If you’re a small business or new startup, you don’t have money to waste on expensive advertising like your bigger competitors can. To compete on the same level but with a smaller budget, you have to market smarter.
Start by brainstorming with your business partners and connections to come up with several cheap outside-the-box marketing tricks. This method produces ideas that are tailor-made for your business and already incorporate your key values and message.
Then, if you’re really feeling stumped for ideas, consider these 25 creative marketing ideas for small businesses.
1. Create relevant content on your website. Blog categories or an on-site article directory are excellent for this.
2. Publish articles in trade or local magazines. Most people think published work is more valuable than a simple blog post, and articles cost less than advertising in the same magazine.
3. Reuse content. If you have great content but no one is consuming it, repurpose it. Blog posts can be collated into an ebook, a webinar recording could become a subscriber-only video, a magazine article could be reprinted and distributed as a booklet…the possibilities are endless.
4. Try article marketing. Publishing articles online creates good backlinks to your website, shows expertise, builds credibility, and more. It’s also relatively affordable and easy to outsource.
5. Write a book or ebook. Books have more value than most other types of content and establish your expertise. You can sell them or offer them for free in exchange for email addresses.
6. Sponsor a local sports team. Send out a press release or feature article and get your logo on the team uniforms. This makes you a valuable community member and builds awareness.
7. Speak at seminars and teach workshops. You’ll get publicity from marketing the event and from the event itself.
8. Enter business award competitions. If you win, you get a badge on your website and a lot more sales. Even if you don’t win, you can still get lots of publicity if you place high enough and broadcast your participation.
9. Create your own business award competition. If there isn’t a competition in your industry or there’s no way you can compete in one, hosting your own unique competition creates buzz as other businesses scramble to win your award.
10. Host free events. Reporters are always looking for a good story. Give them what they want and get some free publicity by hosting a free event. You’ll get more response if there’s food or freebies involved. Use this list of 109 ways to get media attention to make the most of any event.
11. Network at your local Chamber of Commerce. This is a classic marketing idea for small businesses because it can yield big dividends. Association with the Chamber will make your events more credible, and you can find new partners or clients, or discover opportunities to teach or speak.
12. Join associations and use the provided resources, including local networking events, online forums, and job boards.
13. Build a referral network. Referrals and word of mouth are the most powerful advertising, so build relationships with professionals and other businesses you would happily refer your customers to–and who can send referrals your way, as well.
14. Make partnerships for co-promotion. Several related but non-competing businesses working together on a promotion can afford bigger ad space, better prizes, and other advertising expenses.
15. Be a people person. Never stop networking, follow all leads, and participate in conversations wherever you find them. Don’t be afraid of the phone, internet, email, or face-to-face meetings.
16. Send handwritten holiday, birthday, or thank you cards to past and current clients, valued partners, vendors in your referral network, connections who have helped you–everyone you can think of. This is a low-cost and unique marketing idea for small business, but many entrepreneurs have reported its effectiveness.
17. Open as many communication channels as appropriate, including but not limited to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, a toll-free phone number, live chat on your website, email, and related forums and blog comments.
18. Donate to charities. Send out press releases for each organization and/or time you donate. Alternatively, you can donate a specific percentage of all sales to a certain organization or cause and make customers feel like they’re doing a good turn by purchasing from you.
19. Survey your customers for great ideas. Listen to what they’re saying on Twitter and Facebook for honest market research.
20. Be where your competition is not. Get more leads as the only major player.
21. Be everywhere. Having a blog, YouTube channel, and podcast on iTunes in addition to social media makes you more well known and credible. Expand beyond your website to get more traffic and leads.
22. Setup an affiliate program. You get more sales and brand ambassadors for less.
23. Create a customer loyalty program to encourage future purchases and referrals.
24. Use bumper stickers and window decals. In addition to putting on them company vehicles and owners’ cars, give them for free to employees, partners, stakeholders and investors, charities you donate to, and other contacts to display.
25. Ask for testimonials and reviews. This includes online reviews on websites like Yelp, recommendations on LinkedIn, and rave comments through any channel. Create a testimonials page on your website and use the best reviews in as many promotions as makes sense.