Small business often means a small budget, which might make you feel limited when marketing your services. How do you get the word out without breaking the bank?

The key to marketing your business on a budget is in your customers, the content you produce, and the channels you use to distribute your content. At last week’s Small Business Summit, I heard from some content marketing and customer service leaders about the best ways to market inexpensively (and virally!). Here are the top strategies to keep in mind when you’re marketing on a budget.

Start With Your Customers

Customers have more power now than they ever have before: they can drive people to your brand and provide valuable insight on improving your services.

E-commerce expert John “ColderICE” Lawson says that thanks to social networks, it’s people who drive commerce to brands, not the actual brands themselves. Your online presence is heavily influenced by what your customers are saying about you.

Your customers have the power to point other people to your products for you, especially if they?re passionate fans of your business. The people who are already doing business with you are bigger and better advocates than any media outlet could be.

Your customers can also give you valuable insights for improving your business. In his talk on expert-level customer service, John Rote of Bonobos discussed ways to extend the customer service experience online. Rote emails surveys to Bonobos customers so they can rate their buying experience. Paying attention to their responses tells you more about your customers and can also highlight areas where you can improve your business and service.

Content Reaches More Customers Effectively

Your own customers can grow your audience for free. And the content you produce can extend that reach at a low cost. Orabrush – a national oral care company – knows all about reaching customers with content.

Austin Craig, spokesperson for Orabrush, spoke about just how effective content can be. Orabrush began as a one-man operation. Thanks to YouTube, over 2 million brushes have sold, in addition to placing the product in several major retail stores.

Effective content marketing put Orabrush on the map and used a limited budget to accomplish what a $40,000 TV infomercial failed to do when Orabrush was first introduced.

Most of Orabrush’s YouTube videos aren’t even about the tongue cleaner. “It’s just funny, engaging video content,” says Craig. Orabrush entertains people to keep them coming back.

Because of the focus on content over branding, “People feel like they know the brand. And that makes all the difference.” Craig sees Orabrush as “a social media company as much as we’re an oral care company.” The key point here: Focusing on great content over sales makes your brand more genuine, which in turn makes your customers more responsive.

Channel Your Content Through Social Media

Customers and content are only two factors in a low-cost marketing plan. Social media offers a free platform to broadcast your content to the world.

What’s the fastest way to get the word out about your business? “Pay for it!” says John Lawson. But while paying advertisers and media outlets for coverage might be the fastest way to market your brand, using your own customers is far more effective.

Social networks make it easier than ever to reach your customers’ networks of friends and grow your business with a new spin on old-fashioned word-of-mouth. The people who are already doing business with you are bigger and better advocates than any media outlet could ever be.

If a customer called your business, you’d answer the phone, right? Ignoring what your customers are saying about you on Facebook and Twitter is the same as ignoring a ringing telephone says John Rote. Joining their conversations and answering their comments shows you care. And customers trust businesses who care about their concerns.

Lawson explained that traditional media outlets are all about getting people interested in your product. Social media, however, is all about engaging them on a personal level. Engagement builds trust and trust, according to Rote, is the most lasting competitive advantage a small business can have. Trusting customers are loyal customers, and loyal customers want to get the word out about your brand.

Advertising through your customers on social media is free. And the best way to get your customers involved, Lawson says, is just to ask.

How Do You Market Yourself?

Have you turned to online outlets to market your business inexpensively? Have you seen success through leveraging customer word-of-mouth? What kind of free or low-cost marketing strategies work for your business?