Creative Marketing Ideas When You Have a $0 Budget

As a small or medium-sized business, it’s often difficult to plan and justify adding expensive marketing tactics into your budget every month. We looked into some creative marketing ideas and created a list of simple ways you can increase customers and sales without breaking the bank. Enjoy!

1. Get Social.

There are a lot of social networks to keep track of- SnapchatTwitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, YouTube, etc. At the very least, your business should have a profile on the appropriate networks that gives basic contact information and a description. If you really want to get the most out of these social networks you will need to be, well, social. Your business should interact with the people that like the page, mention you in posts or tag you in pictures.  Social networks are a no-cost way to give your audience updates on your business, invite them to give feedback on your products or services and encourage them to share their experiences at your business with their friends.

2. Partnerships.

Find a business similar to yours and team up. If your product or service naturally goes with another business then it is a great idea to offer a package deal or to recommend each other to customers. A partnership doubles the amount of exposure your business gets.

3. Local Awards & Lists.

Every city, big or small, has its own list of top cafes, salons, boutiques, mechanics, etc. Get on these lists by contacting the organizations or individuals creating the lists. There may be some cost to be included, but these lists stay published and will help get you exposure for far longer than the voting stage exists.

4. Host Events & Classes.

Plan an event at your location for your customers to meet and mingle. This encourages your existing customers to introduce their friends to your business. You can create a special offer, give away a gift, or present a complimentary class that is valuable to your clients. Events and classes give your business exposure, introduces you to new clients, and solidifies you as an expert in the community.

Plan an event at your location for your customers to meet and mingle. This encourages your existing customers to introduce their friends to your business. You can create a special offer, give away a gift, or present a complimentary class that is valuable to your clients. Events and classes give your business exposure, introduces you to new clients, and solidifies you as an expert in the community.

Plan an event at your location for your customers to meet and mingle. This encourages your existing customers to introduce their friends to your business. You can create a special offer, give away a gift, or present a complimentary class that is valuable to your clients. Events and classes give your business exposure, introduces you to new clients, and solidifies you as an expert in the community.

5. Referrals.

Asking your customers to recommend your business is a great way to get new customers. Some businesses use referral cards or codes to track referrals and reward the customers that bring new clients. When incentives are aligned, having a referral network is the quickest most cost effective way to grow your customer base.

6. Email Marketing.

After your customers leave your business, email is a great way to stay in contact. You should collect customer email addresses as they checkout, whether online or in-store. You can send them special offers, business updates, event invitations, or create a newsletter with all of the above. Most email platforms like MailChimp or CakeMail have plans that let you send to a limited number of contacts for free.

With little to no budget, you can use these marketing strategies to increase brand awareness and drive sales. It doesn’t cost anything but your time and attention to create a great customer experience and encourage a community that will recognize and recommend your business.

4 Must-Dos for Small Business Saturday

In 2010, American Express founded Small Business Saturday to encourage people to shop at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Research shows consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday spent $5.7 billion with independent merchants the day of the event last year.  This event should definitely be on your radar as you prepare to kickstart the holiday season. Here are a few key ways to make sure you are getting the most out of Small Business Saturday:

1. Offer A Special.

It’s no secret that offers and deals are the main reason most people are out shopping on Small Business Saturday. Enticing new and existing customers with special pricing or a free gift is a great way to increase traffic to your store on Small Business Saturday and the rest of the holiday season.

2. Create an Experience.

The special pricing you create on Small Business Saturday will be what gets the people in the door, but the experience you provide is what will encourage them to make a purchase, tell their friends about you, and become loyal repeat customers. Small Business Saturday is a unique way for you to introduce yourself to the community, so tell your story and give them the experience to remember.

3. Be Prepared.

If you have taken all the right steps of marketing your business you are bound to have a great turnout for Small Business Saturday. The only thing that could ruin this great sales day is if you are understaffed or run out of a product. Make sure you have prepped your staff and ordered enough product to keep your shelves stocked.

4. Give Your Customers Something to Share. 

If you have provided an amazing experience and a quality product to your customers they will want to tell their friends. Make sure you have some sort of collateral, digital or physical, for them to remember you by and that can lead to simple, easy referrals. Also, make sure your website, social media profiles and online listings are up to date with your contact info, hours, services, pricing, and inventory so your business can be easily referenced.

Lastly, American Express offers a ton of free resources to help businesses market themselves on Small Business Saturday. They also have some success stories from businesses that have participated in the past if you need some inspiration.

Good luck and remember #ShopSmall and #ShopLocal!

Small Businesses Get Customers Through Word of Mouth

Should businesses spend money on ad placements when most people have learned to ignore them? Do people trust advertisements?

It is nearly impossible to avoid marketing messages. We are constantly being targeted. We see ads on signs and billboards while we walk down the street, we hear ads while we live stream music or podcasts, we see logos on jerseys and on the foods and drinks we consume…advertisements are everywhere.

Advertisers worldwide spent $545.40 billion in 2014 on paid traditional, digital and mobile media. Do all these ads affect purchasing behavior? Should businesses spend that much on ad placements when most people have learned to ignore them? Do people trust advertisements?


According to a Neilson study, word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family are the most influential. 84 percent of respondents say they trust the information about a product or business coming from their network. Branded websites, online reviews, and editorial content follow on the list at around 70 percent trustworthy and traditional, digital and mobile ads are at the bottom of the list.

Today’s average consumer sees right through exaggerations, photoshopping and sponsored posts. So if you’re going to advertise, make sure you are truthful and transparent. It has become entirely too easy for consumers to research companies, cofounders, and products. With a handful of clicks, you can do a quick price comparison, see the competitors and check reviews online.

With information so widely available and a research-happy audience, businesses need to shift their marketing strategy from general advertising to developing branded websites, managing online reviews, content marketing and encouraging referrals. Since consumers have instant access to their trusted networks and can ask for recommendations via a post, tweet, text or phone call it is essential for businesses to be memorable and to create emotional connections with their customers.

Marketing and advertising strategies should include spending money and time to build general brand awareness and even more money and time to create amazing customer experiences. Today’s marketplace research proves new customers come primarily from existing customers’ networks, so referrals and testimonials are extremely (if not the most) valuable. A single recommendation from a trusted friend will resonate and perform better than any number of ad campaigns.

By focusing on personalized customer experiences, a business can create a growing network of influencers eager to tell their friends.

5 Steps to Creating a Retail Experience People Will Share

Online shopping gives consumers the biggest selection and the most competitive prices.

How can brick and mortar retail even compete?

Retail stores are in a unique situation where they can personalize and walk a customer through the entire shopping experience in a way online will never be able to. By creating an excellent customer experience, brick and mortar retail stores create loyalty and a personal relationship with customers and store owners and associates that will be remembered and shared with friends.

Here are 5 ways retail stores can create an experience customers will rave about:

1. Create a community.

As a retail store, you most likely interact with customers in-person at the time of purchase, however there are many ways to keep that relationship going. Creating an online community that encourages feedback and opens communication between you and your customers is key to setting yourself up to be a highly recommended business. Some businesses use their Facebook page to ask for suggestions on upcoming inventory and ask customers to share photos of their latest purchases on Instagram so they can re-gram it and share it with their audience. Staying engaged,  sharing customer content and asking for suggestions will make customers feel like they are part of the brand and they will be excited to share these experiences with friends.

2. Be a trusted expert.

If your customers can come to you to purchase the latest products as well as to get overall industry advice you are in a really great position. To become a trusted industry expert you need to make solving the customers’ problem your main concern and worry about sales later. Doing research on other products besides your own and even your competition’s stores to determine the best solution will keep customers coming back and your name will be remembered and shared when industry questions arise.

3. Build an inviting environment.

I’m sure we have all been in a store that is disorganized, dimly lit or has horrible background music. A place where someone is about to invest some of their hard-earned money should be comfortable and somewhere they want to spend time in and don’t feel rushed.  Some stores offer beverages to shoppers or hold their coats or bags so they can comfortably browse. More comfort = more time in the store = a pleasant experience and potentially more dollars spent. Do your best to create a clean, open, organized store environment and you are on your way to more repeat customers and more referrals.

4. Fix problems fast.

Every store is going to have some not-so-perfect interactions.  Make sure to fix these problems as quickly as you can and without burdening your customer with multiple efforts or failed attempts.  You should have a process in place that every store associate knows so they can follow a protocol and put the customer at ease. Quick, easy interactions (good or bad) remind customers that you are organized and professional and you do not want to waste any of their time.

5. Personalize the experience.

With the technology of today, consumers expect a personalized experience. This means that blanket emails could hurt your brand. When crafting your marketing strategy you should include personalization in every place you can with email newsletters, unique offers, and recommended products lists. Knowing a customer’s name and their tastes promote loyalty. Keeping customers happy and coming back (with friends hopefully!) is just as important as bringing in new customers.

86% of consumers will pay up to 25% more for a better customer experience.

With the right strategy, retail stores can create a better experience than stale, online purchasing. The best part is that people are willing to pay more for these experiences! According to Oracle’s Customer Impact Report, 86 percent of consumers will pay up to 25 percent more for a better customer experience. Focusing on creating an excellent customer experience will result in increased sales and build a loyal customer base that will keep coming back for more.

Your Consumers Define Your Brand

A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is. It’s what consumers tell each other it is.

Marketing and PR was a lot less complicated a few decades ago.  Now we have online communities testing products and posting reviews for anything and everything you could think of.  It is so incredibly important for brands to be present and participate in these discussions regarding their products and services.

My advice: More feedback means you can make a more valuable product. So listen! Seeing instant feedback from users is so beneficial and allows you to make edits and improve the user experience. Not agreeing with a suggestion or review is obviously inevitable, but you can use those situations as opportunities to discuss your brand’s core philosophy or mission and how maybe that particular suggestion just can’t/won’t work.

The bottom line is that people are going to talk about products they like and dislike (they really like talking about products they dislike!).  By being in the room and listening to suggestions and critiques you can make improvements on your product and use the opportunity to define your brand’s voice by how you respond and interact.