By Matthew Podolsky, founder & managing attorney at Florida Law Advisers, P.A.

If you’re starting your own business, you’re probably pretty confident in the product or service you have to offer -- so confident, in fact, you may think you can skimp on marketing and rely on word of mouth to gain customers. But you really can’t: No matter how great your offering, you have to get your brand in front of as many eyes as possible if you’re going to thrive.

A large business might have a huge marketing budget with experienced, on-staff marketing experts to handle the work of spreading the word. If you’ve got a small business, though, and especially if you’re just starting out, your marketing budget might be lean. But don’t worry -- you can do a good amount of marketing, with a great return on investment, without breaking the bank.

Here are five ways to effectively market your business on the cheap. In some cases, all it takes is some time, research and a willingness to put yourself out there.

1. Email Marketing

Industry statistics say email marketing is one of the most effective strategies out there. Return on investment is high: $44 for every dollar spent, according to marketing provider Campaign Monitor’s 2016 report. That may be due to the fact that you’re marketing to current customers, who would logically be more likely to invest in your product or service since they already have at least once.

When customers and potential customers land at your website, ask for their email addresses so you can keep them up to date about your products, services, new offerings and promotions -- and make sure the emails are actually valuable. Educational information relevant to your industry is a nice bonus.

Consider sending the emails on Tuesday; Tuesday emails are opened most, following by Monday, followed by Wednesday, according to data compiled by CoSchedule.

2. SEO

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is critical no matter your line of work. At its most basic, it involves establishing keywords that get you into search results when potential customers go looking online for your product or service. The better your SEO practices, the better your position in the search results and the more visible you are to your customer base.

You can hire a company or contractor to handle SEO, or you can deal with it yourself. The latter option is obviously the less expensive one, and if you’re in the early stages of business, that might be the way to go. Just make sure you do your research and put the time in to get it right; a simple search for “SEO best practices” will turn up lots of DIY guides.

3. Social Media

Depending on your line of work, social media may or may not seem like a great fit, but there are different ways to market using that resource. If your business is hair design, photography or landscaping services, Instagram makes sense because you can show your services in a visual medium; if, like me, you provide legal services for a living, maybe not so much. Advertising on LinkedIn and/or Facebook, however, makes perfect sense for just about anybody. Take advantage of the targeted advertising services offered by social-media platforms. It makes it easy to make sure your ad appears where it’s likely to do the most good.

4. Coupons/Promotions

An oldie but a goodie: Who doesn’t love to buy-one-get-one-free? Offer discounts and extras in order to gain new customers and, perhaps more importantly, keep your current customers coming back for more. Again, traditional coupons and promotions may not work for your business, but you might be surprised. Think about what you can offer: Free consultations? Two-for-one deals? Reduced pricing for customers who refer their friends? Everybody loves a deal, so take advantage of the opportunity to drum up more sales.

5. Reciprocal Partnerships

Casual collaboration between businesses can do wonders, and it costs almost nothing. At my dentist’s office, I’ve seen stacks of cards for the massage studio next door, and I’ve seen patients take them. Ask businesses in your vicinity or in complementary industries if they’d like to join you in a reciprocal marketing relationship -- they display cards, coupons, flyers or links to your business, and you do the same for theirs. The cost is negligible, and the benefits can be huge.

These low-cost options are excellent ways to get your business and your message in front of as many eyes as possible. Beyond these options, though, think outside the box: What marketing methods can you implement that your competitors aren’t using?

Seek out opportunities to stand out: Give an expert speech at the local Optimist Club or community gathering, sponsor your kid’s lacrosse team, donate a product or service to fundraising auction or write articles for industry blogs or newsletters. Sometimes, the best low-cost marketing techniques are the ones no one else is using.

Matthew Podolsky is the founder & managing attorney at Florida Law Advisers, P.A.

Published on: Aug 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.