Whichever way you look at it, small businesses are in for a difficult time over the next year or so. Many owners and managers are currently turning their thoughts to ways of saving money, with marketing often at the top of the list.

But according to Alastair Campbell, managing director of The Ideal Marketing Company, this is a short-sighted approach and small business owners should keep their nerve over the coming months.

"Effective marketing is so important in small businesses but it needn't cost a lot," he says. "However, it does need to be strategically planned if it is to yield results."

The Ideal Marketing Company recommends the following tips to get the most out of marketing on a budget:

Existing customers
Your existing customers are your greatest asset. New business doesn't necessarily mean new customers, so maintain communication with your clients and make sure they know what you can do for them. You could discount new products or services to reward loyalty and keep them spending their money with you

Trace your customers
Test every advert by putting a reference code on all the marketing you send out and make sure business enquiries are checked so you know how they heard about you

Get your name in print
Editors and journalist won't come to you, so be proactive. Think about what your company does that is newsworthy and send articles, news releases or surveys to the press. Don't waste your time by pitching a thinly disguised advert - an editor won't use it - and make your items as topical as possible

New business doesn't necessarily mean new customers, so maintain communication with your clients and make sure they know what you can do for them

Reap what you sow
The law of reciprocity states that if you give me something, I will have the urge to give you something in return. Your giveaways could include special reports, insider information, tips booklets or free seminars; anything that is useful to the prospect. These are all cheap to produce, but once a potential client has it, they will have an obligation to give you something in return

Be the expert
Spreading yourself too thinly will not result in increased sales; in fact, the opposite is true. Aim to become the business of choice for a specific sector by positioning yourself as the expert. Create a series of brochures, direct mail letters or flyers aimed at different sectors of your market. Ask yourself what issues each particular sector faces and then address that issue. Your customers will feel that you understand their problems and have the solution to help them

Use the web
This is a fantastic resource which is still rarely used to its full potential. You should be aiming for your site to be picked up by search engines, and one of the most effective ways of ensuring that this happens is to keep your site current by adding news and articles regularly. Put a blog on your website and keep it updated with items that are of interest to your prospects

Don't give up
It can take weeks, months or even years to close a sale, so if you have a good product or service, believe in it. When people say ‘no' they mean ‘not yet' or even ‘I don't know enough about the benefits of what you are offering', so make sure it's clear what's in it for them and keep in touch. If you've got your targeting right they will buy from you, but be prepared to wait

The Ideal Marketing Company offers regular free marketing seminars for SMEs and the Marketing Mentor programme designed for small business owners. See www.idealmarketingcompany.com for more details