So, your product is great, the business plan is so sound your bank manager has already booked his triplets into Eton and you’re mentally picking out the colours of that holiday home in the Bahamas you’ve promised to buy yourself as soon as your business makes you stinking rich.

Just one problem: you don’t have any customers. Why? Because no one knows you exist yet. As a small business it’s unlikely that you’re in a position to run five-minute ads in between X Factor and Jonathan Ross, and that double-page spread in The Times may stretch your 12-quid advertising budget just a little too much. Hell, you can’t even afford any PR.

So, what are you going to do? The answer is low-cost/no-cost marketing.

There are plenty of ways you can get your company’s name out there – I’ve already talked a lot about the possibilities of Twitter and Facebook, for example. It doesn’t end there, though; all you need is a little imagination and a bit of smooth talking – things you’ll already have in spades as a small business-owner. Try these ideas:

Reciprocal Marketing

Keep an eye out for brands that you may have some crossover with and ask if they’d like to do a little reciprocal marketing with you. Say, for example, you run a stables and you know someone who sells equestrian equipment – some publicity for them on your website could well lead to them doing the same for you, meaning that both business are exposed to new customers. This could be a blog post or even a small banner ad – the important thing is that you’re both widening your customer base with little effort or outlay.


These are a great way to drive traffic to your site and get publicity for your company. You can offer a prize of your own services, or alternatively get in touch with a brand who your customers will like and ask them if they’d like to give away something in return for some publicity on your website. If your business is less web-driven, you can approach local newspapers and blogs (they love competitions as they drive traffic), and offer prizes to their readers in return for that all-important plug.

Email capture

Getting people’s email is an art and a really useful way of keeping your business in customers’ minds. If your business is online, offer people the chance to sign up to offers/competitions. If you have a shop, put out an attractive exercise book in the store and ask customers to sign up for discount vouchers and promotions via email. Just remember, people hate being hassled with hard-sell publicity – make sure what you’re offering is worth acting upon.

Be your own PR officer

Local newspapers are crying out for story leads, so give them ready-made quotes and features. Work out what the news agenda is in your area and then put together a press release, or if you’re not a great writer, ask someone to help you with it. For example, before Spain won the last World Cup, regional newspapers were full of pieces about restaurants running tapas nights and flamenco evenings – a win-win for both brands and editors alike. It can be anything, just make sure you’re offering a spin on a relevant news story. They’ll bite your hand off.

Viral marketing

There’s no better way of getting people to notice your product than putting together something people want to email to each other or post on social media sites. If you don’t have the expertise in-house, you could approach some local media students through their college and offer them an affordable fee for helping you make a short film, a snippet of animation or even a funny Photoshop picture. Stick your logo on the bottom and a link to your website, and your traffic should increase.

Do you have any good ideas for low-cost/no-cost marketing for small businesses?