Marketing, specifically the process of getting new customers, is not only difficult, it can seem darned near impossible for new businesses.

But I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s really difficult for established businesses, including large established businesses, too. The old maxim that “I know only 20 percent of my advertising works but I don’t know which 20 percent” is more often true than you would think.

It is essential that a new small business find some marketing that works. You need new customers – or you won’t have any customers. And you need them now.

When you’ve launched your initial marketing campaigns and the results are disappointing, the temptation is to “ramp it up” and spend whatever it takes to make it happen. Maybe try a new advertising campaign, or run ads with more frequency.

Instead, I suggest you first try putting your effort into every single low-cost, cheap marketing trick imaginable. Try some really creative, compelling, and fun ways to bring in business without spending a lot of money.

However, before you even consider which cheap marketing tricks to employ consider the bigger picture. Do you have a differentiated strategy that gives your marketing efforts a good chance of success? Do you have not only differentiated but good quality products or services?

What Is a USP and Why Do I Need One?

Next, either develop – or review if you already have one – a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). This is a very important concept, for which I have a separate presentation. But to summarize it, a USP is a succinct, memorable message that identifies a unique benefit that is derived from using your product or service as opposed to that of a competitors.

An example of a USP from my first business, Bob’s Rent-A-Bike, was based directly of my core strategy: unlike the competition, which stationed bikes around the town, I delivered bicycles directly to the customers’ campsites, motels, or summer vacation homes. My USP was “Bike rentals, delivered free!” Short, sweet and powerful.

Leverage the Internet in Every Way Possible

One of the first places I’d go to ramp up cheap marketing tricks would be the Internet. Think long and hard about how you can totally leverage the Internet in every way possible. To some degree, the Internet is a great equalizer – it gives a tiny new start-up business instant access to every consumer in the world, including all of those consumers currently patronizing its competitors’ business.

Turn Your Website into a Selling Machine

I’d start close to home with my company’s website. Ask yourself: is my website doing all the work it can? Does it simply look nice, professional, and announce your products and services? Or does it really sell someone on the idea of using them?

Is your website designed to entice your potential customers? Does it show how your products or services are different from your competitors? Does it answer possible concerns or objections your customers might have to using your products or services?

Does your website have a compelling call-to-action? Is there a reason, such as a limited-time special offer, that compels your prospect to buy today? Turning your website into a “selling machine” is such an important topic that I have a separate presentation on it.

Drive Traffic to Your Website

Next, I’d spend a lot of thought on figuring out how I can drive a ton of traffic – potential customers – to my website without spending a lot of money. I would use search engine optimization tools so the website ranks high in search engines. I would make the website interesting enough so that people referred it to their friends. I’d reference it on any advertising, business cards, or even bills I send out.

I would use social media to drive traffic to the website, and I’d regularly update content or messages. I would try to capture the emails of prospects and customers, and I would use database marketing techniques to reach to these people using carefully timed campaigns.

16 Really Cheap Marketing Ideas

Then I would use every other cheap marketing idea, on and off the website, to try to attract and close customers. Some of these might require offering deep discounts or free trials or even free products to get attention. But I can tell you that any of these cheap marketing tricks would likely be a lot less expensive than a major media advertising campaign.

Offer Coupons
 Online and Offline

Coupons aren’t just something that appear in big expensive newspaper ads!

You can simply create a few coupons on your printer and personally hand them out on a busy sidewalk, put them on car windshields or deliver them to targeted homes.

Or you can distribute them online via your website, email, or through social media.

You can have coupons that you target for new customers; coupons that you send to previous customers and coupons that you present customers as they make a purchase—good towards their next purchase.

Coupons can be simple in design because their message is typically price, not image.

Start a Blog

Regardless of the type of business you are managing, you should start a Blog. It generates traffic to your business’s website and creates a community revolving around your business. It is also beneficial for your main website’s ranking on Search Engines as it gives you a free relevant backlink. Setting up your Blog should be almost free and very easy; especially if you use popular hosts like WordPress and Google Blogger.

On your Blog, you should regularly post engaging and relevant content targeting your industry and activity. You should encourage people to comment on your articles. Don’t forget to answer them to create a true dialogue and community.

Hold a Contest

Yes everyone loves a contest! Win or lose its just a lot of fun! And a great way to attract attention and excitement for your businesses. Make your contest as offbeat and interesting as possible and you will get people participating, talking about it, and maybe even the local TV station will cover the story.

Give Away Gifts

There are all kinds of ways you can offer free gifts and drive sales. Most commonly you think of the perfume dealers offering a little gift with the big bottle…but this kind of promotion can work with any other business too! Even if you have a service business with a high ticket item you can offer something free to close the sale! For example if you are house painter you could offer Free garage painting with your next house painting job! Or even better…Free Interior house painting when we paint your exterior! People are irrational…they know rationally that they are somehow paying for the freebie..but they like the sound of it and these kind of give-aways can work big time!

Lock-in Frequent Buyers

We may first think of the airline frequent flier programs but these kinds of deals can work for anyone. Many decades ago my local record store (does anybody even remember what a record was?) gave you a punch on their frequent buyer card with every purchase—ten punches and you got a free record!

Offer Incentives for Referrals

The most powerful referral incentive works two ways. First you offer your current customers an incentive for bringing in a new customer. For example, bring in a friend to try out our gym and we’ll give you one month free extended membership! Then secondly they offer a deal for the new customer too. For example and the friend you bring in will get half price on the initiation fee! This way you are extra excited and incented to talk up the promotion to all your friends!

Start a Social Media Presence

Establishing a consistent Social media presence is easy, free, and allows you to manage your business’s community and online presence. Most of the businesses should have a social media presence on at least Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

By regularly posting relevant content on these pages you should be able to gain some legitimacy in your market and -hopefully- become an opinion leader on the subject. In addition, having a good social media presence could boost your customer’s service as it has become common for dissatisfied customer to address issues directly on Facebook and Twitter.

Go All Out on Signage

Even if you don’t have a retail footprint you can use signage! Put in on your car or your truck! If you do home service businesses such as lawn mowing, ask your customers if you can put a sign up on their lawn.

And of course if you if are lucky enough to have retail space don’t skimp! Get a great sign and give it a lot of thought. Keep changing your window display…even if you are a service business. For example, one of my banks used to let business customers use one of their windows for free display…good for the customer! Great for the bank!

And think about temporary signage as well that may help you get around legal limits on signage…balloons, blow-ups, make some noise and get some attention! Signage at the point where your business is located can be incredibly powerful!

Make Customers Feel Special With Exclusives

Offering exclusive purchases or previews of new merchandise to existing customers is a great way to inspire a feeling of excitement and loyalty. To enhance participation, you may wish to offer a discount. If the exclusive offering is, in itself, extremely attractive, the discount can be small.

Host an Interesting Event

There are all kinds of different events you can host at your business to build traffic and get attention. Maybe a celebrity fundraiser? A single’s event? Girls night out? Bring your dog? Even for people you don’t attend the fact you are hosting an event builds a feeling of excitement and authenticity to your business!

Be Local on Google

You may have noticed that searches on Google and other search engines are becoming more and more localized. For this reason, if your business is local and targets a specific area it is imperative that you claim your business’s location on Google. It can easily be done by creating and configuring a Google+ profile. Doing so will allow you to show up more often in searches made in your area and should logically boost your business’s activities and revenue.

Build Cross-Promotions
 with Other Businesses

Most simply you can just pass our cards or flyers for another business and they can promote your business. Or maybe you offer free tickets to the ballgame with a purchase? Or you can get more elaborate and put together an enticing package. For example let’s say you have an art gallery…you can put together a night out including a reception at the art gallery with food and provided at a discount by another featured business and discounted parking at a local parking garage. Or maybe you do a promotion that includes a discounted dinner at a local restaurant? The possibilities are endless.

Save Your Cash with Trades

You know how important I think cash is! But you can “buy” business services and goods without using cash. You can do in kind trades directly with other businesses. Or you can participate in a barter network. Just be careful of the tax implications… non cash sales are still taxable.

Juicy Discounts Pull in the Sale

From my experience selling advertising, too many small businesses wasted time and energy with 10% and 15% off type of sales. Advertising is expensive, it is competitive, and it is hard to get noticed. Unless you offer juicy really deep deals, you are likely to be disappointed with your results. Remember that if you can pull in a repeat customer if may be worthwhile to make that first sale way below cost. And even if you don’t have a repeat customer type of sale, getting satisfied customers in the door will lead to attract other, full-paying customers.

You may want to consider using Groupon and other deal sites. They demand that you offer the customer a huge discount and then they demand that you give them a giant part of the pie. But I have seen businesses built using these websites.

Giving Away Your Goods Can Make You Money

Sounds crazy but it can be true. I remember seeing a sandwich shop open up with free sandwiches on the first day. Hugely successful opening and their business was up and running hard the registers full by the second day!

Even if you have an expensive business you can offer a free trial or free period. For example an executive office complex lured me in with free three months rent for the first year.

The word “Free” is very powerful! Think of someway to make it work for your business!

Offer Special Deals for New Customers

It’s often easy to get potential new customers excited about your business and to listen to your sales pitch, visit your website or read your advertising. But getting them to actually pull the trigger usually requires an extra big “push.”

That’s where special deals for new customers comes in. Special deals just for new customers, and especially time sensitive ones—today only! for example can be crucial for turning browers into buyers!

In Summary…

There are endless cheap marketing ideas that can drive your business ahead! They may not require cash expenses, but they will take energy, time and creativity. Often you will have to rigorously try a number of different promotions to find what really works for you! But don’t rest then, keep mixing it up! Have fun with these promotions and your customers will too!