Now, stop whining, will you?

I know you are on a tight marketing budget. So what? Why should I care?

Everybody’s got their problems.

I have mine too.

Get your ass somewhere else. I have got work to do.

Ump…wait a second!

Since you already landed here on my blog, it doesn’t feel so good to just spur you away.

Now, I will be quick and I won’t repeat.

Take down notes as I list the top 16 cheap marketing rules below.

On to it…

Cheap Marketing Rule#1. Talk to your clients.

It’s amazing how much money businesses spend to gather market information and attract new clients when they have a wealth of opportunity and information in their existing client base. One of the best ways to increase revenue is to talk to existing customers. Ideally, this should be done by someone outside your company so clients are willing to be honest and open.

When you assess perceptions, you don’t need to talk to hundreds of individuals; simply choose 5 to ten clients and contact them to ask if they’d participate in a phone interview. Here’s how it works:

1. Send a letter asking permission to have someone contact them about your company.

2. Have the interviewer call and ask value-based questions such as:

  • What problems were you trying to solve or what challenges were you facing when you considered the services of Company ABC?
  • How important were Company ABC’s services in solving your problems or addressing your challenges?
  • What did you value most about this company’s work?
  • What other products or services do you wish they offered that could help you with other business challenges?

3. After all the interviews have been conducted, compile the information to discover trends and themes.

4. Send a thank-you letter to every client who participated. Include key lessons from the interviews and explain the specific changes you plan to make to your business based on this information.

The important part here is to use what you learn. If you don’t make changes to your business, then you’ve wasted everyone’s time. One company that recently did this tripled its business in one year-the owners learned what people wanted, how their solution made a difference, how to present it, and how to price it, and then proceeded to make changes that improved those areas.

Cheap Marketing Rule #2. Make your customers feel special.

Customers respond to being recognized, especially in these rush-rush, get-the-lowest-price times. “Even with a web-based business, good customer service is possible,” says Denise McMillan, Co-owner of Plush Creations, an online retailer of handcrafted travel bags. McMillan encloses a small, rose-scented sachet in every jewelry and lingerie bag she sells and also sends a handwritten thank-you note. “The sachet and note cost pennies but add something special to the purchase,” she says.

Cheap Marketing Rule #3. Create business cards that prospects keep.

Most business cards are tossed within hours of a meeting. Instead of having your card tossed, create one that recipients actually will use—say, a good-looking notepad with your contact info and tagline on every page. “The business card notepad is referred to almost daily, kept for 30 days or so, and carries a high remembrance factor,” says Elliott Black, a Northbrook, Ill., marketing consultant who specializes in small businesses.

2. Creatively package your marketing campaigns. A postcard is one way to market your business. But how about putting a small box together with a fork, knife, spoon and a custom printed napkin that invites your prospect to “have lunch on us?” Think outside the box, and your marketing strategies and campaigns will have more impact.

And don’t be afraid to see what other people in other industries are doing and adapt that to your business. Think about the little details that will get attention. I once did a marketing program to the food industry that had a brochure vacuum-sealed in the same plastic used to wrap bacon. The same piece sent to technology companies used static shield envelopes. This campaign earned 96% recognition when follow-up calls were placed.

Cheap Marketing Rule #4. Stop servicing break-even customers.

If this idea makes you gasp, think harder. You’re falling for the fallacy of increasing sales instead of boosting profits. If you stop marketing to unprofitable customers, you have more time and resources for customers who actually grow your business. “More than likely, 20% of your customer base is contributing 150% to 200% of total annualized profit (TAP); 70% is breaking even; and 10% is costing you 50% to 100% of TAP,” says Atlanta marketing consultant Michael King. Take a detailed look at your customer profitability data and then direct premium services and marketing to customers who count.

Cheap Marketing Rule #5. Leverage existing relationships.

Most people know at least 200 people. Do the math: If you know 200 people and they each know 200 people, that’s 40,000 potential contacts! Spend time developing relationships with the people you already know-clients, colleagues, people you meet through professional networking organizations, friends and even family.

Start by making a list of all the people you know. Next, prioritize your list into As, Bs and Cs. As are your advocates. These are the people who feel strongly about you. They’re the “cheerleaders” who would refer business to you right now. Bs could become advocates if they knew more about you, so you need to spend time with these people to educate them. Cs are those people you don’t communicate with often enough. You may keep them in the loop, but they need more time and nurturing before they’d refer any business your way. If there are any names that remain, delete them.

Cheap Marketing Rule #6. Send Old School Emails, Make A Cold Call Or Just Paste It On Your Truck

Most businesses have harnessed the power of e-newsletters—and you definitely should be sending out one, too. It’s very cost-effective. But because email marketing is now nearly ubiquitous, you can quickly stand out by occasionally sending personal, surface-mail letters to customers and prospects. Just make sure the letter delivers something customers want to read, whether it’s an analysis of recent events in your field, premium offers, or a sweetener personalized for the recipient (a discount on the customer’s next purchase of whatever was last purchased, for instance). “This mailing has to have value to those that read it, so it reflects the value of what you offer,” says Leslie Ungar, an executive coach in Akron, Ohio. “Remember, the best way to sell is to tell.”

If you use a car or truck in your business have your business name and contact information professionally painted on the side of the vehicle. That way your means of transportation becomes a vehicle for advertising your business. If you don’t want the business name painted on the vehicle, consider using magnetic signs.

Get on the telephone and make “cold calls.” These are calls to people who you would like to do business with. Briefly describe what you do and ask for an appointment to talk to them about ways you can help them meet a need or solve a problem.

Cheap Marketing Rule #7. Learn to shine at trade shows and conferences.

Create signage, glossy postcards with your contact information, product news inserts, or an event mini-website. Those are your little army, remember!

Offer to be a speaker. Industry conferences, volunteer organizations, libraries, and local business groups often need speakers for meetings. You’ll benefit from the name recognition, contacts and publicity. Network with others who are doing the same type of work you are. Let them know you are available to handle their work overloads. (But don’t try to steal their customers. Word will get out, and will ruin your business reputation.) Ask for work or leads. Contact nonprofit organizations, schools and colleges, and even other businesses that have customers who may need your services.

Cheap Marketing Rule #8. Hangout where your customers are

Pay for membership in those groups that attract your target customers.If the group has a website and publishes a list members on the site, make sure your name and website link get added. Once it is added double check to be sure your contact information is correct and your website link isn’t broken.

Become actively involved in 2 or 3 of these groups. That will give you more opportunity to meet possible prospects. But remember: opportunists are quickly spotted for what they are, and get little business. While you won’t want to become involved in many organizations that require a lot of your time in, you can –and should– make real contributions to all of them by offering useful ideas and helping with projects when possible.

Cheap Marketing Rule #9. Combine business with pleasure—and charity.

Spearhead an event, party, or conference for a cause you care about. That puts you in the position of getting to know lots of people and shows off your small-business leadership skills. “I host an annual baseball game where I take hundreds of clients to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field,” says Kate Koziol, who owns a public relations agency in Chicago. “Last year, I took 300 people and we raised $10,000 for a local children’s hospital. Few people turn down a game, and it’s a great networking opportunity for guests. It lets me reconnect with current clients and impress potential clients.”

Cheap Marketing Rule #10. Create your shop or website an irresistible fun destination for your prospects.

Bookstore chain Barnes & Noble has its coffee bars. Furnishings giant Ikea offers child-care centers and cafeterias. Why? So customers gravitate to the stores to enjoy an experience and hang out for a while. Sunday morning at Barnes & Noble becomes a pleasant weekend routine, rather than a shopping errand. Steal this idea. This tip isn’t limited to offline destinations, either. Using pay-per-click advertising, you can cheaply drive traffic to a one-time news event or specialty offerings, points out Jay Lipe, a small-business marketing consultant based in Minneapolis. Lipe set up a website for Games by James, a retailer of board games, and quickly attracted customers via pay-per-click ads. “The effect was overnight,” says Lipe. “Traditionally in the marketing world, it takes weeks or even months to generate acceptable awareness and traffic. Here we saw traffic spike overnight.”

Cheap Marketing Rule #11. Always be a giver!

Give discounts. Nothing better than to save money of your customers, right? Early-bird or occasion-special discounts can maximize your sales like never before.

Get samples of your product or your work into as many hands as possible.

Offer a free, no obligation consultation to people you think could use your services. During such consultations offer some practical suggestions or ideas–and before you leave ask for an “order” to implement the ideas.

Offer coupons. Research shows that people will go out of their way to use a coupon, proving that this method is successful in expanding your customer base. Coupons can also generate return visits. For example, if you give a customer a coupon for a discount to use on future business, there’s a high probability they’ll be back.

Editorial features convey more credibility with prospective clients than paid advertising does. To get coverage from the local media, whether from the town newspaper, TV or radio stations, or from trade journals, you need a fresh, timely story. It’s usually worthwhile to hire an experienced publicist to position the stories, target appropriate media representative, and write and send press releases. Usually, you can work on a short-term or contingency basis.

Cheap Marketing Rule #13. Convert your customers into promoters

Potential customers are a million times more likely to use your business if its been recommended by a friend. So why not turn your customers into brand ambassadors? Give them a discount on products if someone they recommended buys something from you. That way they’ll be singing your praises and getting you more customers in the process.

Or, rather turn them into your fans.

You only have to look at the outpouring of respect for Steve Jobs in the past few days to understand the power of brand loyalty and the impact of a visionary leader. You need to make your service and product – even yourself- so positive that customers can’t wait to tell their mates about it.

Cheap Marketing Rule #14. Get happy customers to tell you

Encourage customers to write a short email or letter about the positive experience they had when using your business. Put these testimonials on your website and maybe frame some exceptional ones in your shop/office. People will be more willing to use you if they see that other customers have had a positive experience.

Cheap Marketing Rule #15. Run a contest.

Give rewards to winners – loads of gifts and presents – and get people talking about your business. You could run a competition from your shop and advertise it online. This could get more people visiting your shop: more people will see your awesome products and ultimately buy from you.

Cheap Marketing Rule #15. Offer to write for a trade magazine or website

A sole traders is the CEO, CTO, FD and CMO of their business. That makes them experts in every aspect of running their venture and their industry. So offer to write a blog on your business for a trade publication. It’s another way of getting your business known and makes you look even more reputable.

Cheap Marketing Rule #16. Try and win an award

Entering for an industry award can be easy. For some, all you need to do is write an application. If you’re successful, local press may be interested in speaking to you and it’s another accolade to put on your website or business card. It also gives customers confidence in your business.

Cheap Marketing Rule #17. Form a partnership

For sole traders, a business partnership can be a godsend. Pairing with another business means that you will have access to their network of customers. You can also pool contacts and share advice. Want an example? A freelance marketing expert could team up with a sole trader in the printing industry. This way, the marketing expert can give advice and help with some social media advertising for the printing firm, while the printers can provide the marketer with branded stationary for his or her client.

Cheap Marketing Rule #18. Help out a local charity

Help organise a fundraising event or give 5% of your earnings from a particular product or campaign to charity. It will win your business brownie points in the local community and may even get some coverage in the press. TOMS footwear has made corporate social responsibility synonymous with its brand. Its USP is: ” With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need.”

Cheap Marketing Rule #19. Ask experts to write on your website

Just like you, thousands of other businesses and people are looking to market themselves. If they’re relevant, why not allow them to write a comment piece and post it on your website? Regular updates help your website to climb the Google rankings and guest posts are great link bait: your blogger will tell everyone they know to read it!

Cheap Marketing Rule #20. Never Stop Marketing.

Last but not least, you should never stop marketing.

Your business stands on your marketing prowess. Marketing reminds your customers about you and persuades them to buy from you again.

And this is an ongoing process…on and on!

What’s more, if you keep marketing, you actually keep your costs down. Because people already know about you.

And you don’t need to put in that extra effort (or bucks) to gain their attention.

Simple common sense.

So, there you go.

If you are in a crunch, don’t wallow in self-pity.

Get to work now.

And if you do it right, for Christ’s sake, you will never have to worry about your marketing budget again.