9 Steps to Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

If you’re like most small business owners, you’re always looking for ways to save money. Thanks to the internet, marketing on a shoestring budget has become easier than ever. Here are nine steps that can help you successfully market on a shoestring budget.

1 — Register a domain name. When potential customers look for what you sell, they probably start with an internet search. To help them find you, you should consider having a business website. Start by choosing and registering your domain name (or website URL). There are many tools available that can help you brainstorm available domain names. Try these ideas:

Use Keywords: Your domain name doesn’t have to be your business name. Try using keywords that describe your business, services or brand to help improve click through rates. Internet search users are almost twice as likely to click on a domain name if the domain name includes at least one of the keywords in their search query, compared to a domain name that does not include any of the keywords in their search query. For example, if you’re a real estate company based in Long Beach specializing in vacation homes, try vacationhomesinlongbeach.com.

Be Memorable: A domain name doesn’t have to be short to be memorable. Descriptive domain names can help yours stand out. There are millions of registered domain names. If you need inspiration, try a name suggestion tool.

Use a Widely-Recognized Domain Name Extension (e.g. .com, .net, .tv): There are a lot of choices for domain name extensions so be sure to choose one that is best aligned with your business, is credible, and is widely recognized, such as .com or .net. Customers should feel comfortable visiting your website, so a domain name extension your customers know and trust is important.

2 — Create an online presence. According to a 2015 Verisign Online Survey, 91% of respondents look online for local goods and services. If you want to be found online, your business needs to be online.

Registering a domain name makes it easy to tell consumers where to find you online, but it doesn’t mean you need to build a website right away. You could redirect your domain name to your social media page, allowing the social media page to act as your business’s online presence until your website is up and running. When a customer types in your web address, he or she will be taken directly to your social media page.

Another way you could represent your business online can be through a company-branded email address, which may make customers feel more comfortable when communicating with your business. In fact, the 2015 Verisign U.S. Online Survey shows 74% of respondents agreed they would trust a company-branded email address versus a free email address.

3 — Build your website. A website can help you brand your business as you control the messaging and content that you want to share with prospects and customers. To build a website, you’ll first need to find a webhost and design your website. To simplify matters and keep costs down, one option is look for a one-stop service that provides website hosting capability and web design services. Bundled options may cost less than selecting services a la carte. Depending on your skills and available time, you can also use do-it-yourself website templates or have a web design service to create your website.

Results from the 2015 Verisign U.S. Online Survey show why it’s important to build a website for your small business:

  • 88% of small business respondents agreed a website has made it easier for customers to find their business.
  • 97% of small business respondents agreed they would recommend having a website to other small businesses.
  • 68% of small business respondents agreed that a website is their best online marketing tool

4 — Do SEO. Search engine optimization (SEO) means optimizing your business website so search engines are more likely to find it. You can handle SEO yourself by using Google’s Keyword Planner tool. This tool can show you which keywords are most popular for your type of product or service. You may want to work those keywords into your website’s domain name, tags and alt tags (for images), as well as your website copy, especially headlines, subheads and captions.

5 — Get listed on local search directories. If your business targets a local clientele — for example, if you own a restaurant, auto repair shop or tax preparation service — you may want to attract people in your neighborhood as customers. Consider getting your business listed on local search directories. There are many local search directories such as Google, Bing, Yelp and YP.com. There are many local search directories so focus on those most relevant to your business. Once you decide which directory(ies) to list your business on, you can “claim” your listing. It can be as simple as completing basic information, such as your business’s name, address, website, hours and phone number, and then add some photos to entice customers to your location. Once you’re listed on local search directories, it can help your business pop up when people nearby search for what you sell.

6 — Speak up on social media. Once your business website is up and running, optimized and listed on local search directories, it’s time to get social. You don’t need to have a presence on every single social site; instead, focus on those that are most popular with your target market — whether that’s Snapchat (popular with teens and Millennials), Pinterest (popular with parents), LinkedIn (popular with businesses) or Facebook and Twitter (popular with just about everyone). Posting consistently interesting and useful content and responding to customers’ comments regularly can help increase word-of-mouth for your business.

7 — Network. In addition to social networking, be sure to devote some time to off-line networking, too. Taking a leadership role in industry or local networking groups can help raise your profile within the groups and help you make connections faster. Focus on what you can do to help others, and you may see your network grow quickly.

8 — Ask for referrals. Getting referrals from satisfied customers is a free and effective way to grow your business. Make it a practice to ask for referrals once you know that customers are happy with your product or service.

9 — Promote with public relations. When your business is featured in a newspaper, on a website or on TV or radio, that publicity can be far more powerful than paid advertising in terms of impressing potential customers. Create a list of relevant reporters, bloggers and other journalists, and keep them updated about newsworthy events in your business. Social media, especially Twitter, is a great place to connect with members of the media and stay abreast of what topics they are writing about so you can offer something of value to them.

Remember, you have options when it comes to taking your business online. And no matter what approach you take, you don’t have to pay much to have an online presence. In as little as 10 minutes and for less than the cost of lunch, you can register a domain name and start growing your business online.