The small business sector has had a rough time over the last year. From an already weak economy, to COVID-19 restrictions and unrest in major provinces, small business budgets are undoubtedly smaller and resources reduced. 

If you’re a budget-conscious small business owner, you can still market your product or service online on a reduced or startup budget. Yes, a big budget will get you places, but if things are tight, there are plenty of ways to market online for free or on a small budget.

In a world where digital has become king, your business can still be a part of the online conversation and show up in front of consumers without stretching your already limited budget.



Marketing online is all about attracting people to your brand. In essence you’re trying to get consumers to click through to your website and convert in some way, shape or form. So, if you have no fresh content on your website, Google can’t pick up any of your pages and your website won’t show up in any search results where potential customers are busy doing research.

Blogging, especially blogging that utilises search engine optimisation (SEO), helps you create content that answers the questions potential customers are asking around your product or service. While it’s a more long-term strategy, it can greatly increase your search engine rankings and visibility online.


Social media

Despite having the option to pay for adverts, you can still get awareness and build a community on various social media platforms by spending a minimal amount of money, or none at all. It’s free to sign up and fill out your profiles on the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and you can continuously link to your website to increase the chances of people discovering more of you online.

Start off by just creating organic content you know your audience will enjoy, and once you’re ready you can start boosting posts or creating ads with a relatively small budget to get you started. Just on Facebook, you can boost a post for only R300 (R100 a day) and get a few thousand impressions.


Google My Business

Utilising Google My Business (GMB) is one of the easiest ways to own more brand space online, without paying for it. With GMB you can claim your business online so that your correct information will be shown on the right hand side of the search results page whenever someone looks for you, or a business like you near them. Customers are also 50% more likely to consider your business over another if you have a complete GMB profile.


How to get your Google My Business account set up:

  1. Make sure you have a business Gmail account
  2. Claim your business on Google Maps if you haven’t done so already
  3. Navigate to
  4. Follow the prompts to add your business information including name, address and contact details
  5. Personalise your profile with images, products and/or services
  6. Verify the ownership of your business by clicking ‘Manage now’
  7. If you are the business owner you might be verified then and there. If you aren’t, a verification code will be sent to your physical or email address and it must be entered into your GMB dashboard to verify and complete ownership


Business Email 

Using a business email over a free email account will be beneficial to you. Basic business email accounts are widely available, aren’t costly, plus they give an added layer of awareness as you conduct your usual collaborative business activity. Remember, just because Gmail is well known, doesn’t mean it’s right for your budget. There are other alternatives to Gmail that can give your small business exactly what it needs without costing you too much.

With an email address directly linked to your website name and a dedicated signature on your daily emails, this collaborative tool will be an ongoing marketing platform for you too.


Network on community groups

With social distancing an ongoing feature in our lives at the moment, it’s entirely possible to rely on networking via online community groups and events to get your business’s name out there. From Webinars, to forums and industry-based discussions, joining these conversations to create awareness about your business, connect with like-minded individuals and build trust in you and your brand.


Useful business forums and groups for SME owners to join:

  1. Business Leadership SA
  2. Small Business Forum
  3. The Forum SA
  4. The South African Black Entrepreneurs Forum
  5. SA Business Hub
  6. Future Females
  7. Reddit
  8. Tumblr
  9. Quora



Aside from GMB, there are numerous other online directories that you can list your business on. These listings will not only enhance your online presence but provide consumers or potential business partners with your contact information and even reviews. 

Directories improve your online visibility for free, all while providing customers or clients with the information they need to choose you.

At the end of the day, online marketing doesn’t have to cost your business the earth when your budget is tight. While these efforts do require a human resource, if valuable content is provided on these platforms, your efforts will start to yield results.