Guide: Marketing on a tight budget

Marketing on a tight budget

It’s a common misconception that businesses need to spend large amounts of money on marketing to gain significant benefits.

Whether you are a start-up business on a tight budget or an established business trying to cut your marketing spend, there are a number of cost-effective solutions open to you. Spent wisely, even a modest marketing investment can deliver both short and long-term benefits to a business.

This guide explains how to review and evaluate your current marketing spend. In particular, it outlines what to consider when setting your objectives and how to make them work for your business.

This guide also explores how to maintain your regular customers and attract new customers to your business. Finally, you will find advice on a number of low-cost, high-value marketing and public relations strategies and how you may benefit from affiliate marketing.

Review and evaluate your current marketing spend

To gain maximum benefit from your marketing budget, it’s important to review and evaluate it regularly. Any time and money you spend on marketing is an investment in your business. So you need to make sure it’s time and money well spent.

Below are two key things to consider:

Last year’s figures

This can give you an insight into your market and customer spending trends throughout the year. Pay particular attention to the peaks and troughs, as well as what marketing strategies you had in place at the time. Did a peak in sales represent a successful marketing campaign?

Changes in the market

Consider any changes that may have happened in your industry. Have there been any fundamental changes in innovation, technology or conditions – eg a recession or growth spurt? There may be a change that has affected, or is likely to affect, your products or services, your products’ packaging, or even the distribution channels you use.

You should also look into any new and potential market trends and assess whether these could affect your marketing efforts.

Set clear marketing goals

Setting clear marketing goals will help keep your business focused on what you want to achieve from your marketing budget, and can be a ‘roadmap’ if things go off-course. The sorts of objectives you might want to consider setting for your business could include:

  • increasing your customer base
  • developing your brand identity
  • researching your customers, market or competitors
  • using greener packaging
  • distributing your goods online
  • using different marketing channels and mixes to reach your customers

By gaining insight into your industry and market, and developing specific objectives, you can help your business grow and stay on track throughout the year.

To make them as useful as possible, you should try to set goals that are ‘SMART’, that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

How to attract, win and keep your customers

To maximise your marketing spend, you need to focus on satisfying your current customers, encouraging past customers and attracting new customers to your business. Identify your unique selling point (USP) – what’s especially good about your product or service – and use it to make you stand out from the crowd.

Get more from your customer base

Your regular customer base is critical to your business’ survival and growth, so you need to seize chances to build and maintain your relationship with them on each interaction or sale.

There are many ways to do this when on a tight budget. Think about how you communicate – for example, you should:

  • talk to your customers and focus on their needs and wants
  • be specific, honest and clear about what you can offer
  • keep in touch – send email updates or a newsletter
  • get to know your competitors and what they are offering

Think creatively about your selling techniques. For example, you could:

  • encourage people to ‘buy now’ by offering lower prices for immediate/bulk purchases or bookings
  • use coupons or e-vouchers that are easy and cheap to design and distribute
  • offer gifts, free trials and tasters
  • reward your customers with loyalty schemes

Make sure your staff are fully aware of your customer base, products and services and are inspired about your business.

Encourage referrals from existing clients

Referrals from satisfied customers endorsing your business are the best way of getting new customers. So if a client tells you they’re happy with some work you have done for them, ask them to recommend you to other potential customers.

Consider offering incentives – such as a discount off their next order – for every new customer an existing client points in your direction.

Find new customers

You should always be thinking about how to attract new customers. You need to:

  • let potential new customers know who you are and what you offer
  • aim to provide an exceptional experience on the first sale
  • offer options and solutions to increase convenience
  • position yourself as a leader next to your competition – give a reason for customers to buy from you

Try to price your products or services according to their quality – you want to avoid underpricing them.

Team-up with related businesses

You could attract new customers through a ‘partnership’ with a business related to, but not in direct competition with, your own – eg – a plastering company and local decorators.

But do make sure you choose a reputable business to team up with in this way. Otherwise you could end up with their mistakes tarnishing your reputation.

Public relations on a budget

You don’t need to blow your budget to keep your business in the public eye. Even a cash-strapped business can use public relations (PR) effectively and reap the benefits.

When setting out to promote your business, it’s important to be clear about what you want to achieve – for example, increased sales, increased visits to your website or more awareness of your product or service.

Some of the more cost-effective ways to promote your business can be to:

  • make your business stand out – eg by offering a unique product or service, or by offering savings
  • join relevant professional or social groups so you can network with other people
  • tell people or write a press release if your business wins an award or contract
  • specialise – you will be more attractive to customers if you are an expert in what you do
  • promote yourself as an expert to local media, write an article or start a blog
  • lead a trend or solve a problem that you have spotted
  • volunteer to speak at meetings or seminars related to your field

If your budget allows, you could try these PR methods:

  • relaunch your website, shop or product/service
  • if you have a car or van, use vehicle branding or magnetic signs to advertise your business’ phone number or website
  • get involved in charity – offer to host an event on your premises and invite the media
  • get involved with the community – try fundraising or offer your product or service as a competition prize
  • survey your customers – get to know their needs and future wants

With a little time and creativity, you can create effective PR campaigns quickly and cheaply.

Use technology to reach your customers

When planning your marketing, look at how you’re using technology. Your business should have a website as a minimum. It’s not difficult to build your own, though you may want to complete a web design training course first. You should also review whether the following sources of digital marketing could work for your business too.

Email marketing

Traditional marketing methods – eg direct mail – are expensive and often wasteful. Email marketing can be a much more effective alternative, because e-newsletters are cheap – or free – to produce.

If your email subscriber database also contains demographic data, and/or information about buying habits, you can accurately target your messages to specific and relevant groups.

Text marketing

Text marketing – ie targeting customers using mobile phone SMS messages – can be a very powerful marketing tool when used appropriately.

Social networking

You can promote your business for free using social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If used well, these sites can also be an excellent tool for interacting with your existing customers and making new business contacts.


Internet blogs

If you’re an expert in your field, think about sharing that expertise online. Offering advice or opinions on your own internet blog can be a fantastic way of promoting yourself and your business.

Blogs also tend to get high rankings from internet search engines, so having one can make it easier for potential customers to find out information about your business.

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is a powerful internet marketing tool that offers partners or affiliates a commission on any customers they bring to your site. This is normally done on a cost-per-click basis, as paying pennies per click can be cheap.

Other options include:

  • pay-per-lead – which can result in higher quality leads for contacting the customer yourself and making your own sales
  • pay-per-sale – where affiliates and your website make the sales for you (useful if you have a product that sells easily through your website)

Affiliate marketing can be a powerful way of:

  • boosting your web sales
  • improving your online brand reach
  • finding customers in a new country, as visitors who arrive from a similar site are much more likely to be interested in your products

Affiliate programs are becoming more and more competitive. Affiliates will constantly measure you and your program against other affiliate programs, so it is essential to research the competition.

How to set up an affiliate marketing program

To attract people who may stop at a website for only a few seconds, your site needs an eye-catching design and interesting content. Adding fresh content is the way to do this – ideally every day, or at least once or twice a week.

Building links is also important. You can do this by putting a link to someone else’s site on yours and them doing the same, or by posting to other sites with useful information, as either a guest content provider or a blog commenter. The challenge is to post links to affiliates who offer a product connected to your site.

Then you can add advertisers – these partnerships are how you make your money as an affiliate marketer, so choose them wisely.

You also need to create a call to action – content on your site that gets your visitors to do what you want, ie click on your advertiser’s links. Examples of calls to action include:

  • clicking on a banner ad
  • ordering a project
  • filling out a lead generation form to get information

There are several benefits to affiliate marketing, for example:

  • it’s cost-effectiveness
  • it can be a long-term investment
  • it is less risky, as there are no up-front costs for advertising on your affiliate websites
  • you don’t need extra marketing staff
  • you never lose money – you only pay when an advertisement succeeds
  • you can track where your customers come from and how much they spend
  • you can determine the most successful locations for your advertising


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