7 Ways to Market Your Small Businesses on a Budget

Blog cover: Affiliate Relationship in Affiliate Marketing

It’s no secret that marketing can be expensive.

Sometimes very, very expensive.

Like $186,666 per second for an ad during the Superbowl expensive.

As a small business, it’s unlikely that these massive prime-time ad campaigns fit within the budget. Instead, you’re faced with the challenge of finding an effective marketing strategy that provides a solid ROI.

The good news is there’s a lot you can do to market your small business on a budget. We’ll cover different cost-effective marketing strategies that are readily available and can be implemented in-house by your team.

1. Build an active & engaging social media presence

Since most social media platforms are free to start, this is clearly a cost-effective channel. It can help grow your business presence and credibility as well as provide a foundation for content & customer engagement.

But, this does not mean all you need to do is make a Facebook page.

It’s easy to think that given its popularity, social media is an answer for all your marketing channels. However realistically, posting a few images will likely not bring in hundreds of Likes and Followers. And without having a solid plan, social media accounts can quickly become inactive and abandoned.

Small businesses should focus on having a few great social media pages rather than trying to be on every platform. This will make for a better customer experience, and you won’t waste time & energy on content audiences will aimlessly scroll past.

Generally speaking, it’s useful for any business to have a Facebook page as a starting point. Being the dominant social media platform, Facebook pages become a vital point of contact for customers and your business could seem less credible without one. Think of your Facebook page as an extension of your website, providing audiences with all the important information about your business and offering the same customer service experience.

Aside from Facebook, the social media platforms you use really depend on your business.

For example, a SaaS probably doesn’t need an Instagram account. Why? Because it doesn’t offer visually appealing content and it’s unlikely that customers will convert while they are scrolling through an app. Instead, consider a YouTube channel to post tutorial content around the software.

In contrast Instagram is a golden opportunity for retail, using images to create a brand aesthetic, collaborate with influencers and run contests.

To understand what platforms are best for engaging your audience, use custom short URLs - which tools like Rebrandly URL Shortener — to see where your marketing efforts are performing best, and adjust accordingly.

Social media also plays an important role for customer service, with 67% of consumers saying they engaged with a brand’s social media for customer service. Again, find the right channel. Twitter is great for responding to mentions and providing updates, while Facebook is better equipped to answer more complex customer inquiries.

2. Consider Using Alternative Social Media Platforms

With massive audiences and free accounts, the mainstream social media platforms can be pretty crowded.

Platforms like Reddit and Quora can be an effective way to start conversation with potential customers. Plus, you won’t have to worry about hiring someone to make content like fancy graphics or images. All you need to do is write & respond.

Additionally, consider industry or niche specific forums. This will give you more insight to what your customer base is talking about, interested in and looking for.

3. Highlight User-Generated Content

UGC is any content created by users, rather than brands. Users organically create content — images, videos, posts, blogs, reviews, etc. — as a way to share their customer experience.

UGC is great for small businesses for a few reasons.

To start, it’s a very powerful form of social proof. Social proof is the concept of following what the crowd is doing. If everyone is doing it, it must be great.

It also gives your brand a customer’s stamp of approval. Since it’s not a paid promotion, audiences are more likely to trust what is being shared. So much so that 86% of Millennials say that UGC is a positive indicator of a brand quality.

And finally, it gives you high-quality — and most importantly free — content. This is especially important for building social media presence and SEO.

There’s several ways small businesses can encourage UGC. Some strategies include:

  • Reporting & resharing any mentions
  • Brand Hashtags
  • Viral Challenges
  • Contests & giveaways
  • Feature sections & customer spotlights

A recent example of a small business using user-generated content comes from Bolt Amsterdam, a local tulip farm in the Netherlands.

In the midst of COVID-19, the business faced steep economic challenges as they were unable to export and sell their tulips as they normally would during the spring season. As a result, they promoted a tulip deal which offered a very attractive price for a large amount of flowers.

Along with the deal, they encouraged users to share their photos and stories on social media, use the hashtag #lieverdanlief, and submit via email to be featured on their website. The UGC for this promotion spread far and fast — and in just a matter of days the small business was tagged in over 120 pictures on Instagram alone.

With the success of this promotion, Bolt Amsterdam announced that over 2 million tulips were saved. Noting that it had “a huge impact on our family business”, they had to temporarily stop the deal to keep up with the current orders.

4. Seek Out Reviews

Everyone knows what to expect from Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target.

But for most small businesses, this isn’t the case — and a big challenge when competing against big name brands is credibility.

Online reviews give small businesses this must-needed validity and credibility. 88% of consumers trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from their personal contacts.

Have a listing on review sites like Google, Facebook, TrustPilot, Yelp, Capterra.

Actively seek out reviews from customers. Make leaving reviews readily available by having it on the homepage or in email signatures.Additionally, you can use a free email marketing software to send out referral-focused drip campaigns.

Work closely with your customer support team on following any positive customer interactions with a well-crafted request to review.

The more reviews the better, even if a few are not 5 stars.

5. Encourage customer referrals with an affiliate marketing program

With an affiliate marketing program, you can have your business promoted virtually anywhere.

And the best part, it’s really budget friendly.

Affiliate marketing uses a pay-for-performance model, so you’ll only pay for ads that actually result in paid customers. With affiliate tracking software starting at $69, it’s a low-risk investment with a clear ROI— instead of paying for ad space without definitively knowing if it converted any new customers.

Affiliates can be anyone from your existing customers, to bloggers, to other businesses in related industries. You can choose to make your program invite-only, to have more control over what is being promoted. Or make it open for anyone, so you can reach wide-spread audiences and build brand awareness.

On top of being a cost-effective marketing channel, it’s also a great way to build your SEO, generate UGC and reward your loyal customers for their referrals.

6. Revamp Your Existing Content

Great content can help skip the high costs of Google & Facebook ads.

Having content that is valuable and relevant to customers can land you on the top search engine spot and plenty of social media shares. But putting out a lot of content — especially quality content — can take time & resources that might not be readily available.

Instead, revamp your existing content into new marketing materials.

Create infographics to display existing data in a new way. Update older blogs with new images and statistics. Turn common customer service questions into a new FAQ. Enlist staff to host webinars on their areas of expertise.

This is an easy way to keep your site active and up to date, bringing fresh content to customers and help your overall SEO efforts.

7. Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

Along with updating your existing content, seek out collaboration opportunities to help with content creation.

By combining your resources you can create more content, have a stronger online presence through link building & SEO, and reach new audiences. A few ways you can collaborate with other businesses include:

  • Writing guest blogs
  • Swapping backlinks and mentions in blog content
  • Being a guest host on a podcast or webinar
  • Highlighting any special projects or new product launches
  • Interviewing members of their team
  • Co-sponsoring studies or white papers
  • Reposting & retweeting on social media

The ideal collaborations are with those that are not direct competitors, but still have a related industry. For example, a sports store with an online fitness site.