Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all spending percentage or amount for marketing. It all depends on your business, your goals, and the types of marketing programs that will work best for you. The following tips will help you determine a marketing budget that fits your small business’s needs.

Look at percentages

Unlike some other business overhead costs, like rent and payroll, your marketing budget is very flexible – especially with the advent of many low-cost or free online marketing options like social media. This means that you can play around with your marketing budget a bit – trim costs when you’re cash-strapped or spend more when you need to push out a new product or service.

The mix depends on the stage of your business and your industry. For instance, startups and newer retail businesses may want to spend up to 20% of projected gross revenues on marketing, according to the Small Business Administration, although most businesses spend more like 2-5% on their marketing plan.

The rule of thumb, according to SBA, is that businesses with revenue of under $5 million should spend about 7-8% of revenues on marketing, splitting their marketing budget between brand development and  the promotion of its products and services.

However, these percentages apply only if you have a 10-12% profit margin – even after taking out all your overhead costs and business expenses. If your margins are lower than this because you’ve hit a rough patch or are just starting out, you may want to budget more for marketing to push your business toward more profitability.

Balance projections and actual income

As you’re creating your marketing budget, especially if you’re managing a brand-new business not generating income yet, you may need to take on some debt to cover your expenses. A business credit card, business line of credit, or small business loan can help pay for these costs.

However, when you’re looking at taking on debt for marketing, be sure to keep your spending in check. Start by running some realistic projections for how much your business is likely to bring in this year, and then allocate a reasonable percentage of that budget toward marketing costs. But don’t immediately spend that entire budget, and don’t pay all of it with debt. Instead, balance your marketing spending between debt-based spending with the actual income you earn throughout the year.

To make things simple, let’s say that you predict that your business will bring in $1 million this year. You plan to spend about 3% of that income on marketing – about $30,000. If you need a big marketing push to get you started, spend a third or even half of that budget on a business credit card or business line of credit for your first marketing campaign. But take the rest of the marketing budget out of your business’s monthly income, while making payments on your credit card.

This way, you don’t run up more debt than your business can handle if you don’t meet your projected income for the year, but you can still begin your marketing your startup.

Look for ways to save on marketing

Word-of-mouth marketing and social media marketing are both becoming more popular cost-cutting options for small businesses. The Staples National Small Business Survey for 2012 showed that more small business owners were planning to use these marketing avenues, partially because they’re effective and partially to save money.

Another way to give your business a quick push on the cheap is by hiring some freelancers to do a burst of cold calling. A month’s worth of cold calls could generate an entire year’s worth of income – and more word-of-mouth referrals could generate from there. Email marketing, blogging, and search engine marketing can also be effective and affordable options.

Once you dig into researching the topic further and setting your budget, you’ll realize marketing doesn’t have to cost a fortune and doesn’t have to be complicated. Just remember to keep your marketing spending reasonable, and work with a plan. You’ll be bringing in the business in no time!