In my previous blog post I recommended that small business owners and start-ups should look to invest in lower-risk digital marketing channels if the outlay required for an SEO or Pay Per Click campaign is too prohibitive.

Over the years SEO and PPC have reached the point where they now require serious investment that often stretches small business finances too far. The alternative digital marketing channels listed below may offer small businesses a way to generate online revenue and increase brand awareness without spending a fortune.

Social Media

Social Media is a great channel for tapping into your target audience, building brand awareness and increasing customer loyalty.

Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are the main social media channels but Pinterest and Instagram have also emerged in the last couple of years. However, unless you have a strong visual aspect to your product or brand, initial traction may be hard, while Instagram is not an option if you just want to share links to products or content.

Sign up, and share articles you think your audience will appreciate, pictures of your products and offers and if your posts prove popular your audience should grow.

Another tactic is to identify influencers in your industry and engage with them through social media channels. If an influencer shares, likes or retweets your social media contributions it will improve your brand recognition, and also add encourage more people to engage with you. A great tool for finding influencers in any industry is Buzz Sumo. It’s completely free and very easy to use.

What works for one industry on social media won’t necessarily work for another but social media allows for lots of trial and error so don’t get frustrated if something doesn’t generate the engagement you thought it would.

A good starting point for your social media strategy is look at which posts and types of activity proved most popular for the market leaders in your field and use this to understand where you can fit in.

Email marketing

Email marketing is one of the oldest digital marketing channels, but it still remains one of the cheapest and most effective forms when done correctly.

There are plenty of email marketing providers with cost-effective packages, including free options for start-ups.

Mailchimp is one of the best and easiest to use email marketing providers. Their free start up package allows for up to 2,000 contacts and their drag-and-drop interface makes the system simple to learn and use. It also integrates with most of the major ecommerce platforms and hosted solutions.

Place prominent newsletter sign-up boxes on your web pages to encourage visitors to sign up, and promote the benefits of subscribing through your social media profiles. You should start to see your database of contacts grow by the day.

But be smart how you collect email data and don’t just think online. Exhibitions & trade shows, telephone orders, and interactions with visitors to your physical premises are all opportunities for you to gather email addresses from potential and existing customers.

Don’t be tempted to bombard your contacts with daily newsletters as it will most likely lead to them unsubscribing. Most businesses will send a weekly newsletter and that is generally accepted as the best practise.

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing works on a Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) basis rather than the Cost Per Click (CPC) model used by other channels.  What that means is that you pay for sales or leads rather than just traffic, making it a lot more cost-effective than other channels.

With affiliate marketing, a business rewards anyone who sends sales or leads their way with a commission. The commission is usually in the form of a percentage of total basket value for ecommerce sites or a flat fee per lead for non-ecommerce merchants.  An affiliate could be anything from a major website to a person with a relevant blog.

The easiest way to get started with affiliate marketing is through an affiliate network. They act as a middleman, promoting your campaign to potential affiliates and providing the means for the two parties to work together.  Affiliate networks usually charge a fee for their services and the use of their reporting functionality but it tends to be quite low.

Two of the biggest affiliate networks, Affiliate Window and Trade Doubler, will not accept you as a merchant unless your website has a certain numbers of web visitors per month. Affiliate Future and Aflite don’t have these restrictions, while Monetise specialise in lead generation campaigns.

Display advertising

Display advertising is another channel that can eat up a significant amount of money very quickly – you could be quoted huge sums to feature your ads on the major websites. That approach might increase your brand awareness but won’t necessarily generate any revenue.

If you have a website you should have access to website analytics, such as Google Analytics. Within any analytics packages you will be able to see a list of websites that are already sending traffic to yours (referrals) and if your conversion tracking is set up correctly you can also see how many sales or leads are resulting from this traffic.

These websites are an ideal place to display your banner adverts. You already know their audience is relevant to your business so now you just need to direct more traffic from their site to your own.

Although I have previously cautioned against PPC advertising, it is possible to do budget-friendly display advertising through Google’s Adwords dashboard.

Google has two networks, the search network and a content network. The content network is made up of sites that have agreed to house Google adverts. Some agree to house text ads only, others agree to show banner ads only and some will agree to both.

Through the Adwords dashboard you can view a list of sites relevant to your own based on keyword or business area and manually select which ones you want to display your adverts on.  You are given the option to pay on a Cost Per Click (CPC) basis or a Cost Per 1000 Impressions (CPM (Cost Per Mille)) basis.

The benefit of doing display advertising this way is that you have complete control over your campaign. If your adverts are not performing how you expected on a particular website, simply remove that site from your campaign and focus your efforts elsewhere.  You can also set a daily budget which means you are in complete control of your advertising spend.

Hopefully my two posts have given you a little bit of guidance and some food for thought. If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them in the comments.

Read more in-depth guides on digital marketing channels from Hiscox’s Group Digital Manager Ronnie Brown and Steven’s post on smart spending on SEO and PPC.


Steven Holmes is a freelance digital marketing consultant. You can see practical examples of his digital marketing strategy in action at his current consultancy for Yorkshire-based small business Accessories by Park Lane.


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