to attract customers that won’t break the bank. Here are 5 cost-effective ways to market your business on a shoestring budget.

1. Ask your customers for testimonials

Word-of-mouth marketing has probably existed since people started exchanging currency for goods and services, but these days, most of the talking is done on the internet. Online reviews are more important to small businesses than ever before: a recent report found that 94% of online shoppers avoided visiting a business based on a negative online review. Positive reviews, naturally, have an opposite effect on potential customers. With every positive online review your business receives, you’ll become more easily searchable and higher ranked on Google, which will establish your business as a trustworthy brand. Trust is key when it comes to influencing customer decisions — 92% of Canadians say they would prefer to buy from a company they trust, even if the price is slightly higher.

“As a customer myself, I always look at online reviews, so of course I expect my clients will do the same,” said Vanessa Cristello, owner and operator of VC Grooms, a pet grooming company in the Greater Toronto Area. “As so many of my clients find me via Google, I find online reviews to be truly valuable to the growth of my business.”

Alex Somers, who owns Studio 22 Aesthetics, a waxing salon in Hamilton, ON, incorporates requesting online reviews into her regular customer service practices. “After an appointment, I always check in with clients to see how they are doing, and make sure they haven’t experienced any unusual irritation as a result of their treatment,” said Somers. “If they have had a positive experience I gently ask them to give Studio 22 an online review. There’s no pressure, I’m not pushy about it, and my clients are usually glad to do so.”

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2. Maintain a consistent social media presence

Canada loves its social media — as of January 2022, the number of Canadian social network users stood at a record 31.8 million. That’s a whole lot of people that could be eyeing your company’s Instagram for their next online purchase.

The beauty of using social media to market your business is that it’s an easy way to showcase your brand and connect with current and potential customers, at no cost. A few things to keep in mind as you set up your social media presence:

You don’t need to be on every social media platform

Choose the platform that best suits your audience. If your brand is very visual (like a hair salon), you’re better off engaging on Instagram or Tik Tok, and you probably don’t need a LinkedIn profile. Attempting to have a presence on every platform will spread you too thin and take away from your efforts to target the right audience.

Mix up the content you post to keep your audience engaged

If you’re aggressively trying to sell products in every post, you’re probably going to lose followers. The key to keeping your audience engaged is posting a variety of content on your social platform. Somers connects with her followers by posting about new products and services, but she also posts before and after shots of treatments, inspirational quotes, and educational content about what to expect when getting waxed. She also uses her platform to showcase her business’ values. “I’m passionate about inclusivity, and I want my followers to know that Studio 22 is a place where all individuals can feel welcome and comfortable in a judgment-free environment,” said Somers. “It’s important for me that my social media content reflects my commitment to inclusivity.”

Share those testimonials

If you receive a particularly positive review online, why not show it off in a social post? Existing customers probably won’t go searching for your Google or Yelp reviews, but they might scroll across the good review while looking at their Instagram feed. If the author of the review consents, you could even tag them and ask them to repost the review in a story. The more eyeballs that view your content, the better!

3. Offer incentives for client referrals and reward loyal customers

A great way to bring in new business is to offer incentives for client referrals. For example, you could offer a 10% discount on a customer’s next visit if they refer a friend to your business. Another way to encourage repeat customers is to create a loyalty program that offers a free product or service after a certain amount of visits — think “buy 10 ice cream cones, get the 11th free!” This tried-and-true marketing strategy is a classic for a reason: customers who enrol in a Square Loyalty rewards program are twice as likely to be repeat customers and spend 37% more.

4. Connect with your community

Getting involved in your community can be a rewarding and profitable way to market your business on a small budget. Networking with fellow business owners, joining your local Business Improvement Area (BIA) and attending neighbourhood festivals and events can be great ways to explore potential partnerships. Engaging with your neighbours (and potential customers) can give you the opportunity to find out their needs and wants, and whether your business can help address them. You may consider sponsoring a local charity event, which could be worth the cost incurred: you will likely have your logo displayed on promotional materials and you could deduct any sponsorship expenses on next year’s taxes.

5. Take advantage of free resources that can help you grow your business

It’s common knowledge that small businesses were hit hard during the last two years, but if there’s a silver lining to the struggles faced by small businesses owners during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that more than ever there are a lot of free resources out there to help entrepreneurs grow and learn.

Digital Main Street offers programs that help businesses grow through the adoption of digital tools and technology. Both Cristello and Somers are graduates of Digital Main Street’s shopHERE powered by Google program, which creates online stores for independent small businesses and artists at no cost. “When I first heard about shopHERE, I was a bit skeptical. It was hard to believe it was free,” said Cristello. “I’m so glad I looked into it. I’m pretty tech-savvy, but I really needed a process to help get me started with my website. Stacey, my advisor, was fantastic.”

Somers said would recommend the shopHERE program to any business owner who needs help getting started with their website. “It’s a great, free program that will help you grow your business. Why wouldn’t you take advantage?”

For more ideas on how to market your business, check out 6 Essential Marketing Tactics to Employ in 2022.