14 Low-Cost Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

No marketing firm? No problem. Even inexperienced marketers can use effective marketing strategies without spending a dollar. Here are 14 small business marketing suggestions that you and your team may action right away.

After 34 years of working with local businesses, our most successful customers tell us there are 4 things to think about when considering how to market:

  1. Be the Place Where Customers Want to Be – Marketing starts at your business. Everything from the sign out front to the display of your merchandise or food are indicators of how you feel about your customers. 
  2. Be Proactive in Your Marketing – “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” – Johanthan Swift. The same goes for negative reviews. To bolster the truth about how great your business is, carefully cultivate your reputation and actively promote it.
  3. Talk about Yourself, Talk about Others – It seems like marketing is either “me talking about me” or “what do you think about me?” But the reality is that a business is part of a community, and the most successful businesses are community leaders.
  4. Increase Customer Frequency – Depending on who you ask, a new customer has a 30% chance or less of returning. But, if you can get a regular customer to visit one more time a month, you could be looking at a 50% – 100% increase in revenue.

1. Tidy Up Like Guests Are Coming Over

Tidy up those chipped tiles in the restroom, clear away the clutter, get a fresh coat of paint on. Anything you do to make your store or restaurant appealing will help bring customers back. That doesn’t mean every business needs to be a haven of Meditative bliss. A 30-year-old BBQ joint may need a little rust on the edges to seem authentic. The key is to make sure customers like what they see. The best way to do that is to ask. It doesn’t cost a thing to just ask your customers about what they would change.

2. Be Instagram-able

The next step is to make sure everyone knows where they are. Table tents for restaurants and a brilliant signature sign at a store make for great posts on social media. Let your customers let their friends know where they are. Even if you aren’t a big Instagram/Facebook poster, try thinking where would you take a picture to show off that you just visited one of the best local businesses around?

Speaking of social media, do you have QR codes and ways for people to follow? Many customers just need a little reminder and a little help to follow you online. Adding QR codes with stickers is another inexpensive way to promote your online image.

3. Ask and Ye Shall Receive Reviews

In the small business game, reviews are like gold. But here’s the thing: negative reviews seem to roll in way faster than the good ones. It’s almost like people jump on their phones the second they’re a tad peeved, but when they’re happy, they just go on with their day. So, even if most of your customers are walking out with a smile, the online world might not see that full picture. Businesses have to remember that getting those thumbs-up reviews often means giving a little nudge.

Getting more reviews can be a smooth process with the right approach. Consider placing signs around your venue, encouraging customers to share their feedback. It’s also beneficial to coach your staff on how to ask for reviews. For instance, they could say, “I hope you enjoyed your experience today. If you have a moment, would you mind leaving a review about how I assisted you?” By focusing on an individual it makes the request a personal favor and much more likely to be acted on. Offering perks, like a gift card, to the team member with the most outstanding reviews each week serves as a reminder of what management values and can really rack up positive reviews. Celebrating these personal achievements can introduce some friendly competition, making the review-collecting journey more dynamic.

4. Support Your Community

Local businesses have an opportunity to become pillars of leadership within their communities. One effective way to demonstrate this leadership is by sponsoring or hosting community events, workshops, or classes. These initiatives not only foster a sense of unity but also enhance the business’s visibility and establish goodwill.

Parent/Teacher Organizations (PTOs) are constantly in search of venues for meetings or businesses that can donate supplies or offer sponsorships. Collaborating with these organizations can position your business as a go-to partner for educational and community support.

Additionally, local libraries serve as cultural and educational hubs. Partnering with them offers various avenues for community engagement. Whether it’s providing samples of your product, conducting demonstrations of your services, or featuring in their newsletters, the library can be a fantastic platform to reach diverse segments of the community.

Last but not least, consider organizing charity drives, volunteering initiatives, or partnering with local nonprofits. This not only highlights your commitment to the community but also strengthens bonds with residents and other businesses. Ultimately, taking a proactive role in community activities underscores the message that your business isn’t just about profit; it’s about people.

5. Use drip marketing to convert leads into customers

Drip email campaigns are automated email sequences designed to engage customers based on specific actions. Think of it as a chain of emails that “drip” information to potential clients at intervals, giving them just the right amount of information at the right time. It’s a hands-off approach that might sound complex but is surprisingly straightforward.

For local businesses, this is an invaluable tool. Let’s say you run a yoga studio. When someone shows interest and joins your email list, a drip campaign can kick off with a warm welcome message. But it doesn’t stop there. Over the subsequent weeks, they’ll get to know your yoga instructors, learn about your class offerings, and maybe even get an invite to try a class for free. The beauty of drip campaigns? They continually engage potential clients at crucial decision-making moments, all while you can focus on other aspects of your business. It’s like having an automated ambassador, introducing newcomers to all the great things your local business has to offer.

Other times that might warrant a new “Drip” campaign include:

  • When a customer buys a specific product or service
  • When a customer refers a friend
  • When a person uses a discount
  • When a customer clicks on something specific on your website
  • When the customer hasn’t been around in a while

6. Use email newsletters to re-engage customers.

Most marketers believe that email marketing is the most effective strategy to keep customers. You can bump the frequency of existing clients (who spend 31% more than new customers and are 70% more likely to come back in the first place) by sending them regular emails with reminders of why they love your business in the first place.

It’s a good idea to start without calling your newsletter a “weekly” or “monthly” email newsletter. That way if your advertising time runs short your customers aren’t wondering why your newsletter went from October to December on your “monthly” newsletter. 

The content can be pretty straight forward on a Newsletter.  You can talk about topics that are the basis of why customers like your business. You can keep readers informed about trends, reminders of your best pricing (doesn’t have to be a discount), current deals, industry news, and more. 

So what’s the difference between a newsletter and a drip campaign? Newsletter advertising should be driven by time. The information you pass along should be general to all your customers. A Drip Campaign is about a specific type of customer in a specific situation. New customers are the classic example.

7. Use blogging to provide value.

Setting up a blog for your local business is simpler than you might think. First off, remember why blogs are so valuable: they position you as an authority in your niche. Just like a landscaping company might delve into the nuances of artificial grass installation to engage and inform their audience, your blog can do the same for your specialty. It’s all about offering insightful content that answers the questions your potential customers might have, building trust along the way.

Now, once you’ve got your blog up and running, think SEO. This isn’t just tech jargon; it’s your ticket to ensuring the right folks find your content. Sprinkle relevant keywords throughout your post, link to other sections of your website, and maybe even reference some reputable external sites. This will boost your visibility on search engine results, directing more curious readers your way.

Wondering where to begin with topics? Here are four to get the ball rolling:

  • A ‘How-to’ guide related to your service or product.
  • The story behind your business: why you started and what drives you.
  • A spotlight on a happy customer or a successful project.
  • Highlighting a star employee

8. Improve your site’s performance by optimizing it.

Think of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as giving your website a leg up so Google can easily understand what you’re all about. It’s more than just the words you use; it’s about setting things up in a way that feels smooth and intuitive. The better you make it for those Google “bots” to understand, the more likely you are to pop up when someone’s searching for what you offer.

Now, beyond just the content, it’s about the whole user experience. Ensure your site works well on mobile devices, has a clear layout that folks can navigate without a headache, and that everything loads in a snap. These little tweaks can make a world of difference in getting noticed online!

9. Use video content marketing to increase engagement.

This online marketing strategy does not necessitate professional video editing skills (or even go viral). Instead, you can utilize video using a smartphone camera to:

  • Conduct live Q&A sessions with potential clients.
  • Give your audience a behind-the-scenes glimpse at your company.
  • Describe a procedure (like how to fix a clog for plumber marketing)
  • Demonstrate your product

You can even just animate content with something as simple as PowerPoint to create your videos. 

The good news is that “rougher” footage, or what some might call “raw”, is frequently seen as more authentic than really slick, professional videos. So this means you and your camera are all you really need for equipment. However, what you say is essential. Practice what you say so that it flows easily, make it snappy and compelling. Show some excitement!

10. Use social media marketing to start dialogues.

Social media, used by 72% of US adults, is a goldmine for local businesses. These platforms not only boost brand visibility but also allow businesses to tap into vast online communities, fostering brand recognition and growth.

Active engagement is key. It’s not just about posting; it’s about listening and responding. When clients comment or message, a timely reply builds trust and shows your commitment. It’s this two-way communication that truly humanizes a brand in the digital space.

Lastly, it’s essential to be more than just a business on social media. Celebrate local events, promote fellow businesses, and spotlight community heroes. By doing this, you showcase genuine investment in your community, deepening bonds and enhancing loyalty.

11. Use a referral program to generate word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth marketing is still an effective marketing tactic, even with the power of the internet. However, direct referrals can help you receive some of the highest quality leads because more than 80% of consumers trust recommendations from family or friends.

Please don’t rely on customers to refer you on their own. Within a day or two after a customer makes a purchase from you, use your email marketing platform to generate a follow-up email request. Offer rewards for successful referrals, such as gift cards or discounts, to incentivize your consumers.

12. Identify and Target Large Customer Locations

To maximize outreach, local businesses should first analyze where a majority of their customers come from. By using sales data, customer surveys, and observing competitor hotspots, businesses can pinpoint high-potential locations for their marketing efforts.

With target areas identified, it’s time to make a splash. Distributing eye-catching flyers or offering exclusive promotions can draw attention. Collaborating with nearby businesses for joint deals can also enhance visibility and create a sense of community engagement.

Lastly, hands-on experiences are unbeatable. Setting up on-site sample sessions or pop-up stalls in chosen areas lets potential customers directly engage with the product or service. This immediate interaction not only fosters trust but can also spark word-of-mouth recommendations, further expanding reach.

13. Put Your Business in Costume

Car dealerships have gigantic flags and massive inflatables to entice customers as one of their marketing tactics. As a local business, you can drive traffic with some visual and dynamic elements outside the store.

  • Sign Spinners: Hire a talented sign spinner who not only holds the sign but performs tricks with it. Their energetic movements can easily catch the attention of passersby.
  • Feather Flags: Use tall, colorful feather flags that sway with the breeze. They’re noticeable due to their height and movement.
  • Inflatable Tube Man (Air Dancers): These are large, tube-like inflatables that dance around when air is pumped into them. Their wacky movements can be very eye-catching.
  • Themed Flags: Depending on the season or upcoming holidays, use themed flags to resonate with current events or festivities.
  • LED Signs: Bright, illuminated signs that can be programmed to display various messages or animations. They’re especially effective during the evening or in low-light conditions.
  • Chalkboard Signs: Have a daily special or message? A chalkboard sign can be updated regularly, offering a personal touch and enticing offers or messages.
  • Balloon Bouquets: Bright, helium-filled balloons clustered together and tethered near the entrance can evoke a sense of celebration or sale.
  • Live Mascot: If your business has a mascot or a character, having someone dress up and interact with passersby can be both fun and memorable.
  • Interactive Display: Set up an interactive board or game outside that engages people, making them more likely to step inside after.
  • Banners with Bold Messages: Hang banners with clear, bold messages about sales, new arrivals, or unique selling points.
  • Sandwich Boards: These are two-sided signs that can be placed on sidewalks. They’re portable and can be positioned strategically to guide foot traffic to the store.

Remember, the key is to choose methods that align with the business’s brand and resonate with the target audience. A combination of these ideas, rotated periodically, can keep the storefront fresh and continually intriguing.

14. Text messaging can help you increase your return on investment.

The average open rate for text message marketing is 98 percent, higher than any other channel. This is because texting gets your word over quickly, whether you’re providing details about a deal or inviting customers to an event. Even better, text may improve the consumer experience by providing important reminders or purchase confirmations on a convenient channel, encouraging loyalty.

The best aspect is that it is inexpensive. Compared to $1 or more per click on search engines, business text messaging providers charge as little as 1–5 cents per text.

Today is the day to expand your customer base.

You need marketing to reach more prospective customers, whether you’re a little business or the most well-known brand in town. These 14 small business marketing tips, which range from leveraging social media to gaining more reviews with a Yelp Page, will help you stand out from the crowd without breaking the bank or taking up too much of your time.

IM In The Know

At IndoorMedia, we believe our blog can help business owners make profitable advertising decisions. Subscribe to our blog to stay in the know!