Marketing on a budget

You don’t have to have a hefty marketing budget to run effective marketing campaigns for your business and there are many marketing techniques that can work well when you only have a small budget.

Guide

16 min read

1. Can you market on a budget?

Marketing is a very important exercise for most businesses, both large and small. And for many businesses, marketing requires a sizeable budget. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to spend a lot of money on marketing to gain significant benefits. Often small and growing businesses need to market their products or services with only a small budget.

There are a number of cost-effective marketing techniques available to small businesses, and with the growing number of tools and platforms available, it has never been easier to market your business with a limited budget. Spent wisely, even a modest investment can deliver both short and long-term benefits to a business.

When your budget is very tight, it's important that all activity is as effective as possible - you don’t want to waste your money on ineffective marketing campaigns! Proper planning is vital.

2. What do you want to achieve?

Define your marketing purpose

Set firm objectives for your marketing activities to keep them on track. First, clarify your purpose - WHY are you doing this?

Write down some need statements, relating to the specific challenges you face, that start “we need to use marketing to….”. For example:

“We need to use marketing to….”

  • raise awareness of our business, service or product

  • find and generate new leads from potential customers

  • drive sales in the short term

  • drive more feet through the door of our physical premises

S.M.A.R.T

Now, drill down deeper and set actionable objectives for your marketing campaign. To be focused and achievable, these objectives must be S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Time-driven).

So for example, if your purpose is “to let people know that our product exists and drive more sales”, one of your SMART objectives could be:

“To drive 1000 visitors per month to the website and achieve 10% enquiry rate and achieve 120 sales within the next 6 months”.

For more details on SMART goals see our article on setting objectives.

3. Who are you targeting?

To get the most bang for your buck, your marketing must be as targeted as possible. You want to get your message in front of the right people, and to do that, you must understand your audience - who they are, where they are, and what they want.

Create some audience personas

Audience personas (also known as 'pen portraits') are generalised representations of your ideal customers. They provide detailed information about these fictional customers, and they each represent one of your key target audience groups. (You will likely have a few different ‘groups’ within your target audience.)

Think about who your ideal customers are, and write down what you can about them. Consider the following:

Who are they?

  • Job, income and career path

  • House type and family situation (married, young kids, etc)

  • Demographics such as age, gender, location

  • What are their hobbies and interests

  • Media and tech preferences, such as what websites, social platforms they use, which newspapers they read, which brands they follow, etc.

What do they want?

  • What do they aim to achieve by using your product or service? E.g. “I want to learn a new language.”

  • What competitors do they use and why

  • When and how often do they consume/use your product or service?

  • What problems or pain points do they need to overcome which could be solved by your product or service?

  • Why would they not use your product or service

Why would they want to do business with you?

  • What are your USPs

  • What can you offer to help them? Describe your solution to the persona directly and succinctly e.g. “Flexible at home language tuition.”

  • What messaging will convince them to buy? Sell your persona on the benefits of your solution.

For more information on personas see our guide to advertising.

4. Get more from your existing customers

It is well known that retaining your existing customers is much cheaper than acquiring new ones! You should ensure that you nurture your existing customers to aim for repeat custom. Make sure you build and maintain your relationship with your existing customer base in each customer interaction or sale.

Focus on customer retention

There are many ways low-budget ways to support customer retention. These include:

  • make a memorable (and positive!) first impression when they first purchase your product or service

  • talk to your customers and find out their needs and wants or give them an opportunity to feedback - how can you give them what they want?

  • consider whether you can offer any personalisation of service for regular customers - treat them just as well as you would new customers if not better (i.e. don’t offer discounts only to new customers if you are driving to retain existing customers)

  • keep in touch - send email updates and exclusive offers (where you have permission to do so)

  • keep an eye on competitors to see what they are offering and remain attractive for existing customers

  • move to a retainer or subscription model for existing customers

  • introduce a loyalty scheme to keep customers coming back

Encourage referrals from existing clients

Referrals from satisfied customers endorsing your business are a great way of getting new customers. So if a client tells you they're happy with some work you have done for them, ask them to recommend you to other potential customers.

Consider offering incentives (such as a discount on their next order) for every new customer an existing client points in your direction.

5. Networking and events

Focusing on your own networking and attending events can be a great way to get your business out there and raise your profile for a relatively modest budget.

Networking

By growing your own network you can make connections which may prove beneficial and you can raise your own profile and potentially find new customers. This is particularly effective for B2B and professional services businesses.

  • LinkedIn. Make sure that you have filled in all elements of your LinkedIn profiles, both for your personal profile and your company profile. Add new photos if these are looking tired and start getting active. Make connections, react, comment and post. This can be done with no budget at all.

  • Networking events. Attend small business events or industry specific networking events and conferences to get in front of new people, discuss ideas, raise your profile, and potentially reach new customers. Depending on the events these can be free to attend or relatively low cost.

  • Membership. Look to become a member of any industry bodies that hold events and seminars. This will generally require some budget but can be relatively affordable.

Industry events

Depending on your business it may be useful to attend industry events where you can meet and sell directly to potential customers or clients. You can either attend as a participant with an entrance ticket (with the aim of making connections) or you could purchase event space. If you hold event space you will obviously need to pay for the stand and any signage (plus travel) but depending on the event or the industry these costs can be accessible.

If you are a small shop or maker, seller fairs can be a key sales channel. Although these require budget (and a lot of planning and preparation) the costs can be accessible and could be worth it if there is sufficient footfall for you to make many sales.

Thought-leadership

Another relatively low cost marketing technique is to become a ‘thought-leader’ by positioning yourself as an expert in your field. Again this is particularly for B2B businesses (such as tax advisers, consultants, etc) but can also work well for B2C businesses (e.g. if you sell wild swimming gear, and become an authority on the best wild swimming spots, safety precautions, etc). Although this approach takes time, it can be achieved with very little outlay.

  • Create blog and article content on your website, and informative content for your social media platforms - such as Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok, etc.

  • Contact industry press and local media with informative stories or to let them know you’re available for comment.

  • Volunteer to speak at events or seminars.

6. Digital channels

Success in digital marketing can be achieved with a modest budget with careful planning and clever targeting. There is a wealth of information available about how to run digital marketing online and on the Business Gateway website.

Find out more about each channel in our digital marketing guide.

Google Business Profile

With a Google Business Profile you can create a free business listing which will appear in Google Search and Google Maps, when someone carries out a ‘local’ search for your type of business. Your Business Profile allows you to add information about your business, photos, add FAQs, and respond to reviews.

If your business serves customers face-to-face in a specific local area (e.g. a cafe, car garage, etc), then a Business Profile with Google can be invaluable to help you gain new customers, by ensuring people searching in your area see you. This profile requires no budget and is free, however do be aware that you will need to monitor and manage your profile on an ongoing basis. You do not own your listing and you do not have full control over it - Google does. Users can suggest edits, upload photos, etc.

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

SEO is the process of configuring your website to help it appear higher up in the organic (free) search engine results when people are searching for the products or services you offer. It can be a great channel, particularly if your website is a key business platform or is an important step in persuading potential customers (i.e if they need to browse and read your site before they buy).

Holding high rankings on relevant terms puts you right in front of often large numbers of customers, when they are actively searching for the products or services you offer.

It is technically free (as you don’t pay to rank), however it can take large amounts of time and effort to hold top rankings, particularly for competitive search terms. Try to aim for the ‘long-tail’ multi work niche terms first (e.g. if you sell padel tennis gear, don’t target ‘padel rackets’, target ‘best junior padel rackets for 8 year olds’).

If you decide to work with an expert you will obviously need budget for their services.

Social media and paid social

Social activity

It is likely that your customers are using social media, which means that perhaps you should too (if you’re not already), particularly if you know which platforms your target audience use. And better still, creating an engaging presence on social media can be done with no budget outlay (although you may want some budget for paid social).

Your social platforms can be an excellent way of both finding and persuading new customers - as well as building relationships with existing clients and managing customer support. Ensure you are creating engaging content and are up to date with all of the latest trends and techniques.

Paid social

Running some paid social campaigns to promote existing posts can boost your reach and engagements.

Paid social can be a great medium for raising awareness of your products, creating demand and even driving sales. Your social ad budget can be as large or as small as you want, as you set the budgets (remember with more budget you’ll reach more people). You can also create the ads yourself.

You may decide to work with an expert, which will obviously require budget for their services.

Pay Per Click (PPC)

PPC can be an excellent way of targeting and attracting new customers or driving sales, particularly if you sell your products online. With PPC you pay to appear in the search engine results for specific search terms, and you only pay once a user clicks on your ad.

PPC can work well with small budgets as your ads can be highly targeted - both to specific search terms and to set geographic locations. You can set a daily ad budget to keep your budgets under control (although you will need to monitor the performance of your account closely to avoid spiralling costs or wasted click spend). Look at your website data (on platforms such as Google Analytics or Shopify) to see whether any organic keywords perform well, and target these with your PPC ads.

You may wish to work with an expert to set up and run your ads, which would require budget for their fee on top of any spend.

7. Local marketing

If your business targets a local area, local marketing can often be carried out with very modest budgets. Local marketing is relevant for businesses with physical premises (such as shops, garages, cafés, salons, restaurants, etc) or those who offer a service to customers within a specific location, (such as childminders, trade businesses, dog walkers, etc).

Local marketing techniques include:

  • Flyering. Designing and printing flyers (such as leaflets, menus and brochures) and posting these through doors in the local area. These can be designed on free tools like Canva and hand-delivered, so the only budget needed would be printing costs.

  • Signage. Create eye-catching signage to be placed on or near your business premises, such as your premises sign, sandwich boards, direction arrows, etc. (Remember that you may need permission.) For professional shop signage this will incur a cost to design and create the sign, however is a one-off fee. On a very low budget you could look at lower cost options such as window stickers and chalkboards.

  • Vehicle ads. Magnetic or stick-on ads for your own car and any business vehicles can be a cost effective way of advertising in the areas (include your contact details, logo and short descriptor).

  • Ads in local businesses. You can often pin posters or postcards to the windows or notice boards of local businesses (with permission of course). For example, posters in café windows, supermarket boards, local leisure or community centres, etc. This would incur only printing costs if you had the items professionally printed, although for some ads you could print at home.

  • Local outdoor ads. You can rent local outdoor advertising space such as billboards at bus stops, stations, or roundabout islands, and display large scale ads or posters advertising your business. These do require some budget (the level of which depends but it can be more expensive in competitive areas) for the design and print costs and buying the media space, but are cheaper than running national ads.

  • Local Facebook groups. There are likely to be local Facebook groups in your area where local businesses can do monthly posts or answer queries. Participation in these is free but it does take time and patience to build relationships. Make sure to follow the group rules, and be helpful and professional in posts and responses.

  • Local press. Placing print ads in your local press such as small neighbourhood circulars, regional newspapers, or local magazines and directories.

  • Local events. Get involved in your local community and sponsor local events. You can provide vouchers or items for local charity or school raffles, or sponsor tables at local community events. This is a cheap and effective way to get involved and raise your profile, particularly at popular events. You could also host your own local events, but this obviously requires more budget.

8. Tools to consider

There are numerous tools and platforms available for small businesses to design and create their own marketing assets and platforms. Many of these are free or very low cost.

For example:

  • Canva is a great free tool for designing many different kinds of marketing material, including flyers, menus, posters, social posts, display ads, email banners, etc. (Remember you are responsible for your ads, so do not use any copyright or trademarked terms or images.)

  • Capcut can help you edit short videos to use in social posts or ads. (Remember you are responsible for your video content, do not use any copyright or trademarked terms or images.)

  • Squarespace is a website builder that enables you to design and build your own site (with no real tech experience) for a small monthly fee.

  • Social ad platforms enable you to create, target and manage your social ads easily.

  • Google Ads is an easy to use platforms for running your PPC ads.

9. Regulations

There are rules and regulations around how businesses advertise within the UK to ensure that consumers are not misled and are treated fairly. When running any advertising or marketing it's critical that you understand and follow all your legal obligations as an advertiser. It is your responsibility to research and follow these regulations.

These rules are enforced by the Advertising Standards Agency. Check out their advice for small businesses to get you started.

You must also adhere to data protection laws, including GDPR. For more information see the Information Commissioner’s Office website.

10. Evaluate your results

As with all marketing, it's important to track your results and evaluate these against your goals. Particularly when budgets are tight, you want to ensure that you are getting as much back for every pound spent. Track your ROI and measure you marketing results against your objectives.

  • Ask new customers where they heard about you.

  • Benchmark your business stats before you begin, and compare with the stats after your campaign (e.g. daily/weekly traffic levels, sales, leads, etc).

  • For digital marketing, review any online data you have such as website traffic levels, ad impressions, ad clicks, online sales, etc. Also look at the traffic sources of this traffic and sales. (Ensure you have the correct permissions to use this data and that you adhere to all data protection laws and regulations and GDPR, see the ICO for more details.)

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You can connect with us through the contact form, call us or contact your local Business Gateway office.

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