Cheap Online Marketing: 20 Low-Cost Marketing Ideas


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You don’t need a generous marketing budget to make a splash. Take advantage of cheap or free online marketing ideas to help you grow your business.

Affordable Marketing Tactics for Any Business Type

Affordable marketing tactics work both online and offline and can be used for almost any type of business.

1. Ask existing customers for referrals

Referrals can help you attract some of your best new customers. When a current customer tells their friends or family about you, it’s a trusted recommendation. How can you ask for referrals? Email is generally the simplest method.

Here’s an example from a Vitasave email:

Referral email example.

Vitasave asked for referrals in a section tacked on to an email, but you can also send emails solely asking for referrals. This message should serve as a push to send a message to a friend they know would love your product, not an invitation to send it to all 500 of their email contacts.

You can put a sign in your store if you run an offline business.

2. Promote coupons and discounts

Discounts are a double-edged sword. If you offer discounts too often, customers will expect them, which can cut your bottom line. But if planned well, discounts can also be a great digital marketing idea to attract attention and convince customers on edge to make a purchase.

Take, for example, this digital marketing strategy from ride-sharing company Lyft.

Lyft discount.

If you’re trying to get your business off the ground, this is an option to attract your first batch of customers. If your product or service is excellent, those customers can lead to return visits and referrals.

Once you create a coupon, you need to get it into the hands of people who will use it. You can post on local forums, Facebook, and online deal sites, including SlickDeals and Hot Coupon World.

Facebook coupon groups.

3. Collaborate with other businesses

If your business has a unique service or product, team up with businesses that also serve your audience. Not direct competitors, of course, but related or complementary.

Then, combine your skills to offer value that will allow you to spread the word about your business.

For example:

  1. Personal trainers can team up with dieticians to offer a beginners’ diet and workout course.
  2. Web developers can team up with local business classes to offer free WordPress sites to beginners.
  3. A sock manufacturer could collaborate with local homeless shelters and supply them with socks.
  4. A bookstore might collaborate with an artist who makes reading-related products and gifts.

4. Get featured by journalists

You can sign up to Help a Reporter Out (HARO) for free. You’ll get emails that contain requests from reporters for expert opinions. These emails go out three times a day, Monday through Friday, when you can reply to requests.

If you’re featured, you’ll get a press mention – and potentially a link. The competition is tough, but great responses and persistence can help you get through.

Be sure you’ve got a polished online presence and compelling bio that would be attractive to journalists before you try HARO. You may need to polish your LinkedIn and add more content to your blog before trying HARO.

5. Host a social media contest

Contests are a great way to get the word out about your product and business. Use a low-cost tool like Rafflecopter to see your contest marketing idea.

You can choose how people enter the contest, but usually, it’s by sharing the contest on social media platforms or joining an email list. The contest will spread quickly if you already have a good social media following. Otherwise, you’ll need to find alternatives like buying social media ads or posting your contest in contest forums.

Finally, you can also browse a contest forum (here’s a huge list), contact the creators of other contests, and ask if you can join as a co-sponsor. You won’t get the sole attention of participants, but you also won’t have to spend as much on prizes and promotions.

6. Host webinars

Webinars have an incredible conversion rate and are great for software products and courses. If you’re looking for your first few customers, this is a very hands-on way to attract them. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating your first webinar.

7. Create an affiliate program

If you sell a digital product, creating a basic affiliate program is simple. And it only costs a few dollars per month.

Here is how it works: when someone refers a new customer through a special link, they earn a small commission. This can be highly profitable since you don’t have to do any work.

Many small and large brands use affiliate programs to drive sales, including Amazon and most hosting companies.

To quickly set up an affiliate program, use E-junkie. They take care of all the tracking and payment, and you just put up product details.

8. Build a Social Media Following Through Follows and Interaction

Building up a social media following is a long-term marketing approach. It does take time, but is low cost if you DIY. Search for users in your industry and follow new users each day. Post useful, relevant social media content to increase your engagement.

When you search for a topic on these sites, filter by people, or follow users that have recently mentioned the keyword you searched for:

Twitter people search.

Here’s a complete guide to using Twitter for business if you’re interested in this tactic.

9. Submit your product to trend sites

This tactic is particularly useful for tech businesses.

All communities revolve around testing out and reviewing the latest apps and SaaS businesses.

Here’s a list of the most popular trend sites:

Product Hunt is the biggest site in this niche by far. Here’s a complete guide to launching a product on Product Hunt successfully.

10. Create blog content

Blogging intends to write posts that attract traffic from other sites, mostly search engines like Google.

If you rank well in Google for your posts, you can attract thousands of visitors to your website every month for free. Then you can promote offers to them.

But be warned, blogging takes a long time to build up an audience and will take a lot of your time. It’s not a tactic for immediate results.

If you’re thinking of blogging, there are a few parts to doing it successfully:

  • Blog regularly: Without consistency, you won’t succeed. Use a blogging calendar to do this.
  • High-quality content: Only the best blog posts are noticed these days.
  • Promotion: To get initial traction, you’ll need to promote your blog posts, which takes even more time.

11. Answer questions on Quora

Quora is the most popular question-and-answer website, with questions about almost every topic.

If you provide a useful answer to a question, it will get voted to the top of the page, and more users will see it.

Quora question that reads "Which is the best free SEO tool?"

You can include links to your answers, including ones to your website or blog.

Be warned that this tactic takes quite a bit of time to see steady traffic from it. But if you’re interested, read this marketer’s guide to Quora for the next steps.

12. Offer to be a podcast guest

Podcasts can be an effective marketing channel and are less competitive than blogging.

If you’re an expert in your field, you can contact podcasters and offer to be on their show. During the podcast, you’ll get a chance to mention your work and may get a link back to your site from the episode’s show notes.

Go to Stitcher and browse a category relevant to your business.

Stitcher podcast.

Find the website for the ones you’re interested in appearing on and use their contact form. Make sure you take the time to research and see if they take guest speakers and the types of topics they cover.

You will need to invest about $100 for a basic microphone and pop filter for good audio quality.

If you like podcasting, you can start a podcast and reap long-term results.

13. Use retargeting to advertise for cheap

Many businesses struggle with successfully advertising online. Retargeting is a highly effective method of advertising that isn’t as scary as it seems.

Here’s the concept: Show your ads to people who have already visited your website. The ads essentially follow them around the web. As they visit other sites, they’ll see an ad for your business that keeps you on their mind.

You know these visitors are already interested in your business, so the conversion rate for retargeting is usually much higher than for cold ads.

Many tools will do all the hard retargeting work for you; you just need to install a tracking pixel on your website (copy and paste a few lines of code).

Here’s our complete guide to email retargeting if you’d like to learn more.

14. Create a Google My Business Account

Setting up a Google My Business account is necessary for any brick-and-mortar business, even if you do not intend to invest in search engine optimization (SEO).

It’s what allows your business to show up on maps when people search for stores in Google Maps. It also gives you a chance to show up in regular Google search results:

Getting started is easy to do and free, so follow this guide to setting up a Google My Business account.

  1. After you get your Google My Business page set up, you’ll want to double-check to make sure your “NAP” (business name, address, and phone) is correct everywhere it’s displayed online (your website, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) That’s important for search engines.
  2. Once that’s done, you need to submit your site to “data aggregators.” Here’s how to do it cheaply and easily. Once a few “data aggregators” have verified your business information, the online directories that list businesses will see you’ve been verified and can start linking to you. Having those inbound links, particularly from the aggregators themselves, will help boost your ranking in what’s called the “Local Pack,” a display of local services on the search engine results page.
Google results for "local farm cheese nyc"
Here is an example of the “local pack” – a visual display of businesses with their Google review rating. Clicking on “more places” expands the local pack and reveals a complete list.

Inexpensive Offline Marketing Tactics for Small Businesses

If your small business is mainly offline or local, the tactics in this section will be most relevant for you.

15. Network at local events

Networking is a useful small business marketing strategy, no matter what business you run.

Go to local events in your industry, and get to know owners of other local businesses and enthusiasts. Make sure you always have business cards on hand to give out.

To find events to go to, search for industry events on Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Meetup.

Screenshot of Meetup page to Find a Meetup.

Keep in mind that results won’t come immediately. But at some point, someone you met will need your product, know someone who needs your product or have a partnership opportunity for you.

16. Sponsor events on a small scale

Local community events (fairs, festivals, concerts) can be a great place to market physical products.

If you make any of the following, donating a few products in return for some publicity can be worth it.

Alternatively, you could sponsor events directly by buying a sponsor package. You’ll get advertising on event materials and the event’s website. Sponsoring a national event may be out of your budget, but sponsoring small local events can be done for a few hundred dollars.

To find them, search for something like “[niche] event sponsor.”

For example, if you are a mechanic, search for car show sponsorships:

Car show sponsors search results.

17. Contact past customers

Keeping or bringing back a customer who has already shopped with you is cheaper than acquiring a brand new one. That’s why businesses (especially Internet and TV companies) always offer big discounts to come back to them.

If you are a B2B business, consider writing a handwritten note that thanks them for their past business and invites them back.

If you want to sweeten the deal, add a coupon inside.

Olark miss you email.

18. Give presentations 

Many organizations and conferences look for qualified speakers to present.

This is ideal for B2B businesses where you want to establish yourself as the expert. A good speech or presentation will often lead to sales from event attendees. As a bonus, you can usually attend expensive conferences for free when you are a speaker.

Pro tip: Check ahead with the organizers to see if they will be filming your presentation. Ask if you can get a copy and post it on your YouTube channel. If no filming is planned, consider getting a qualified videographer to film you. Be sure to capture a good audio recording.

19. Put up local flyers

For local service businesses, flyers still work. Stick them to mailboxes, polls, and community bulletin boards. You’ll want to check the legality of it in your city before you do this, of course.

20. Create a simple rewards system

For businesses with many repeat customers, creating a rewards system is easy and cheap. You can get hundreds of loyalty cards printed for just a few dollars. Here are a few examples from Zazzle, an online marketplace with customizable marketing products.

Loyalty card examples.

Most of these tactics aren’t expensive but may take time and effort. These tactics can bring you more customers, but you should be persistent and try multiple avenues of marketing your business online and offline.Check out our complete guide to the seven best marketing tools for your business to upgrade your digital marketing efforts.

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