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Marketing a small business can be tough—tight budgets, small teams, and big expectations can be a challenging combination. Thankfully, there are now countless cost effective marketing opportunities out there to choose from. And, in my experience, being a small business means you can sample and adopt new creative tactics far more quickly than your larger competitors.  

As someone who's been there, done it, and learned a few tricks along the way, read on for my 19 creative but affordable marketing ideas that you can integrate into your small business marketing plan

marketing ideas for small business infographic

Create a Google My Business Account

Did you know a massive 93% of consumers use Google Maps when looking for a local business? When you create a Google My Business Account, your business and contact details will appear anytime a consumer in your area searches for your product or service.

You don’t even need to have a physical office or shop where you welcome your customers. As long as you have a registered address, you can use your profile to direct customers to your online shop.

It only takes a few minutes to set up an account and it’s completely free! Simply sign into Google, add your business details, and begin gathering reviews (more on that below). As a local business targeting customers in your geographical area, you can also consider localized marketing automation.

Build a Community on Social Media

Social media is a really cost effective way to reach a massive audience and drive sales (76% of consumers have purchased a product which appeared in a social media post). 

Creating a community on social media not only builds customer loyalty and trust (which, psst, drives sales!) it also allows you to get real-time feedback on your brand and products so you can continually improve your product offering.

Spend some time analyzing which social media platforms are most important to your target market. For example, Linkedin is likely to be highly relevant for professional services businesses while B2C brands may get more traction on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.

To build a community you need to create a dialogue by consistently engaging with your followers. You could do this by running polls, competitions or giveaways. Respond to messages and comments in a timely manner to let your customers know they're important, and showcase your company’s personality and values in your posts. If something hasn't quite gone to plan, you can also use social to own your flaws and create transparency with your customers.

Use Hashtags

If you want to get the maximum exposure for your social media marketing, you need to use hashtags. It’s important to identify the key hashtags used by your customers—good social media management software will do this for you. 

If you’re a location-based business, make sure to use location hashtags. For example if you’re a florist in London then you might want to use a hashtag like #londonflorist to appear in local searches. You could also create your own hashtag to enable followers to find your content on social media more easily. 

Host a Competition or Contest

Competitions are a fantastic way to raise awareness and engagement in your brand. And this can work particularly well for product businesses like make-up or skincare brands. Think about the beauty brand Elf, which gained 6.3 billion views and 4.5 million user generated videos through its Eyes Lips Face hashtag challenge on TikTok. This created some fantastic content which helped to drive awareness and trust in the brand. 

But competitions aren’t just for products businesses. If you're a service business like a real estate broker you could still run a competition and partner up with a complimentary business like an interior designer for the prize. If you're a SaaS technology company, you could give away a free one-year subscription for your service. You could also run a competition at an event, rather than running it on social media if you prefer. 

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Spend Time on Content Marketing

Content marketing is another low cost high impact marketing tactic. So much so, that 71% of marketers reported that content marketing became more important to their business in 2022.  

It’s essentially a way of demonstrating your expertise to potential customers in order to build trust and encourage them to purchase from you. The other benefit of content marketing is that good quality content can help with SEO (search engine optimization), enabling your website to appear higher up in Google, Bing or other searches.

All businesses can benefit from content marketing, but it’s especially useful for service businesses like lawyers, accountants and management consultants—industries in which your customers need to feel confident that you have the necessary experience and knowledge to do a good job. 

Content doesn’t just have to mean a blog either. Webinars, podcasts, eBooks, video—any medium in which you communicate your skills and insight can be effective, so just choose the form of content that appeals most to you. 

Invest In Local SEO

We’ve talked about the benefit of having a Google My Business Account, but there’s actually a few other ways to boost your local SEO so that local customers can find you more easily.

You could optimize your website with local-based keywords. For example when I had a photography business based in London, we made sure to use keywords such as “London photographer” across our website, particularly in the headings. This ensured we appeared in SERPs for London photographers.

It’s also worth checking if there are any local directories. For example there’s a neighborhood business directory where I live in Leeds and I often refer to it if I’m looking for a local supplier. 

Share Customer Testimonials

92% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase, so it’s absolutely essential that you collect and then share positive reviews about your products or services. You can share glowing testimonials on your website, social media and in email campaigns, but it's often more effective if the testimonial comes directly from the customer. 

Encourage your customers to share their experiences on social media, or write you a review on Google or Yelp. You could even offer customers a discount on future sales or enter them into a prize draw in return for leaving a review. 

Design an Email Marketing Plan

Email marketing is one of the most cost-efficient marketing tactics out there, with some studies estimating it delivers an average ROI of $42 for $1 spent—way above other marketing channels. And thanks to all the great email marketing tools out there, creating and delivering an email strategy is easier and more affordable than ever. 

In your email marketing plan, you should consider:

  1. How customers will sign up to your email list, e.g. through your website.
  2. How you will welcome new subscribers to your email list, e.g. you could send a welcome email with a special discount for subscribing. 
  3. How you will stay in touch with your email subscribers, e.g. through a regular daily, weekly, or bi-weekly newsletter.
  4. What other ad hoc emails you plan to send out, e.g. promotional emails.

Use email marketing automation to set up templates for these different types of emails in advance, freeing up your time for other marketing activities. 

Try Direct Mail Marketing

Direct mail marketing may sound a little old fashioned, but studies show that 72% of consumers read direct mail as soon as they receive it.

Direct mail is often more memorable than digital marketing, because your customers have something to physically touch. Whether you create a brochure, flier or letter, the trick is to be creative and include some kind of trackable CTA—for example a unique coupon code which customers need to redeem the offer. This ensures that your brochure or flier hangs around in a potential customer’s home for longer, all the while keeping your brand front of mind. 

Hello Fresh, the meal delivery company, achieved rapid growth by sending vouchers to neighborhoods they wanted to expand into. 

Create Data Rich Infographics

Data rich infographics are a surprisingly effective way to drive potential customers to your website while also demonstrating your expertise. According to research, content that includes infographics has up to 650% higher engagement.

Infographics have a high click rate on social media, particularly on sites like Pinterest and they are not difficult to put together thanks to free graphic design tools like Canva and Visme. These tools have simple to use online templates—all you need to do is enter your data and you can create professional graphics in minutes. 

I regularly use infographics in the blogs I produce for my ecommerce store, Chakra Practice. I create infographics about how to meditate and use candles on Canva and then I post them to Pinterest which helps drive a lot of traffic to my website. 

Produce Video Tutorials

91% of consumers want to see more online video content from brands. Video tutorials are a really effective way to overcome potential questions or concerns that a customer may have which could prevent them from purchasing. 

For example, if you sell flat pack furniture, then creating a video that shows customers how to assemble your furniture could help to remove barriers to purchase and also reduce the number of questions you get from customers.

It doesn’t need to be expensive, either. You could simply record a video on your phone and upload it to YouTube, or you could partner with an influencer and get them to produce a video tutorial for their TikTok following for example. 

Start a Referral Program

Customers are four times more likely to buy from a company that has been referred to them by a friend, so every business needs a referral program. 

Encourage existing customers to refer new customers to your business by offering them free products or discounts on their existing service. The cost of getting a customer via a referral or through word of mouth is likely to be far cheaper than acquiring a customer through other marketing methods. 

Offer Free Trials or Coupons

Offering free trials or discount coupons is a really good way to encourage new customers to give your business a try, particularly if you sell an expensive product or service. How many online streaming services have you signed up to because of the fantastic free trial which you then forgot to cancel?! 

Free trials and coupons work particularly well for products where there is a repeat purchase such as software, or household products you regularly use, for example pet food or shower gel.  Make sure you clearly advertise your free trial or discount—you could display it on a landing page on your website or include it in coupons in your welcome emails for new subscribers. 

Join A Professional Network

Joining a professional network not only gets you in front of new potential customers but it also helps you connect with other businesses in your industry which could help get you referral customers.

Do a bit of research into the top professional networks in your industry—many of them will run events so you can meet up with people in real life to see if it’s right for your business. 

When I had a photography business, I was part of a network for London-based professionals in the wedding industry. We would regularly meet up and refer each other clients and brainstorm new marketing ideas. 

Attend Local Events

If you’re not attending local events, then you’re missing out on a really great opportunity to meet potential customers and build awareness of your business. This is particularly important for location-based businesses like restaurants.

Research what fairs, conferences and shows are taking place in your area. Get in touch with the organizers and see if you can take a stand or contribute in some way in exchange for showing off your brand and products. 

For example, providing the catering for a local event would be a great way for a restaurant to get in front of a highly engaged audience. Even if you can’t contribute, just attending events and chatting to people about your business can be a useful way to spread the word. Just remember your business cards!

Forge Partnerships with Influencers

Influencers are regularly used by consumer brands to build brand awareness and increase customer loyalty. Research shows that 61% of consumers trust product recommendations from influencers.

And while it certainly can be expensive, working with Influencers doesn’t have to cost a lot. In fact, partnering with micro influencers (influencers with 10,000–100,000 followers) can be very cost effective. Sometimes an influencer will promote your products for free in exchange for the product or free service and often their following will be more engaged than that of a major influencer.

There are lots of influencer marketing software options out there which will help you find influencers in your niche. Then reach out, pitch your brand and outline how your products could be a good fit for their target audience. 

Host a Webinar or Event

If you’re struggling to find a suitable local event to attend, why not host your own? You don’t need to have a huge events budget—webinars are a really great way to get the benefits of hosting an event without the expense. You can even get a better turn out rate with webinars than physical events because they are so easy for people to join. 

I hosted a number of webinars in my previous role as a law firm marketing manager. We would choose a topic of interest to our clients such as a new piece of legislation and then host a webinar over Zoom where our lawyers would talk clients through the impact of the legislation for their businesses. It was a great way to demonstrate our expertise which in turn helped build customer trust and secure new business enquiries.  

Appear as a Guest on a Podcast

Podcasting is one of the fastest growing forms of media, with the number of global podcast listeners predicted to reach 504.9 million by 2024. Podcasting can be particularly useful for building a brand because it feels more intimate and authentic than a blog or social media post. 

Potential customers can get a real sense of what you and your business are all about, which helps with building trust and gaining customers for your business. It’s also a chance for you to network with other stakeholders in your industry. 

Get in touch with the key podcasts in your industry and come up with a potential topic which you feel you would be well placed to talk about and which would be interesting for their listeners. Podcast producers are constantly looking for new topics and guests to interview. 

Apply for Business Awards

Business awards aren’t just for large companies. In fact, almost every industry will have at least one business awards event which is suitable for small business owners. Often there will be a fee for entering an award submission or you’ll be encouraged to take some seats at the awards ceremony, but the amount of exposure you can get is often worth the cost. 

Even if you just get shortlisted, you’ll often get an online badge which you can use on your website or you’ll get featured in the marketing for the awards. All of which boosts your credibility and builds awareness of your brand and products. 

Depending on your business, you might be able to offer your services in return for free tickets or inclusion in the publicity. With my photography business, we used to get free tickets (and a business profile in the awards brochure) for a London wedding awards event, in exchange for providing free photography at the event. 

Get Started with Great Ideas

Don’t let your size or budget hold back your marketing efforts. As this article shows, there are plenty of cost effective marketing ideas for small businesses which are able to think creatively. Much marketing software is small business-friendly, with free plans or free trials to get you started for cheap.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled a roundup of the best small business marketing tools available to help you implement your marketing strategy more efficiently. 

While you're here, don’t forget to Subscribe to the CMO newsletter to stay up to date with all the latest marketing insights. 

Clare Gilbey
By Clare Gilbey

Clare Gilbey is a London, UK-based senior marketing manager, consultant, and the founder of ecommerce brand Chakra Practice, which is focused on teaching people how to practice mindfulness and meditation through Chakra related techniques. Clare is a graduate of Newcastle University and has extensive experience in the legal sector.