Maybe it’s the lovely weather. Maybe it’s the change of season. Or maybe we’ve been inspired to think creatively and dream big while sheltering in place and working from home.

No matter what the impetus, within the past month, I’ve consulted with so many people who’ve made a bold decision: they’re in the early stages of starting their own businesses. And if you’re one of those people, I say “go for it and best of luck!” But I also suggest that before you go running off into the vast unknown, do what you can to strengthen your knowledge base. (By now, if you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I’m all about education and skill building.)

Most experienced entrepreneurs (me included) will tell you that starting and maintaining a business is harder than it looks, for a variety of reasons. For the most part, fledgling companies have neither the budget nor the person-power for dedicated departments with specific functions. As a result, entrepreneurs are often forced to wear many hats. From handling the budget to managing employees to developing products and promotions, a small business owner has a lot to deal with on a daily basis.

Limited budgets and staffing resources may mean limited options in terms of marketing ability. However, just because you might not have access to huge campaigns created by the biggest ad agencies on Wall Street doesn’t mean that your strategy is going to fail. Even a single proprietorship can put together a marketing plan that’s successful and affordable, so let’s take a look at some marketing tools that are budget-friendly, relatively easy to manage, and perhaps most importantly, effective.

Social Media
Perhaps the entrepreneur’s greatest ally, social media has become the cornerstone of many small business marketing plans. And you don’t have to be a marketing expert to understand why. The Pew Research Center has found that fully seven in ten Americans use social media today for a variety of activities, including shopping for/purchasing products and services. That’s a huge market, and one that you should make sure you’re tapping.

Social media is where you can draw in and engage customers, both new and established. It’s a hub for information, promotions, and can even serve as an “online store,” depending on the platform you’re using (and of course, what you’re selling). It’ll take a little time and effort, but by building engaging content, communicating with your market, and maximizing posting times, you can create a social media marketing strategy on par with any established company, including the ones with five times your marketing budget. If you’d like information on how social media can work for you, check out a two-part article I wrote: Using social media’s “Big Three” – for business-minded professionals – Part I and Using social media’s “Big Three” – for business-minded professionals – Part II

Direct Mail
When it comes to tried and tested techniques, you can’t get much better than direct mail marketing. Sure, it may not be as flashy as newer marketing techniques, but it’s been around for a long time, it’s trusted by consumers, and it’s a definite boon for small businesses.

What’s more, direct mail marketing has some of the highest ROI (return on investment) among all marketing techniques—and remember, when you’re about to spend your hard-earned money on a marketing strategy, you want the greatest “bang for your buck” that you can possibly find. Recently, Triadex Services, known as recognized experts in the world of direct mail marketing, has reported up to 20% redemption rates on their direct mail campaigns, with some campaigns going even higher. Impressive numbers, to be sure.

Direct mail is low cost/high return and can be a great way to bring your brand into customers’ homes—literally. Plus, consumers are more likely to remember products and promotions when they have a tangible copy of the offer in their hands. If you’re looking for cost effectiveness and offer longevity, direct mail is unquestionably an important marketing method to investigate.

Email Marketing
The foundation of modern marketing, email marketing is one of the best and cheapest marketing tools for small businesses. Leading media publication Small Business Trends reports up to 38% of U.S. consumers are driven to action by email marketing—and in some cases, that number can go even higher.

How can you make email marketing work for you? It’s fairly simple—in fact, the operative concept here is “simplicity.” You need to make sure your copy is engaging without being too wordy. (Wordiness will kill an email marketing piece faster than a typo or content error.) Subject lines need to be simple, personalized, and move the reader to action. Within the body of the email, your materials need to be clear, engaging, and—this tip is crucial—optimized for mobile reading. (These days, most consumers are reading everything from emails to news articles on their mobile devices.) Finally, you need to make sure your call to action is straightforward and easy to understand. With email, keeping things easy and informative is the best way to go. And the greatest thing about it? It costs almost nothing to send out email offers.

As you begin your entrepreneurial journey, your marketing plan needs to be well thought out, well researched, within budget, and ready for implementation. After all, whether you’re selling piano lessons, smart phones, or artisan bread, you need customers. A business without customers is like a day without sunshine, a night without starlight, or more straightforwardly…
…like an entrepreneur without an income. And your marketing plan is key.

Author's Bio: 

Dudley is a professional trainer and keynote speaker, author, business consultant, and founder and former CEO of SkillPath Seminars, the largest public training company in the world. Dudley is a regularly featured speaker on the campuses of many universities, including Cal Poly, USC, UC Irvine, and UCLA, and the author of Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted. She speaks all over the world on a variety of topics, including body language, management and supervision skills, leadership, assertiveness, time management, stress management, communication, business writing and personal relationships.