You may offer the best product or service of its kind, but that doesn’t matter if your potential customers don’t know it exists. Marketing holds the key to creating brand awareness, getting people interested in what you offer and driving profitable sales.

Regardless of your marketing budget’s size (or lack thereof), what can you do to ensure you get the best bang for the buck (or for your time)? Do you go it on your own? If so, where do you start? Do you hire a consultant and hope you get your money’s worth?

What to look for when hiring a marketing consultant

While it can be a good idea to hire a marketing consultant, you need to know how to vet a firm before you take the plunge:

  • Do they understand your industry? Have they worked with similar types of companies and marketing challenges?
  • Can they walk you through several relevant client case studies? Can you talk with their clients?
  • What work do they do in-house versus outsource?
  • Who will be on your agency team? Are you getting the “A” creative folks or the interns?
  • Do they listen closely and seem motivated in helping you achieve your specific goals?

Here are a few red flags:

  • Unrealistic promises: “You spend $X and I’ll guarantee you X return.” This goes back to verifying that they practice what they preach by checking case studies and talking with other clients.
  • Suggestions for lofty, expensive, long-term campaigns. Instead of vanity promotions, look for how the firm will strategically and wisely maximize your budget to achieve the best ROI.
  • No clear path on how to get from point A to point B. Take a look at their plan – does it clearly articulate a route from inception to execution to expected realistic results?

Going it on your own: 5 great micro budget marketing tactics

There are many ways you can increase your company’s visibility and interest people in what you offer that don’t require money – just time. Take a look at the suggestions below and see how they can work together to boost your success even further.

1. Niche influencers to advocate for your brand

Today people make buying decisions based on recommendations from others they trust – people who have subject-matter expertise and credibility. These niche influencers exist in virtually every industry and most certainly hold sway in yours. Your objective is to get them to become your brand advocates.

Start by identifying them and following them (e.g., on Twitter, be sure to retweet their posts and mention them in your comments). Once you feel comfortable knowing what they value, reach out to them with information that offers reciprocal value, and develop and maintain those relationships.

2. Quality backlinks to boost search engine rank

You want your website to rank well on search engines so you get found easily. The more high-quality links that point to your website, the higher it will rank. Reach out to anyone you’ve built relationships with, like partners or vendors, and get them to link your name on their websites to yours.

In addition, search for online mentions of your company or product names that are not linked to your website. Then contact the site editor and see if he/she will provide a link back to the appropriate pages on your website.

3. Press releases to get your content to the right audiences and raise brand visibility

Sending a press release can accomplish several goals at once. You can reach and connect with media, bloggers and consumers in targeted industries, geographic regions and online portals as well as expand your visibility on search engines and social networks.

You can include hyperlinks to drive traffic to your website. You can add multimedia like images and video to attract, engage and encourage sharing. And you can measure results to gauge your release’s reach, engagement and visibility.

4. Blogging to drive website traffic and establish authority

Each time you publish a blog post you create an additional opportunity to increase your visibility on search engines and social media, and that can drive more traffic to your site. When you add a call-to-action in your posts, you can also generate sales leads by directing people to download of a supportive asset or take a free trial.

Another benefit of blogging is that when you address and answer concerns or issues you help position yourself as a subject-matter expert. As an authority you may be asked to be a guest contributor on other industry blogs where you can include backlinks to your website, furthering your online visibility.

5. Social media to connect, engage and strengthen relationships 

You should be using social networks to strategically find and connect with people who can help share your message and amplify your brand. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are all great no-cost platforms for helping to grow your business.

Be sure to include your social networks on all business communications – emails, business cards/stationery, your website and press releases (when you issue a press release, be sure to post it to your social sites).

Facebook

Start by creating a Facebook Page that’s an extension of your business. Build the page with content aligned with the interests of your current and potential customers, and then encourage them to like your page. Post often and with compelling, friendly content – you can use this channel to humanize your company.

Use Page Insights to understand who responds to and shares your posts, and turn successful posts into Promoted Posts. Yes, they cost a little, but they are shown to all existing fans, with an added option to reach friends of fans.

LinkedIn  

Although we tend to think of it only in terms of posting and researching resumes, LinkedIn can help you connect with people important to your business. Form a LinkedIn group of trusted like-minded people to share ideas and discuss successes, challenges and solutions.

These could include customers, vendors, and other stakeholders, or members of an industry group. Expand on this group by joining other LinkedIn groups that focus on similar topics. Once you’re a member of these groups you can invite likely prospects (based on business title or company) to join your group.

Twitter

Through Twitter you can create brand exposure, drive web traffic, generate leads and build a loyal customer base. Industry Twitter chats help you connect with customers and prospects. You can find appropriate chats with tools like TweetReports.

Regularly sharing content and adding commentary in your tweets will help establish authority for your name and brand, and incorporating related hashtags will make it easy for anyone interested in the same topic to find them.

Twitter Analytics shows which hashtags are getting seen. You can also use hashtags to crowdsource – this is a great way to conduct market research. Simply log into your Twitter account, ask a question in your tweet and post it into the “What’s Happening” field.