It's no secret that start-ups and SMBs operate under tight budgets. But when you’re looking to make every dollar count, advertising is a kind of grey area. You need to market your company to get customers and grow your business. Yet return on investment in advertising isn’t always easy to quantify. Are you worrying that you might be spending money where you might not be getting the best bang for your buck? Here are four ways to advertise on a budget: 1. Social Media There are numerous online tools to promote your business at little or no cost beyond an investment in time. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube and blogs (both on your website and through other sites, like Pinterest and Tumblr, that share your target audience) are all channels to proactively and aggressively promote your brand, compel attention, drive traffic to your website and stimulate sales. Most are free to use. However, that may change. Facebook, for example, increasingly restricts showing updates to your audience unless you pay. Invest time in several platforms to see which performs best. Social media content aligned to your marketing objectives engages potential business prospects, extends your Internet footprint, and maintains an ongoing “buzz” that keeps people interested and gets them to buy. Related Article: Saving Gotham: How to Use Social Media to Improve Sales On top of that, social media provides real data in real time. How many hits on your website, how many items in a shopping cart convert to actual sales, and what people are saying about your products on Facebook are all measurable, showing you exactly what is getting customer attention and what isn’t. Decisions about advertising content and execution are formed by actual data instead of the opinions of marketing experts. 2. Get Involved - For the Networking Another next-to-no cost marketing medium is getting your brand out to the community through participation in organizations and activities. TodayHome points to a number of promotional activities, which include: Giving talks to local business organizations and community groups; Setting up a booth about your business at local events, business fairs, educational forums; Networking with other businesses to exchange business cards and contact lists and to discuss opportunities for mutual marketing programs and co-branding; Conducting workshops at business conferences or teaching courses at local schools or community colleges; and Donating products or services to charity. Small Business Computing notes how one person’s investment in time for pro bono work resulted in $5,000 in new business. 3. Alert the Press Write articles on topics related to your business. These can take the form of: Press releases. These offer news about your business. It could be a new product announcement, a partnership or a new location you’re opening. Most local newspapers accept press releases that they either print verbatim or use as the basis for an article in their business sections. There are also a number of free websites that will circulate your press releases to the appropriate online sites. Blog. You can blog on your own business website and as a guest on other pertinent blogs. As AboutMoney points out, a number of sites seek out content. Just be sure that where you’re posting has high enough traffic that is likely to be read by your existing and potential customers. There’s little point in publishing on a site that has few readers or, worse, one that might actually detract from your branding. Twitter. Tweeting offers an opportunity to promote both your own business and your customers, who in turn will start following your Twitter feed. Newsletters. Provide your customers with tips, product information or anything that reminds them of the value of your products and services. It’s not advertising, per se, but a way to communicate about customer needs and how you satisfy them. Printed newsletters can be expensive; an email blast to customers who sign up for regular news updates is a cost-effective alternative. However, if the size of your customer list starts to get unwieldy, you might consider using an email management service. Related Article: PR Crisis Communication: What You Know You Shouldn’t Do, But Do It Anyways 4. Get Listed Yellow page ads can be expensive and, in today’s world, not likely to reach that many people. You can get listed for free on Google Places, Yahoo Local and Bing Local. Moreover, if you’ve optimized your website with the right keywords, your business should show up in most web searches. However, if you don’t know what we mean by “keywords,” you may need to talk to someone who knows SEO (and if you don’t know what “SEO” means, you really need to do that).