Last Updated: December 17, 2019
If you are thinking about starting a business, or if you already have a then you need to also think about marketing. And more specifically, you may have to think about Marketing on a Shoestring budget..
Regardless of how great your product is or how easy it will be to sell your goods or services, you are not going to be very successful if you don’t let your future customers know that you are open for business.
There are a number of ways in which to market you business on a shoestring budget.
Whether it is developing a website, engaging on social media, running advertisements in your local newspaper, or posting flyers at key locations around town, you need to improve the visibility of your business so your potential customers are even aware that you exist.
Marketing for your small business can become expensive. The Small Business Association (sba.gov), writes that small businesses spend an average of 1.8% of their revenues on marketing.
That means about $2 for every $100 dollars made goes back into marketing.
There are, of course, variations within that group. Some subgroups spend close to 4%.
That same report indicates the B2B services companies can spend close to 7% on marketing.
Marketing costs can and will add up over time. The goal is to get those dollars to go as far as they can and bring new customers into through the doors.
Getting Started with Marketing on a Shoestring
When it comes to marketing your business on a shoestring, there will be some costs involved.
We never said anything about marketing for free.
What we want to do is leverage our investment and get the maximum benefit out of every dollar spent on marketing.
This means that you will be doing as much of the work as possible. There is going to be a lot of “sweat equity” involved with your outreach efforts.
So here are some ideas to get your marketing plan going while spending as little as possible.
Let’s see what we can do about marketing your business on a shoestring budget.
There are a number of benefits when handling your own marketing activities.
To begin with, you are directly involved with the process. When you are handling the marketing yourself, you are the person making the decisions, the choices, and ultimately setting the direction of your marketing plan.
By being the marketing lead, you gain an intimate understanding of your business. If you think you knew everything about your business before, just wait. After handling the marketing component of your business, you will gain insight to aspects of your business you never knew existed.
By going the “do it yourself” route, not only will you learn more about your business, you will also learn more about marketing concepts in general. This knowledge will benefit you and your business for years to come.
This marketing knowledge will be even more valuable as your business starts to grow. You will be well-prepared when hiring someone to handle your business marketing or when you make the decision to outsource your marketing activities.
Now, there are some drawbacks to marketing on a shoestring and handling the marketing of your business yourself. Not everyone is an expert at marketing. And, it is highly likely that you are not the best person for the job.
Marketing requires a specific set of skills and a lot of them.
If this is your first foray into marketing, you will make some mistakes. Depending upon the size of the mistakes, you could do some serious damage to your brand and your business. Such mistakes can be difficult and/or expensive to repair.
There is a cost to doing things yourself – an opportunity cost. While you are busy developing your marketing skills, you are not generating income.
- What is the cost to your business?
- Is it more efficient to do the marketing work yourself?
- Can you increase profits by outsourcing marketing?
This is where you need to make the choice between doing things yourself and hiring the help of a marketing expert.
So, venturing into the marketing world is a journey not to be taken lightly. Any misstep can be fatal for your business. Proceed with caution.
When getting started with marketing, it is essential to know just who your customers are. In fact, you need to know more than just who your customers are. You need to know everything you can about your customers. You need to understand customer demographics.
There is a laundry list of demographic information you need to know about your customers.
Common customer demographic information includes:
- Marital status
- Number of children (if any)
- Annual income
- Education level
Demographic information helps you make decisions about who you want to market to and how best to reach them.
Not knowing who your customers are and their related demographic information will result in a lot of wasted time and effort.
In addition to the demographic information above, it will really help to know where do they spend time either online or in real life.
Here are some questions you can ask of your customers:
- Do your customers like to shop online or do they like to shop in brick and mortar stores?
- Do your customers enjoy online gaming or do they play board games with family and friends?
- Do your customers like reading paperback books or do they download the latest bestseller to their Amazon Kindle?
- Do your customers commute 30 to 60 minutes to work every day or do they login to the company network from the comfort of their kitchen?
- How do your customers like to communicate? In person? Phone? Email? Text?
Now this is certainly not a comprehensive list of questions. These are sample questions…just to get the thought process going.
You can use these questions and create more, depending upon your industry, and find your perfect customer.
What makes your business unique?
Now that you are working on determining who your customers are, you now need to work on what makes your business unique.
In marketing terms, what is your USP (Unique Selling Point)?
This is important regardless if you have a huge marketing budget or if you are marketing on a shoestring.
As a business owner, you need to know what sets you apart from the crowd. How are you better than the business just down the street from you. Why should people come to your business versus going to the other guy or gal?
You really need to know what your USP is. Without it, there is no way to set yourself apart from everyone else that provides the same set of services or sells the same products as you.
You essentially become lost in the crowd of competitors.
Determine your USP
Determining your USP is important. Your USP is the cornerstone of all your marketing efforts. It is the message that will be included across all of your marketing collateral.
You are probably asking yourself, “Where do I get started in determining my USP?”
For starters, take a look at your business plan. You should find a few gems in there about why you started your business.
Looking at your business plan will also refresh your memory as to why you started your own business. You may even get a peek at that original enthusiasm that you felt as you were putting all the pieces together and launching your business.
If you are still struggling for inspiration, you can also do a bit of research online. American Express has a nice 5-step process for determining your USP.
Putting all together
Now that you have done your research, know your customers, and understand what sets you apart from the competition, it is time to get started.
Now, when we started this journey, we mentioned “marketing on a shoestring.” We want to market our business as best we can while limiting our expenses.
As we move forward with our affordable marketing plan , we will need to make decisions as to where and when to invest in various services. Will we be going the DIY route or will we need to contracting services? Can we purchase low cost items or do we need to go premium?
Not everything is free. Right?
Our goal is to make informed choices and maximize the return of our marketing budget.
Building a website
Websites are without a doubt the single most important component of your marketing efforts.
Do you know why?
Its because when people are looking for goods and services they search on the Internet. And when I say people, I mean all people.
In a report by Adaptive Marketing, covering 2017/2018, 97% of consumers used the Internet to find a local business.
That is like almost everyone!
What is event more amazing is that 54% of consumers looked for a local business online at least once a month. More than half!
Hopefully, these people are finding your business.
Free Website Design Services
There are a number of free services out there where you can host and build a website for free. The two that come to mind straight-away are Wix and Weebly.
Both of these services offer free website hosting and page building. This means you can get your website up and running at no cost. Setup an account and get started. You can get a simple website up and running in almost now time.
Some technical expertise may be required with these hosting services. Checking the support center will be the best answers for your questions.
These “free” services have limited options. Depending upon your marketing and business needs, you may need to upgrade to a paid account. If so, select the hosting plan that meets your business needs. You can always upgrade later if you find that your business/marketing needs have changed.
You can get an idea of what upgrades cost by visiting
Paid Website Design Services
Given the importance of your website, “free” hosting may not be the best way to go.
Contracting the services of an experienced website designer just might be a wise investment.
Don’t worry, there are plenty of website designers to choose from. Pricing ranges from affordable to not-so-affordable. Do some research. Find a website designer that is a good fit for you and that is a good fit for your budget.
Caution: You get what you pay for. So do your research!
Printed materials are still an essential component of business marketing. Business cards, brochures, posters, and such provide value for the sharing of information.
Use the ones that meet your business needs and keep an eye on other opportunities.
Here are some printed materials to consider.
Business cards – An essential item in your marketing toolkit. Perfect for new introductions, at business networking meetings, etc. Printing costs are extremely low. Can either design yourself and have them printed or design online.
Brochures – A summary of goods and services, your business, and team members. Works for some business types, not so much for others. Can range from simple single-sheet tri-folds to multiple-page bindings.
Flyers/Posters – Great for promoting events and for distribution at public events. Works well for special discounts or offers. Sizes can range from quarter-page to large-size posters. Quarter-page flyers and inexpensive but you need quite a few of them. Large posters can be expensive but the required quantity can be low.
Social media is a great tool for connecting with customers and should not be taken for granted. You can reach around the world and engage with people who enjoy the goods you sell and the services you offer. So be sure that you make some time for social media and use it as part of your outreach efforts.
A word of warning, though. Social media can be a time sink. When allocating time to use social media, you need to be sure that you stick to the time limits. You can easily lose hours of productive time in the various corners of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and more.
Here are some of the big players in social media:
- Linked In
Each of these social media channels have their own specific benefits and challenges.
Some good advice is to not over-extend yourself. Pick one or two social media platforms to get started. The initial goal would be to understand how the social media channel works and see how it well it works with your business.
Keep note, to actually harness the value of social media, you will need to spend some money. Social media has morphed into an advertising platform. This means that to connect with your customers, you may have to spend some money. And the more money that you spend, the greater the effectiveness of the social medial platform.
You need to make the call on determining your budget for social media advertising.
Networking is by far the most effective way to connect with people and build your customer base when marketing on a shoestring. The introduction, the handshake, the conversation, the pleasantries, all come together to build a connection. These connections will help bring customers to your doorstep.
Bonus: You will likely find that customers developed through business networking are the better of your customers.
Here are some ideas for business networking
Join Business Groups – Organizations, the Davis Chamber of Commerce for example, are a great way to meet B2B clients. Many of these organizations have regular meetings, mixers, special events, etc., which are all great ways to extend your business into the community and make connections. See what business groups serve your area.
Public Speaking – Standing up in front of a crowd and sharing your knowledge is a great way to promote yourself and your business. It will go a long way towards building brand trust. Opportunities are everywhere. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce, business groups, service organizations, schools, and clubs for speaking opportunities. You will be amazed at what you find.
Business writing – Are you good at writing? Well, think about blogging or writing for newspapers or magazines. With blogging, your website will benefit from the increased traffic and greater search engine opportunities. Newspapers frequently look for content. There can be a regular article opportunity there.
Email continues to be an effective and valuable communication tool. People that subscribe to your email lists actually want access to the information you provide.
Whether it is information, ads, or a combination of both, when people subscribe to your email marketing service, they are giving you permission to market to them.
Seriously, you can beat that!
Don’t believe me?
Check out these statistics for email.
It is important that you don’t discount this communication channel.
A custom-tailored email with a strong message is hard to beat
There are countless opportunities for marketing your business on a shoestring. The items above are only the tip of the iceberg.
The goal with being frugal with marketing is being creative. Look for opportunities to get your name out there with as little expense as possible.
With a little bit of ingenuity and creativity you can certainly find ways to connect with your customers.