20 creative marketing ideas for small business on a budget

December 29, 2020

Creative marketing ideas
You can have the most awesome product on the market yet it can go unnoticed if you’re short on creative marketing ideas. Although the budget plays a significant role in marketing, what matters most is the idea and the execution. In other words, you can have millions to spend on marketing, but if you fail in the innovative marketing ideas department, it’s all in vain. You can see from these guerilla marketing examples that it’s more about having the right element of surprise up your sleeve, and playing the cards smart. One can argue that there’s too much competition to cut through these days. But competition has existed since our ancestors started trading meat for seeds, and for what it’s worth

 1. Podcasts

 2. Popups

 3. Video marketing

 4. Embed Google reviews

 5. Swapping platforms

 6. Crowd-sourced blog content

 7. Host virtual events

 8. Online directories

 9. Partnerships

 10. Sponsorships

 11. Toilet paper

 12. Giveaways

 13. Local media coverage

 14. Awards

 15. Reddit

 16. Guest posting

 17. Influencers

 18. Hand-written cards

 19. Referrals

 20. Online classes

20 creative marketing ideas that can be executed with little money

These creative marketing ideas will help think outside the box and teach you that standing out from the crowd is something you shouldn’t be afraid of, but on the contrary. However, if you’re afraid to fail you might want to reconsider your entrepreneurial aspirations. Because even titans like Nike and McDonald’s occasionally face backlash for their marketing campaigns. What’s important is to learn the lesson and do better next time.

Podcasts

One of my favorite ways to help small businesses market their products or services is to get them on podcasts. If you can talk about your work, why you do it, and how it helps people, you can talk all day long in a podcast interview, and it usually will only cost you a little bit of time and perseverance.

Recent statistics show that over 60 million U.S. homes are podcast fans, and the conversational format lends itself to building greater trust with the listener. In fact, we once saw a 1,067% conversion increase after a single, well-placed podcast interview! To make the most of the opportunity, direct listeners to a landing page where you can capture their email address and direct them to your products and services.

Dr. Tiffany Eurich, Owner & Lead Strategist at Tiffany Eurich Intl.

Exit-Intent Popups

Here’s a creative marketing idea: Use Exit-Intent Popups by offering the visitors something free. It can be a newsletter, an e-book, or anything—give something for free in exchange for customer emails and to engage them more on your website. Exit-intent popups are a good place to put your lead magnet and build an email list.

I think people are already used to seeing a lot of ads whenever they surf the internet. Some of those ads are never noticed, but if your client checks your store and sees some smart, eye-catching popups that aren’t pushed at them too aggressively, they will surely pay attention to them. A very flexible website popups app or WordPress plugins enables you to build popups that will lead your customers back to your site in a cost-friendly way.

Popups on your website are powerful tools for promoting your products, gathering e-mail addresses, notifying customers about news and offers. So consider this opportunity.

Stewart Dunlop, Founder of AirSoftPal

Video marketing

Video marketing has been on the rise over the last few years and I don’t predict it will be going anywhere post-pandemic. With this year’s explosion of TikTok and Instagram creating Reels to stay relevant in the social media market, video is becoming more relevant day by day. Also, the current state of the world under a global pandemic is contributing to video marketing increasing in popularity. Consumers are spending more time online than ever before.

Furthermore, we are noticing a shift in the type of video content audiences are searching for and consuming. Quick, educational, and attention-grabbing content is far outperforming the visually stimulating and aspirational content that was favored in previous years. People don’t want to feel that they are wasting time on these platforms. They want to be entertained while simultaneously learning tips and tricks on how to improve their lives.

Business owners should not shy away from video marketing as it can bring high rewards. While it does require some thought and creativity, it is not as costly as most would think. Additionally, I have a lot of conviction that influencer marketing is going to be a big , but that it won’t look or feel quite like what you think of when you think of influencer marketing today. Influencer marketing will be less pay-to-play and more like earned media, on the obvious Youtube and Instagram but also on other community-driven platforms whether visual, audio, or written.

Eric Wu, the Co-Founder and COO of Gainful

Embed Google reviews to your website

We were working with a client of ours (a small business) recently to improve conversions on their website. We took the traditional approach of using customer testimonials to improve brand perception and built a tool to embed Google reviews into their website.

The A/B test showed a 30% increase in engagement on the website. So we created a free widget give away, which you can see here. Two lines of code could significantly improve engagement and conversion on your website!

Reece Griffin, Technical Director at TBA Digital

Swapping platforms

A very inexpensive (free) but impactful and creative marketing idea is to collaborate with other businesses in the online space. This can be done through email marketing and social media platforms.

For example, the two companies can “swap” platforms for a day. Company “A” will post and inform the audience of Company “B” and vice versa. You’ve added an entirely new audience to your reach and, when you share the other company, you show your audience that you come from a place of service. It’s equally supportive and gives added value to your audience. Both businesses win.

Oliver Walsh, Co-Founder of ASYSTEM

Crowd-sourced blog content

Creating crowd-sourced blog posts that provide value to your target audience is one of the most creative marketing ideas you can execute with no money. Crowd-sourcing beefs up your credibility as a subject matter expert, creates opportunities for exponential exposure, and allows you to build a network of collaborators you can work with in the future. It doesn’t even cost a dime. You can crowd-source through social networks, Slack channels, and free tools like HARO.

Datis Mohsenipour, Director of Marketing at HeyOrca

Host virtual events

One idea for small business marketing that is innovative but can be executed with a tight budget is hosting a virtual event. It is a great way to inform others about our business’s products while sharing valuable information.

For example, our product is an innovative baby formula. So, we host virtual events about topics that would resonate with expecting or new moms. These include topics like coping with colic, feeding schedules, and feeding twins and triplets. Hosting virtual events has been a great way to build our email list and customer base.

Kathryn Schwab, Head of Content at Bobbie

Online directories

One common misconception that people have about online directories is how they’re just digital versions of phone books. Trust me, it’s so much more than that (especially with Enterprise League). Adding your listings to online directories — which are usually free, will make it easier for you to rank on search engines and make it easier for potential customers to look for you and avail of your services or products. Providing such simple information about your company can do wonders for your business. Don’t overlook it.

Simon Elkjær, Chief Marketing Officer at avXperten

Partnerships

When we launched last year, our go-to-market strategy was to lean into foodservice by partnering with restaurants and ice cream shops. By partnering with other businesses we were able to establish culinary credibility as well as build our brand in a capital-efficient way by having our ice cream listed on their menu.

We extended that strategy even in Covid when foodservice took a big hit. We recently partnered with some of the best chefs in the world (Michelin Star, James Beard, and Rising Star winners) to create exclusive, limited-time collaboration ice cream pints with proceeds going to charity, frequently employee relief foundations. Through social media, the chefs have been able to amplify these collaborations and raise awareness for these charities, as well as our brand.

Aylon Steinhart, CEO and Founder of Eclipse Foods

Sponsorships

My suggestion for a unique and low budget way to market your business is through sponsorship. We’ve all heard of sponsorship done on a big scale with athletes and large corporations, but small businesses are also able to sponsor. For very little money you can sponsor a speaker at a conference. They can promote your business verbally in their speech and also by giving out promotional products with your logo on them or adding your company name to their powerpoint. I’ve integrated sponsors into my own speeches.

You can also sponsor an artist. For example, a photographer or painter who is doing an exhibit could have a tripod with your signage on it and give out your flyers to customers. They can also give you a plug in their press releases to the press and on their own social media and websites.

Julie Austin, Speaker Sponsor

Toilet Paper

Here is an idea: buy toilet paper rolls, material for making a sign, find a table, and get some business cards together.

Find a busy parking lot and set up your table. Make a sign that reads “Please Take One” along with your business name and phone number. Stack the toilet paper rolls with your business cards inserted into them.

People will love it! They will take pictures and share it across social media. Many people will take their free paper rolls with your business card and tell their family and friends what they had seen!

Best of all it is very cheap to implement!

Martin Boonzaayer CEO of The Trusted Homebuyer

Giveaways

With the right approach and incentive, an organic social marketing campaign can actually drive the costs down compared to pay-per-click (PPC). A great way is giveaways on Twitter: Once your Twitter handle has reached enough followers you can offer a giveaway of a high-priced article such as a new MacBook for a retweet. Make sure to set the conditions clear and promote it initially. Once the snowball is rolling people will retweet it freely in hope of the price. At a certain point, the price of the item will fall behind the costs of paid reach. Make sure to calculate the numbers and see if it’s viable before starting!

Peter Thaleikis, Marketer and Founder of RankLetter

Local media coverage

Small businesses first need to prosper locally before they can plan on spreading out to other locations. One very effective way to get your business in the head of a local audience is to use local media coverage. If you work smartly, you might be able to get it done without any or minimal costs involved. To get yourself covered in local media, you need to try and maintain some connection with local reporters.

You can start slow by trying to get your business into a newspaper article. You can even vouch for writing an article for a newspaper yourself, and given the right opportunity, you can use it to market your business. You can partner with a local radio station to announce a prize or award your business is giving away through a competition. Once you start, you can look for other opportunities like some local news channel too.

Nerijus Grenda, CEO at Goodluckmate

Awards

There are countless creative marketing ideas for small businesses that don’t cost you much, but not all are innovative and effective enough. One of the most clever and budget-friendly marketing ideas is making use of the contests that take place in your area of expertise.

For example, if you run a restaurant and you’re confident about your food, taste, and services and you think you’re one of the best around town, people should know about you. And one way of letting people know about you is applying for awards that help you catch the attention of the people. Customers will always want to try you at least once when they see your name in the best restaurants in their area.

When you are part of a competition, you market and advertise your business without spending a lot of money. If you win the contest, you’ll surely get a huge population of customers. And even if you don’t win the competition, you’re still one of the best as you were a part of the competition for the top position, and this will work like a magnet to attract more and more customers.

Werner Jorgensen, Marketing & Sales expert at Tooleto

Reddit

Reddit is one of the easiest, affordable, and creative ways to market your small business. There are quite a lot of businesses who aren’t making use of this platform as of yet, so it can help you have an edge over your competitors as well if they are not on Reddit. However, you need to be strategic about your plan to market yourself on it. The audience here is extremely tech-savvy, so try to compose your marketing tactics accordingly. The trick behind succeeding with your marketing on Reddit is to create creative, and smart content and target it to extreme niches. Reddit has subcategories of audiences known as subreddits. These are niches and amongst the narrowest audiences, with the most specific interests. So, choose subreddits that fit your niche criteria the best, and market your content to them. This would help in lead and website traffic generation as well.

 Bradley Stevens, CEO at LLC Formations

Guest posting

Being inventive in marketing ideas with a limited budget sometimes may bring better results, that’s what I as an owner of linkbuilding agency can see.

One of such low-budget ideas is guest posting. For small businesses, it’s a great idea to attract more traffic to your website.

If you connect with popular websites in your niche and have your article published, there’s a double benefit. You receive more visits to your website, raise brand awareness, and improving your backlink profile (that helps your website to get higher in search results), and owners of the
target website receive unique content of high quality in exchange. You have to leverage your creativity to get these links for free and use a personal approach for the outreach researching more about the website owners. This way you don’t spend on publications, yet receive a powerful tool to grow your business.

Stewart Dunlop, CEO of LinkBuilder.io

Influencers

With the strategies today being all about the digital world, influencer marketing is an excellent technique for creating brand recognition. Understand your niche well, pen down all the bloggers that have a similar target market and outreach them.

Contact at least twenty-five bloggers that have an audience reach identical to yours and shortlist fifteen of them. Till this stage, it’s all the effort and no monetary investment. The next step is to send those bloggers a discount code for their followers and also one of your products. It may be small but make sure that the package looks attractive and include a handwritten note – this is all that matters.

The objective for the influencers should be to tell about your brand and spread brand awareness. Individuals today rely upon influencers more than any other marketing technique.

Janet Patterson, VP of Marketing Communications at Highway Title Loans

Hand-written cards

Send people who have supported your business in the past a hand-written gratitude postcard or a small gift. Attracting new customers is far more expensive and time-consuming than delighting your existing customers and empowering them to spread the word. Nurturing existing relationships creates exponential growth and is one of the most overlooked, valuable elements of marketing.

In the age of unlimited ads, promotions and content, good old fashion human connection goes a long way. A thoughtful note or meaningful gift can be enough to turn a one-time buyer into a lifelong brand enthusiast.

Tess Ball, Business Coach & Founder of The Small Business Incubator

Referrals

Market your business without breaking the bank by asking for referrals. This is by far one of the most effective ways to generate new business. However, the challenge is that we tend to feel awkward when asking for it. Worse, you don’t want your favor to sound so desperate. Fortunately, there are many ways to ask for a referral without sounding desperate or feeling awkward. You can be direct and ask referrals through online, email, invoices, or in-person. You can also join a professional networking group or other referral.

Referrals are free and it only takes a second to ask for one. They are a form of marketing that cost zero but could pay off big afterwards. Everyone has a network of contacts and it is likely that every one of your customers knows someone to refer to you.

Marcus Clarke, Founder of Searchant.co

Online classes

A low budget way for small businesses to do innovative marketing is to do an online class on how to use their product or even show how their product is made. People always enjoy seeing how things are made. It provides an interesting background to how the product went from nothing to a fully functional “thing” in their home.

Since you’re essentially the ones who make the product, you’ve got most of the resources you need and might simply need to hire a videographer to create a simple video for you. I say simple because videographer costs vary and can go from affordable to virtually unattainable very quickly.

Online classes are a great way to engage with your audience. If you have a product with some little-known features or interesting things that consumers can learn, you can do a class on using the product to its full potential. It’s simple, but it also lets you discuss aspects of the product with your audience live, and creates hype around your brand and the product you’re discussing.

George Birrell, CPA and Founder of TaxHub

Cheekd examples

Lori, the Founder of Cheekd, who by the way ended up on our list of 100 trailblazing fempreneurs to keep an eye on in 2021, is the queen on creative marketing on a budget. She’s not afraid to attract attention and has a thing for flirting with media. You can’t really blame her, she runs a dating website, sass runs in her blood.

Let’s see what she had to say about pulling of creative marketing on a budget:

I could write a book on this one! I’d hired a PR firm several months before the initial launch of my startup, Cheekd , in May of 2010 and paid nearly $10,000. The firm claimed to have reached out to more than 300 bloggers, resulting in a couple of articles of little consequence. But I soon realized I had more passion for my company than any agency could and decided to take on the task of PR on my own. A very old friend of mine just sent me this in an email a while back, “I am sure a lot of people tell you this on a daily basis, but you are truly an inspiration- whether or not Cheekd will be successful (and I think it will) you are literally writing a chapter on the ‘marketing for entrepreneur’ book.” I even got so good at it, I started my own PR Firm!

There’s so much more but here are some of my favorite budget/ DIY PR tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years! Take your pick!

Stand out from the crowd

I discovered early on that in a very saturated startup space, it’s crucial to make a splash. Creative marketing ideas quickly became my forte. Not only has it paid off tremendously, but it’s also been loads of fun. I’ve managed to land myself in The New York Times, The Washington Post, TechCrunch, Fast Company, Inc., Shark Tank, Forbes, Entrepreneur Mag and many many more publications all over the world.

One of my favorite stories was from Dublin’s Web Summit when over 800 startups were exhibiting (90% of them were men) and I decided to stand out by wearing Angel Wings throughout the conference. When I was checking out of my hotel, I looked down at Judy Dench on the cover of the Irish Times and there I was right next to her (me on my laptop with my Angel Wings— inside there was another 1/4 page picture mentioning my business)… Ireland knew about Cheekd.com!

Guerilla marketing

One of my first big hits was The New York Times and I got in by simply mailing a lone promotional black Cheekd card in a plain black envelope to one of the main editors at The Times. A few weeks later, we were featured on the cover of the Style Section and coined as “the next generation of online dating” which lead to customers in almost every state in America and requests from all over the world to get in on the action. We immediately set up an international shopping cart and soon hit 28 countries.

Another one of my favorite stories to date would be the personal Lori Cheek’ng of Hip Hop Mogul, Russell Simmons that lead to this article in the NY Observer and many national customers after the article dropped. I’d slipped a card in his front pocket and he didn’t notice then ended up having a conversation about it that got overheard by a journalist for The New York Observer!

Similar tactics have lead us onto the pages of TechCrunch, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Huffington Post, Inc Magazine and countless others.

Just ask

Sometimes it just doesn’t hurt to ask. I’ve ended up on the news many times by just calling up the news channels and asking them if they’d be interested in featuring my business. It’s sometimes that simple. I would say the most crucial thing in getting Media Coverage is a subtle yet persistent approach…

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve personally landed myself on CNN, 2 local news networks in Kentucky and on the pages of Curbed and Bloomberg and many more…

Conclusion

We’re wrapping this article up with the words of Manny Hernandez, the CEO and co-Founder of Omni, Inc., because he knows that “There are no low-cost, magical marketing secrets that fit every business.”

According to him marketing on a budget takes effort, ingenuity, and constant testing to see what sticks. Amidst many options, referral programs stay cheap and effective. Word of mouth advertising is worth its weight in gold and will go a long way for your small business marketing. If you did a great job fixing someone’s car and that person goes on to recommend your garage to his or her friends and family, you’re highly likely to acquire a new customer. So why not give your existing clientele a bit of added motivation to sing your praises by offering a referral incentive? In this example, it could be something like free wheel balancing for the referrer and an incentivizing 20% off for the person being referred – that way everyone’s a winner.

Another option is to get involved in your community. Marketing isn’t just about expensive, large scale campaigns. Often, the most effective (and cost-effective) efforts start with your local community:

– Once athletics return to normal, sponsor a little league team or a charity walk.
– Put on a free virtual seminar for community members or customers.
– Do something extra for your community to support them during the economic downturn.
– Then, toot your own horn a bit (or get someone else to do it for you).
– Publish a blog post about how you’re supporting your community and share it on your social platforms, or submit the information to your local newspaper or an industry publication and see if they’ll write a story about you.

More must-read stories from Enterprise League:

  • Find out why you should opt for an online-only business account.

  • Learn how your business can survive a recession with this business guide. You should start applying it now.

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