Unconventional (Cheap) Advertising Ideas for a Tough Economy

By Staff

Whether you are a small business owner or a person launching a side hustle to supplement your regular income, effective advertising is key. But when the economy is in a slump and your revenue has flat-lined, it may be tempting to kill your advertising budget.

Don’t Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater

Look for ways to cut costs, but never stop advertising. You can reduce your advertising expenditures without undermining your marketing strategy. Jay Conrad Levinson’s book, Guerrilla Marketing, published way back in 1984, revolutionized marketing for small businesses by focusing on unconventional, personal, sensational, or interactive marketing techniques. Now, more than ever, guerrilla marketing is the smart way to reach your target audience. The good news is that many of these unconventional techniques are also less expensive that traditional advertising channels such as the yellow pages, newspapers, and direct mail.

Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter and consumers no longer feed at the trough of formerly reliable advertising media such as the Sunday newspaper or TV “events” such as the Olympics or Oscars. Nowadays everything is fragmented, granular and personal. So your advertising needs to be too.

That’s actually good news, because as a small business, you are in a much better position than a larger corporation to connect one-on-one with customers. Here are a few ideas advertize your business using a targeted approach:

Create a Website

Every business should have a website. For a few dollars a month in web-hosting fees you can create and maintain a simple website, as long as you don’t plan to do any e-commerce from the site. Hosts like hostgator.com or godaddy.com have entry-level packages with DIY templates and that will have your business online in a matter of hours. Don’t forget to set up an automatic email signature in your email account that includes your new website, so all of your outgoing messages contain your URL and a blurb about your business.

Try Signage

A sign in your yard, in a window, or on your mailbox can be an effective way to advertise your business within your local community. If your business mainly draws clients from your local area, a tasteful sign is an excellent promotional tool. Check for neighborhood association or zoning restrictions before ordering, and make sure the sign you order will hold up to the elements so that it looks neat and professional.

Hit the Road

Have a magnetic sign made for your car to advertise your business. Keep it simple so it can be read even while you are driving down the road. These signs spread the word about your business, even when you are parked at the grocery store. It also helps you start conversations with potential clients you bump into while making the rounds.

Post Flyers

Flyers under the windshield wiper may be annoying, but they are an undeniable way to get your message into your potential customers’ hands–as long as you have permission from the parking lot owner. Rather than papering the entire parking lot, focus on cars that meet the selection criteria for your business. For example, if you have a daycare business, you can place flyers on cars with car seats inside. Note that the U.S. Postal Service prohibits placing of flyers and other materials in or on mailboxes, and any items placed in or on mailboxes are subject to current postal charges. .

Wear Your Ad

Print t-shirts or hats with your business’ name and contact information, and wear them—a lot. Sites like Vistaprint.com and Zazzle.com have decent prices for even small orders of custom merchandise. Wear your ads to school functions, to the gym, to the kids’ soccer match, and don’t be shy about striking up a conversation about your business.

Take Advantage of Free Sites

While no one likes a Facebook contact who relentlessly spams his friends, restrained self-promotion is perfectly acceptable. Create a Facebook page to highlight your business, and post periodic updates about new products or services, promotions or special deals, and recent awards and recognition. It’s a good idea to also post hints and tips for potential customers to create a congenial atmosphere of trust. For example, a CPA can post tax tips at tax time, and a photographer can offer tips to help customers with their own snapshots.

Promote your business on Craigslist or other free classified ads site. A few kooks may reply, but you’ll also generate serious leads for your business. Craigslist can be especially productive if your business client base includes college students (for example moving services or tutoring).

Avoid the Yellow Pages, Unless…

National and Local Yellow Page advertising is expensive, and many marketing experts think the end is near for this musty device. However, if your business if in one of the top-yielding Yellow Page headings, you might want to think twice before yanking your ad. The most frequently searched yellow page headings result in reliable leads and a steady stream of customers. After all, when the plumbing backs up, most of us still let our fingers do the walking to the Plumbers heading.

Go Viral

Whether it’s a silly youtube video, a guy in a gorilla suit on the street corner, or an airplane banner flying overhead with a pitch-perfect message, try some alternative forms of advertising to create buzz about your business. Like the saying goes: any press is good press, so anything that causes a stir and gets people talking about your business will help generate interest and new leads.

This article was written by contributing author Laurel Gray.