Free advertising ideas for small businesses struggling with cash flow

We explore eleven ways to advertise your small business on a budget.

Cash flow

With bills to settle, people to pay, and margins to manage, it’s no surprise that many small businesses struggle to fund their advertising. But just because your budget is limited (or even non-existent), this doesn’t mean you can’t market your small business effectively.

There are heaps of low-cost marketing ideas you can try to drive brand awareness, attract new customers, reach brand new audiences and inspire existing customers to buy again. If you’re wondering, "how can I advertise my business for free?", look no further than this guide.

1. Optimise your ‘Google My Business’ account

Google My Business is a digital listing for your business. Like a better version of a virtual telephone directory, it shows contact details, location, pictures, reviews, opening times, and Q&As about your business.

Your Google My Business account is often the first thing people see when they search for you online. If it isn’t optimised, you might be missing out on website traffic and footfall.

Edit your listing by visiting the business profile page. You can add images of your shop and products, answer customer questions, and encourage customers to leave a review. Consumers are more likely to purchase a product if it has positive reviews, so try your best to earn those five stars.

2. Do cross-deals or cross-promotions with other local businesses or sole traders

Forming local partnerships can help you reach new audiences. Look for businesses or sole traders with products or services that complement yours. Negotiate promotions and offers you can give together.

For example, if you run a hairdressing salon, you could partner with a local makeup artist to provide package treatments. If you sell homeware, you could provide crockery for a local coffee shop or cafe to use and sell to customers.

3. Host or participate in local events

Don’t be afraid to get out and about when it comes to promoting your business. Find events in your local area where you can book booths or stalls, or simply go along and mingle with potential customers. Have a handful of flyers or business cards ready to dish out.

If there are no events in your area, why not create your own? Use your space to host events with themes that tie back to your business. You could launch a book club in your coffee shop so patrons can nestle with a hot drink and the latest novel, or run dressmaking workshops from your haberdashery.

For online businesses, hosting virtual events, classes, and webinars can also boost your profile – particularly if you post the videos to your social media.

4. Connect with a local journalist or content creator

Journalists and content creators already have a well-developed media platform. So connecting with them means you can tap into their extensive audience to generate benefits for your business.

Pick up your local paper and find journalists who are creating content about your industry, or carry out an internet search to find reporters and content creators related to your business. Once you’ve found their email addresses or social media details, reach out and introduce your business.

For journalists, you should suggest a compelling angle for an article and show them why they should write a story about your business. For example, you might run a zero-waste cafe that demonstrates the value of sustainability, or perhaps you spend the weekends helping ex-convicts learn repair skills from your hardware shop.

For content creators, try sending them some samples or give them a free trial of your product in exchange for a review or social media posts. In return, engage with their content to boost their profile too.

5. Leverage your 'shop window'

In your hunt for low-cost marketing ideas, don’t neglect your shop window - whether it's bricks and mortar or digital.

If you run a physical store, make sure your window display is eye-catching. You could even invite local art students to come up with designs or help you decorate. Use the space to show off your offers and specials, and give potential customers a reason to step through the door.

For online businesses, your shop window might take the form of a website home page or Instagram profile. Use high-quality photos, banners, and visual elements to capture attention. Remember: people like to see the faces behind the business, so don’t be afraid to share a snapshot of your team too.

6. Join awards in your town for small businesses

Many towns and cities run small business awards that you can participate in. If you don’t have a local award, organisations like the FSB run national small business awards with a variety of categories to enter.

There might be a small fee for joining. But when nominees and winners are announced, you’ll get business advertising free of charge.

7. Use employees and frequent customers as brand ambassadors

Your greatest advertising assets are probably already in your shop. Employees and regular customers know your brand best and can speak about your excellent products or services. Offer a brand ambassador opportunity to employees and frequent customers - a free product or service in exchange for a customer referral or social media post about your business.

If your employees and returning customers love your products or services, there’s a good chance other people in their network will like them too. While this is a relatively low cost marketing idea, you’ll want to make sure your cash flow is stable to make a profit from these offers.

8. Promote your business on social media for free

Until social media platforms came along, getting global reach as a small business with limited cash flow was tough.

With more than 84% of the UK population active social media users, there are 57.1 million people who could discover your brand in the UK alone. Customers in the UK and Ireland are most likely to connect with brands by directly engaging on social media. So, if you’re not there, you could be missing out.

Setting up and maintaining an engaging social media profile is one of the best low-cost marketing ideas for small businesses. But it’s important to be strategic and focused with your marketing strategies so your time is put to good use. Read our guide on how to do digital marketing for small businesses for some great social media success ideas.

9. Use SEO on your website

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can help drive more traffic to your website and increase awareness of your brand. Publishing blog content on your website regularly and including specific industry keywords can improve your ranking. Explore the whole host of SEO tools like Semrush and WordStream that can help you identify the best keywords for your small business.

Of course, you'll need an online presence to use keywords. You can create a simple website for free with tools like Google Sites, which comes with a variety of templates. Or, if you’re venturing into ecommerce, check out our guide on ecommerce platforms to find the right one for you.

10. Claim your listings on review sites

Sites like Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Trustpilot host customer reviews and rankings. Make sure you claim your listing so you can engage with customers, answer questions and respond to reviews promptly. Great customer service goes a long way, so do your best to resolve queries and concerns.

Encourage your customers to leave reviews on these sites for others to see. You could put printed cards in your shopping bags, requesting reviews. Or leave a note and QR code on your menus. Positive views are well worth pursuing because they give a vital social cue that encourages people who are deciding whether to buy from you.

11. Create a contact list and build a community

Email marketing remains a popular and lucrative way to market your business and build community.

Whenever someone enters your shop or visits your online store, invite them to join your mailing list. You can ask them in person, or create a website pop-up for them to share their name and email address.

You could use this mailing list to share your latest promos, news about your business, or provide discounts for loyal and returning customers.

Maintain a healthy cash flow for more marketing budget

There are oodles of free and cheap advertising ideas to experiment with. But the best way to achieve your advertising goals is by making sure you have healthy cash flow to build a marketing budget that works for your business.

If you’re looking for more ways to make the most of your money, visit our cash flow support hub for handy guides and expert tips.


Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the content provided.

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