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8 low-cost advertising ideas for businesses on a budget

Low-cost advertising: mechanic holding a mechanic light and looking under a car

Key takeaways

  • Small businesses can leverage low-cost digital marketing tactics like blogging, SEO, and email marketing to find new customers
  • You can earn repeat customers by implementing referral and loyalty programs
  • Online reviews are a free source of advertising that can build consumer trust

Like most small business owners, you’re probably conservative with your marketing budget, not shelling out for just any advertising idea that comes to mind. You plan wisely so you can make the most impact with the least amount of dollars. Luckily, there are low-cost advertising ideas that all small businesses can employ. Here are eight marketing ideas to help you find new customers even if you have a low budget.

1. Increase referrals by incentivizing customers

A referral program is an excellent marketing strategy that encourages current customers to advertise on your business’s behalf through word of mouth. Research shows companies with formalized referral programs experienced 86% more revenue growth over two years, while companies without experienced 11% less growth in the same time period.

To encourage current customers to spread the good word, offer a material or monetary incentive. For example, an auto repair shop might not find success by simply asking customers to refer other clients but could encourage referrals by offering a free oil change or discounted services in exchange.

2. Feature your small business on online review sites

Online review sites like Yelp are an effective form of low-cost advertising. For instance, you can claim your free Yelp Business Page, add a description of your business, upload photos, and start accumulating reviews and testimonials from your customers, which can establish lasting appeal for your company.

Online reviews significantly influence consumers. More than 90% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase and 76% trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from a friend or family member. Considering more than 90 million people visit Yelp each month to search for local businesses and 97% make a purchase after visiting Yelp, having a strong online presence can ensure your business isn’t leaving money on the table.

With an online review site, you can also interact with previous customers when they leave reviews for your business. You can thank them for choosing your business and build a stronger connection when they leave positive reviews and resolve any issues with customers who didn’t have a great experience with your business. Each interaction is an opportunity to build your reputation and customer base.

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3. Start a loyalty program

Barista handing a cup of coffee to a customer

Strong customer loyalty can help your business flourish for years to come, even with a limited marketing budget. New customers are more expensive to acquire and spend less money than loyal regulars.

You can increase customer retention by implementing a customer loyalty program that encourages customers to become repeat visitors. It serves as an easy way to connect with its customers and increase repeat sales. For example, you could offer free or discounted services after a certain number of purchases or donate a specified amount to a local charity with ties to the community. When you build a charitable angle to your loyalty program, it can be an effective way to connect with your customer base on an emotional—not just monetary—level.

4. Implement search engine optimization tactics

Search engine optimization (SEO) means improving your online content (such as on your business website) so it appears higher on search engines. SEO is a form of low-cost advertising that slightly adjusts your online content to improve its overall performance (think: website traffic).

Page speed is among the most critical criteria that search engines use to rank your website. They want your site to have fast load times and provide a positive experience to people visiting your site. Page load speed is directly correlated to a positive customer experience. In fact, 40% of people will immediately leave your site if it takes longer than three seconds to load.

One simple improvement is reducing file sizes of images so they don’t slow down your site. You can check your page speed score and utilize a variety of free tools to compress your image sizes to improve your overall customer experience. It’s also a good idea to establish links between your website and other reputable sites. Start by creating external links to other websites in your written content. For example, if you have a law firm with blog content on certain legal issues, you should include links to reliable resources, like the IRS and local government sites. 

However, part of the goal is to receive backlinks (i.e., links from other sites to your own). While you certainly can’t count on the IRS to link back to your site, you could link to more attainable sites and let them know via email that you’ve linked to their content. This might encourage them to link to your website or share your content on one of their social media platforms. Search engines will increase your website visibility if you have more quality links pointing to your site because it shows that your content is valuable.

5. Create a blog on your website

Blogging is a cost-effective way to drive traffic to your website. It’s also an effective search engine optimization tactic. It will give you more visibility on search engines and allow you to rank higher for terms (keywords) that your customers might be searching.

A successful blog is built on a sound content marketing plan. You should actively research terms you think local customers are seeking. For example, a dental office could drive traffic to its site by writing articles on topics like “how often should you get a teeth cleaning?” or “best oral health tips.”

You can use a free keyword research tool to discover terms with high search traffic and are easy to rank for on search engines. Make a list of these keywords and then write one high-quality article per keyword. Aim to post at least one article per week and stick to it. Search engines will reward you for consistently, not sporadically, posting content.

6. Utilize email marketing

Email marketing was one of the first forms of digital advertising, and it remains a highly effective marketing channel and form of low-cost advertising.

Email marketing helps you build lasting relationships with current customers and engage potential customers. What’s more, email marketing influences consumers. Over half of consumers make a purchase at least once per month after reading a marketing email.

You can start your email marketing program by building an email list. One way to do this is by offering customers an in-store incentive—like 10% off their purchase—in exchange for signing up for your email list. You can also have a sign-up form with a call to action on your website—for example, “Join our email newsletter for weekly promotions.”

From there, you can send your subscribers email marketing campaigns that range from weekly promotions to monthly newsletters, updates on new products, and links to your blog content. Monitor the performance of your emails and adjust your content depending on what your customers find valuable.

7. Run social media contests or giveaways

Social media platforms give you access to local customers in your area. One way to increase engagement on these platforms is through contests or giveaways.

Let’s say you own a beauty salon and need to boost your brand awareness with local customers. A contest or free product giveaway could be just the boost you need to re-engage previous clients and find new ones at the same time. Incentivize your followers to share and comment on your social content. In exchange, you can offer the winner(s) free beauty services or free hair products for their participation.

8. Network with professionals on LinkedIn

Unlike other social media platforms, LinkedIn’s audience is primarily professionals who are interested in networking with other professionals and business owners. This is particularly helpful when looking to build mutually beneficial partnerships with other local businesses.

For example, a lawn care business or electrician company that specializes in servicing corporate clients could tap into the local market and network with other business owners. You could expand your company’s influence by networking with these individuals and showing your expertise.

LinkedIn also allows you to forge partnerships with non-compete businesses with whom you could share referrals. For instance, a landscaping company could refer clients to a pest control company and vice versa.

Engaging with content from other people—such as commenting on and sharing their posts—as well as publishing links to your own blog can also help boost your pool of potential clients or partners.

Grow your customer base with these low-cost advertising ideas

Spending a fortune on promoting your business isn’t necessary to see results. There are plenty of low-cost advertising ideas that allow you to maximize your marketing budget, find new customers, and build strong relationships with existing clients.

All of these strategies might not necessarily fit your business exactly, so don’t be afraid to experiment with one or two when starting out before moving on to another. Next, explore even more low-cost ways to promote your business and free ways to advertise your business online.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.