August 3, 2011Every business has an obligation to promote their goods and services in order to consistently attract new customers and maintain their existing customer base. Of course, this isn’t always easy when cash flow is a concern. The following tips offer sound marketing ideas for small businesses with a “cash-strapped” marketing budget.1. Build a Network—Whether online or in person, networking is one of the most essential marketing steps a business owner can take. Even better, it can be accomplished for free or very little cost. Social networks are free and you can build a network of followers in a very short time. Attending trade shows and events also don’t have to be pricey—avoid spending money on a booth, simply go to network and pass out business cards.2. Run a Contest and Offer a Premium Giveaway—A local candy store owner sponsored a tag line contest—offering a new iPad to the winner. The owner promoted the contest on Twitter and Facebook, announced it in his monthly newsletter, and sent a press release to local media. The total time investment to promote the contest was a handful of hours—while the payoff was immense. Participation was through the roof and brought several people into his store to get ideas for the tag line. 3. Be Social—Whatever type of business you have, chances are your customers and prospects use some type of social media. Invest the time in creating a Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn account. Building fan or profile pages and loading them with relevant content and special offers for followers shows that you care and creates another level of “stickiness” with your business.4. Reward Loyalty—It’s important to remind your customers to refer business to you and to reward them when they do. Small gifts like restaurant gift cards or discounts on your products or services go a long way and accelerate loyalty.5. Take Advantage of the Media—Issue press releases on newsworthy information like a new product or awards you’ve won. If picked up, it’s just more free exposure. Your local media wants to know what’s going on…be a source of information for journalists.