Small businesses often have a tight marketing budget to work with, which can make promoting your business a challenge. The good news is, there are plenty of ways for you to market yourself to your customers without spending any (or much) money.
Now as a business owner, you probably don’t have the time to research and identify these free marketing ideas, so we’ve taken care of that for you.
In this post, you’ll find a ton of free and low-budget ways to market your business, broken down into three categories:
- Free and fast marketing ideas
- Free marketing ideas that require a bit more effort
- Quick marketing ideas that require a little more budget
So let’s get started on these marketing strategies that won’t put a dent in your wallet.
Free and fast marketing ideas
These strategies are 100% free and don’t require a ton of resources or time (since we know that time is money).
1. Create a free Google My Business account
For local businesses especially, a Google Business Profile has become one of the most effective free marketing strategies available. This free listing allows your business to show up on Google Maps, the local section of Google Search, and the right-side Knowledge Panel for branded searches.
An example of a Google Business Profile Accessed from Google Maps
But in order for your Business Profile to show up higher on Google Maps or local results, you need to optimize your Business Profile, and in order to optimize it, you need to have verified ownership of it—which is done through your Google My Business account.
2. Post (and engage) on social media
Increasing social media engagement and building a community online is a free way to grow your small business while expressing your brand’s personality and building trust with your audience. Create business accounts and participate in the big social media sites—Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and more. This is something you can do whenever you have a few minutes to spare.
- Promote your blog posts, which drive traffic to your website.
- Directly dialogue with followers to express your brand voice and garner more engagement.
- Run polls and request feedback.
- Take excerpts from longer forms of content and create quick and informational posts that are easier to digest.
Whatever your motivation, make sure you are regularly active and proactive on the social media accounts you create. Think: consistency, community, collaboration, and commitment.
For more help with free social media marketing, check out these posts:
3. Tag people (and brands) on social media
Tagging your loyal customers, brand evangelists, or even neighboring companies and vendors on social media can broaden the organic reach of your business to a new potential audience, help you grow your following, and potentially even attain more clients. You should also encourage your followers to tag your social media handle or business location in their posts. More about user-generated content here.
You can also tag happy customers in your own posts, exposing your business to that customer’s network (provided you have their permission).
4. Use hashtags!
Another free marketing tactic that can broaden your reach is to incorporate hashtags into your social media posts—on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok for sure but also for Facebook and LinkedIn.
Broad or trending hashtags can help you reinforce your brand identity, but they should not be the only hashtags you use. More specific hashtags (sort of like long-tail keywords) are good for when you’re providing resources or advice. Location-based hashtags are a must if you’re a local business. And don’t forget custom hashtags! Apply a mix of hashtag types in your posts so they can reach the people for whom they are meant.
5. Don’t sleep on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a major social media site that is often under-utilized. Don’t just add network connections and sign out; enter into dialogue with the connections you make, share your blog posts and offers, join and contribute to forums, and share others’ quality content.
By enabling other professionals to grow and educating your potential customers, you can build your brand and earn trust and respect in your industry. Also, encourage all your employees to get active on the platform too!
Free marketing ideas that require a little more effort
These strategies are still free, but they do require a bit more of an investment of time and/or effort. But the good news is that usually, the more effort required, the more effective the strategy and the more sustained the success.
6. Do some local SEO
The best part about Google’s algorithm is that it is designed to serve up the most accurate, high-quality, and relevant content for any given search query. It’s not pay to play, so this levels the playing field and enables small businesses to compete with large competitors for page one real estate.
Local SEO is free, but it can take some time, so start now and keep working; the benefits over time can be huge. Here are some local SEO must-dos:
- Add location-based keywords (think: “Portland bakery”) to the titles, headings, and body content of your main website pages.
- Get listed in online directories, making sure your information is identical across platforms.
- Publish pages or blog posts specific to the neighborhoods you serve.
Good Local SEO can get you on Google’s 3-Pack as shown above.
7. Develop an email marketing plan
Email marketing is a great way to get new visitors engaged with your business, as well as maintain relationships with your existing customers. And though email marketing isn’t new, it’s still one of—if not the—most reliable ways to achieve a strong return on your marketing investment. Here’s how to ensure that:
- Put thought and creativity into your subject lines.
- Make sure every email has an offer that encourages your readers to take a next step.
- Track your performance and run A/B tests to see what copy and offers resonate with your list.
Some more easy email marketing ideas:
- Get new website visitors to sign up for your newsletter by offering a bonus content piece or coupon/discount for subscribing.
- Slowly nurture your subscribers via email until they are ready to become paying customers.
- Start your promotional email campaigns with a free email marketing service like MailChimp.
8. Create data-rich infographics
Infographics are insanely powerful as marketing tools. They’re visual eye candy, easy to digest, and people love to share them, so they’re a great way to drive up referral traffic and links.
Hiring a designer to make you an A+ infographic can hit your wallet hard, but you can make your own on the cheap with free tools like Canva, Adobe’s free vector kits, or our personal favorite, Visme, that provide all the elements needed to make a clever, sharable infographic. Not sure where to start? Check out Visual.ly for inspiration. They have beginner and advanced examples for you to browse through.
If you don’t have any original, proprietary data to use in an infographic, you can find existing data and breathe new life into it. For government data, check out data.gov or The Census Bureau. Global statistics can be found through UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Ultimately, you’ll have to find source data that relates to your industry and audience interests. But there’s a ton of freely available data out there!
9. Claim free ad promo credits
While massive ad campaigns may be out of your budget, there are often discounts and coupons floating around for Facebook or Google Ads. Some web hosting services offer advertising discount codes as part of their membership offerings. Check and see if yours does. Of course, receiving the promo is easy, but you’ll still want to brush up on your PPC skills to get the best results and audience insights. Check out the training resources in Growth Academy if you’re ready to learn the basics.
For more free advertising opportunities, head here.
10. Apply for business awards
Most industries have business awards you can win, providing you with an online badge you can place on your website. Badges like these can boost credibility, and as a result, increase sales. Here are some tips on how to market an award and make the most of it.
If there aren’t any awards for your industry, host your own! You’ll get attention from other industry businesses who want to apply for your award, which means even more connections and more possible future collaborations!
11. Feeling brave? Give guerilla marketing a try
Guerilla marketing emphasizes creativity over budget, and strategies are often cheap and easy to implement, especially when localized. Broadcast your Twitter handle with sidewalk chalk, use an abandoned storefront as a canvas for street art, or plaster custom stickers on urban décor that makes those who stroll by look twice.
There’s a ton of room for invention here, and you don’t need a big budget to be successful.
12. Publish great content
Content marketing, if done with care, is a highly effective tactic that doesn’t require a huge budget. Not only does this serve to demonstrate your authority, expertise, and genuine desire to benefit your audience; but also, Google prioritizes high-quality content that best answers the questions its users are asking. So it makes your website more visible on Google and brings in more free traffic.
Think writing isn’t your strong point? Remember, good content helps educate your audience through simple, easy-to-understand language—not fancy jargon, but rather the terms your audience uses to obtain answers to questions related to your products or services. So don’t try to be fancy, just share your expertise!
This LOCALiQ article by Stephanie Heitman demonstrates high-quality content addressing a common question asked by LOCALiQ readers.
And remember, most things that are second nature to you are often foreign to your customers. You are the expert! Original, authentic, and useful content is the key here—how-tos, top ten lists, tip collections, best practices, data insights, thought leadership pieces, and the list goes on (some of these will be mentioned later in this post).
For more help with quality content creation, check out these 32 Free (& Almost Free) Content Marketing Tools.
13. Start a blog
One great way to make content a regular part of your marketing efforts is to start a blog.
Small businesses use blogging to drive traffic to their website, increase user engagement, improve their online visibility, and strengthen their overall SEO. It’s a completely free way to promote your small business online, through tales about your business and useful information your potential clients are seeking out.
Blog posts don’t have to be long and complex—speak in simple terms, target a different topic with each post, and incorporate the keywords you’re targeting into each post in a natural way.
For more help with blogging and SEO, check out these resources:
14. Form industry partnerships
Team up with a business related to your industry (but not a direct competitor) for a joint project. This can be done locally and offline through some kind of special event, or online (which could still be locally) with a webinar or promotional giveaway.
Partnering with another business means twice as much notice and exposure to a whole new audience related to your niche.
Industry partnerships are a great marketing tactic because they allow small business owners access to marketing know-how, technology, and customer bases that they could not have achieved on their own. You need to put careful thought and effort in if you want to form a profitable partnership. Clarify expectations, engage with and vet different businesses, assess how you can work together, and have several conversations before making things official.
15. Post helpful videos
Video is a highly popular medium for consumers, and while it can cost you a lot to get a professional video produced and uploaded to YouTube, you don’t have to hire a professional. DIY video marketing is easy with today’s personal devices and social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
Videos are especially great for demonstrating how to complete a task, like folding a fitted sheet or installing a garbage disposal. But video marketing works in pretty much every industry. To strike that vital connection with your audience, you can create:
- Instructional videos and how-tos
- Product demos
- Behind-the-scenes coverage of what it’s like to work at your business
- Interviews with your staff or industry experts
- Slideshows with images and captions
Add a branding message or personal message, whichever is appropriate. Be transparent. Finish with a strong call to action (e.g. Call us to set up an appointment! or Place your birthday cake order today!), and then distribute the video on your website, YouTube and other video hosting sites, social media channels, and even in emails.
16. Turn employees into brand ambassadors
For many small businesses, word of mouth is an important marketing strategy to boost sales. Research shows that customers are more likely to buy a product or service if they get to know about it from strangers; so imagine the effect of friend or family referrals.
By treating your employees well and encouraging them to become brand ambassadors, you can tap into the incredible potential of their networks. Your employees have genuine interest in your business, so why not leverage their voices and social networks to reach out to a larger audience?
Think about hosting an exclusive discount sale like a “friends and family” promotion every now and then. Learn how to use Facebook for your business—create an event, invite employees, and ask your employees to share it with their personal and professional contacts. Encourage them to share the status and tag people to increase the reach of your event.
17. Recycle your old content
Make the most of the work you’ve already done. If you have a content hit, repurpose it for other channels! Turn a successful webinar into a video tutorial. Transform a group of related blog posts or other content from your site into an ebook that you can promote through site popups or your email marketing program.
Never be afraid to mash-up and re-promote your old content – chances are there will be a ton of people who never even saw your old stuff, so it’ll be a fresh, 100% new content piece for a large segment of your audience.
Practically free marketing ideas
These strategies don’t require a big advertising budget, but you will likely need to put some resources into them—such as by subscribing to a platform or purchasing tickets to events.
18. Host classes and events
Plan an event or class to host, then print out flyers and post them on community bulletin boards (libraries, coffee shops, local colleges and adult ed centers). While most community bulletin boards won’t let you post business advertisements, they’re often more than happy to post a flyer promoting an educational event or class.
If you can’t host an event, attend any local events that you can find that might benefit your business. You never know where you will find your next customer or business partner!
19. Run informative webinars
If reaching a potential audience in person doesn’t sound like your idea of a good marketing idea, you can always host a webinar. Webinars are a free way to promote your business by providing helpful information to potential interested customers.
Webinar platforms such as Webex and GoToMeeting allow you to broadcast your webinar with just a few button clicks. Make sure to promote your webinar on social media or through an email newsletter one to two weeks before the event and include reminders to registrants so that they don’t miss it.
20. Attend industry/networking events
Attending trade shows and industry conferences is a smart way to take your small business to the next level. These events bring together business minds from all industries who want to find new marketing strategies to grow their business. It’s also a way to network with like-minded people and develop new B2B contacts. In addition, these events have exclusive seminars designed to sharpen your skills in sales, social media, advertising and other contemporary ways of promoting your small business.
21. Host a social media contest or giveaway
Running a social media contest or giveaway is a smart and effective marketing strategy requiring minimal resources. You may need to cough up some dough for a prize, or offer a product service at no charge, but the number of participants and new potential leads you get will be well worth the price. Really tight on budget? You don’t technically need a super expensive prize to get participants. Even a couple high-end water bottles or fancy backpacks might be enough of a draw for some users.
There are a number of different social media contest types out there, but the main idea is to require registrants to like, follow, or tag your business, or tag someone else on your post, to get your name out there and introduce potential clients to your services.
22. Do an in-store business card drawing
Put a fishbowl at your place of business with a sign inviting visitors to drop their business cards in for a chance to win something from you. For example, a restaurant might offer a free (socially distanced, if applicable) lunch for the whole office.
At the end of the month you’ve collected a ton of business cards, and while you can only have one winner, there’s no reason those other business cards have to go to waste. Use the email addresses provided to let users know that while they haven’t won this time, they are more than welcome to join your mailing list, which will notify them of future giveaways and special offers.
23. Set up a customer referral program
Offer existing customers a free product, free month of service, or some other reward for referring new customers. Remember, word-of-mouth is powerful stuff, and customers referred by other customers are so friends telling friends about your business is incredibly valuable. Here are some ideas for getting more referrals from your existing customers and clients.
Some more referral marketing stats in case you’re not convinced of the value of this low-budget marketing tactic:
- 74% of consumers consider word of mouth the primary factor behind their purchasing decisions.
- Customers referred by a friend are four times more likely to buy.
- 77% of consumers are more likely to buy a new product if their friends or family recommend it.
- According to referral marketing statistics, referred customers have a 37% higher customer retention rate.
24. Join in on local events or contests
If the town or city in which you are located hosts annual celebrations, weekly farmers markets, or other contests, make it a point to attend these events to get to know your local audience. This is the best form of market research. If applicable, set up a table or booth at the event, become a sponsor, or donate a product or service of yours as a raffle or contest prize. It’s a low-cost way to raise awareness of your business.
25. Get some awesome business cards
Get yourself some snazzy business cards, then give them to every person you lay eyes on. Every handshake should come with a business card. The more people who find out about your business, the better – even if it’s just a quick glance at a business card.
26. Put magnets on the company car
Stick a magnetic sign on your company car and voila, you have a brand awareness campaign on wheels, spreading the world all over town (just be sure to obey traffic laws). Bumper stickers and window decals also work for this method, and they are generally not expensive to get made.
27. Run a Facebook campaign
If you only have a tiny advertising budget, it might still be enough to run some Facebook ads! The cost per click for Facebook advertising can be very low.
Here are some resources to help you get started with your first Facebook ad campaign, depending on what type of business you’re running:
Free and low-budget small business marketing ideas [summary]
Here are all 27 free and low-budget ideas to market your small business:
- Google My Business optimization
- Social media posting and engaging
- Social media tagging
- Local SEO
- Email marketing
- Free ad promo credits
- Business awards
- Guerilla marketing
- Content marketing
- Industry partnerships
- Video marketing
- Brand ambassadors
- LinkedIn marketing
- Classes and events
- Industry networking events
- Social media contests/giveaways
- In-store business card drawings
- Customer referral programs
- Local events or contests
- Awesome business cards
- Car magnets for the company car
- Content recycling
- Facebook ads
Any favorite low-budget marketing tactics we missed? What works for your business without breaking the bank?