We've all been there.  Budget time comes and we start cutting line items to match the numbers that are really coming in.  The first thing in many companies on the chopping block is the marketing budget.  This is because most managers associate "marketing" with "ritzy, expensive advertising campaign."  Just because you can't afford the flash and dazzle of your name in lights in Times Square doesn't mean you can't still focus on marketing.  Here are five ways you can market on a shoe-string budget:

1. Use your network - Sometimes expensive advertising sends the wrong message.  If you're truly focused in on your perfect customer, try to meet him where he lives.  Rather than invest your month in an expensive ad campaign, talk to her friends and colleagues and try to get a referral.  The most powerful question you can ask people in your network begins with, "who do you know..."

  • Who do you know that has an unpublished best-seller sitting on their desk?
  • Who do you know that's wasting money on an inefficient, in-house network hosting system?
  • Who do you know that's looking for a new job but doesn't know how to prioritize their career objectives?
  • Who do you know ...

2. Use other people's networks - There's no reason to reinvent the wheel.  Some other people have already created incredibly large networks of potential customers who could use your product or service.  Leverage this! Create a page on Facebook for your service and pass the link to all your connections - ask them to pass it on as well.  You might even invest $5 per day in pay-per-click advertising to drive traffic to your Facebook page.  The more people viewing what you have to offer, the higher the change your perfect customer will stop by.

3. Become a thought leader - If you already have a website, start linking important articles about your product or industry to it.  Submit these articles to local newspapers and business journals.  Contribute to already successful blogs and community forums.  Asking a question on LinkedIn gives you a lot of exposure - answering a question there helps to establish your credibility.  A stronger reputation and presence in the search engines will drive more 'organic' interest in your services than if you did nothing.

4. Give something away for free - There's probably something in your service offering that is of little value-add by itself.  A career coach's resume assessment is useful only if you ask for additional advice on how to implement critique.  A website performance analysis is only useful to those who know how to act on the results.  A handbook on properly using brand satisfaction data is only valuable if you have the data in the first place.  Give your customers something for free that proves you know your stuff - then up-sell your actual competencies.

5. Invest in your future - We all want to have more available business than we can handle, but right now that might not be the case.  It can be hard, but you need to operate today as you would if you had 50 clients lined up at the door - be particular about who you work with.  Don't take a client in an unrelated field just because you need the money, refer them to a friend with more experience in that particular area.  You're not turning away business, you're building a relationship.  In the future, this client might refer a colleague to you because they trust your reputation for honesty.  Likewise, your colleague might refer another client to you because their needs are more specific to your field.  Maintain your integrity, and your reputation will market itself.