3 marketing ideas for small businesses with even smaller budgets

May 8, 2019
5 minutes read

The average small business spends between 4 and 12% of revenue on marketing initiatives. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recommends that businesses bringing in less than $5 million per year spend 7-8% of revenue on marketing.

While that kind of guidance for your budget can be helpful, many small or new businesses, 12% of revenue doesn’t leave you with a whole lot to spend on marketing your business. Or perhaps you don’t even have 12% to spare on marketing.

That means you have to get creative with your marketing ideas and find ways to attract new customers without spending much money, if any. That can make it tough to decide which marketing tactics to use—since a lot of the advice you’ll find online assumes a minimum marketing budget.

That’s why we’re laying out three of the best, creative marketing ideas with details on how you can add them to your strategy for little to no monetary investment.

  • Building a referral program to automatically generate new customers
  • Publishing and curating content to nudge leads toward a sale
  • Guerilla marketing to build brand awareness

Build a referral engine

Referral programs are, simply put, one of the number one ways to attract new customers to your small business. There are a few reasons for that:

  • Consumers trust brand referrals way more than they trust ads. In fact, Nielsen found referrals to be the most trusted marketing channel—84% of consumers surveyed say they trust referrals from friends and family.
  • Referrals cost you as little as $0.
  • Referral programs are 100% customizable—as long as you have an organized way to encourage customers to refer your business and reward them when they do, the rest can be completely tailored to your business and your customers.

How to create a referral program for your small business

On top of being ridiculously effective at driving new business, referral programs are also remarkably quick and easy to set up. Plus, when you automate the program, it runs entirely without your involvement or constant monitoring.

Here’s how to get started with a set-it-and-forget-it small business referral program:

Step 1: Choose a referral program platform to use. Building your program on top of an existing referral platform is the easiest and fastest way to get started. A few tools you can choose from include Referral Rock, TapMango, and Ambassador.

Step 2: Design the program. Decide on the type and amount of incentive you’re willing to offer in exchange for referrals. Don’t overthink this part—a simple $10 off incentive is often enough to get happy customers talking. Keep in mind: referral marketing best practices recommend offering a 2-sided incentive, to both the referrer and their friend.

Step 3: Get the word out about your referral program. If you have an email list of your current customers (which you should!), send an email announcing the launch of your referral program. If you have a brick-and-mortar location, put up signage and include details about the program on receipts. Add information about the program to your website and transactional emails (order confirmations, shipping confirmations, and more).

Publish and curate content

According to SnapApp’s round-up of content marketing statistics, content costs 62% less to produce than traditional marketing—but it generates three times more leads, too. Not to mention, Conductor found that educational content makes consumers more likely to convert by 131%.

Content marketing is so effective because:

  • It powers brand awareness and helps build authority within your industry or niche.
  • It centers your brand around your own website or blog, so your results aren’t squeezed or dictated by the whims of social media networks or other paid media.
  • You can produce content—on your own or by hiring a content writer—for a lot less than traditional marketing costs.

How to get started with content marketing

Many small business owners imagine content marketing is complicated or that they need specific expertise to do it. That misconception couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you know your audience and you know the results you want from content, you can get started writing and publishing in a jiffy.

Step 1: Define your audience and their interests. The audience you need your content to resonate with is obvious—your customers and people like them—but it’s important to lay out exactly who that is. The best content starts with a deep understanding of the audience, including who they are, their interests, and what they struggle with.

Step 2: Set an overarching goal for your content strategy. Content is one of the most versatile marketing tools out there. That’s why it’s important to define what you want your content to do before you get started creating it. Are you looking for new leads? Increased brand awareness? Conversions? The overarching goal for your content will dictate what you write about and how you promote it.

Step 3: Decide who will write your content. The cheapest option is, of course, to write the content yourself. But plenty of small business owners lack the time and skill to write great content that gets read and shared. This is one of those areas where every dollar you invest really does lead to better results—and you can hire a top-notch writer for less than you might think. Either way, it’s important to decide who will be responsible for producing your content.

Get creative with guerrilla marketing ideas

Despite the name, guerrilla marketing doesn’t have anything to do with primates. Guerrilla marketing is defined as “innovative, unconventional and low-cost marketing techniques aimed at maximum exposure for a product.”

The definition is pretty broad because guerrilla marketing can be almost anything you can think up—you just have to think creatively to find opportunities for low-to-no cost (but high impact) publicity.

For example, when cloud-based phone system Grasshopper rebranded in 2009, they mailed 5,000 chocolate-covered grasshoppers to key influencers and media personnel. The stunt led to 170 articles written about the campaign, more than 183,000 YouTube views of the video announcing their new brand, and nearly 52,000 unique pageviews of the associated landing page—all in the first three months.

Here’s another example: Lori Cheek, founder of Cheek’d, loves guerrilla marketing. She used a similar direct mail tactic, along with constantly plastering the URL on subway cars, movies posters, and in chalk on the sidewalk outside events.

How to use guerrilla marketing initiatives

Step 1: Think about where your customers are, both online and off. Think about events your customers attend, physical locations they frequent, websites or blogs they read online.

Step 2: Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Now, how can you get your brand into those spaces? Guerrilla marketing can be extremely low cost, but it requires an investment in creativity. The idea is to get scrappy and do something unexpected—that’s how you’ll secure the attention you’re looking for.

Step 3: Execute on the plan. Whatever stunt you’ve decided to pull, get to it. The key is to ensure there’s an easy path for people who first hear about you via guerrilla marketing to learn more. Consider sending them to a unique landing page or video that explains who you are and what you offer.

Maximize your budget with these marketing ideas

A small budget can be a constraint on today’s small businesses, but when you invest that limited budget (and your limited time) into the right tactics or marketing ideas, you can get all the returns of big-budget brands.

It just comes down to figuring out what resonates best with your audience, then learning how to do it with as little financial incentive as you can.

By Kiera Abbamonte

The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.

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