Whether you’re just starting out or funds are tight for whatever reason, there are some things you just cannot do without and you’ll need to find a way to get them done on a shoestring budget. Since you won’t be able to sell anything if no one knows that your business exists, marketing is certainly one of those things. But just because it’s inexpensive doesn't mean it won’t be effective. In fact, some of the most effective forms of marketing can be done on the smallest of budgets.
You can get low-cost business cards online from websites like Vistaprint.com and PrintsMadeEasy.com, or depending on how tight your budget really is, make them on your own printer with your computer. Do not use the free versions of business cards that some sites offer, but if you find a coupon or get a discount code you can get cards inexpensively. It may be an older way of marketing but it still works.
When you go to any event, be sure to leave your business card. When you have any reason to hand out your phone number to anyone, for any reason, give them your business card. You never know when someone will need the services you offer or when your friends and family will meet up with someone who they could tell about your services. Hand your cards out freely.
Build a Website with a Blog
Using self-hosted sites like WordPress makes having a professional looking website with a blog really easy. You can get free themes off WordPress.org, buy a domain for about 15 dollars, and host your website for as low as 5 dollars a month. Every penny of that cost is worth it.
If you’re technologically deficient and can’t afford to hire someone to make it for you, consider using a website builder that offers a blog function. You want the blog to be on your website and not separate from your website like a Blogger or WordPress.com blog. However you choose to do this, the next step is to write regular, informative, keyword-rich blog posts that you promote via social media.
Use Social Media to Promote Everything
It is important to set up branded social media accounts for your business but you don’t have to be on every social media network. Instead, use the knowledge that you have about your audience to choose which social media networks will work best for you. Keep high quality, up-to-date profiles that represent your brand in a cohesive way.
When you write a blog post, send it to social media. When you take a picture of something, or have a question about something you’re creating, mention it on social media. Use social media to engage your audience in creative ways. You can use social media to get email list signups, promote events, and more – all free.
Find a Joint Venture Partner for a Project
A JV partnership is not a real business partnership. It’s a joining of forces or collaboration between complementary business owners who share an audience but are not in direct competition. Finding a project to work on like this can essentially help you both double your audience.
Make the JV partnership a time-limited project that has a definite start and end point. Determine all the rules and how money will be handled up front and put it all in a contract. Define each aspect of the work that each of you will be responsible for completing. Be clear and stick to the plan and you’ll both come out successful.
Write a Book
If you’re an expert on anything you can write a book about that topic. You can publish it easily on Kindle or promote it as a PDF document right from your website. You can sell it, or give it away for free. It’s up to you. Books can push you forward in the eyes of your audience as a true expert and they can become a calling card for you.
Get on the Speaking Circuit
Using your book as a foundation, put the word out that you’re ready to give talks locally. For the cost of a ticket, room and board, you can also go to other speaking events out of town. Sometimes, you can even get paid for speaking once you’re established and in demand. Speaking is not only a relatively cost-free marketing strategy, but it can also be a source of income.
When you really have no money, a great way to get the word out is to create a lot of buzz. This can be done through any number of the previously mentioned strategies, the important this is to get people thinking and talking about you. Create a video, write a controversial blog post, or have a contest with videos that get voted on by the video creator's friends, family and audience. It’s a great way to get people talking and to get free advertising. Offer a relevant and amazing prize package and it’ll also create buzz.
Build Relationships through Networking
Choose networking events wisely. You want to network with people who can become clients, or who can send you clients. Since your budget is limited, try to find online or local networking events that you can attend. There are many mastermind groups online that have a small fee for joining but are awesome ways to find clients once you spend the time building relationships and developing trust.
A really great way to increase your customer base is to convince your customers to refer you to others. Most of the time satisfied customers will tell others about you, but in some cases they may not because they want to keep you to themselves. This is especially true with service-based businesses. In this case, a great way to overcome the issue is to give your customers a reason to tell others about you. Offer a discount coupon or additional freebies for each paying customer that people send your way.
If you sell products, consider starting an affiliate program as a way to get more people to tell others about your products and make more sales without it costing you anything more than a percentage of those sales.
Using these marketing ideas when you have little to no money will take mostly time, especially if you need to learn how to use the technology. However, putting to work even a couple of these ideas will push your business forward.