Marketing on a tight budget
You don't always need to spend large amounts of money on marketing to gain major benefits.
There are cost-effective marketing solutions open businesses such as:
- start-up businesses on a tight budget
- established businesses trying to cut your marketing spend
Spent wisely, even a modest marketing investment can deliver both short and long-term benefits to a business.
This guide helps you to review and evaluate your current marketing spend. It advises you on how to stick to your marketing budget. It provides advice on doing public relations and digital marketing on a budget.
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.
Last year's figures
Examine your marketing spend against sales and revenue. Consider the campaigns you were running during periods of high and low sales.
Some kinds of marketing activities are easier to measure than others. For example, a pay-per-click ad can show you how much you spent against the value of a sale. Activities like public relations may influence consumers' attitudes, but it's hard to put a monetary value on this and difficult to measure.
Consider the following:
- the cost of each of your marketing activities, eg public relations, advertising, social media
- the influence of each activity on your customers' attitudes and behaviours
- whether sales cans be directly attributed to particular marketing activities
- the return-on-investment for each marketing activity
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 affect:
- your products or services
- your products' packaging
- 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.
How to stick to your marketing budget
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 through direct marketing, see direct marketing
- developing your brand identity, see branding for your business
- finding out more about your customers, market or competitors through market research and market reports
- using greener packaging, see design packaging to reduce environmental impacts
- distributing your goods through e-commerce, see planning for e-commerce
- using different marketing channels and mixes to reach your customers
Once you have decided your general aims, you should set SMART objectives. SMART objectives are; specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. Some examples include:
- generate 40 new sales leads per month through pay-per-click advertising
- increase brand recognition among 18-30 year old males by 10% within six months
Stay within budget
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.
You can continually monitor your targets and ensure that budgets are being allocated to the right campaigns.
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) and use it to make you stand out from the crowd. See what is your unique selling point?
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. Read more about how to lead and motivate your staff.
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 under-pricing 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
- more awareness of your product or service
Promote your business
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
- use corporate social responsibility (CSR) to set your business apart from competitors
- 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.
Digital marketing on a budget
Digital marketing tactics that work even with a limited budget. Digital marketing can be highly targeted, meaning you won't waste budget by reaching people who aren't interested in your offering.
Traditional marketing methods - eg direct mail - are expensive and often wasteful. Email marketing can be a more cost effective alternative. E-newsletters are cheap - or free - to produce.
It's useful to include buying behaviour or demographic information in your email database. This means you can accurately target your messages to specific and relevant groups.
You can promote your business using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You can use these channels to interact with your existing customers. They can also be used to advertise and attract new business.
While there are paid advertising options, publishing great content can help you reach your audience without investing money. See content marketing.
Read more about social media best practice for business.
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. Having one can make it easier for potential customers to find your business. See search engine optimisation (SEO).
What is 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 effective 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:
- its 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