Advertising can be expensive, and when your budget is tight or you have a start-up business, many cut their marketing efforts first because of cash flow concerns. However, when times are tough, or you are opening a new business it’s even more important to keep your brand front and center.

In marketing consistency is king. This means that when customers are ready to buy, your brand will be at the top of their list. Social media is undoubtedly one of the most effective and affordable ways to engage your customers and keep your brand top-of-mind, but it’s not the only way. Here are eight marketing strategies that can help you market your business but won’t make a dent in your budget.

Build relationships
It is a lot less expensive to keep a customer than it is to get a new one. That’s why establishing strong relationships with your customer base is crucial. One of the ways you can do that is by email and print newsletters. Make your communications informative and helpful, something your customers will look forward to receiving. Social media is another way to keep the communication channel open and have ongoing dialogue and sharing stories about your brand.

Ask for referrals
Don’t be shy about asking for customer referrals. The majority of people say they are willing to provide a referral if asked, but very few take the initiative to do it on their own. Referrals make it easier to get in the door with new customers. If you aren’t asking for them, you are missing opportunities.

Craft an “elevator pitch”
You should be marketing all the time, wherever you are. I joke that my “marketing hat” never comes off. One way to be ready and comfortable talking to prospects is crafting a compelling elevator pitch. Research shows the average attention span of an adult is about 6 to 8 seconds. That’s all the time you have to grab someone’s attention. If you successfully engage them, then you only have a little over a minute to really sell them on your product or service. Invest the time to craft an elevator pitch that gives real world examples of how your product or service has helped others. The return on your investment will pay huge dividends in terms of creating business opportunities.

Get active in your community
You don’t have to think big when it comes to your marketing efforts. Think locally. What’s going on in your community? Sponsor a Little League team or a 5k charity walk/run. Print coupons and hand them out at community events (get permission from the event organizers first). Get to know your ideal customer and think about how and where they spend their time. Then search for opportunities to get in front of your customer with your marketing message.

Get Networking
There isn’t any better way to build a business than to get out there, shake some hands, and get to know people. Networking requires a time commitment and it doesn’t provide instant gratification, but a strong network is one of the greatest assets any business person can have.

Put together a group of synergistic, non-competitive businesses in your area and agree to cross-promote. You can use coupons, fliers, reciprocal website links, bundled promotions or social media platforms. By collaborating with each other, you can expand your customer base because you’ll be reaching new people. It is also fun to see how good ideas can grow into great ideas by brainstorming with others. ¬†They may also identify opportunities you never thought of before.

Give a speech
A lot of people hate public speaking. However, there are many organizations looking for qualified, subject-matter experts who can present to their groups. Take a deep breath and volunteer. You don’t have to be a pro as long as the information you share is helpful to the audience. And the upside is the more you do it the easier it gets. Plus, it positions you as a credible authority in your field.

Get to know your local media
Sometimes there are “free” media opportunities. How do you find out about them? Get to know your local TV and radio talent, reporters and general managers. By establishing a rapport and open communication they will think of you when they need a quote or sound bite for a story. Be sure to let them know you are open to being contacted as an expert in your industry.¬† Occasionally they are looking for air time or printed space to fill, so don’t be afraid to pitch ideas. Also, if you can be a resource to connect them with other key contacts in the community and save them time, you instantly become a valuable resource to them.

These no cost marketing strategies will help you engage customers, build relationships, and ultimately keep your brand top-of-mind. It’s not always about the money you have to spend on marketing, it’s about the time and effort you put into it and above all, the relevance it has for your customers.

Do you have other successful marketing tips that have worked for you? Tell us about it. Visit us on Facebook and LinkedIn.