You don’t need a massive marketing budget to boost your business profits. The key to success is to ensure you have a clear goal and target audience. Once you know what you want to achieve and who you’re selling to, there are plenty of low-cost marketing and advertising techniques that will help you achieve your goals without breaking the bank. 
 

Kick-starting your free online advertising – get your website in order

There are four main ways to market your business on the cheap:

  • Take advantage of social media – Free to set up, the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter offer vital exposure to your target audience on a daily basis.  
  • Get creative with content marketing – Regularly publishing and contributing to online content – both on your site and third party sites – will boost your business's credibility and help with SEO.
  • Grab some free media coverage – Use PR techniques to generate media coverage for your business from press releases to celebrity endorsements. 
  • Hustle, hustle, hustle – Never miss an opportunity to promote your business wherever you are. That includes everything from printing business cards and vehicle advertising to getting out there and drumming up business at events.

We'll go into these in more detail later on. But first, before you begin marketing your business, you need to make sure your digital channels are in a position to capitalise on the expected traffic from your marketing activity. For example, there’s no point promoting a website that reads poorly or is slow to load; or signpost to social channels that are rarely updated.

Tips for setting up a website

Most businesses are expected to have some form of online presence. Usually, that means having a website. As well as being a place to sell your products and services, your website adds that all-important credibility to your business and acts as a basecamp for customers seeking further information.  

Keep it simple

If your goal is to provide information and encourage enquiries, your website doesn’t have to be complex (and expensive). Sometimes the more straightforward you can be, the easier it is for customers to understand your product/service and get in touch. 

Find out more

Keep it simple

For example, if you’re a builder, a website with an ‘About’, ‘Services’, ‘Price List’, ‘Testimonials’ and ‘Contact’ section is all you need. Customers need to know who you are, what you offer, rough prices, reviews of your work and how to get in touch. Address the customers’ needs straight away and you’re likely to get more enquiries.

Close

Focus on being user-friendly

It might seem obvious but some websites fall into the trap of trying to be too clever and end up getting the basics wrong. 

Find out more

Focus on being user-friendly

Ensure your website is responsive to mobiles and iPads. Make getting in touch super easy. Ever get frustrated when you tap on a phone number and it doesn’t launch a call? Or click on an address on a ‘Contact’ page and it doesn’t launch in Google Maps? Your web builder should be able to implement this fairly easily. 

Close

Upsell to existing customers

One of the most important pages on a website is the page that appears once the customer has made a purchase.

Find out more

Upsell to existing customers

The 'Thank You' page is an opportunity to promote similar products or unique discount codes so customers shop with you again. Promote a ‘Recommend a Friend’ discount so you can capture another email address for your database.

Close

Submit your website to relevant directories

Once your website is up-to-scratch, submit it to any relevant directories. This is particularly important if you’re in an industry where customers are looking for reasons to trust you e.g. a tradesperson. 

Find out more

Submit your website to relevant directories

Directories such as Checkatrade and MyBuilder will be the first port of call for many customers. If you run a restaurant, hotel or attraction, monitor sites such as TripAdvisor and ensure any unhappy customers are visibly addressed on the platform. 

Close

Take advantage of social media

Consider social media an extension of your website: another shop window for you to promote your products and services. Like your website, it’s a way to put your products in front of prospective customers and entice them in, and can be one of the most effective free business advertising techniques out there. However, social media can be so much more than that. It’s a way to forge a human connection with your followers and draw devotees to your brand.

 

Free to set up, any social channel you create must be monitored daily to ensure customer enquiries are responded to quickly. You should also post regularly otherwise your pages become stale and it will reflect poorly on your business. If you can’t commit time to monitoring and updating your social channel/s it isn’t worth setting them up. Unmonitored social channels can do more harm than good. 

 

1. Create a Facebook page for your business

Make sure to include your phone number, address, email address, opening times – essential contact info as well as a company overview. If you’re working on your website, your Facebook page makes a good interim option. You can also use your Facebook page to drive direct sales to your website.

For example, The Book People does this really well with the Shop section on its Facebook page, driving its social community to the checkout on their website. Throughout their posts, they use an engaging mix of content to generate conversations around books which encourages community growth and sales. 

 

2. Set up a Twitter profile

Use your Twitter profile to tweet about business news, products, events and anything relevant to your industry that your customers would find interesting.

Follow Twitter profiles and like/retweet posts that are relevant to your business and customers’ agenda. Daisy Park – a gift and homeware shop in Devon – does this really well. They also produce some informal behind-the-scenes content for their 10k followers. This might include, for example, a series of tweets showing them fulfilling customer orders. 

 

3. Connect with other businesses and local networking groups via LinkedIn

If you are B2B – LinkedIn is the best place to approach employees who have a say in key business decisions.

 

4. Set up an Instagram page

Instagram is an effective channel if you're in an industry that can produce visually appealing images and/or videos.

 

"We have been using social media more and more as we've grown," says Joe Thomason of Green Dog Walking. "Luckily we have a great subject to use...dogs!" 

 

For example, The Big Cat Sanctuary posts beautiful images of its big cats alongside stories and details explaining how to get involved in supporting wildcat welfare. With 17k+ followers, it’s an organisation that has refined what works best on this channel to meet its awareness goal. This particular video of a jaguar eating an egg on Easter Sunday shows how clever you can be when it comes to coinciding your content with seasonal events.  

 

5. Create a Pinterest page

Again, Pinterest is more appropriate for brands that can produce visually appealing content. Encourage traffic to your website by pinning an image directly from it or uploading an image you own and editing the link to point to the relevant page on your website. Don’t solely promote your products or services on this channel. Ensure you pin other images to topical boards to showcase the inspiration behind your brand image.

 

6. Invest in Facebook ads 

Facebook ads allow you to access and target a huge audience, filtering by niche if required. You can split test your ads so you can work out which is the most successful and where to re-channel your budget.

 

"The ability to target fans of specific TV shows who are a certain age and live within a certain radius of us is an incredibly efficient way of reaching potential customers," says David Middleton of Escape Room business, Bewilder Box. 

 

You can start with as little as £100 for a simple advertising campaign. You can add extra budget easily if your results are profitable. If your audience uses another social media channel more regularly, advertise there instead. 

 

7. Support your social channels on your website

Add social icons to the top of your website, so customers can clearly see them. These platforms provide an extra credibility check from a customer’s perspective.

Get creative with content marketing

Publishing content online is a great way to increase your profile – but it should be high quality and offer value to your target audience. The aim of your content should be to build trust and position your brand as an authority in your industry.

Many businesses of varying sizes have a content strategy in place in order to produce valuable content that can be promoted and found by their target customers. It’s all about giving your business the best opportunity to be discovered online in a positive way, which encourages people to engage with you, trust you, and ultimately purchase from you.

 

8. Blogging on your site

Having a dedicated blog section on your website creates an informal space for you to engage with your customers. A number of businesses use it as a place to humanise their brand – spotlighting staff, showcasing events, offering a behind-the-scenes insight into the company. Others use it as a forum for audience engagement – running competitions and asking people for their feedback on experiences and products.

From a search engine optimisation (SEO) perspective, Google likes to reward sites in search results that regularly update their content, showing it’s not stale. Content that receives engagement, such as comments and social shares, is a big SEO plus.

A blog area also allows for frequent updates and engagement opportunities without changing key landing pages that are designed to inform e.g. product pages. It’s the perfect arena to engage your audience. A good example of this is Red Letter Days’ blog, ‘where you can get to know our team a bit better and read about the things that make us smile.’ 
 

9. Guest blogging on other sites

You could write an article or blog post for a website that has a similar target audience to you.

 

"The majority of people won’t link to you just because you ask them says Online Marketing Specialist Cliver Harris. "You have to give them something in return that’s of value to them. The most tried and tested method for this is guest blogging."

 

For example, you’re a Florist looking to increase your local profile. You approach a local lifestyle website about writing a feature on the latest flower trends of the season, promoting flowers that are native to your area. You wouldn’t charge a fee for the content, with exposure being the payment. You could also agree to promote each other on your social channels. A collaboration like this will help you get in front of new customers and provide engaging content for your social media, and links back to your site will help with SEO. 

 

10. Invite guest contributions on your blog

Alternatively, you could invite other businesses to guest post on your website (ideally in a dedicated blog section so they don’t detract from your services).  

Again, the business would need to be complementary to yours and you would need to clarify the business opportunity for them. With the same Florist example, you could invite a local wedding dress shop owner to write about dress trends on your website, to complement your wedding flower services. You could even offer customers a special discount as part of the collaboration.

This is a good way to forge positive relationships with other businesses, who, in turn, might be able to give you increased exposure, for example, by sharing the link on their social channels and on their website,

 

11. Blogger outreach

Collaborate with an influencer (an individual who has influence over potential buyers) to tap into their online following. The partnership needs to work for both parties, making sense to both your audiences. Outreach campaigns tend to be constructed by the business (or digital agency working on their behalf), where bloggers are invited to get involved.

For example, a home décor blogger has 4k followers on Instagram who love home and lifestyle products. You run a bespoke wardrobe company and offer to fit a new wardrobe for free in exchange for Instagram coverage and a blog post written by them for your website about the fitting process. You need to weigh up the value of your offer against the potential exposure you could have amongst your target audience.

Another example can be found on the popular interiors blog, Roses & Rolltops. It appears a Sri Lankan hotel invited Rebecca, a very popular interiors influencer with 74.4k Instagram followers, to stay for a few nights in exchange for content/exposure. Rebecca clearly states at the end of each blog post:

“I was a guest of Shangri La but all opinions are 100% my own and I would never promote anywhere that I didn't truly love”.

 

It’s difficult to measure the success of these campaigns in terms of direct ROI, as it’s more about gaining exposure to build your social following and increasing brand awareness. If your social community grows significantly during the dates you’re gaining coverage from the partnership, it’s a case of assuming it’s largely down to this exposure. 

 

 

12. Vlogging aka ‘video blogging’

Regularly upload video content that invites customers behind-the-scenes of your brand or talks about newsworthy subjects that are connected to your industry. Whether it’s a tour of your shop, introducing a new line of products, talking to the camera about what your business is up to at the moment, or giving an expert opinion piece on a news subject, video content is highly engaging and can quickly increase your profile if executed well.

If you can guarantee regular vlogs, create a YouTube channel for your business. If not, upload a couple to your Facebook page and see how they fare. Be prepared to be dedicated to it – vlogging (and blogging) gives back what you put in so you need to be consistent with it. If you don’t have much time to spare, don’t start something you can’t maintain.

 

13. Podcasts

Audio content is convenient to consume and can increase your reach when uploaded to sites such as iTunes and Stitcher. They’re cheap to produce and are a great way to build trust with your target audience. Just make sure you have something valuable or entertaining to share that’s in line with your brand.

 

14. Ego bait

Ego bait is content that promotes or features industry influencers on your website. The aim is to encourage these influencers to link to your content or share on their social media channels so you gain high visibility amongst your target audience.

For example, if you’re a fashion boutique, you could feature your ‘Top 10 Fashion Influencers’ on your website’s blog section. Take a screenshot and promote on social, @mentioning the influencer to make it easier for them to Retweet etc.

If you want to aim big, a celebrity repost could be huge for your brand, as long as their profile fits with your product/service and target audience. For example, you own an outdoor clothing brand and put some outfits together for famous celebrities who love the outdoors. Get a retweet from Ben Fogle and you gain exposure to 426k people who likely love the outdoors too. You could even send him the outfit in exchange for a feature on his Instagram, boasting 61.7k followers. One celebrity endorsement could mean a huge spike in orders. (The celebrity would need to be clear with their followers if you’ve sent it to them for free.)

 

15. Email marketing 

If used on a small scale, email can be a free tool to directly contact your customers about new products, services, company news, offers, competitions.

Many email marketing platforms offer free packages for small businesses e.g. MailChimp’s Free Plan includes up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. It will start costing you per month if you require more features and have a larger email database. Still, these additional costs aren’t much. (Full details on MailChimp’s packages.

 

16. Subscription confirmation

Set up an automated email to be sent when customers subscribe to anything on your website. Use this email to acknowledge and thank them for their submission while promoting products and offering a unique discount code as a reward for subscribing. Include a ‘Recommend a Friend’ discount so you can capture an additional email address for marketing.

Grab some free media coverage

Here are some traditional PR techniques that might gain coverage for your business.

 

17. Stage a PR stunt

Designed to attract the public’s attention by creating an event that is deemed newsworthy, resulting in free media coverage for your business. It needs to be relevant to your brand and so unique it’ll stand out to journalists and consumers.

A great recent example is David Lloyd’s Run For Your Bun campaign. This featured the world’s first café that accepts exercise as payment. The campaign was designed to encourage office workers to step away from their desks and get active during the day. A six-minute micro workout is completed in exchange for a complimentary healthy lunch. It was a viral hit and one of the most talked about PR campaigns that month, gaining 90+ pieces of coverage from the likes of BBC Radio 1, Metro, Time Out, as well as journalists from major channels such as Buzzfeed and ITN filming themselves trying it out to feature on their website and social channels.

While PR stunts can become pretty expensive, sometimes it’s simply the idea that can win coverage. Take a look at other successful PR stunts online and see how you can tailor these approaches to your brand and marketing goal. 

 

18. Guerilla campaign

This is an advertising strategy that focuses on low-cost, unusual marketing tactics that give maximum results. These tend to be more unexpected and unconventional, focusing on engaging, thought-provoking concepts to generate buzz around your brand.

A good example of this is underwear brand Ultimo. Owner Michelle Mone used her £500 marketing budget to pay 12 actors to dress up as plastic surgeons and stage a protest outside Selfridges. It became the biggest bra launch in Europe, bringing Oxford Street to a standstill and resulting in Selfridges selling six months’ stock in just three hours.

 

19. Write a press release

Press releases are still a useful way to release information about your business. Ensure they’re well written and link to your website and social channels at the end if anyone would like further information. You can submit them to press release sites that large amounts of journalists have access to. You can also tailor them to any local journalists you’d like to get in touch with (make sure it’s something of interest to them) and pop them on your website if you feel they’re relevant for your customers. Press releases could lead to anything from national newspaper coverage to a tweet from a respected influencer in your industry.

Before writing your press release, consider:

  • Is my story newsworthy?
  • Can you show that your news has an impact on people?
  • Address the following questions immediately: who, what, why, where, when and how
  • Keep sentences punchy and easy to digest
  • Adopt a factual tone
  • Give your press release an engaging title
  • Include your contact details at the end

Here are some tips from AAT on how to write and submit a killer press release.

 

20. Send out samples

If you’re looking to promote a new line of products, sending key journalists free products or samples not only puts you on their radar, but also increases the opportunity for press coverage.

Journalists receive a lot of promotional post every day so make sure yours stand out and the accompanying note is personalised to them. Include a press release with your contact details if they’d like further information. This is a bit of a gamble but one that could pay off if you get the right coverage.

 

21. Celebrity endorsement

Similar to ego bait, approach a celebrity with your product and service detailing why you’ve got in touch. The more tailored you can be with your offering, the more likely of success. Celebrities are extremely unlikely to promote something for free unless you’re a friend or family member or absolutely love your product. The most affordable way is to select a product from your range that is perfect for them in the hope that they’d promote it on their social media.

For example, you run a clothing business for babies and toddlers and need to increase your brand awareness. You could send some products to presenters of a daytime TV show targeted at mothers in the hope it would get featured on the show. If they did, you could promote this on your website and social media with an 'as seen on TV' angle.

 

"When Cara Delevingne wore my dinosaur glasses to a Mulberry bag launch , the photos were used in the press all summer," says SJ Cook of fashion-label, Spangled

 

The celebrities you target must be in alignment with your brand. If you’re a charity this type of direct approach could also prove successful, as long as you make it clear why you’re specifically approaching them e.g. ‘we know you’re an animal lover’. Again, this is another gamble, but the potential exposure is worth the effort.

 

22. Create a brand video

A video that explains what your business offers in an engaging way. While this will cost a one-off fee to produce, it can last years if your brand offering doesn’t change. For example, the Watergate Bay Hotel gives its brand video centre stage on its homepage.

Ensure any content featured doesn’t risk quick expiry e.g. products that might not continue in the future. Include the video on your website homepage, social channels and link to it at the end of your press releases. It's also a useful PR tool to have in your marketing mix.

Make the most of offline opportunities

Getting out there and using the force of your own personality can be an extremely powerful marketing tool for your business. Here are some ways you can go offline and still market your business successfully.

 

23. Encourage referrals

Referrals are one of the top ways to grow your business. In person, it’s best to follow a rough script, for example: 

"I’m really glad you’re happy with my work. I’d appreciate it if you could pass my details on to anyone who you know might be on the lookout for something similar. Here are some of my business cards, if you don’t mind passing them on."

If you have employees, ensure they’re clear on this script too. Make sure to ask face-to-face – it’s more successful.  

 

24. Record a voicemail message 

Ensure it’s up-to-date so customers know they’ve reached the right business and that you will phone them back if they provide their telephone number. Ensure office opening hours are stated and your company email address is provided as another contact option. If you have any offers or events coming up, this is also a free marketing opportunity to promote them. Make sure to avoid a lengthy voicemail though, keep it succinct and informative. If your team has business mobiles, ensure these also reflect the brand and are consistent.

 

25. Create a sales presentation

Ensure you have a well-rehearsed, engaging, up-to-date sales presentation that you can confidently take new business prospects through. Personalise elements of it to cater to the new business you’re pitching to. If you have a team of employees, ensure they’re also familiar with it, and are always updated on any changes in products, services and offers. This will ensure the right marketing information is reaching the customer. 

 

26. Attend business networking events

A great way to increase your profile and connect with local businesses and the community.

 

27. Join professional/business organisations

Meet like-minded people where you can support each other, offer business advice and send business in both directions. For example, your local Chambers of Commerce. Your council can point you in the best direction for business organisations, for example, East Sussex County Council have a dedicated page on their website. Local business organisations are usually more affordable to join than national or global ones. 

 

28. Attend trade shows

If applicable to your industry, trade shows are a key networking and selling opportunity. Here are three key tips: 

  • Use the Trade Show’s official Twitter hashtag to tweet your stall number and promote your business to encourage visitors.
  • Ensure your staff members are all on the same page with how to present your business, any key objectives of the show and any special promotions for show attendees.
  • Make sure your stall stands out from the crowd.

 

"Selling at fairs can be a great networking opportunity," says Sarah Empson of jewellery brand Geo Heaven. "I’ve been approached by a few new stockists whilst selling on the day."

 

29. Go on radio

Offer to do an interview or provide a quote for your local radio stations. For example, if you’re an expert in your industry and a news story is currently circulating which you can comment on, offer to provide an opinion in exchange for a mention of your business. Alternatively, phone in to request a song while giving a shout-out to your business! Make sure you name your business location so people can look you up online. Two free options outside of radio advertising.

 

30. Cold calling

If done well, can prove successful. But tread carefully!

 

31. OOH (‘Out Of Home’) advertising

It’s been predicted that this mode of advertisement – selling to customers when they’re outside and on-the-go – is going to become increasingly affordable and easier for small businesses to implement. The six main categories are billboards, street (bus shelters, telephone boxes, etc.), roads, highways, transit (ads on anything that moves e.g. buses, taxis, etc.) and alternative. 
 

32. Advertise on your vehicle

Pop your logo, slogan, what you offer, the area you cover, contact telephone number and email address on any vehicles associated with your business. Some businesses also include their social media channels if it’s a big part of their marketing strategy.

 

Katy Alston transformed a clapped out old ice cream van into an award-winning business.

 

33. Wear your brand 

If you or your employees have a client-facing role, wearing branded clothing (even if it’s a smart t-shirt with a logo) can spread the word. Pens are always a good option as they’re of use and you can leave them with clients as an extra reminder of your telephone number. (Make sure your number’s on them!)

 

34. Attend local events 

If you’re looking to increase your local profile, sponsor a community event or set up a stall (depending on your business).

 

35. Print some business cards

Make sure your key details are featured including any social channels you have. Ensure your logo and colour palette is in line with your website and other marketing material. If you have a business premise, pop them in a cardholder for people to take as they pass. Ask to place your business cards in other local businesses (if applicable) and make sure to always carry some with you to hand out.

 

36. Set up an email signature

It goes without saying that your email signature should have all the key information about your business, including the website URL, logo and contact details. However, businesses often overlook this simple way to promote products and services. A simple one line about a discount or promotion you’re offering can be especially effective if it’s in a personal email, and can be set up for multiple staff members. It’s also a place you can showcase your credentials – links to testimonials, accreditations and blogs you’ve written.  

Other cheap tricks and tactics

 

37. 'Recommend a Friend' incentive

Offer current customers the opportunity to earn a discount on their next product/service if they send a new customer your way. Offer the new customer an introductory offer on their first purchase/appointment. Promote this feature on your website, social channels and hand out cards at your till for customers to fill out then and there. The existing customer can only claim their discount once their recommended friend has made their first purchase.

 

38. Send out promotions with your invoices

Why not market further to your existing customers? Could just be a simple line of text in the invoice footer with a special offer you're running at that time, or enclose a leaflet with a mailed copy of the invoice. 

 

39. Review your logo and slogan/tagline

Does it appeal to your target audience? Does it clearly state what your business offers? Ask around for some feedback to make sure it's as strong as it can be.

 

40. Leaflet distribution

Check with your local council to see if you can distribute free printed material in England and Wales. According to GOV.UK, you don’t require permission if your printed material is being distributed through a letterbox, inside a building, bus or taxi, on behalf of a charity or for political or religious purposes or other beliefs. You may need to apply for a licence so it’s best to start here and ensure you’re marketing in a compliant way. You could be fined and given a criminal record if you distribute material without a licence or break the rules of your licence.

 

41. Sponsor a local networking event

Spotlight your brand and support your community (some positive PR).

 

42. Sponsor a local team

If you’re looking to increase your local profile or your target audience enjoys their sport, this could be a great option. You don’t have to be the main sponsor – clubs tend to have a number of options including player, match and stand sponsorship, programme advertising, etc. Here are some prices from an example club – Lewes FC.

 

43. Enter for awards and prizes

There are countless national and local awards and prizes that small businesses can enter. From foodie awards such as Great Taste to The UK Customer Satisfaction Awards, being able to say you’re ‘award-winning’ adds kudos to your business and makes your offering more compelling. Most awards will charge an entry fee and you’ll need to take time to put together your application, however the pay-off if you win is usually worth it. Even if you don’t win, being shortlisted often brings with it various branding opportunities.   
 

Offline marketing can be difficult to connect with ROI, especially if you’re trying out a few of them. One of the best ways to work out where your customers are coming from is by asking them!

 

“If you don’t mind, where did you hear about us?” can be asked in person, over the phone, on your website and social channels. This information is invaluable to help refine your marketing strategy so be confident and politely get the information you need from anyone enquiring into your business.

Download: Digital marketing on a budget ebook

For most small businesses, there isn't a huge pot of money for marketing. 

That’s why it’s so important to spend that money wisely on the things that can really make a difference.

Whether that’s Google AdWords, email marketing, guest blogging, or a little bit of everything, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ – but there are some pretty decent rules of thumb that will put your business in a great position.

This ebook identifies what we think are the most effective digital marketing tactics from the quick-wins to the long-game strategies.

We’re confident you’ll come away with the insights to put your business in front of the right audience in the most compelling and engaging way.

Digital marketing on a budget ebook.pdf

2.83 MB
Register to download

Next Steps

How do I target the right customers?

There are plenty of low-cost marketing ideas to help you reach your customers, but first, you need to know which potential customers you want to target. 

Read more

How to increase online sales

Before you conduct any marketing activity, you need to make sure your website is in a position to capitalise on the extra traffic - from a design and content perspective. 

Read more

Stay informed

Register or Login to add this article to your reading list.

Share this