Making the most of marketing on a shoestring budget

BBC Apprentice winner Mark Wright explains how you can really stretch your shoestring marketing budget and grow your business.

As a small business with limited funds, knowing where to spend your limited marketing budget can be tricky. Research from Alba SEO Services shows that 38 per cent of small businesses spent less than £1000 annually on marketing, while another 38 per cent spent between £1000 – £5000 each year.

While having a solid marketing plan does not mean spending tens of thousands of pounds, it does require having a solid understanding of where to invest your money to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Dealing with a tight budget and limited cash-flow means it is vital to ensure the money you spend on your marketing is generating the best possible return on investment. So, let’s assume you have just £5000 to spend on marketing your business, what can you do to make the most out of every pound available to you?

Do your research

Before spending anything at all, you need to figure out who your customers are and what they are searching for, as well as getting to know your competition. Conducting a thorough market analysis of these elements should be your first point of call, as it will assist in directing your focus and giving you additional insight when you come to set up your campaigns – and above all, doing this will cost you nothing but time.

First, find your target audience for your product or service. See what they’re talking about, and which terms they are using to search. This will give your marketing campaign a solid foundation, and ensure it is optimised for the audience you want to capture.

Secondly, educate yourself on your competition. Know what they are doing and how they are doing it. It does not matter how unique you may believe your product or service to be, it still pays to know who your potential competition is and what they are up to. Services such as Google Trends and Google Alerts are useful for this purpose.

PPC for product businesses

While research will benefit you regardless of the kind of company you have, for product-based businesses, that £5K budget is best utilised in PPC [Pay Per Click] advertising. Statistics from SmallBizGenius show that PPC advertising on average returns $2 for every $1 spent, giving a 200 per cent return on investment, giving you enough margin to use this as a repeatable and consistent marketing strategy when working to a strict budget.

Facebook ads have their place for driving brand awareness, but ads that increase awareness alone do not necessarily convert into sales. As a small business, your priority is going to be driving as many sales from your campaigns as possible, so it is better to opt for Google Ads. TechJury reported as of 2021 that Google owns 92 per cent of the global search market share, with 65 per cent of customers clicking on PPC ads.

See also: PPC for e-commerce: a guide for beginners

PPC offers numerous benefits on a limited budget, such as the degree of control you have over each of your campaigns. You can control the duration of each of your advertising campaigns, and even the time of day or night that they run, allowing you to target your audience based on when they are most likely to be online. It is advisable to split your budget for a Google Ads campaign over a minimum of three months, as this will give you longer to see the results.

From a financial perspective, this strategy is particularly effective, as it costs nothing to set up. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad, meaning your marketing budget is only being spent on those who are already interested in your product, making it easier to nudge them towards conversion.

Finally, Google Ads campaigns gives you the chance to see immediate results on how your campaign is performing and adjust it as necessary. You will be able to see how to improve your campaign so that your audience responds to it, or which elements are helping to drive its success so you can repeat these in the future.

Capturing clients through B2B email marketing

For a service-based business, your best option with a budget of £5K at your disposal is B2B email marketing. According to a 2020 report from the Content Marketing Institute, 85 per cent of B2B marketers use email marketing for lead generation, and this is no surprise given its efficacy for reaching out to other businesses, sharing product news and generating long-term relationships.

Email marketing has been around for a long time, and one of the key reasons for this is that it allows you to directly target your market, and segments of that market, while remaining cost-effective. The DMA Email Benchmarking Report found that in 2018, the return on investment for email marketing was around £42 for every £1 spent.

Email marketing offers a huge degree of flexibility in how you can deliver your message to reach the right people. Creating strong subject lines, content and calls to action are all important factors, and the good news is that for small businesses who may not have the time and resources to dedicate to such things, there are a host of email marketing platforms and agencies that can help you collate data and deign and automate campaigns.

Low-cost email programs can help you get the most from every pound you spend on email marketing by streamlining the process of setting different workflows, creating audience segments and pre-scheduling your campaigns.

>See also: Why email marketing is still crucial


Working to a tight budget certainly does not mean you should neglect your marketing spend, in fact, the opposite holds true. When cash flow is limited, it is vital to invest in marketing strategies that will ensure a high return on investment, while driving more qualified leads to your business, so you can ensure every pound spent is generating profit.

Mark Wright, BBC Apprentice Winner and Director of digital marketing agency, Climb Online.

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Mark Wright

Mark Wright

Mark Wright is a winner of BBC’s The Apprentice and director of digital marketing agency Climb Online.

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