3 low-cost advertising and promotion ideas for small businesses

3 low-cost advertising and promotion ideas for small businesses


Lion Amir Virani

Lion Amir Virani

156 week ago — 8 min read

1 challenge
“I want to quickly grow my customer base and boost my brand value. But I don’t have the budget to advertise. I’m just a small business!”

2 questions
“What are some affordable advertising/promotion avenues I can explore?”
“How can I leverage them effectively without breaking the bank?”

3 ideas

  • Promote your business every time you communicate
  • Leverage the power of the community
  • Go social on social media

Many small businesses rely on “word of mouth” (WOM) in lieu of advertising. After all, if people are saying good things about you to people they know – it’s free publicity, right?

Yes, WOM is great publicity. It’s free. It’s voluntary. And it’s a great way to build trust with your audience or potential customer base. However, it’s also slow, difficult to control and almost impossible to measure. For example, how can you tell if WOM over the past year has generated additional sales for your business?

Answer: you can’t!

And if your business is new and still finding its feet, WOM is practically non-existent. After all, people don’t know you well enough to talk about you. So if WOM is not an option for your small business, how can you still promote it?

Well, if you want to grow your customer base and create a solid foundation as a reliable business, you have to do some advertising and promotions. This is especially true in the post-COVID world where anxieties are high and trust in businesses is low.

Your challenge: I don’t have the budget to advertise

The answer: There are several advertising/ promotion avenues you can explore without burning a hole in your pocket. Ready to explore these avenues? Let’s get started!

Idea #1: Promote your business every time you communicate (with anyone!)
As a small business owner, you probably hand out a business card every time you meet a new prospect or attend a networking event. Make such exchanges count! Talk about your business, its USP and its purpose. Let people know how they will benefit by collaborating with or dealing with your firm. Ask them about their business challenges and if your company can help resolve those challenges, and how.

You can also print out one-page flyers and hand them out at such events. Apart from business cards, you also create and disseminate a lot of other documents in the course of doing business. Use their promotional possibilities to full advantage.

Add your company logo, name and tagline in a visible spot
Include contact information
Select your brand colours
Make sure all documents follow content and graphic guidelines w.r.t fonts, colors, spacing, layout, etc.
Create a company letterhead and make sure that any document you send out (electronic or printed) is printed on this letterhead. Again, the logo, name and tagline should be visible. Place a printed brochure in your reception area.

Your email should have a complete signature with your contact information, promotional tagline and social media links, if any.

If your business has a vehicle (car, van, motorbike, etc.), decorate it with the name and address of your company. Think of all the people who will see your vehicle when they’re stuck in traffic!

You can also send out press releases (PR) to get some free business promotion. The caveat is that your PR must contain newsworthy information, and be engaging enough to get people’s interest.

All these assets are promotional tools for your business. Why not make them work for you?

Idea #2: Leverage the power of the community
Community advertising is several steps ahead of plain old WOM. Your business doesn’t function in a people-free vacuum, so why not make use of them to promote your firm?

Join an industry association or networking group. For a membership fee, all such organizations offer advertising and promotion opportunities to their members. Try these ideas:

  • Create an ad banner on their website
  • Contact other members with an “elevator pitch
  • Volunteer to help at their next face-to-face event
  • Design flyers, leaflets, banners or brochures, and hand them out as you meet people. Make each interaction count so people don’t forget you as soon as they turn their backs on you.
  • You can also participate in trade shows or exhibitions. Buy a booth, sign up as a speaker or volunteer your services. Give out your branded merchandise as freebies. Participating in a big trade show can be quite expensive so look for smaller events put on by local business associations or focused on your particular industry.
  • You can also give a seminar or presentation at events. If there’s no direct tie-in to your product or service, you can still give a presentation on a related topic. Or you can present your topic through your local college or university.
  • Joining forces with other businesses (“buddy marketing”) can also increase your advertising power and marketing reach. Co-host an event with another firm or send out a joint email newsletter.
  • Volunteer your services for community events, or advertise with banners or leaflets. Visible, tangible involvement with the community is more than good public relations – it’s also very effective small business advertising.

Idea #3: Go social on social media
Social media advertising is ridiculously cheap. But if still don’t have the budget, you can always participate in social media for free.

To get started with social media, create a social media plan with a content schedule.

Create a page for your business and put regular content out. Make it interesting and valuable, not sales-y or promotional. Mix informational posts with promotional posts for a good mix. Do include posts for festivals or other special days (e.g. Mother’s Day), even if it’s not directly related to your business.

Be prompt in replying to messages or comments. On social media, anyone can be a prospective customer!

Comment on other pages and share/curate content that your readers might find interesting, and that’s relevant to your company.

Record video promotions of your products or services and post them on YouTube or other video-sharing sites.

You can also promote your business by blogging for your own site and writing guest posts for other sites. Build a reputation as a thought leader and build positive WOM. With each article, include a short blurb about yourself and your business with an email address or link to your website.

Build your social media and online presence and make it count. You don’t have to be everywhere all the time. Choose your platform and be consistent.

A final word
Even if you’re a small firm with a limited or non-existent advertising/promotion budget, there are still things you can do to take your business forward. Try these advertising ideas and select the ones that work best for you. You will surely grow your customer base much more quickly than you would by relying on WOM alone. But do keep in mind that marketing, advertising and promotions are most effective if you plan out your campaigns and diligently track your results.


Also read: 5 simple Social Media strategies for your small business


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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, official policy or position of GlobalLinker.


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Lion Amir Virani

Tech Evangelist| Thought Leader | Social Entrepreneur | Enthusiastic Networker | Speaker| Startup Mentor