So you’ve got your business set up and you’re revving to go and get customers, but there’s one problem – how do you attract them?

Having a marketing strategy is essential if you want to reach new people, generate interest in your products and services, and establish yourself as a leader and innovator in your industry. But how can you market your brand effectively if you’re a small business with a limited budget?

Big advertising campaigns may be off the table, but there are plenty of low-cost ways to attract consumers’ attention. Keep reading to discover 21 small business marketing ideas that won’t break the bank.

1. Update your marketing plan and elevator pitch

Before you implement any of these low-cost marketing ideas for small businesses, you need to be clear on what your business’s unique selling proposition (USP) is and how to integrate this into your marketing strategy. What makes your business different from others in your industry, and why would a customer choose you instead?

Once you’ve identified your USP, you can include it in your elevator pitch and all marketing materials. Your elevator pitch is a quick description of your business that highlights your USP – you can use it to succinctly answer the question ‘what do you do?’. As well as using this pitch in person when someone asks about your business, you can use it on your social media profiles, your website and physical marketing materials like leaflets. This will help consumers quickly understand your business and USP.

Finally, your USP should inform your overall marketing plan. For example, this USP will help you identify your goals and target audience so you can be more focused and effective in future marketing campaigns. Plus, you should be doing market research when coming up with your USP. This knowledge of your competitors will help you discover what marketing approaches seem to be the most effective in your industry.

2. Print business cards

Digital marketing and social media marketing are all the rage right now, but sometimes the old methods can be just as effective, especially for local marketing. If you haven’t already, make sure you print some business cards to hand out to new connections, other business owners and even friends and family. This will expose more people to your business and also make it look more professional and legitimate – all at a low cost.

3. Start a referral program

Word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools you can use. In fact, 88% of consumers say that they trust recommendations from people they know above all other forms of marketing, and this is reflected in the fact that word-of-mouth marketing generates five times more sales than paid media impressions.

You could hope that your loyal customers will sing your praises for free – by providing them with excellent products and services, it’s more likely that they’ll do this. However, to give your word-of-mouth marketing a bit of a boost, it’s a good idea to start a customer referral program. With this type of program, you’ll offer loyal customers an incentive (such as a free product or free subscription) to refer a friend to your business. This is a fantastic way to gain new customers at a minimal cost to your business.

4. Be active on social media

If you want to succeed in the overcrowded market today, you absolutely must have a social media presence. With the rise of online shopping and ecommerce, many consumers now discover and purchase from brands all from the comfort of their own home. Social media platforms are therefore a key area where you need to be promoting your business.

Depending on your target audience and their most common social media platforms, you should create an account on all major social media sites (such as Facebook, Instagram, X and TikTok), making sure that your branding is consistent and easily recognisable across all of them. Then, we would recommend creating a social media calendar that encourages you to post regularly. You could post articles from your blog, use hashtags to jump on trends, run polls, create concise and informative thought leadership content, and interact directly with your audience.

Creating an online community is a key part of building trust and loyalty between your business and your customers. Plus, if you’re regularly finding ways to post relevant content that aligns with current trends (and using hashtags for visibility), you can reach more customers than ever before and win people over with your humour, honesty and/or thought leadership.

5. Host giveaways

Struggling to get engagement on social media? A great way to grab people’s attention is to host an online giveaway – who doesn’t love free stuff?

Hosting an online giveaway is really simple. All you need to do is create a social media post offering free products or services to one lucky person who enters the competition, with the requirement that all participants either follow your accounts, tag you in a post or sign up to your email newsletter. The prospect of winning a prize will create a lot of buzz among consumers, leading to you gaining a lot more followers and mentions on social media.

Although you’ll need to make a small investment when offering a prize, the actual cost of a few free products will pale in comparison to the potential conversions you could get after significantly expanding your online presence. Make sure you offer something enticing to really get people interested in your brand!

6. Leverage user-generated content

Social media also gives you the opportunity to leverage user-generated content (UGC), which can help you market your business for free and build a greater amount of trust.

The marketing trend of ‘user-generated content’ encompasses things like reviews, videos and images of your products that real people (not paid by your business) post online. If you leverage this content correctly, it can spread the word about your brand and encourage people to shop with you in a more organic way – remember that recommendations from real people can be more effective at driving sales than other forms of marketing.

So, if you notice that customers have posted positively about your brand, make sure you leverage UGC by featuring it on your website or social media profiles (with permission from the original poster). Encourage customers to tag your brand in posts featuring your products so you can share them on your official social media accounts.

7. Get into influencer marketing

If you have a bit more money to spend in your marketing budget, you could take things one step further by getting into influencer marketing. Many people online trust their favourite influencers when they feature and recommend products, so your business could potentially tap into a whole new customer base by partnering with an influencer and reaching out to their followers.

If you want an influencer to publish content about your business and actively promote it, you’ll need to pay them for their work. This could be an issue for small businesses with a lean marketing budget, but another option would be to send out free products to influencers in a relevant niche. There would be no obligation for them to post about the products, but if they do, this is a very cost-effective way for you to gain more exposure. Plus, if they like your products/services and promote them organically, they may be willing to work with you officially in the future once your marketing budget grows.

8. Create a Google Business Profile

If you haven’t created a free Google Business Profile yet, you need to get on this straight away. By signing up for this free account, Google will verify your business and ensure that it shows up on Search and Maps when consumers type in local keywords related to your company (more on this below).

By completing and optimising this Google Business Profile, you can make sure that your business appears as high as possible in search results. You can also get your business to show up prominently in local listings and have a knowledge panel on the right hand side of the screen when people search for your business directly. This knowledge panel will include vital information such as your address, your phone number, a link to your website, images and real reviews from customers.

9. Learn about SEO

All website owners need to get to grips with the basics of SEO (search engine optimisation) if they want to reach more consumers organically. The bottom line is that you want Google to be able to crawl your website easily, understand its intent, and then rank it highly in search results for relevant keywords that your target audience is searching for.

Basic SEO principles include creating a sitemap for your website to aid crawling and incorporating keywords into your content, meta tags, meta descriptions and headers. To do this, you need to conduct keyword research using tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs to discover which terms your target audience is searching for. Then, make sure you create content that directly addresses these terms and answers the key questions that consumers are asking. Google rewards web pages that are actually helpful to people rather than just relying on keyword stuffing, so you need to strike a balance between appealing to the search engine’s algorithms and writing people-first web content.

Want to learn more about SEO? Read our helpful guide to SEO for beginners.

Local SEO

Small businesses are unlikely to be able to compete with large businesses for the most popular keywords. Therefore, it’s better to focus on improving local SEO rankings so you can target people searching for relevant terms in your local area, rather than trying to compete on an international scale.

Google always wants to show the most relevant and helpful results to its users, which is why it often tries to offer local results. To ensure that your business shows up in searches by local consumers, try to incorporate location-based keywords into your website’s headings and content. You could also write location-specific blog posts to be more helpful for customers in your local area. It’s easier to rank for these local keywords, which means your website will be more likely to appear at the top of search results and get more traffic.

10. Start a blog

Content marketing is a key part of a successful SEO strategy. Google rewards helpful content that actually answers the questions users are asking, so creating an informative blog is a great way to answer all of people’s key questions about your business and industry. By hosting a WordPress blog on your business’s domain that covers topics relevant to your business, you can get more web pages to the top of search results. Plus, this provides you with the opportunity to incorporate more relevant keywords to boost search engine rankings.

As your blog grows, you’ll position your brand as a trusted thought leader in your industry. This will help you earn the trust of more consumers, which can increase traffic to your site and main commercial pages. As your traffic increases, Google will view your website as more authoritative and worthy of higher rankings, leading to even more traffic and creating a positive feedback loop.

Hiring a content team can get expensive, but remember that you can start small if you don’t have an extensive budget. Try writing your own blog posts if you can’t hire a full-time writer, or hire a freelancer to write articles for you on a regular basis. Remember to be clear and consistent for the best results!

Repurpose old content

Creating a content calendar is a fantastic way to organise your blog and ensure you’re adding fresh content for Google to crawl and rank on a regular basis. However, while creating new content is always beneficial, don’t forget about your old content when putting your calendar together.

Make sure you revisit old articles after several months to give them an update – this can help you increase search rankings as much as possible. Another great marketing idea is to repurpose old content that’s not performing well by turning it into informative how-to videos, infographics, podcasts and product demonstrations. This can give your old content a new lease of life and help you appeal to a broader audience.

11. Create infographics and data-led content

Want to get your content seen by more people? Write content that people want to share by focusing on data-led pieces and creating easy-to-follow infographics. If collecting your own data is too time-consuming or expensive, you can always use freely available data such as statistics from government organisations. By picking out thought-provoking data, you can encourage your audience to share your content and their own opinions on it.

Another benefit of creating data-led content is that these posts are more likely to gain backlinks from well-known publications that want to report on your statistics. In addition to exposing your content to a wider audience, these links will show Google that your site is credible and authoritative, which can boost your search engine rankings. 

Gaining online press coverage and backlinks is a key part of digital PR (public relations). To learn more about this topic, read our beginner’s guide to PR.

12. Improve your email marketing efforts

Are you getting the most out of your email marketing campaigns? Email marketing can be an amazing way to improve your relationships with your customers and push them further along the sales funnel, but your current efforts may not be giving you the results you need.

Simply sending out bland, spammy emails on a regular basis isn’t going to pique the interest of your customers. Instead, focus on offering genuine value in your email newsletter by providing informative, entertaining content that’s relevant to your audience. You should also create generous offers for your loyal customers to encourage them to make a purchase.

13. Enter industry competitions

If there are any local or national business awards in your particular industry, make sure you submit an application. Even if you aren’t successful, being longlisted or shortlisted for an award is a great achievement. By adding this to your website and marketing materials, you’ll increase the reputation and credibility of your business, helping you reach more consumers and improve conversions.

14. Attend networking events

Another way to boost your business’s reputation in your industry is to make more connections at local networking events. This will give you the opportunity to network with other small business owners and discuss your experiences, or you can get important advice from larger and more established companies. There may also be seminars and workshops you can attend to improve vital business skills like leadership, communication, marketing and sales.

15. Get involved with local events

You don’t only have to attend events directly related to your business or industry. In fact, attending or sponsoring more general events in your community can improve local brand awareness and reputation. For example, you could get involved in events such as summer fetes, farmers markets and local sports to build local connections and establish your business as a key part of the local community. Not only will you get to chat to potential customers, but you can also network with other small businesses in the area.

16. Host your own events and webinars

In addition to attending events, why not host your own? Although hosting your own business networking event, community event or industry event could potentially be more pricey, you can keep things more budget-friendly by limiting the venue size.

Another idea is to host a class or seminar about a topic you have expertise in. This is a great way to show your thought leadership and make new connections in your industry. To keep things cheaper and more accessible, you could host a webinar and advertise it on your social media and email marketing newsletter.

17. Partner with other businesses

When meeting other business owners at networking events, the opportunity may arise to form a partnership with another small business in your area. You should aim to form a partnership with a business in a relevant industry, but not a direct competitor.

Before you make a proposal, make sure you think of mutually beneficial joint venture ideas that can boost brand awareness for both businesses. Depending on your industry, you could design a range of products together, create a joint subscription with bundled services, or host an event together. Through business collaboration, you could potentially get even more exposure due to the larger budget available and the reputation of your partner.

18. Ask for customer testimonials

Customer testimonials are a fantastic tool for building trust between you and potential customers. All business owners hope that customers who’ve had a good experience will leave a positive review, but unfortunately many people forget to write their own customer testimonial. To try and increase the number of reviews for your business, don’t be afraid to ask for them from loyal customers. You can use your marketing materials to remind people to leave reviews, or you can include this reminder in your email marketing.

19. Try guerrilla marketing

Guerrilla marketing is a disruptive marketing technique that uses the element of surprise to create unconventional displays that communicate with audiences and grab their attention. For example, this could involve plastering branded stickers around your local area, creating a thought-provoking street art installation, or organising a flash mob. These eye-catching publicity stunts are a creative way to capture people’s attention and generate some buzz for your brand, especially in your local area (although social media now allows these stunts to be spread around the world in mere minutes).

Best of all, these guerrilla marketing techniques can be very budget-friendly. Rather than focusing on flashy, expensive ad campaigns, guerrilla marketing is all about being creative and unconventional, so start brainstorming!

20. Invest in Facebook ads

With over a billion daily users, Facebook is one of the most important platforms for you to target. Simply having an active Facebook presence can be a great boost for your business, but to get the most out of this social media platform, we would definitely recommend running your own Facebook ads.

The average cost per click of Facebook advertising is actually pretty low, which is why even small businesses can get a lot of value from Facebook ads. Plus, when creating your ads in Facebook Ad Manager, you’ll have the option to filter your ads so they’re only seen by a particular age group or people with certain interests. This lets you communicate directly with your target audience, increasing your chances of success.

21. Don’t forget about LinkedIn

LinkedIn isn’t just a place to find jobs, post job opportunities and accept connections. When used effectively, LinkedIn can actually be a fantastic tool for building brand awareness and reputation.

In addition to posting regularly on other social media platforms, make sure you keep a regular schedule on LinkedIn too. This is the perfect place to post thought leadership content to show your expertise in your industry. As well as posting, you can also comment on other posts to add your thoughts. Always be professional and knowledgeable – avoid getting involved in heated discussions, as this could negatively impact your reputation!

Setting up your own business can be tough, but we’re here to help. Visit our Business Hub for more advice on how to create a business plan, conduct market research, use marketing tools and much more.