How to do marketing on a budget

You can manage your marketing budget by setting clear marketing goals and public relation strategies. This guide explains how to review your current marketing spend, how to maintain your regular customers and attract new customers.

1. Overview

You don't need to spend a lot of money on marketing to gain significant benefits.

Whether you are a startup business on a tight budget or an established business trying to cut your marketing spend, there are a number of cost-effective marketing solutions. 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. It also explores how to maintain your regular customers and attract new customers to your business.

2. Review your marketing budget

It's important to review and evaluate your marketing budget regularly. You should 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.

3. 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:

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 which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

4. Attract, win and keep your customers

You should focus on satisfying your current customers, encouraging past customers and attracting new customers to your business.

Get more from your customer base

You should try to build and maintain your relationship with your regular customer base on each interaction or sale.

There are many ways to do this when on a tight budget:

  • 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:

  • 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

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

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.

Make sure you choose a reputable business to team up with in this way - oherwise you could end up with their mistakes tarnishing your reputation.

5. Public relations on a budget

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 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

6. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is an 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.

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 help:

  • boost your web sales
  • improve your online brand reach
  • find customers in a new country

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.

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.

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

Read our guide Write an e-marketing plan

Sandile Shabangu

149 Startup Blog posts