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Promote Your Small Business, Product, or Service Inexpensively (or for Free)

Updated on August 31, 2020
drmiddlebrook profile image

A former university communications professor, Sallie, an independent publisher, also writes romantic fiction novels and short stories.

This article presents a short list of ten low-cost/no-cost elements that can extend anyone's budget for advertising and promotions. The list includes, in no particular order, near freebies and low-cost tactics, as well as items that cost a little more, but are well worth it based on the potential for effectiveness.

There's an old saying in the ad business that at least 50 percent of all advertising is a waste of money. It's probably true — and if you're an advertiser who has figured out which half of your ad budget is useless, not only should you be saving tons of cash, you should also be raking in tons of dough from selling one of the best kept secrets about advertising. The truth is, most marketers/advertisers have not achieved this wisdom, and until they do, most will continue executing as many different kinds of advertising tactics as possible, because they don't want to run the risk of not using some tactic that just might work.

Although we all might feel "inundated" by it, advertising is still one of the areas of marketing that can be "fun" to be involved in. I studied advertising as a graduate student at the University of Illinois (Champaign/Urbana), I've worked for advertising agencies, as a marketing and advertising consultant, and I once taught advertising courses at major universities. Even though the world of advertising is evolving, along with the world of electronics and technology (and the people who use them), there are still things I know about that can be used effectively, that are also free or inexpensive.

Know Your Customer and Prepare a Solid Foundation for Effective Advertising and Promotions

Before attempting any advertising or promotional campaigns, it is important to know who you are trying to reach with your efforts. If you've been in business for a while, you should know which group or groups of people represent your best customers. Still, for the sake of planning, define who you want to reach with your efforts. Be as specific as possible, providing as much detail as you can to your description(s). Include information such as your best prospect's gender, age, income range, education level, employment status, family size, and any other demographic or lifestyle information you may have. The more you know about your best prospects, the more precisely you'll be able to communicate with them.

Information seekers often check the Internet first, so if you don't currently have a website, you should get one prior to launching your promotional efforts. These days, there are many low-cost ways to get a website built, without spending tons of money. Companies such as, and, for example, provide easy to use sites allowing anyone to get a professional-looking website up and going, without spending a lot of money.

The Ten . . .

There are many things a marketer or small business owner can do in the way of advertising, promotion, and publicity, that cost little or nothing. And when you become successful enough to be able to afford more sophisticated advertising techniques, there are ways of measuring, to some extent, just how effective these methods are in terms of helping you grow your business.

As you consider these ten items, keep in mind that the primary concern should be execution of advertising tactics that will do for your business what it is intended to do, and that is to cause more people to purchase more from your business.

1. If you're in business and you have customers, ask for referrals, consistently! Never shy away from asking for referrals from those who've shown you they love your products or services. Chances are some are already helping to spread the word about you. Why not invite more people to join in? You could print attractive and informative business cards that include your logo and you could hand them out where you do business, or anywhere you go! If appropriate for your business, you could allow customers to use your card as a discount certificate or other incentive. Or, you can have it placed on a magnetic backing so that it (hopefully) winds up in your customers' homes, on their refrigerators

2. Maintain a consistent image. If you use letterhead stationery in your business, be sure that it matches your business card. This will help you keep your business "identity" as consistent as possible.

3. Use social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, to offer online profiles of your business with links to your website. Also, look for high quality local search engines where you can list or provide a description of your business. Some will allow you to include a map of your location.


4. Print up some gift certificates. Gift certificates are a good way to let your customers introduce you to potential new customers. Since you get paid up front for the product or service, these are cash-flow friendly.

5. Send birthday and holiday cards to clients showing your logo and reminding them of your continued interest. Customer comment cards are a great way to solicit feedback and involve your clients in your business.

6. Develop a brochure that provides details about your product or service. You can purchase three-fold brochure stock from suppliers such as Paper Direct in small quantities (order online at, or call 800-272-7377). The paper stock comes in attractive cuts and colors, and you can use template software to generate, from your computer, low-cost but classy looking brochures.


7. Flyers can be a good option for tight budgets. You can create flyers inexpensively on your computer, or even get a local print shop to prepare them. Look into the cost of using full-color flyers, or use colored paper stock that allows your words and graphic elements to pop. After getting flyers printed, post them on as many bulletin boards as you can find. You can also keep them handy at your retail location(s), and even use them as bag stuffers or inserts to include in anything that you mail to customers or suppliers.

8. Use the power of the press release. If you know something about your company or your products/services that you believe is "newsworthy," be sure to send out press releases (and photos to print media too, if you have some related to your news) to local newspapers, radio stations, cable TV stations, and print and online publications that reach your target prospects.

9. Create little "traveling billboards." Think about adding specialty items to your promotional repertoire, such as little boxes or other containers filled with toothpicks, breath mints, or hand sanitizer, with you logo and contact information. People like getting freebies, and items like T-shirts, key chains, pens and pencils, and calendars are considered as premium advertising vehicles. If you think specialty products might work with your prospects, and if they fit with your kind of business, if they're useful items, they can be a good use of a limited budget because they're likely to be kept around for a while.

Don't turn your nose up at the idea of bumper stickers, balloons, buttons, T-shirts, and decals. These are all good examples of ad specialty signage with proven effectiveness. Look for promotional suppliers, locally or online, to find hundreds of ideas for "walking billboards" that might work well in your advertising or promotional program.

Paper and/or plastic bags and packaging can also be used as economical billboards. You can use them to place your company name, logo, and any advertising or promotional message on all sides.

10. Increase your credibility by creating your own publicity. Offer to be a speaker at conferences, volunteer organizations, libraries, and local business groups that seek speakers. Getting known as an expert in your field will generate name recognition for you and your company.

Write an article about you and/or your business. Show that you are an "expert" at what you do or sell, then find noncompeting print and online publications that accept articles from experts in your field. Remember to include in your article your name, the name of your business, and your contact information (phone numbers, website address, location). If the article is published, ask the editor for permission to reprint it. If you get the okay, print and include the article with any advertising or promotional effort that allows you to include the reprint as an insert.

If someone else says or writes something positive about your product or service that gets printed, reprint it, and add it to your flyers, brochures, and any other place where it fits to enhance your image and your credibility.


Advertising creative strategy should always use as a blueprint the primary product/service benefit to prospects; a description of the most likely or "best" target prospect, and the primary objective of the advertising (what you want your advertising to accomplish). In other words, if advertising is not done with a strategy in mind, then it is not likely to be effective, so it doesn't matter if it is creative or not. Advertising is “disciplined creativity,” or creativity with a purpose. An advertisement should be a living creative statement of your strategy.

In addition to creativity, remember that frequency and consistency are key to effective advertising. Always send the same message, and send it whenever the opportunity arises.

© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD


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