Not every small business has the budget to hire a marketing firm, especially in the early stages. When short on cash, businesses need to get creative.
Female entrepreneurs are particularly adepts at finding no- and low-cost marketing solutions. Here are some of their best wallet-friendly marketing tips.
Make real connections
"My best marketing tip that costs no money is to engage in curious, confident conversations," says Deb Feder, a Kansas City-based business development coach with an expertise in legal practices and service professionals, and mother of two children aged 11 and 13. "This captures the attention of interested parties far more than another ad, postcard, or a pretty website. I am always telling my clients to skip the logo and business cards for a while."
She encourages her coaching clients to seek out honest, informative discussions with people who they see as ideal clients or those who interact with those people. Ask each of the people some of the same questions to see what themes emerge and to gain insight into potential clients' pain points. By doing so, you'll be able to design a product or service that will basically sell itself.
Feder believes that in this age of electronics, "People—especially moms—are more disconnected than ever." She adds that "People really crave connections. People love it when you're interested, you're showing more intelligence by sitting and listening than by talking."
Reach out to your network
There is tremendous power in the network of people you already know, both professionally and personally. An excellent low-cost marketing method is simply communicating with this sprawling group and hoping they share your outreach with those they know as well.
"This may sound a little too obvious, but reach out to your network first," says Lexie Mooneyham, founder and social media director of Mooneyham Management, a boutique social media marketing company. "Have a new project coming up? Launching a new business or product? Share this info with your friends and family."
Using social for networking with friends and family is an especially important part of this strategy, as it allows them to easily share your info with their networks and increase your audience with a single click, for free.
Utilize social media
Anybody can easily get accounts on a range of social platforms for free. But while this option may not take money, it does take time. Posting must be done regularly, preferably daily, and it's important to post thoughtful content and commentary, and not just about yourself and your business, but also about other people and things.
Mooneyham recommends signing up for newsletters from industry leaders such as Later.com or Sprout Social to stay up on trends and best practices. Also, consider joining digital marketing Facebook groups to learn from social media professionals and fellow business owners who use social for marketing.
"Even if you're not able to invest in professional social media marketing services, you can definitely DIY your social media marketing," she says. "It will take a time investment, and time is money, but this is an excellent low-cost way to get your digital marketing up and running until you can hire a professional to take it to the next level."
Author blog guest posts
Writing posts for other people's blogs is an effective way to get your name out there and establish yourself as a thought leader in your field. Like social media, this method of marketing is also free, but also takes substantial time.
It takes legwork to connect with the right sites on which you can post. And if you're going to create guest posts, take time to make them as engaging and well-written as you can. A poorly written guest post can work against you instead of helping your marketing efforts.
Host a podcast
With the digital tools now available, solo entrepreneurs can start a podcast for very low cost: A few hundred dollars can buy you a used microphone and access to editing and distribution platforms.
"We have used our podcast, MOMentum Radio, as a low-cost marketing tactic and lead generator," says Brooke Markevicius, the North Carolina-based founder of MOMentum Marketplace and mother of a five-year-old and a two-year-old. "We launched it almost a year before our platform, so that allowed us to connect with moms and share our brand story before we even launched."
A podcast must be of decent quality and have episodes released regularly to gain any traction. The production process can be a grind, but it can also be fun and exciting.
Scale your efforts to your needs
There's a tendency to think of "marketing" as an effort to reach as many people as possible in order to increase sales as much as possible. But what if you were to reframe the project to something more manageable? What about trying to reach only as many people as necessary to increase sales as much as you want or need?
"If you do the math of what you're trying to make in a year and divide it by 12, chances are you don't really need to be reaching as many people as you think," says Feder. "It doesn't require mass marketing."
What you should aim for is targeted, authentic outreach to those who are likely to best match what you offer. This can be as simple as a phone conversation or as complex as a radio show, but it doesn't have to be costly.