A marketing strategy takes time, expertise, and research. Every business and market is unique, and so every strategy must be as well. Most small business owners have a lot on their plates, and little time to dedicate to creating a comprehensive marketing plan. As such, getting help is the key. It will help ensure that you end up with a targeted, comprehensive, and, most importantly, effective strategy for your marketing.

But who to ask for help? There are plenty of people who do this for a living, but high-caliber agencies come with a hefty price tag. Professional expertise is often worth the investment, but your small business budget won’t magically expand just because you want to get high-quality help.

Here are three ways to find pro marketing help on a small business budget.

1. Look to Your Staff

Sometimes great marketing talent is staring you in the face, but you may not think to look at it. You may have a marketing student waiting tables at your restaurant, or an office manager with a background in public relations. If you’re not sure whether your staff has experience, talent, or interest in marketing, ask. You may have someone with a qualified background, or you may have someone eager to test out great ideas.

If you find someone on your staff who is ready and able, make the marketing plan into a separate project, and take it seriously. Agree on hours and payment. Discuss how much flexibility you can provide on usual responsibilities while your employee works on the marketing strategy. And be sure to define the scope of the project: do you want to start implementing the strategy right away, or just have the completed strategy handed to you by a certain date?

2. Look to Your Network

Your marketing strategy is one of the key aspects that will help your business succeed. This is the time to call in favors. Look through your full network, using sites like LinkedIn or Facebook, to see if you have contacts with expertise in marketing. You may not know that your sister-in-law has a degree in the field, or prior experience in a corporate marketing division.

Your loyal customers, vendors, and colleagues may also have a wealth of ideas and information. Reach out and ask for recommendations. And don’t rule out other non-competing businesses in your area. If the boutique down the block always has stellar ads and mailings, you could ask the owner who handles her marketing.

When it comes to payment, consider finding alternative ways of compensating both sides. Is there someone who might benefit from your goods or services or skills? Could you set up a barter arrangement? When you’re working with a friend or contact, it’s worth asking.

3. Don’t Discount an Agency or Professional

Rather than large national agencies, seek out local professionals, as they will be more on-budget, not to mention in tune with the local market and trends. You can search online for marketing professionals who freelance, or for small marketing firms in your area. Be specific about what you need: a marketing strategy, and perhaps some help implementing it. Name your budget and ask if they can match it.

If the firms you find are out of your price range, ask if they could point you toward any up-and-coming marketing freelancers or firms. Newcomers might be willing to negotiate more as they seek to establish a portfolio and list of clients.

Be willing to offer something in exchange for a budget-friendly price: perhaps you can work on a flexible timeline, or provide some business referrals, or offer them a discount on your own products and services.

There’s a bonus to looking for budget-friendly professional marketing help; you will learn about people. You can find out things you didn’t know about your own staff, learn more about the people in your network, and make valuable new contacts in your area. Which, if you’re running a small business that relies on support from the community, can make a load of difference in the long run.

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