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Low-cost Local Marketing Tips for Small Business Owners

How to find customers without breaking your budget

The first time the owner of a local pizza shop first walked into Steve Gazda’s insurance agency, he walked out with a six-week old orange and black kitten. Two years later, he has his life and business policies from Steve’s Farmer’s Insurance firm.

And that outreach cost Steve next to nothing.

Marketing is a primary concern for new professional-services firms. A recent Kabbage® survey showed more business owners wished they’d spent more money on marketing in years one through four in business than those who wished they’d spent more on payroll, rent, inventory and equipment combined.

But how can you market effectively given the fragility of your budget in those early years?

We spoke to several Kabbage customers about low-cost marketing ideas and tips that have paid major returns for them.

 Get Them In The Door

Before Steve started his insurance firm in East McKeesport, Pennsylvania, he’d sponsored a pet adoption night at his old job. It was a huge success. So, when he opened his own business, he decided to do it again — but even bigger.

“We now do pet adoption week,” Steve says. “Monday through Friday, we take our whole waiting room and it becomes an adoption center. I’m a certified volunteer at the shelter, so people can adopt on-site.”

Gazda partners with a local shelter for the event (he carefully vetted local organizations to find one with a strong reputation). He’s used the event to create strong bonds with the local community, as well as to drum up business. In fact, the pizza-shop owner and Steve himself wound up adopting cats from the same litter and have since become good friends.

“People walk in, they see what we’re doing, and they go, ‘Wow,’” Steve says. “They want to put their money with me because I’m supporting something they believe in.”

Use Social Media As a Tool

When Jennyfer Crawford started her Detroit-based marketing and consulting firm, Ask Jennyfer, she was looking for ways to target local artisans and entrepreneurs throughout the city.

So, she turned to social media.

By labeling her Instagram posts with targeted hashtags — and then searching for those hashtags online — she was able to pinpoint local businesses that needed help marketing their goods and services and reach out to them individually. She could also point them to All Things Detroit, her tri-annual showcase of city merchants.

In the early stages of growing her business, she found 60 percent of her clients through Instagram hashtags.

“It was a key for me,” Jennyfer says. “Besides Google, I felt like Instagram was my greatest tool early on.”

 Make It Personal

Kevin Hennessey would prefer to spend money on sales rather than marketing as he grows Brabo Payroll, his Plymouth, Massachusetts-based payroll services firm.

He’s mostly turned to low-cost ideas instead — among them a bumper-sticker on his truck that tells people to text the word “Payroll” to a code and in return sends them a video about a local fundraiser he’s working on.

After spending money on an email marketing service, Kevin realized it wasn’t paying dividends. So, he decided the write the newsletter himself.

“I think I can do a better job of tailoring the voice and fitting my local market,” he says. “Why spend the money on something I could do better myself, and finish in an hour?”

For more tips and best practices for running a professional-services firm, download our exclusive guide.