Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

I’ve worked in marketing for a number of years with clients with both large and small budgets and with a number of not-for-profit organizations that typically need to keep costs down. My personal approach to marketing, regardless of budget, is to always strive to “get the most, for the least” (in terms of time/money/effort). And, in truth, these days most organizations’ budgets are dwindling so less is definitely more!

Foundationally, I feel the key to marketing on a small budget (or large budget, for that matter) is to have a very, very thorough understanding of both your desired objectives and your target audience. This seems obvious and most marketers will say they do. But, in my experience, I generally find that businesses often spend far too little time at the front end clarifying what it is they wish to achieve and thoroughly understanding their target audience. That target audience understanding will include demographics, of course, but should also include a consideration of what drives that audience, what influences them, and what they do with their time–at work, at home and in pursuit of leisure activities.


In truth, the more you know about your target audience the more clearly, and narrowly, you can identify the best communication methods to reach them. It may make more sense, and have more impact, to do a very targeted direct mail campaign to 100 individuals than to run an ad during the nightly news. You may reach *more* people with your TV ad, but if they’re not the *right* people it really doesn’t matter how many you reach.


Another tip: thinking creatively about ways to connect with your audience. It’s common to follow the masses and do what everybody else is doing or what you’re most familiar with as a consumer. But, thinking creatively can help you identify no-cost/low-cost ways to get your messages in front of the right people. So, for instance, if you operate a restaurant in a resort community, perhaps the local bars might be interested in using coasters that you provide that include your restaurant’s logo, web address or QR code that takes them directly to your menu. If you have a beauty salon, maybe local boutiques would be willing to put postcards or flyers in their customers’ bags.


Social media is what most people think about today when they think about cost-effective marketing, and it can be cost-effective. But, like any other communication tool it’s only as effective as the number of qualified prospects it reaches. Time translates, of course, into money.


Finally, it’s important to note that you don’t always need to advertise. You may be able to gain traction through leveraging word-of-mouth among existing customers, clients or patients; conducting various business development or outreach efforts; or gaining exposure through PR/media coverage.


I don’t believe there is a direct correlation between how much you spend on marketing and the results you achieve. There is, though, a very direct correlation between how much time you take to think strategically about your marketing efforts and the results you attain.


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