Ever heard the phrase, “Nothing happens until a sale is made?” Thomas Watson Sr., chairman and CEO of IBM from 1914 to 1956, said it many years ago—and it’s truer than ever today.


In order to get sales, however, you need to market your business. And when you’re just starting a business, money can be tight. How do you get the word out about your new business on a shoestring budget? Here are six free and low-cost marketing ideas:


1. Create content your target market needs.

Whether it’s blog posts published on your website, homemade YouTube videos or articles you contribute to an industry publication, creating helpful and educational content for your target market builds credibility and awareness of your business. The tactic is also very affordable: It just requires some time and perhaps a couple of low-cost tools, such as basic video-editing software. You also might consider writing for local publications that accept submissions.


2. Maximize social media and low-cost advertising tools.

Many startups today use social media, whether Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook, to engage their target audience, sharing updates, videos, photos, blog posts and early customer success stories. Setting up social media accounts for a business is free, and most sites offer extra engagement tools for businesses and low-cost advertising options that let you target ads to your audience based on geography, age, profession and other demographics. On Instagram, for example, the average cost-per-click on an ad ranges from 70 cents to $1, according to HubSpot.


3. Create and enhance your Google My Business profile.

New businesses should set up a Google My Business profile, as it helps ensure people in your local area can find you online when they search for businesses like yours. Ivana Taylor, the publisher of DIYMarketers.com, says Google My Business is one of her favorite free marketing tools because so many consumers use it to look up a business’s operating hours or phone number, or even to book an appointment.


“Make the most of those searches by using more features, including adding pictures and video,” Taylor says. A business owner can even take a picture of a review it received and upload it to its Google My Business profile, she says.


4. Ask customers to leave online reviews and recommendations.

Early customers are a great marketing resource, says John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, which provides small business consulting and training. He recommends offering early customers a discount or even free product or services in exchange for them providing reviews and case studies. “The key is to make sure to gain agreement upfront that you will be using the information in a case study, testimonial and/or a review,” he says.


For example, you can ask customers to leave a review on their Google profile or a LinkedIn recommendation (which can be especially beneficial for professional service firms).


Early customers are a great marketing resource.


5. Get free publicity.

One of the oldest “cheap” marketing tricks is getting media coverage, whether from a local newspaper, magazine or TV news station. But today there are also many websites tailored to specific niche topics that your target market might frequent. The secret to getting free coverage is having a good story to tell: Have you encountered and overcome a challenge that people would want to read about? Have you done something impressive, or do you sell something unique? Has your product helped a customer in an unexpected way? If you have had an experience like that, you can pitch the story to the writers and publications that would most likely be interested in it.


Forging relationships with local reporters and making yourself accessible to them—even if they just want to get a local business owner’s perspective on whatever they’re writing about—is a great first step.


6. Find strategic partners.

Jantsch recommends new businesses partner up to forge mutually beneficial relationships. For instance, he knows about an electrical contractor, a plumber and an HVAC technician that partnered together. Each time any of them made a service call, they would drop off a special offer from the other two partners. By doing something like this, you’re helping your strategic partners provide value to their clients while getting exposure for your business.


“Seek out other businesses that sell to your target market, and figure out something that would be valuable to their customers,” Jantsch advises.


Marketing a new business doesn’t have to be expensive—and many of the best ways are very affordable.

Print this article