Between influencers, paid search, outsourcing design, and everything else, marketing has gotten expensive. Spending on marketing has been on a dramatic upward swing for some time now, and will almost certainly continue to increase. For larger businesses, this doesn't present a particularly difficult challenge, because they need only adjust and reallocate a few numbers to their marketing budget.

But for other businesses, the increase in spending on marketing means it's only getting more difficult to compete. For smaller, independent, and locally owned businesses, there isn't always extra money that can be pulled from one expense and reallocated to a marketing budget. This presents both problems and opportunities: problems, because it's already hard for smaller businesses to compete with bigger businesses/budgets and online retailers; opportunities, because it's a chance to get creative with your marketing strategy while learning more about how your business can connect with your audience.

Contrary to what the predominance of digital marketing, SEO, and paid search would lead you to think, you don't have to swear off traditional marketing tactics completely. In fact, if you're working with a limited or nonexistent budget, there are plenty of effective, "old school" marketing strategies that work well when paired with some digital strategies. For marketing on a dime, these 5 marketing ideas mix up some effective ways to blend digital and traditional marketing at little to no cost.

1. Use Social Media

The free option of marketing across social media platforms is teeming with possibilities. Yes, many businesses pay for promoted advertising and targeting on social media platforms, but there are plenty of other ways you can very effectively reach your users. Some of my favorite free social media marketing tactics are:

  • Hosting a contest. Maybe a photo contest or a tagging contest. Whatever the contest is, people love freebies and it's a quick way to increase followers.
  • Posting tutorials. If you sell products, you can demonstrate how to use them in a way that compels users to buy them. For example, a boutique could demonstrate a bunch of different ways to wear a scarf they sell.
  • Personalizing your brand. There's a local bakery I follow that does this particularly well. By posting pictures of happy bakers baking or being silly with frosting, they create a personalized charm for their brand. Now, when I think of cupcakes, I think of that bakery.
  • Sharing helpful tips/information. For example, if you're a local auto shop and your city got an unexpected blizzard, share some winter car care tips or advice on driving in the snow. It'll be quick and easy for your users to read, and something they're likely to share.

2. Create a Loyalty Program

This doesn't have to be nearly as expensive as it sounds. To implement a loyalty program, it could be something as simple as a strategic email list. Let's say you have an email loyalty sign-up sheet at your register. You can entice customers to sign up by emailing a birthday coupon, or giving them store credit when they refer someone. If you're a local coffee shop, print off some punch cards that make every 10th coffee free. These are easy ways to reward your customers for their loyalty without breaking the bank.

3. Partner With Another Business

Creating mutually beneficial relationships can be really helpful for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, you can create a small business ally that sends customers in your direction. Second, you have someone to learn alongside. By finding a business in a similar financial situation that complements yours, you can develop a strategic business partnership.

Let's revisit the auto body shop and coffee shop I mentioned earlier. If you own one of those businesses and the two happen to be right next door to one another, why not work out a little partnered marketing? If a customer of the auto shop has to wait for a repair, why not send them next door with a $1 off coupon? And why not leave a pricing menu/business card for the auto shop by the register for customers to see? This is particularly effective for local businesses, as customers can come to associate a certain area or neighborhood with specific goods and services.

4. Make the Most of Your Reviews

Online reviews are really, really important for businesses. Why? Because 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, and that number jumps to 92% as it pertains to local businesses. Reviews are one of your greatest online marketing assets, because it speaks directly to the experience and/or products your business has to offer. This is good, because optimizing your reviews is a really easy process.

Start by asking for reviews from all of your customers, especially the most loyal and returning customers. Then build asking reviews into an everyday practice. Once you have the reviews, be sure to respond to all of them. Good reviews, bad reviews, neutral reviews, whatever the case may be, engage with the users leaving them, because it's as effective as free marketing gets.

5. Support a Cause

Supporting a cause = free marketing and publicity. You might not have the money to donate, but you most certainly have the man power to volunteer. You could for half a day and promote that employees will be volunteering for a cause the business has chosen to support. This works, firstly because customers are more compelled to purchase goods or services from a business they feel an ethical attachment to, and secondly because many charities offer free publicity in exchange for business support.