Simple ways to market on a shoestring budget

The settlers of the 1800s were ahead of their time. They bartered and traded with their neighbors to sustain their businesses and feed their families. And, with every trade agreement, there was a person-to-person understanding that each was helping the other out.

In the technology era, we are becoming self-sufficient and isolated, and we have become dependent on our own skill sets to accomplish everything we need. Cross marketing and the trade of skills has taken a downturn, but it’s time to bring it back! (She yells trying to lead the masses.)

If you are on a shoestring budget for your firm, then cross marketing could be a godsend. It’s a type of guerrilla marketing that can increase awareness of your services and help your business grow. Even if you have a budget, spreading your dollars and adding cross marketing efforts to your overall marketing plan extends your reach at little cost.

There are thousands of ideas for cross marketing – but hopefully, sharing a few things that have worked for me will help stimulate your brainstorming muscles to action.

Client cross marketing: know your audience, know where to start

If you have done your due diligence on your customer persona, then you know where your clients eat, shop and spend their leisure time. If not, stop now and do some reflection.

In my past life (okay, maybe just a handful of years ago), my husband and I owned a video game store. I know that may seem odd for those that know me. However, I still had my day job in technology, and then joined my husband on evenings and weekends to run the store. In the video game industry, you would think that my target customers would be teenagers who live and breathe for the releases of their favorite games; but it wasn’t. They were already sold on the game.

In most cases, my target customers were mothers of those gaming teenagers. Moms have the purse strings, and they were a bit more strict on what games were brought into their houses. Moms were the CEOs, so they were my decision makers.

Instead of marketing to the tastes of teenagers, I had to figure out where these lovely ladies ate, shopped and spent their time. I located their favorite restaurants. I bought tent cards for the tables at these restaurants in exchange for placing restaurant menus in my store’s bags.

I met with local boutiques that had shops within walking distance of my location. I invited those shop owners to direct customers’ kids to my store to play games so the mothers could shop without distractions.

Additionally, for every establishment I reached out to, each business owner and I promoted one another on social media and hosted local events that drove business to our location – wine tastings, “Earlier Than the Bird” Thanksgiving sales, holiday scavenger hunts, and more.

I know what you’re thinking – What if I don’t have a physical location? That’s okay! Almost every cross marketing tactic can be duplicated by going digital with local businesses that share your audience. Know your audience and you’ll know where to start.

Firm-to-firm marketing: Referral partnerships bring new clients to you

Maybe your firm has a niche and maybe it doesn’t. But, I’ve seen a lot of niche firms turn away clients who don’t fit that firm’s ideal client profile. That’s an opportunity for you!

Contact those specialized firms and build a referral program with them. Just because a client isn’t a good fit for them doesn’t mean they’re not the right fit for you. And, of course, this should go both ways. If you meet potential clients who aren’t a fit for you but are for your partners, refer those clients in an introductory email so your partner can see the client came from you.

Bonus: If you have to tell a client that you don’t specialize in their business but you know an excellent bookkeeper who does, it’s an introduction that demonstrates outstanding customer service. The client will undoubtedly ask what you do specialize in and then become a referral source for you if they find someone who fits your specialty. It’s what we call the pay-it-forward concept!

Cost-sharing activities: Surprise and delight to gain new business

This is one of my all-time favorite ways to stretch a dollar. Partner with companies that are reaching out to the same audiences as you. When I hosted events for Facebook, Google and HP, I realized the majority of the contacts booking events with me were also incredible administrators.

So, I put together an event for Administrative Professionals Day. I brought in companies that personalize swag, and I contacted a local bakery that specialized in catering treats for large groups. I brought in my staff for mini team-building exercises to show them our other offerings, as well as jewelry vendors, travel agents and others.

Together we created an event that pampered the administrators and connected them with businesses that would help them look like rockstars at their jobs. And, each business involved chipped in for the cost of the event, so none of us were financially burdened. We all walked away with new business from the event. So, how can you work with others to make it happen?

Customers for life don’t have to break your budget

Once you know your client, it becomes easier to figure out ways to engage them in creative ways that will help them succeed. When you help others succeed, they will remember that, making you one step closer to having a champion for life. As always, this is about the long game of gaining a customer for life – not just a payment for today.

The key to cross marketing is to join together with another business and send clients across to each other. You barter and trade your services to benefit another company that has a similar audience and a complimentary offering. It’s time to get back to the roots of doing business with others to help each other succeed.

The more minds and dollars the merrier!

How have you stretched your marketing dollars? Share with us in the comments below! I would love to hear your ideas. And, if you know people you’d like to partner with but don’t know how to break the ice, this article is a great resource!

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on July 13, 2018, and updated with hew information on April 18, 2022.

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