Avoid Costly Mistakes: Where to Spend and Where to Save Your Marketing Dollars

5 stack of coins that has a soil and a plant above each of them

Sometimes it makes perfect sense to save a few marketing dollars. And sometimes it’s a disaster.

I’ll be the first to admit that I shop for some of my clothes at consignment shops. Some of my furniture was handed down to me, or given to me by friends. I like the idea of re-using and re-purposing items, and saving money where I can.

But sometimes, you’ve got to spend some to make some.

Below, I share my highly personal list of places where I believe you can save money as you market your business. Just as important, I share my list of places where it’s truly worthwhile to spend some so your marketing is more efficient and effective.

Your list and my list are different

Your own list will vary from mine, and I want to hear exactly how down in the comments.

If you’re just starting out, you may want to do much of your marketing work yourself. As your business grows, you may decide to hire people to handle specific marketing tasks.

No matter what stage you’re in right now, you’ll want to spend wisely.

I want to get your input on this topic. So once you read through my list, cruise on down to the comments section and share your experience.

Where to save money on marketing

Below are the areas where you can save your money, or you can spend less than $100 and get a solid marketing solution:

Market research

No need to hire a firm or a researcher. Learn to use Google Search Operators when doing a web search to get targeted information about your competitors, your ideal customer, and their demographic details.

Printed stationery

It used to be that one of your first business expenses was stationery with your business name, address, and phone number.

Now with high-quality ink jet and color laser printers, you can get away with printing the handful of letters and envelopes you may need to send when you open your business. With so much communication happening by email, you may not need to send letters at all.

The exception? Business cards. See my comments on that in the “Where to spend” section below.

Web hosting

Our websites have to be hosted somewhere in order to be served up on the web. Luckily, web hosting doesn’t have to be expensive.

This site is hosted on Synthesis, which is Copyblogger Media’s web hosting business. I switched to their service about a year and a half ago when my site traffic got to the point that I needed a more robust server.

But if you’re just starting out, you could use shared hosting. Plans start at less than $10 a month.

I have several smaller websites hosted at Hostgator, and I have been very pleased with the uptime, customer service, and price.

Web design and development

If you’re smart enough to set up a website using free self-hosted WordPress software, you can really keep your costs down. To make the most of any WordPress site, you’ll want to install a custom theme, like the ones you can find at StudioPress.

On this site, I use Dynamik Website Builder, which is a WordPress theme with design controls. This means I can do all the design tweaking by myself, even though I don’t know a lick of code.

Online storage

A little over a year ago, I went on a trip and took an external hard drive in my carry on luggage.

I ended up not being able to bring the suitcase on the plane with me, and it was placed (thrown?) into the baggage compartment. I arrived at my destination, plugged in the hard drive, and it was dead as a doornail.

Which sent me scrambling, because I had pieces of projects on that hard drive that I needed.

Ever since then, I have relied increasingly on cloud storage for even my most important files. The one I like best is Dropbox.

Both have free starter plans, and work similarly: they put a “magic” folder on your hard drive. Whatever you place in that folder is stored on their servers. You can access it from your computer, your smart phone, your tablet, or (for that matter) any computer you can log in to the service from.

It means you’re less tied to a physical machine, and can move from place to place like, well … a cloud!

Designing a logo

It’s a pretty typical scenario: someone starts a new business, and one of the first things they think is, “I need a logo!”

I propose that you may not need a logo. You might be better served by a wordmark, which you’ll see an example of on this post.

A wordmark is a logo that’s just your business name, carefully typeset, and sometimes with a color applied. If you’re careful, you can create a wordmark yourself.

Until your business is making money, it’s best to focus on serving your prospects and customers, getting to know them, and meeting their needs.

In the process of doing this, you may tweak what you offer. It’s only after this initial tweaking is done (and your business it turning a profit) that you might want to think about having a logo designed.

Social media marketing services

Confused by social media, and tempted to sign yourself up with an agency and have them handle it? Don’t.

It’s best if you get to know the platforms yourself, and make the first tentative steps toward building followers. It’s only by trying them out that you’ll get a feel for what they offer, and whether your ideal customer can be found there.

Sell things online?

There are many, many ways to accept payments for online products. You may be looking at services that run $50-$150 per month, with all sorts of bells and whistles.

But some of the most-successful online business people I’ve met started very simply with a PayPal button on their site.

If you want to take it up a notch, you can open an account with e-Junkie, which will allow you to offer protected downloads, and have an affiliate program. E-Junkie fees start at just $5 per month, and it’s a great way to get your feet wet with selling from your website.

Long distance

There aren’t many reasons to have a landline telephone anymore, especially if you have a cell phone.

If you have a Skype account, you can get a Skype Number for just $5 a month.

That’s what I use for Big Brand System, and I can get calls from anywhere with full voice mail and call forwarding capabilities.

Skype offers advanced communication options, too. I’ve used it to record both video and audio interviews (see the inexpensive way to do this below).

And beginning just this week, Skype offers free group video calling: this used to only be available to Premium Skype users.

Storage for your website files

A few years back, someone at Amazon.com got the bright idea that they could pick up a few extra dollars selling storage space on their massive infrastructure, and Amazon S3 was born.

If you use shared web hosting, or simply don’t want to overburden your website with large files like PDF ebooks, video, or audio, you can stash these files on an Amazon S3 account, and Amazon will serve them up to your website. They charge by how much traffic your files get.

I’ve used it since the early days of Big Brand System, and have hundreds of files on my account. Despite so many files, my monthly bill has always been less than $10, and is sometimes less than $5.

Think twice before investing in software

Before you buy Microsoft Office, take a good look at OpenOffice. It’s free, open source software that works on both Macs and PCs. And if you need to send a file to an MS Office user, OpenOffice will export to all the common MS Office formats.

It has some impressive built-in capabilities, and makes PDFs that are so clean and nice, it is an integral component in my eBook Evolution product, which guides you through the ebook creation process using OpenOffice.

Here’s something else: don’t buy design software if you’re going to DIY your marketing materials. For web graphics, use iPiccy, PicMonkey, or Canva.

For print, you should be working with an experienced print designer: don’t try to DIY these unless you have some training. Print mistakes can be expensive.

Here’s where to spend on your marketing:

Don’t make your life harder by skimping on the areas below.

Get a decent computer

Computer prices have gone nowhere but down lately. That doesn’t mean they’re cheap, exactly.

Since most of us spend so much time producing things on them that we can use to market our businesses, communicate with our customers, and run our systems, having one you can rely on to get your work done easily and smoothly is crucial.

I use a Mac, but that’s not required. There are solid PC models that will do the job. Choose the best on your can afford, and start saving so you can replace it in about five years.

Pay extra for fast Internet

Every time I have paid a little extra to boost my Internet speed, I notice a bump in productivity. It’s amazing how much time gets wasted while you wait for a page to load, or a download to happen. The faster your Internet connection, the less time you’ll waste staring at a progress bar: it’s a good investment in my book.

A business card

Here’s my exception to the “you don’t need stationery” rule. We all need a business card we like. Having a nice-looking one will make you feel more confident to network in person, which is a key to building your business. They’re the least-expensive item you’ll ever print!

I like PSPrint for this kind of project. They have a price estimator right on the site, so you’ll know how much your cards will cost before you place your order. I’ve used them many times, and their print quality is excellent.

Sign up with a reliable email marketing provider

If you’re building an email list (and most businesses should be), you’ll need a reliable email marketing provider.

The three I like best are: AWeber, Constant Contact, and MailChimp. They all offer different things.

Create audio and video interviews on the cheap

Here’s an easy way to get your business in front of your customers: create audio and video content by conducting interviews.

Skype is ideal for this. And there are two pieces of software you can use to capture your interviews.

If you’re on a PC, you can use Pamela — no relation ;-). If you’re on a  Mac, try Call Recorder.

Get your passwords under control

Way back in the day, I used to keep a master list of all my passwords. Once it got to be four pages long, I knew I needed a better solution.

I started using 1Password. It is super easy to set up and use, and is available for both PCs and Macs.

You create one master password that unlocks your password “vault.” The software helps you create super safe passwords that you don’t have to remember: it does that for you.

Now, over to you

What have I forgotten? I want this post to be a great resource for our community, so add your thoughts below.

What do you save on, and where do you spend when it comes to your marketing?

And for more on the tools I use to run Big Brand System, pay a visit to my Tools of the Trade page.

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Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson is an online educator, author, keynote speaker, and the founder of BIG Brand System. Read reviews of the tools used to run this site and business. Have you taken the free Focus Finder quiz yet?

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28 thoughts on “Avoid Costly Mistakes: Where to Spend and Where to Save Your Marketing Dollars”

  1. 2 services that I think it’s crucial to invest in is a Backup process for your website and also for your computer.
    We use Backupbuddy for our website because it’s robust and easy to use.
    I use Backblaze.com for my laptop where I use Windows 7. It costs about £3.00 per month and I use it because I find much easier,convenient and reliable than Windows’ clunky backup process.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you Pamela. What priceless information! All of this is useful. I have used Vistaprint for my business cards, and I liked the result. I will look into the other marketing tools that you recommend. I already use Aweber on your recommendation. Have a great day.

  3. Pamela: this is one of your best messages. All small startups should see this. The wordmark example was especially helpful.

    After you create your wordmark, would it be worthwhile to check with the patent and trademark office to see if there are any trademarks similar to the one you just created? I would do that before I started using a new logo.


    Bob Gaynor

    • Hi Bob,

      Yes, it’s a good idea to check about trademarks even before you work on a wordmark. It can be tricky to trademark the actual wordmark logo art if it’s not distinctive enough, but the name can be trademarked.

      Thanks for adding that: it’s important!

  4. Great ideas as usual, Pamela! What are your thoughts on getting professional Adwords help? I’ve just started a brand new website and want to jump start traffic, but Adwords looks insanely complicated for the newbie!

    • Hi Liz,

      It’s confusing for me, too! I think it’s a great idea to hire help if you can find someone reliable. Everything I’ve read about Adwords says that it can be a big waste of time and money if you don’t know what you’re doing.

      • For sure, Pamela; thanks for that. I’m going with a certified Adwords person on a no-contracts arrangement – will see how it goes for a couple of months and pull the pin if no results are seen. The entire keywords area is a total nightmare and by far the most intimidating part of a small online biz for me. 🙂

  5. Great post Pamela – filled with valuable resources!

    I use ZipCloud to automatically back up my computer every day. Don’t know what I would have done without it last year when my computer crashed and none of the files could be recovered.

    Will definitely look into AmazonS3 as I am starting to record videos and was looking for an alternative to loading them on YouTube or Vimeo.

    Thanks for all the suggestions!

  6. Pamela, this is such a great list. I save and spend in much of the same ways as you do. I am also a big advocate for using a wordmark out of the gate, rather than spend money on a fancy design – and I’m a designer!

    One area where we spend money is on equipment. We print t-shirts, so we bought the best printing press we can afford. That doesn’t mean flashy, it means reliable. So it takes a lot of research. But the equipment is something we rely on, so it has to be solid and have a good company to back it up.

    An area where we save money is in DIY. This seems contrary to my earlier equipment suggestion, but you have to “choose your battles” when starting out. For example, I splurged on a press, but I built my own washout booth and screen exposure unit. I don’t expect anyone to know what those are for, but the point is those two things can be easily replaced or repaired by us with parts from Home Depot.

    There was a trend of online business owners bragging on twitter about their office chair (Herman Miller, $500 chairs, etc). To me, this is a ridiculous waste of money. Yes, you need to be comfortable to do a lot of computer work. Like I said, I’m a designer, I spend long hours sitting in front of a screen. My chair cost $60 (Target). If I remember not to slouch, I feel great even after long hours. Yoga is free.

    We spend money on things that help us give the best value to our customers. We save money on the behind-the-curtain stuff that doesn’t affect our products.

    • Exactly! I use a plain desk from an office supply store, I make my own scratch pads from old printed paper, and I don’t dress up most days, because I work from a home office.

      But I bought the best laptop I could afford, and I do pay for faster Internet, because those directly affect my customer’s experience. (Slow Internet is very, very bad for webinars.)

      Choose your battles is right. And everyone’s battle is going to look a little different. 🙂

  7. I’ve recently been using Fiverr for design jobs and have been very impressed. Had 2 different suppliers design logos for my next business and was amazed at what they sent back for that price. Now I’m having someone remove the background from a lot of my product pics at 10 for $5.
    I’m going to look into increasing my internet speed per your suggestion. My computer is backed up to Sugar Sync and my hosting provider, Bluehost, backs up my website. Should I also be backing that up to another service like Backup Buddy as well?

    • You might want to check with Bluehost to see what exactly they're backing up.

      If you're on a WordPress site, for example, they might back up your database file, but not your full site. It's a good idea to do a complete site backup on a regular basis: I do mine a couple of times a week.

      Backup Buddy is good for this. BackWPup is a free alternative that I've used in the past, too.

  8. Great post, Pamela! Thank you! I found out much new! I save on MindMapping (I use FreeMind on my PC), as I know there is an online mindmap service – MindMeister. In the future I plan to use Evernote, I think it will save my time too!

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