According to experts, how much to spend on advertising can range from 2% to 16% of gross revenue depending on where you put your dollars — print, yard signs, Internet, TV. Knowing where to advertise means knowing which market to target, what differentiates your company from another, and what type of work you do best. Figuring all that out, of course, costs money.

But what if you're marketing and advertising on a shoestring? How can you get your message out with a small investment or a series of small investments?

First, know your message. “You don't want to be scattershot about a marketing plan,” says Dave Alpert, owner of Continuum Marketing in Great Falls, Va. He suggests working with a consultant to develop a simple strategic plan so that everything you do pulls together. “It's like working with a homeowner; you plan ahead, you don't go to The Home Depot every week and just buy things.”

While creating a strategy may quickly eat through your $2,000, doing so will save you time and money later. Even if you decide not to hire a consultant, keep in mind that every advertising and marketing tactic — from the font used for your company name and on your letterhead to the slogans on your postcards and the tag lines on your Web site — should be integrated with your strategic plan. And you have to maintain the discipline of marketing your company through good times and bad.

Like the strategic plan, there are other behind-the-scenes preparations and hands-on techniques, such as newsletters and yard signs, that will help bring in business.

What follows are ideas for low-cost marketing and advertising strategies from consultants Alpert; Adrienne Zoble of Adrienne Zoble Associates in Fort Collins, Colo.; and Steven Kleber, owner of Atlanta-based Kleber & Associates.

BEHIND-THE-SCENES Define your brand attributes. “This is what people in the market think of when they think of your company,” Alpert says. “Often your brand is shaped by the experiences of your circle of influence — your past clients.” Your attributes might be “friendly,” “skillful,” “professional,” “value for money,” “highest-possible quality,” or “expensive but worth every penny.”

“What are 10 things you want people to think about when they think about your company? Until you [define] those attributes, you can't gauge if your materials are communicating what you want [them to],” Alpert says.

Differentiate. Determine how you're different and better than your competition — from a homeowner's perspective — and make sure you communicate that in your sales and marketing materials. You may have to analyze the competition to find out how they position themselves. What are their tag lines? What kind of reputation do they have?

And then look at what you do. For example, perhaps you have a large warehouse and can pre-order materials so that you eliminate schedule delays. If all of your field people are certified or you're a member of a professional organization, let clients know. “It may be the thing that puts someone on your side of the fence,” Alpert says. “If you don't have something different, create it.”