5 Low Cost Ways To Market Your Business

Quote from Ron BurgundyLearning how to market your business without breaking the bank is a serious challenge for most business owners.

When you own a business, it seems like every marketing and ad company has their hand out, waiting for you to put your hard-earned cash into it.  The truth is, many of these marketing activities will do very little for you, except empty your bank account.  If you've been in business for any period of time, you've probably experienced this first hand.

I receive hundreds of emails a year from small business owners asking for advice, tips, or just words of encouragement.  The #1 question I receive from business owners is how can I market and advertise my business.  More so, they want to know how to do it effectively, and without breaking the bank.

While I firmly believe a good marketing agency or consultant (disclosure, I am one) can do wonders for a business, I also know that there is a lot of crap out there that will do nothing to help a business grow.  The problem is, with such a small margin of financial error, too many bad investments can bankrupt a small business.

You don't have to spend a lot (or any) money to run a fantastic marketing campaign.  You just need to use the resources you have effectively and look for “other” opportunities to get your name out into the marketplace.

Below are 5 low-cost or free ways you can market your local business.  As a business owner myself, I've found that these methods do better for me than traditional advertising like print ads or postcards, though every business is different. “Different strokes for different folks”.

Barter Services

Ever thought about trading your available inventory of goods and services in exchange for things your business needs?  What is bartering anyway? Bartering is the exchange of goods and services in lieu of using cash.  It's a popular form of trading and is recognized by the IRS as a taxable transaction.  

There are many ways you can barter with other businesses.  You can approach them one on one and ask for an exchange of good or services, or you can join a barter exchange network where you belong to a network of businesses who trade as a group.

If you're looking to do it one on one, there are many types of businesses you can approach for bartering.  A printing company for your printed goods, a graphic designer or photographer for developing marketing materials, or someone you know that rocks it on social media…..maybe they would help your business in exchange for some free goods.

If you're looking for a barter exchange network, check your local area as almost every city has at least one of them, if not more.  ITEX has locations across North America, and The Barter Network has a strong presence in Canada.  Many of these exchanges have relationships with other exchanges and can give you access to a wide range of services for your business.  The way they make money is by charging a service fee for every transaction.

Host An Event

If you have a physical location, consider using it to host events for other groups.  It's a great opportunity to bring new people into your business and allows you to interact with potential customers in a casual setting.  Social and business groups are always looking for casual places to meet and would appreciate a local business donating their space to them.

Think about who your target audience is and find out what types of groups they belong to.  Invite these groups to use your space free of charge ( or for a nominal fee) for their meetings.  Not only will you garner good will from potential customers, they will be inclined to share your good will with their friends and co-workers.

Sponsor A Contest or Event

Do you have excess inventory or services you can spare?  Approach other businesses or non-profits and offer to donate a prize for one of their events.  You can also talk to them about running some sort of contest or promotion for their business where you will provide the prize.  It gives them a chance to reward their loyal customers and gives you free exposure to their customer base.  You can even create your own contests online, such as on Facebook or your own website.

Almost every non-profit organization runs fundraisers. Consider approaching local schools, churches, and civic groups and see how you can help them raise money.  They also make a point in recognizing and promoting businesses that help them with their needs.  Easy and free marketing at its best.

Write An Article

Are you a good writer?  Are you passionate about your industry and love to write about it?  If you don't have a blog on your website, you and your business are seriously missing out on the inbound marketing boom.  Content creation is one of the most (if not the most) important parts of online marketing and turn your website into a magnet for potential business.

While starting a blog takes quite a bit of time before you see results, you can get exposure now by writing for other websites.  Look at blogs and media outlets in your community and look to see if there is an opportunity to contribute an article about your industry.  The important thing is to not be self promotional, but to write about your industry as a whole.  Getting featured as a contributor with a local paper or popular blog can make you the “authority” on the topic in your area.

Do Pro-Bono Work

While I wouldn't give away products or services to a for-profit business, I would (and do) do it for a non-profit that I believe in.  Non-profits are always looking for contributions, think about how your business can help local charities and organizations in your area.  Not only does it make you look like a business that cares about your community,  you have an opportunity to make some great connections to organizations that have a much wider reach than your business.  It's a win/win all around when you give your time for a good cause.

How do you market your business?

These are just a few examples of ways you can market your business on a small budget.  More money doesn't equal more marketing exposure.  A little time and elbow grease can get you a long way in creating an effective marketing plan.

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CEO at 3Bug Media
Gary Shouldis is the founder of 3Bug Media, a web marketing company that helps businesses create 360 Marketing Strategies to dominate their market. His blog is read by over 20 thousand small business owners a month and has been featured in the N.Y. Times Small Business, Business Insider and Yahoo Small Business.
4 replies
  1. Heather Stone
    Heather Stone says:

    Hi Gary,
    Pro-bono is seriously undervalued, probably because people are convinced it will lead to giving away products and services all the time. But, of course, the key is to have a very clear idea of what to give away and when.

  2. Harry
    Harry says:

    Gary – These are great tips that any small business can benefit from. I always maintain that great marketing should cost much. The best example is word-of-mouth that many small business owners overlook. By providing great products and customer service the businesses can get their customers talking and do the marketing on their behalf – free of charge. This doesn’t sound like marketing, but no amount of paid marketing engagement can beat the return received from word-of-mouth.

  3. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    I think the fear of doing pro-bono work is that you will become undervalued. It’s important to choose clients wisely, I usually will only do it for non-profits that need help, though I have helped a few small businesses that were about to go under. As you said, having a clear idea is very important before doing any work.

  4. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    You’re spot on Harry, great marketing doesn’t have to cost much…or anything. I think when you lack the skill and experience, you think the only way to get exposure is to pay for it. WOM is the best source of business you can get.

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