Creating awareness of your product or service – that is, marketing your business– is your first step towards business success. And with competition fierce and consumer spending down, an effective marketing strategy is crucial to your business’s survival. But how do you implement a winning marketing strategy when your marketing budget is tight? Thankfully, there are ways to market your business on a budget. Try these nine free marketing ideas for small businesses

1. Make your Website Work for You

In today’s web-obsessed world, there is no better way to promote your company than with online marketing. Spend time making your site engaging and user-friendly. Don’t neglect to ensure that your website is search engine optimized. Update it regularly by adding interesting and relevant search engine optimized articles. Create a Facebook page and a Twitter profile, and add widgets to your website.

2. Send out Press Releases

Press releases are a key component of any effective marketing communications campaign and don’t cost anything at all, if you write them yourself. Not a born writer? Read How to Write a Killer Press Release.

3. Demonstrate your Social Consciousness

Thrust your business into the media spotlight by showing your philanthropic side. Choose a charity to support and throw yourself into the cause, but do it sincerely and wholeheartedly. Your generous spirit and genuine desire to help others will not only result in good karma but will make others sit up and take notice. Make sure that you keep your camera handy and send any relevant photographs to your local newspaper before uploading them to your website.

4. Create a Distinctive Logo

If you don’t have a logo already, create one. If you have a logo you think is a tad stale, consider a corporate identity makeover. Make sure that your logo is eye-catching, memorable, relevant to your product or service and in line with current trends. Pay attention to the font type – you don’t want it to feel stiff or dated – and do some research on the psychology of colour. Bear these points in mind when you’re in design mode. Once the logo is ready for public consumption, keep it in the public eye by branding your car, staff uniforms and company stationery. Don’t forget to add it to your email signature.

5. Make your Customers Feel like a Million Bucks

Earn brownie points and encourage loyalty by giving customers special attention. A simple birthday email or holiday greeting can turn a casual buyer into a lifelong supporter. Try taking customer care to the next level by sending them a voucher that they can use within a month of receipt. Thank them for their loyalty and tell them that you value their ongoing business.

6. Encourage Customers to Refer a Friend

A good way to attract new business is to offer special gifts or discounts to customers who refer friends or colleagues. These new customers will, after a while, also refer their friends, thereby encouraging exponential growth. Take advantage of the fact that word of mouth has always been the most powerful of marketing tools.

7. Attend Business Networking Meetings

Check your local newspaper or community directory for details about business networking meetings, then sign up and join the fold. These meetings can be extremely beneficial in terms of referral business.  Sometimes there is a nominal membership fee, but this small cost is quickly forgotten when business starts booming due to the new relationships that you’ve forged. Don’t forget to arrive well-armed with business cards.

8. Hold a Competition

Promote a new product or move excess stock while creating awareness of your business by holding a competition. The way to go if you’re looking for an interactive marketing method that can take your business from obscurity to the topic of conversation around the water cooler, competitions are fun and effective. Establish contact with DJs at your local radio station and send them information to relay on-air, and promote the competition by way of email marketing too.

9. Be Mentionable

If you have a store or office, do fun things on a regular basis, as the season dictates. Give your staff bunny ears around Easter time, or elves’ stockings and pointy shoes over the Christmas period. Serve complimentary hot chocolate during very cold weather, hand out tiny posies on Spring Day, give away delicious sweets or funky marketing tools with every purchase, and decorate your storefront or office according to the season.  Your goal here is to get people to love what they see. The prize? Free advertising, the holy grail of every small business. They’ll tell all their friends about it and will come back for more!