How to Market Your Startup on a Budget

June 11, 2016, 11:00 PM UTC
Small Business owner reviews photos of products
A small business owner reviews content for his website store online
Photograph by Luca Sage — Getty Images

No one ever said running a small business was easy. However, when asked what they find most difficult about being business owners, “branding/marketing” is the top answer for entrepreneurs. In the more than 30 years I’ve been working with small business owners and writing about small business issues, marketing your business has consistently topped the list of concerns, so I’m not surprised it was the number-one response of business owners in a recent survey by The UPS Store.

Lack of financial resources and not having enough time to effectively manage the business tied for second place, cited by 23 percent of small business owners (compared to 31 percent who say marketing and branding is their biggest challenge). Eighteen percent say money management/managing financials is their biggest hurdle, and 15 percent struggle with people management.

More than three-fourths of respondents in the survey say their marketing efforts could be expanded. What’s the best way to do that? Today, you have many options for marketing your business without breaking the bank. Here are three areas to focus on:

1. Work on positive word-of-mouth.

Start by networking with other business owners in your community and industry. Two-thirds of survey respondents say strong relationships with other entrepreneurs are important to their success. When you become known and trusted by other small business owners, they’re more likely to refer you to prospective clients. You can even develop “co-marketing” relationships with complementary businesses. For instance, a personal trainer could develop a relationship with a nutritionist to refer clients to each other, include links to each other’s businesses on their websites, or offer discounts to the other’s clients.

For more on startups, watch this Fortune video:

2. Think digital.

Today, whether your clients are B2B or B2C, chances are good that they go online first one looking for what you sell. That means a key aspect of marketing your business is having a strong online presence, starting with a website. A business website doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated—depending on your industry, a couple of pages with your basic information, such as your phone number, hours of operation and business address maybe all you need. However, to get customers to that website, you’ll need to get listed in local search directories so your business pops up when they’re searching for your type of product or service. Finally, make sure your business website is mobile-friendly; building a site that uses responsive design is the easiest way to do this.

3. Think social.

More and more, consumers and B2B buyers alike are finding businesses through social media just as much as through search engines. Find out where your target customers spend most of their time on social media, whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, and create a presence there. By posting and sharing relevant content that helps your customers solve their problems, your business can become known as a valuable resource. Be sure to track the results of your social media campaign—likes and shares are great, but how many actual sales does your social media marketing generate? That’s what counts when it comes to marketing your business.

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Of course, all of this takes time—something that no small business owner ever has enough of. You can’t outsource networking, but you can outsource the other steps on this list, from website design and local search listings to social media marketing. More and more one-stop shops exist that can create a business website for you, get your business listed on the appropriate search directories and even manage your social media presence. 1+1,, and GoDaddy are three of the best-known. (Disclosure: is a client of my company.) Prefer working with someone in person? Look for a local website design and marketing business to handle your needs—that’s what my business does, and we love the personal touch it provides.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship.

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