I need tips on advertising a portrait studio in a small town with none to little money.?
Pfft... market research in a small town? You are not a multinational corporation, and you need the business NOW... not when you've finished your research. Don't confuse the situation with complex analysis. Small-town marketing is simple, if not a bit frustrating.
You need community awareness, branding, and networking. All of this can be done relatively cheap and will bring about great ROI.
Community Awareness: (1) Consider a direct mail piece. Design the piece yourself in Microsoft Publisher or another cheap layout program, and print them at Kinkos. You can go talk to your Postmaster and negotiate a price and other details... sending out just 1,000 or 2,000 should be extremely cheap. (2) You might also consider sponsoring local events. Donate your time, your facility, or even a bit of extra money or some materials to your local Boy Scout group next time they need to have a banquet, help pay for uniforms for the girl's soccer league... whatever you do, make sure your logo is prominently displayed. (3) If you're in a small town, billboard space will be CHEAP! Get one or two well-placed billboards or roadside signs... but negotiate directly with the property owner, not a professional billboard advertising company. (4) Set up a search-engine-friendly website for your business. Include information about your hometown, the history of portrait photography, whatever... as much text as possible... and keep your site fresh with new information and pricing. That way when someone searches for your hometown online, whether or not it's for photography, your website will pop up. (5) JUST GET YOUR NAME OUT THERE ANY WAY POSSIBLE!
Branding: (1) Keep your ad in the local newspaper. It's important that people know it's there, and that YOU'RE there, so that next time they need a portrait photographer, they'll go grab the paper and call your ad. (2) Again, get your logo, address, and phone number on as many things around town as possible. It doesn't matter what it's on, as long as it says what you do and how to get ahold of you. (3) Consider web advertising on local or area websites. Same concept as newspaper... people will see it, and even if they don't need your service right then, they'll come back to get your contact info once they DO need your services.
Networking: It's all about who you know. Join the local Chamber of Commerce, start attending the City Council meetings, join Rotary or the Lions Club. The more people you know, the more people will know what you do. And, their friends will get your reference when they need a photographer, and their friends, and those friends' friends. There's no replacement for networking.
As an aside, you are in a tough industry. With digital photography and online print ordering, one-hour photos, and Kinkos... you are competing with the customers themselves! Think about expanding into other areas of photography.
I know a lot of people that make a KILLING simply taking real estate photos full time. I also know a few people that do nothing but shoot demo series for aspiring models.
You can do this. Just get your butt to work! :)