Marketing ideas on a shoestring budget: marketing efforts don’t have to break the bank. These six ideas will keep your name out there and customers coming through the door

Marketing ideas on a shoestring budget: marketing efforts don’t have to break the bank. These six ideas will keep your name out there and customers coming through the door – business corner

Lynn Fey

One of the biggest myths in marketing is you must have a big budget in order to be successful. In my experience, when you lack the cash, all you need is a little creativity. Here are a few ideas that will keep your business in the black and your register ringing.

Leverage Public Relations

It’s hard to beat positive public relations as a marketing tool. It’s free, believable, helps establish your identity, gives credibility, and best of all–it’s memorable.

However, even though public relations is free, it’s not cheap. To get the word out about your business takes time, patience and energy. If you have an interesting story to tell, enthusiasm for what you do, good phone skills and persistence, you are well on your way to successful public relations.

If you prefer to delegate the job, local freelance talent is the best way to achieve results and keep the cost down. Check with your local chapters of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) or local journalism school for freelance talent. They can provide you with expertise, creativity and the ever-important “contacts” needed to make a PR connection.

To create a successful PR effort, your ideas must be newsworthy. An ad disguised as a story will never work. You must offer something of interest to the reader–possibly introducing a new artist, a new product, a new location or a new store manager. Think in terms of describing what is unique about your business; tell of an upcoming event or create a connection between your business and current news or trends.

Once you receive positive PR, make it work for you as long as possible. Mail reprints to your customers, place copies on your design counter and proudly frame and display a copy in your shop.

Create Marketing Partnerships

A successful marketing partnership will optimize limited marketing dollars and expand your potential customer reach. The keys to success are a common market, non-competing products or services, shared values and comparable resources. It also requires a willingness to be imaginative and a commitment to creating programs that work equally well for both parties.

In custom framing, you might consider a marketing partnership with a great restaurant located in the same shopping center as your store, a local bridal boutique or an upscale children’s store, just to name a few.

Once you find a marketing partner, work together to print joint promotional messages on each other’s sales receipts; hang signage or merchandising materials promoting each other; drop each others’ flyers into shopping bags; pool mailing lists and send out joint promotion postcards or e-mail messages; co-sponsor an event; or share the cost of an advertisement in local shopping newspapers or non-profit event programs.

Commit to Customer Retention

One of your biggest advantages as a small business is the ability to develop and nurture customer relationships. Customers crave it, and it’s almost impossible for the big guys to compete with you in this area. How can you retain the customers you have?

Start by focusing on the top 20 percent of your customer base, and commit to communicating with these customers on a regular basis. Maintain a personal level of contact so they know you value their business and sincerely care about their needs.

Inexpensive options include: acknowledging birthdays, anniversaries, successes and life events; sending handwritten notes; providing an e-mail newsletter filled with information your customers would find of interest; and offering value-added services to your best customers and/or creating programs that reward repeat business.

Utilize Sponsorship Opportunities

Evaluate sponsorships in the same way you evaluate all marketing opportunities. I suggest looking for sponsorships with a direct tie to what you’re selling and the target audience you wish to reach.

For example, be a sponsor of a local art contest or an artist award. Work in conjunCtion with a local art museum to create opportunities that keep your name in front of the public; donate your services through a silent auction; provide art and framing for a Habitat for Humanity project in your area.

Keep in mind, sponsorships can be in dollars or product and service donations.

Learn to Network Effectively

To really understand networking, it’s helpful to understand what it is not. Networking is not giving your business card to everyone in the room. It’s not a quick-sell scheme, and it’s not selling.

When looking for networking opportunities, stay close to your main target audience. Collect more cards than you hand out. Listen more than talk. Ask open-ended questions. Perfect your 30-second “what you do” speech. Get involved on an organization’s board or special committee, and keep coming back.

Once you’ve made a good connection, keep it alive. Give contacts a hot lead, mail an article they may find of interest, or recommend a book. Most importantly, do things without expecting a return. Think of networking as planting a garden. You won’t see the results overnight, but the long-term benefits are well worth the wait.

Discover Budget Leaks

Most businesses have a leak in their budget somewhere. Discover your leak, and use the dollars you save to fund other, more effective marketing tools. Start by examining your yellow page advertising.

For some, yellow page advertising is a necessity. Think of the companies you first found in the yellow pages. Plumbers, tree removal, carpet cleaners and services that are not used on a regular basis come to mind first. These types of businesses can benefit tremendously from this form of advertising.

When looking for a custom framer, interior designer, car mechanic, caterer, etc., consumers tend to lean more toward referrals to make their selection.

Over the years, I have spoken to many custom framers and other business owners who can tell me exactly how much they spend annually on yellow page advertising and how many sales per month they generate from their placements. Unfortunately, there are just as many who, when pressed to share their advertising return, give vague answers or admit they don’t have a clue–but are still convinced they “have” to be there.

My advice? Ask all new customers how they came to hear about you. Keep a written log of how many calls you receive and how many people actually visit your shop. Record the dollar amount and profit of each sale, and compare this to your yellow page investment.

Armed with this information, you can then effectively determine what your ad size should be and the number of publications where your ad should run. Work with your yellow page representative to evaluate the effectiveness of your current ad, and/or collaborate with other framers who may not compete in the same part of town to share the cost of a larger display ad.

Yellow page advertising does not have to be an all or nothing proposition. I simply suggest you know how hard it’s working for you, and make sure it pays off every year.


* International Association of Business Communicators (415) 544-4700,

* Public Relations Society of America (212) 460-1453,


A book on inexpensive, yet highly effective marketing ideas is Secrets of Power Marketing by Peter Urs Bender and George Tork, This idea-packed guide offers tips and suggestions on how to keep your marketing efforts alive regardless of your budget size.

Lynn Fey has more than 17 years of marketing experience with a diverse range of products and services. She currently owns her own marketing consulting firm, InSight Solutions, which is based in Atlanta. She can be reached at

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