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Article · Jan 25, 2017

Five ways to market your business on a shoestring budget

Color illustration of piggy bank receiving cash.

Once upon a time, it cost a fortune to get the word out about your business. Just think of the 1960s, when iconic advertising campaigns like the “Pepsi Generation,” or Volkswagen’s “Think Small” shot to prominence, taking over the airwaves, televisions, newspapers and magazines of an entire generation.

Now, thanks to the power of the Internet, it’s possible to market your business on a shoestring budget. Let’s take a look at some of the techniques you can use to attract attention and get your brand and products out there.

1. Create an excellent blog
It’s really hard to understate the importance of a good blog, even if you aren’t actively seeking to climb to the top of Google’s search rankings. After all, a blog can accomplish three critical goals for your business: create fascinating, unique content, establish a distinct, identifiable brand and voice, and capture attention and users.

In fact, marketing company HubSpot has created a groundbreaking marketing strategy, known as the Inbound Methodology, centered around content like blogs and social media. While there are a number of steps involved, the key to Inbound Marketing is that content attracts users, who then visit your site, and are gradually converted into leads and closed.

Inbound Marketing Model

Still, blogging for business has some caveats. Keep in mind that you need to specialize in order to stand out from the crowd. For instance, if you run a solar energy company, you can take your readers on a tour of the factories that produce your panels, or explain the installation of panels on a house versus an apartment.

Additionally, you need to turn out useful, interesting content that doesn’t directly advertise your products—and don’t be afraid to give away (some of) your business knowledge. For instance, marketing agency Single Grain runs a comprehensive blog that covers everything from email marketing to effective SEO techniques relevant to 2017. Rather than hiding their secrets, Single Grain is actually giving potential clients bits and pieces of their proprietary knowledge—and building their brand and reputation in the process.

Also, blogging is cheap, especially if you already have an existing website. Adding a Wordpress template will cost you under $200 a year, particularly if you can score a deal on web hosting services. Granted, if you wish to purchase extra themes for your blog, it may cost more—but these extra services are generally one-time costs.

2. Use video marketing
If you have an eye for video and time to produce, sites like YouTube and Vimeo can be excellent marketing tools. As with blogging, video marketing allows you to create interesting, dynamic video content that can really establish both your brand (as well as that of your company). In fact, videos can be far more immersive than blog entries; imagine taking potential customers on a 360-degree video tour of your solar panel factory, putting them straight into the action.

Unfortunately, the disadvantage of YouTube marketing is that unlike blogging, there are higher production costs. For instance, you’ll have to arrange your sets, shoot video, edit video, add music and post-production effects before posting the finished product on YouTube.

3. Market by email
Email marketing is a critical step of the inbound marketing funnel, particularly the conversion and closing process. When you have a great blog or YouTube channel, you can be assured that users will continue to return in order to check out your updated content—but unless you gently nudge them along, they won’t necessarily make the jump from casual viewer of content to customer.

Therefore, email marketing must be used in conjunction with blogging and YouTube videos in order to be effective. As Nathan Hangen writes, to begin email marketing, companies have to first get users’ permission to email them; anything else, and overzealous companies run the risk of being labeled as spam, abusive, or worse.

In fact, email marketing has taken the place of direct mail—and expanded on it as well, allowing for a dimension of engagement and targeting that was previously impossible. Because the best email marketers understand segmentation (dividing lists into smaller niches), the importance of targeted, functional content, and how to build and maintain a healthy email list, a good email newsletter can earn up to 4,300% ROI.

4. Hire freelancers to create your content
In order to build engagement and attract users, you need to create original, funny, unexpected and useful content—or hire someone to create such content for you. Fortunately, the rise of the remote freelancer economy has made great writers more affordable, because they’re willing to trade pay and benefits for increased autonomy.

Consider hiring student freelancers, for example. While students do have busy schedules, especially during exam times, they make up for this by being cheap, hungry for work and eager to please. After all, budding creatives (art students, copywriters, graphic designers) are always looking to build or expand a portfolio, which is often a key requirement for applications in industries like advertising and design.

Frankly, hiring a student is a win-win scenario: small business owners get affordable content, and the student can earn money and fantastic experience for their resume/portfolio.

5. Use crowdfunding websites
Of all the marketing techniques here, using Kickstarter or Indiegogo is the only option that will directly pay you back for your efforts—at least if you attract a lot of attention. But as counterintuitive as it may seem, crowdfunding as marketing is a fantastic resource for a number of reasons.

Oculus Rift

First, crowdfunding sites already have an established audience, making it ideal for entrepreneurs seeking to raise the profile of their products or company. Because of its democratic nature (users vote on the viability of a product by donating money), crowdfunding is a low-risk way to test your product, drum up some buzz and perhaps earn some R&D money at the same time. Most importantly, companies can engage potential customers and work together to build products. Not only can customers reach out with suggestions and feedback, the company must respond—especially if they want to garner lots of votes and likes.

Bear in mind that crowdfunding as marketing works best for specific products, and not necessarily for services. The best example is the Oculus Rift, the groundbreaking VR headset that raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter, before finally being sold to Facebook for a whopping $2 billion. While we can’t promise you success on that scale, we can assure you that crowdfunding as a marketing tool is here to stay.

Ultimately, whether you blog, create videos, or crowdfund, there are plenty of ways to market your business on the cheap. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to find, connect with, and sell to plenty of customers who need your products and services. Make it easier for them to find you!


Meredith Wood

Editor-in-Chief at Fundera

Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business financial solutions. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more.

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