In a perfect world, every business would have unlimited resources with which to market their products and services. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world. In tough economic times, small businesses find themselves with very limited resources to dedicate toward marketing efforts. The good news, however, is that you don’t need a big budget to effectively spread the word about your business. There are targeted, low- and no-cost opportunities that can put your business in front of the right people and make a big impact to your bottom line on a small budget.

Free listings

So, where should you begin? Online free listings are a great place to start. Believe it or not, you can still get something for nothing. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, May 2011 survey, 78 percent of American adults use the internet. More than three quarters of those people indicated that they use it to look for information about a service or product they are thinking about buying.

Visible listings on key sites will help potential customers find you, increase general awareness of your business and drive traffic to your website.

Sites offering a free listing will, at a minimum, allow a business to post its business name, address and phone number. Often, these sites will allow you to include your website address.

Social media

Social media is a valuable (and free) asset for a business. Participating in the social media realm on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will allow your business to engage with existing customers, connect with potential customers and generate leads.

Facebook reports that it has more than 800 million active users. It’s important to note that social media isn’t just for kids. According to, nearly half of Facebook users are between the ages of 26 and 54. In order to ensure optimal results, be sure to establish a strategy before jumping into social media marketing.

Determine your goals. For a small canvas shop, your goal might be to develop a small group of advocates and leverage that group to help acquire new customers.

How will you define success? Perhaps your key indicator will be in the growth of your “friend” base or in increased lead generation.

Allocate time. Social media is not a set-it-and-forget-it marketing tool. Ongoing interaction is expected in the social media world. Once you have initiated the conversation with your fan base, it is important to continue to engage them. But social media interaction does not need to be time consuming. Set aside five minutes each week to post something about your business.

What will you post? The key here is to post things that your customer base will consider relevant. Postings could include industry trends, product information, awards that your company has received and pictures of your work, just to name a few.

Promotional material

Business cards and rack brochures are a great way to get your business noticed. There are do-it-yourself options available to help you produce quality promotional pieces at a reasonable cost. Resources such as, and office supply stores offer hundreds of template-based designs that allow you to customize and print on your own or create materials directly online and have the finished product shipped to you.

If the DIY option doesn’t appeal to you, a local print shop can give you the same results, but generally at a slightly higher cost. Or contact a technical school in your area that offers a graphic design program. Students are often looking to find businesses that will give them an opportunity to help build their portfolios.

Promotional products, such as pens and key chains, can deliver strong brand reinforcement and high recall at a low cost. Promotional products can leave a favorable and lasting impression of your business. Sites such as, and offer a variety of options and price ranges to suit all budget levels.

Take advantage of “mobile marketing.” You and your vehicle are moving billboards for your business. Car signs, either magnetic or vinyl decals, advertise your business in places where your customers drive, dine, shop, live and work. You never know when the sight of your vehicle will remind them of a service that they need and prompt a phone call to you. As a marine-based business, we spend a great deal of time walking marina docks and frequenting other boating-related business. Wear your company name and logo on shirts, jackets and hats to get noticed.

Get involved

Every day you have an opportunity to increase the awareness of your business, often in places that you may not even consider. By nature, we often choose to do business locally with people we know, like and respect, so look within your community for ways to get yourself and your business noticed.

Get involved in your community. Join an association or committee that is relevant to the long-term growth and success of your business. Examples include a Waterfront Development Committee or a civic association for the town where your business is located. Spread the word about your business by sponsoring local events, such as fishing tournaments or sailboat regattas.

Conduct workshops and seminars. This is a great way to educate your existing customers, draw in potential customers and establish yourself as a knowledgeable, credible expert in your field. Sailing/yacht clubs are often open to providing workshops for their members on topics such as care and maintenance tips for canvas and glass.

Be creative and innovative when exploring ways to reach your target audience. Marketing is about reaching the right people, at the right time, with the right message to create interest in your products or services. It is an essential part of expanding your business, but you don’t have to spend a lot to get great results.

Charlene Clark is co-owner of Signature CanvasMakers in Hampton, Va.