Business person writing a marketing flowchart.

Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

Even if you run a one-person shop, you have to build your brand. 

Business person writing a marketing flowchart.

Getting word out doesn't have to be pricey. 

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If you run any kind of small business, from an Etsy shop to an established bricks-and-mortar store, then you know what a challenge it can be to market your business on a budget. This is especially the case if you run the business on your own or with just a few others.

Either way, you’re not alone. There are 23 million small businesses in the United States, all of which are trying hard to stand out from the crowd, make a name for themselves and generate awareness of their brand. While this can be an expensive project, there are a number of ways to market your business without spending a lot of money in the process. Here are four of them:

1. Make it personal.

The one thing you have to offer as a small business owner is the personal touch. That is something larger firms aren’t able to match. Take advantage of that and seek to leave a lasting impression with prospective clients.

One approach that has been successful in getting new clients is showing up at a potential client’s business with donuts. It doesn’t have to be donuts, per se, but the point is that people love food – especially when it’s free! When you show up, ask to speak with someone in the area you’re targeting. When that person comes out, introduce yourself and ask for an appointment to discuss how you can help them. It won’t guarantee a meeting, but you’ll stick in their minds and potentially get a new client out of it without spending a lot. Just make sure to leave behind some business cards or fliers with the donuts.

2. Look for cheap networking events.

There can be a temptation when you run a small business to join every professional organization related to your industry. That makes sense, on one level, but it can be costly. You should not have to pay for tips or leads, so don’t feel like you need to shell out hundreds of dollars in membership fees to do so.

The cheaper alternative is to look for events your local chamber of commerce or professional organizations are offering. You can often participate for under $20 and can get a feel for what events work best for attracting new clients.

3. Build a website.

If you run a small business, having a website is a must. There is a myth that it costs a lot of money to have a professional-looking website and that if you’re not technically-savvy, then you can’t design a site.

Don’t believe this myth. If you can’t afford (or don’t want to pay) the $3,000 or more that it often costs to have a professional design a custom website for you, download and install Wordpress and then purchase a fully-customizable theme for under $100. Wordpress makes it easy, even those who consider themselves web novices. Having a website for your business is important because it’s the cheapest way to market your business.

At a cost of $10 or less per month to host your site, you can showcase your work for anyone searching for the type of business you. This will, of course, take time, but is a great way to market your small business without spending a fortune to do so.

4. Take non-traditional routes.

Most of the traditional marketing methods, such as radio, TV or outdoor billboard ads, are going to be cost-prohibitive for small business owners. That is okay, because you want something more targeted anyway.

There are various channels you can use to market your small business in a non-traditional sense, without spending a lot in the process. Some examples include volunteering to speak at local professional events, sponsoring a certain portion of a local professional gathering, using social media and distributing marketing materials at these events.

The key to the non-traditional approach is to be creative and look for ways that will maximize your marketing punch that aren’t expensive. While it may be seem difficult at first, it’s certainly possible to be successful.