Editor’s note: Steve Henke is president of Harpeth Marketing, a Franklin, Tenn., marketing consulting firm serving the market research industry. He can be reached at 615-415-3980 or steve@harpethmarketing.com.

I talk to a lot of research business owners who tell me that they still are not back to pre-recession business levels – that it’s still a little tough out there, that profit margins aren’t what they used to be. Fair enough. Can’t argue with the facts. However, they also use those excuses not to invest in marketing and business development efforts of any kind. OK, so they might not have the dollars to spend on big, fancy marketing campaigns but they decide to stop there without considering other options.

It doesn’t have to be like that. Even without large marketing budgets, you can still put in place effective marketing initiatives. It just requires a little thought, a little planning and a little creativity. To help get you thinking in that direction, here are 25 low-cost or no-cost ways to help increase awareness, generate leads, position your firm and increase revenue.

E-mail campaigns: There are some really excellent, inexpensive platforms out there for staying top-of-mind with clients and prospects. They’ll help you create attractive, branded e-mails and measure their effectiveness.

Internal communications: Make sure to include your marketing message on your invoices, e-mail signatures, etc.

Press releases: A little old-school but many of the magazines and Web sites in our industry are happy to post your news – all you need to do is get it to them in an appropriate format.

Social media sites: There’s no reason you shouldn’t have (at least) a blog, as well as corporate and individual LinkedIn pages. Then think about Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Social media engagement: Don’t just create a few social media sites (see above) and leave them. Participate in industry dialogue – on others' blogs, in LinkedIn group discussions and in Twitter chats.

LinkedIn connections: Spend a couple of minutes every day reaching out to industry contacts and building up your LinkedIn connections. Then communicate with them via LinkedIn’s built-in e-mail function.

Presenting Webinars: Like e-mail, there are also several fine, low-cost platforms available for delivering Webinars to your target audience. Two hints: 1) practice and 2) don’t sell – educate.

Awesome PowerPoint: Our industry just loves to put up PowerPoint slides with lots of words. Boring! Minimize the words, use compelling imagery and put on a show.

Networking at conferences: If you’re going to invest in conferences for your education, make sure to set some networking goals and then achieve them! And follow up, follow up, follow up…

Great elevator pitch: When networking (see above), you’ve got about 15 seconds to tell someone what you do, why it’s different and why they should care. Can you do that?

Handwritten thank-you notes: Sending handwritten notes after a meeting, presentation, referral or just out of gratitude for their business will stand out more than almost anything you can do because no one does it these days.

Content marketing: Enhance your credibility, position your firm and improve your SEO with the continuous creation of useful content (i.e., articles, white papers, case studies, e-books, etc.) And remember, no selling.

Sharing articles (one-on-one): Not everything you do has to be targeted to large groups. If you come across an interesting article that you think one of your clients will appreciate, send it to them with the short note, “Thought this might interest you…”

Asking for help during development: Developing a new service, creating a new Web site or opening a new office? If so, ask your clients to get feedback as you’re doing it. Not only will you get good information, they’ll be flattered you asked for their help and will have buy-in because they were involved from the beginning.

Testimonials/client lists: Very few of us show our clients’ logos on our Web site or post testimonials from them. Why not? That kind of information is proof that you can deliver on your promises.

Great business cards: Spend a couple of extra bucks on a really nice business card, which is often the only tangible thing a prospective client will see from you. Good design, good printing, good paper – it’s worth a little more. And don’t forget to use the back side of the card too.

A/B testing: If you’re not measuring what you’re doing, how can you improve? Simple A/B testing of Web site design, ads, e-mails, etc., will provide continuous incremental improvement.

Making referrals: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Referring prospective clients to your clients can pay big dividends down the road, especially when you don’t do it just to get something in return.

Get a domain name: If you’re a small shop or a solo-preneur, spend a few dollars each year to acquire and keep a domain name for e-mail and Web sites. Using @comcast.net or @hotmail.com is simply unprofessional.

Partner with others: Are there noncompetitive companies you can build alliances with? For example, if you’re qual, can you align with a quant firm? Then bring each other into projects.

POP: Do you get many visitors to your offices? If so, create some attractive point-of-purchase displays to scatter around. Promote your services, Web site, Webinars, etc.

Adjust your writing: Become more client-focused. Write from your clients’ perspective, focusing on benefits, not just features, and address their pain points. This applies to your Web site, PowerPoint presentations, collateral, etc.

SEO: Optimize your Web site and blog for SEO. Focus on continually adding new content and the effective use of keywords and phrases.

HYHAU: If you do no other measuring, at least do this: Ask everyone who contacts your firm, “How’d you hear about us?” Then tally the results as a way to see what elements of your marketing are working.

Remote sales: The same platform you use for Webinars can be used to deliver remote sales presentations. It’s an effective way to present information without having to hop on a plane.

A litany of ideas

Well there you go – a litany of ideas to get you started. And if you think about it for a few more minutes, you could probably come up with a dozen more. But they’re just ideas – their execution also requires additional commitments:

  1. Execute your ideas following a strategy and a plan. If not, you’re just winging it. 
  2. Results will not come overnight. Stick with it and be patient.
  3. Remember, though these ideas might not cost a lot of money, they do take time.

Good luck and good marketing!