Top 10 free or low-cost marketing ideas for 2017

By Jeff Sheets

I want to kick off the New Year with an article on marketing because it is an area where most businesses could stand to make some improvement. And when I say 10 “free or low-cost marketing ideas,” I am talking about how much money that you have to invest. Most of these ideas will take time for you or your employees to implement, so keep that in mind when you look at these ideas. Sometimes, people invest in things because of long-term gain, and that is hard to measure in 30 days or even in three months. As with everything, you need to make sure that what you’re doing makes sense for your particular business. Try one of my 10 marketing ideas or try all 10, but I ask you to think about these ideas or come up with some of your own to make sure that you are always trying to find new ways to market or brand yourself. At the end of this article, I am going to ask you do something for me, so please read all the way through and follow the instructions for a fun way to help me and other OPE businesses.

I am breaking the following 10 marketing ideas into two types: Personal and Program.


1) Buy someone a meal: It seems so simple, but how many times do we take people out to just reward them or get to know them better? People like free food, even the writer of this article likes to get a free lunch every now and then. This is relationship building and shows people that you want to invest time in them, and that can go a long way toward securing their business.

2) Handwritten thank-you notes: People love them! I know that when I receive any handwritten note in the mail these days, I am amazed. Sometimes, going back to the old ways is not a bad idea and can kick open a door that was previously shut. Your customers will be impressed that you took the time to send them a handwritten thank-you note.

3) Support charities: Hosting a Red Cross blood drive in your dealership or sponsoring a charity fundraiser is a good thing to do, and it allows you to bring people into your dealership –or get you outside of your dealership — to meet them. You could consider this just public relations, but you can tie your efforts to an in-store giveaway or sale.

4) Business cards: Once again, I realize this seems so 20th century, but even in the current Electronic Age, it is good to be able to put your personal advertisement into a person’s hands. I know that in my desk drawer I keep business cards of people that I have met and want to have their information handy. I’ve also kept some very important business cards in my wallet. Yes, your customers can look you up on the Internet, but this is more relational. Make sure that you carry some of your business cards with you; otherwise, producing them is wasted.

5) Ask for referrals: If you have very satisfied customers, then what better way to further those relationships than by asking for referrals? You can even set up a program where if a customer referral leads to a purchase, the referring customer receives something free or discounted. You have to ask your customers for referrals though, and that takes self-discipline. I suggest that you teach your employees how to ask your customers for referrals too. You might tie in an incentive for your employees if you hear them asking someone to tell their friends or neighbors about your store.


1) Chamber of commerce/associations: Joining these groups is not a bad idea. You get to know the business owners locally, regionally or nationally. There are opportunities to partner with other business owners on promotions, thereby reducing your costs or learning who needs your help in a more personal way. Business cards are very useful to hand out at the meetings of these groups.

2) Get email addresses and/or cell phone numbers from your customers: Do not fear this! I talk with lots of owners who hate giving out their email addresses or cell phone numbers, so they don’t want to bother their customers by asking them for the same information. You need to reassure your customers that you want their e-mail address and cell phone number primarily for contact purposes, but that you may e-mail or text them occasionally with special offers. These days, most people have multiple e-mail addresses, so they can filter through certain emails easily. Texting is more personal, but I would reserve that more for service reminders (e.g. notifying customers when their equipment is ready to be picked up) than for marketing purposes.

3) Use your manufacturers’ co-op advertising: Take advantage of this perk. Find a way to somehow include your manufacturer’s logo in any paid advertising that you do. I know there are restrictions, but this helps both you and your manufacturer and is a great way to reduce your advertising costs.

4) Be an expert: What makes someone an expert? Obviously, an expert is someone who possesses a wealth of knowledge in a specific field, but really it’s someone who is thought of as an expert by others. How do you become perceived as an expert? Contribute articles or a column to local publications. Go on a radio show and talk about lawn equipment. Give a speech at a local business forum. If people see or hear you giving advice in a public forum, then you probably will be perceived by them as an expert.

5) Social media opportunities: In a recent column by Jon Acuff, a popular blogger and writer, he included some fascinating statistics about his social media efforts. “If you’re an entrepreneur, ignore Facebook at your peril. Facebook might not be the coolest platform, but it is the most effective. Are there higher-tech ways to grow your business? Sure, but 36 people shared my tweet on Twitter. Around 50,000 people saw it on Instagram. And it reached 2.8 million on Facebook.” If you’re having a hard time doing all social media platforms, make sure that you are doing the one that gives you the most opportunities to reach your customers.

There are probably hundreds of free or low-cost marketing ideas that can help you be successful in your business. Only you can evaluate how much time and effort you want to invest in them. Some of my suggestions are easy and take virtually no time to do, but others take a great deal of time and effort. If you’re going to try to implement any of these marketing ideas, don’t go halfway. Make a long-term commitment to trying your best to succeed and evaluate the results. I would suggest a minimum of six months.

When it comes to ideas, Seth Godin has the following great quote: “There’s no shortage of remarkable ideas, what’s missing is the will to execute them.” I hope you will take one or more of my 10 marketing ideas and use them to help you become the business you want to be.

Now for my challenge! I want you to share your free or low-cost marketing ideas with me. Please go to OPE’s recently launched Facebook page @OutdoorPowerEquipmentMag and post your free or low-cost marketing ideas there. And while you’re visiting OPE’s Facebook page, please be sure to like it. I am hoping for at least 50 people to reply, so don’t wait — just do it after you read this article. Hope you have a great 2017!

1504_OPE_FS_Profit Center Series-Part III-Service2_author-Jeff Sheets-webJeff Sheets is the founder and owner of OPE Consulting Services. Whether a business is thriving or struggling to survive, Sheets’ rich experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors allows him to partner with business owners to customize unique strategies for their needs. For the past nine years, he has worked extensively with hundreds of outdoor power equipment dealers to create best practices in business structure, personnel management and financial profitability. For more information, he may be contacted at or (816) 260-5430. You can also follow him on Twitter @opeconsult, connect with him on LinkedIn, and visit his website at