Low-cost marketing for small businesses

Marketing is incredibly important to small businesses – without it there would be little public awareness of your business. However, it can be expensive. Research by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has indicated that small businesses are spending an average of 8.6 percent of their turnover on raising their profile. There are a number of cheaper options available that should help to keep costs within your budget.

The internet

Starting a website is relatively cheap and one of the easiest ways to reach a large audience. Your website should be easy to navigate and look professional. You don’t have to have an online shop, but should include contact details and information about what your business does – see our article Five things your website must havefor more ideas. Always make sure your content is well-written, and check that no links on the site are broken. If you receive messages or emails via your website, respond to them as early as possible.

Social networking sites are also a good way to promote your business. Facebook and Twitter are probably the most popular social networking sites and are free to use. Don’t set out with the sole intention of gaining the most fans or followers, though, as it has been found that this is not always the most effective way to market to an online audience. Instead make sure you send out relevant, interesting information and concentrate on gaining a loyal customer base.


Blogging can be a good way of getting content onto your website, and some of the most popular blogging sites are free to use, such as Blogger. Blogs can help you to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in your field, or simply keep people up-to-date on what’s happening with your business.


Along with the social networking sites mentioned above, there has been a rise in the popularity of business networking sites in recent year. You don’t just have to network online, though, and not everyone uses the internet. Get involved with local events such as community fairs or business events. You could always hand out your business card at these events, or give out promotional flyers offering discounts to other. Many towns also have networking events organised by local businesses – check our calendar of events or do an internet search to see if there are any events near you.

Press releases

Sending press releases to the local media can be an excellent way of getting your business’ name out there. Press releases need to be carefully constructed – it’s not as simple as just writing to a local paper. See our guideHow to write a press release for further details.

Local media

As mentioned above, send press releases to local newspapers or magazines regarding your activities or provide gifts for competitions for radio stations in exchange for your business name and contact details being promoted on the air.

Guerrilla marketing 

Guerrilla marketing is an unconventional practise and requires time and imagination rather than a budget. The objective is to generate word-of-mouth advertising or, if using an online campaign, to turn viral. Examples of guerrilla marketing campaigns include pavement giveaways, publicity stunts and so-called ‘intercept encounters’ – one example being flash mobs, as seen in T-Mobile’s ‘Life’s for Sharing’ series of advertisements.

Loyalty cards

These don’t just have to be used by large chains – small business owners should also consider loyalty cards for their best customers. If you’re a retailer consider something along the lines of ‘buy X number of items and get the next one for free’. If you are a service provider, you could think about offering a discount on your services for repeat customers.

Public service

‘Doing well by doing good’ is a mantra that has been around for years now and the method behind the mantra is being used by an ever-increasing number of businesses, from micro-organisations to international corporations. SMEs can gain recognition in their local area by donating items to charities or sponsoring charity events.

Promotional staff

It is generally very cheap to hire promotional staff. Offer them some motivation to do the job properly to ensure they aren’t just dumping your flyers – like a small amount of commission for each customer referred by them. Ensure that they know your business well and are dressed appropriately to work.