It’s well known within small business circles that marketing your business is 100% necessary and nonstop. If you’re going to own a business, marketing your products and services will be a daily activity, for the purposes of producing income by creating and retaining new customers. It’s the second part of that sentence that often gets lost in all the marketing mumbo jumbo – creating and retaining new customers. Loyal customers. Ones that return often. Not only because they love your products, but because you have made them feel welcome!
If your marketing is successful, meaning it’s doing what you hoped it was doing (you know, that creating and retaining stuff), then you’re building a deeper connection that perhaps you hadn’t expected. Successful marketing isn’t simply about selling a product, it’s about developing and nurturing lifelong customers who trust and, well, just really like ya! Wouldn’t we all like to see that happen?
But marketing is now EVERYWHERE – and that’s not hyperbole. And it’s not always cheap, right? Back in the day, there were billboards, physical signage, ads in the yellow pages, and even door-to-door salespeople, our senses are now on marketing overload with the vast growth of digital options. Social media is a 24/7 marketplace. Blogs create a story that helps customers connect to the business and the product. And physical signage – well, it’s still hanging on as well!
One of the smartest things a small business owner can do is take the time to develop a marketing plan that encompasses it all, without feeling like a hamster on a wheel – just spinning, without really heading in any particular direction. A unique marketing plan will lay out just how you will create and retain customers by executing a marketing strategy that’s heavy on connection. And the good news is that this plan doesn’t have to break the bank. There are PLENTY of free (and cheap) ways to keep your business top of mind!
With so many ways to market your small business, we thought we’d share a few (LOL) of our favorites. We’ll help you get that wheel turning, but we’ll also make sure it offers you a clear direction. Ready, set . . Here’s our list of 50 free (and cheap) small business marketing ideas.
Think of The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning . . .” Let’s start by adding that extra something to the brand style you’ve already established by focusing on five core areas.
- Colors: Choose primary and secondary colors for your brand. Tools like Adobe Color and Coolors can help you find something great that actually works together. Need ideas? We’ve got 15 Free Color Palettes for you!
- Fonts: You’ll need brand fonts to use for headers, subheaders, and body copy to display in print and on the web. Check out these brand style guide font examples of how to mix serifs, sans serifs, and unique fonts to work together for your final brand. If you need a bit more help, try Canva’s Font Combinations to help you match header and body copy choices.
- Elements: Choose elements (icons, drawings, bullets, etc.) that are hand-drawn, illustrative, structured, or simple depending on what your brand is trying to convey.
- Photos: Create a Google drive and start saving photos that support your brand. Photography should consider these three elements: color palette, lighting, and location/environment. Adobe Stock allows you to search by HEX colors to make matching your brand even simpler! Once you have determined your brand photos, you’ll need to size them properly for the web. Thankfully, we wrote a full photo resizing blog about just that. You’ll learn the proper sizing, quality, and more for website photos. Check it out.
- Brand: Don’t have a defined brand style unique to your business? We’ve got a free solution to take you through the steps of creating one! Using our Brand Sheet Template on a free program like Canva, (or try to do it in Word if that’s all you have), our template will walk you through the process of how to create branding that stands out!
- Create your own loyalty cards using Canva. Keep customers coming back for more with a “buy 9, get the 10th one free” incentive. You can print these out at home or at your local print shop for just a few bucks!
- Don’t forget business cards. It’s easy to create on-brand business cards to hand out, especially if your brand style is already established. Try Canva or VistaPrint for budget-friendly ideas. Or, make yourself a virtual business card with a QR code to keep right on your phone in a saved photo album.
- Have you thought about Bag Drop flyers? Promote an upcoming event or sale with small DIY ads that you can drop into your customer’s bags when they shop at your store. It’s a great way to get the word out to your ideal customers.
- Customize our store hours Canva template and let your customers know when you’ll be open. Putting this essential info out there for everyone to see just might sway a new customer into stopping by for a visit.
- Create some simple thank-you postcards to include in your packaging when you send out online orders. Add a QR code and your social profiles so people can easily stay connected to your business. We even have a free postcard you can have! Your customers will feel appreciated!
- Update your social profiles by designing new profile/cover images. Bonus points if they all match and are consistent across all your accounts.
- Set up a business Giphy account and create your own stickers for social media.
- Create a custom email signature design using free software or an email signature generator.
- If you have an online shop, take the time to create custom graphics or make sure your product photography is consistent across the board.
- Using (you guessed it!) Canva, create social media templates that you can use over and over. Customize everything to your brand, using consistent colors, fonts, and imagery.
Social Media Marketing
- Make a reel (or five). Choose one trending audio, throw caution to the wind, and allow yourself NOT to do it perfectly the first time. Download a free video app: We’re partial to CapCut, InShot, or Videoleap. And just starting playing. The goal? Choose the one that seems simplest to implement and then pull in some photos, add some music and post it. We dare ya!
- Post five stories a day. Let your followers see behind the curtain by committing to posting five spontaneous and authentic stories on your IG and FB (and link those two accounts so you don’t have to post twice!)
- Add two Instagram highlights above your grid from the stories you created (or will create.) For example, Favorite Products and Meet the Owner.
- Pin three posts to the top of the Instagram grid. Did you know you can do this? Start with one introduction about your business, a second featuring a favorite product or service you want to highlight, and a third that introduces YOU to followers and customers – you know, the personal side! (Psst. You can post these to stories and add to your Highlights!)
- Follow similar businesses and interact with them online. Yep, follow those who are in the same business as you. Interact, support, collaborate, and encourage. We bet they will do the same!
- Create a LinkTree on IG (or create a similar page on your website that resembles a Linktree) and post the link in your bio.
- Create a LinkedIn page and connect with others in your industry.
- Use an email manager (like Mailchimp) for bulk emailing. Say you are throwing all your marketing eggs in one basket (for example, social media), and Facebook or Instagram has a bad day (they’ve been known to have them.) What if, (take a deep breath), you lose your page after that bad day? Do you have a backup way to contact and connect with your customers? Creating an email list ensures that you do.
- Create an email template for your emails so that your customers start to recognize your emails and connect them to your brand.
- Create a catchy header graphic or photo for your email template.
- Has it been a while since your subscribers have heard from you? Send them a spontaneous and brief update.
- Add your newsletter subscription link to your bio on FB and Instagram pages (or the LinkTree you just created above!).
- Create a “freemium” opt-In for those who subscribe to your newsletters or website. Sometimes folks are wary of subscribing to a website. Maybe they just don’t want any more emails than they are already receiving, or they don’t see what’s in it for them. Either way. Give them something they want! A FAQ with “10 Tips for Organizing Your Kitchen” (linking to products you love or sell), or a “Reusable To-Do List” (with your website and logo readily visible) – something that catches their eye, is easy to download, immediately helpful and markets YOUR business.
Contests and Events
- Offer an after-hours night for those who aren’t able to shop during the day. Even better, make it a private party for a group of friends to encourage even more sales!
- Create a frequent buyer rewards program.
- Offer a small gift with a qualifying purchase.
- Highlight one customer per month and their favorite product from your business. Give them a discount for agreeing to be in the spotlight.
- Do a “pop-up” shop at a local event or even another business.
- Gather five written customer testimonials. Post to social media. Bonus points for tagging that customer and encouraging them to share the post with their followers.
- Interview a happy customer or two on camera.
- Record a simple product demo video or product unboxing.
- Ask satisfied customers to post a product/business review on their social media page.
- Create a customer survey and offer a gift for every customer who fills it out.
- Become a member of your local Chamber of Commerce.
- Write and memorize a 20-second elevator pitch.
- Ask to be a presenter at a local networking event.
- Gather 3-5 fellow business owners for a bit of a mastermind or think-tank session.
- Find one business “buddy” to meet with over coffee once a month.
- Collaborate with another local business to do a “trunk” show of each other’s favorite products.
- Test for Mobile-Friendliness.
- Check your website for ADA compliance.
- Test your website for speed (shoot for under 3 seconds). Be sure to show this to your developer. Load-time speed is the most important!
- Improve your website traffic for free.
- Create your free (but super necessary) Google Business Profile.
- Make sure you’re listed in all the relevant business online directories for your industry. Get an account with all of them to increase your Google rankings. Research which directories are best for your business here.
And there you have it. 50 free (or cheap) ways to market your business. Sure, if you attempt to tackle all 50 all at once, this can feel overwhelming, but, if you simply take it one at a time (“I’ve always wanted to join the Chamber”), then BOOM! Success!
Perhaps take this list and plot out one idea to marinate on each week. Or 2x a month. Or once a month. Try, track the results, and see which ideas work best for your business – as there may be a few you want to repeat. You can even use our free marketing calendar download to get your ideas in one place.
Regardless of how you plan to implement them, you now have some tried and true ideas to get you started on marketing your business without breaking the bank.
And don’t forget to share the goods with your small business friends!