BY DREW HENDRICKS
Having participated in building numerous startups, I’ve seen many founders spend too much on their marketing efforts out of a perceived need that they have to spend money to make money (and get noticed). They end up struggling to continue. Plus, investors don’t look too highly on unnecessary expenditures.
It isn’t really necessary to spend anywhere close to the amounts being allocated for marketing. This must come as a relief to any bootstrapping startup founder. I’ve picked up some marketing strategies that are more about the effort and less about the money:
Start with a budget
Just because you don’t need to spend a lot of money on marketing as a startup doesn’t mean you shouldn’t establish a budget. This is a necessary tool in order to keep you focused on return on any size investment made in this channel. A budget also gives you some accountability and discipline to stick to only what you said you’d spend.
Create a budget based on what you have in your bootstrap fund that you believe you can spend without putting you in a cash crisis that will impact other areas of your business development. Also, prioritize one or two marketing strategies that may have a dollar sign attached to them (even if it’s a small one).
Develop your thought leadership position
One of the best ways to develop marketing on a dime is to focus on thought leadership, which builds a reputation in your industry or segment for providing expert advice, thoughtful insights and valuable tips that your audience can use. Start with your own blog about what you are doing and what you see happening in your niche area. Share those posts everywhere you can to build a following.
This initial thought leadership effort can get you noticed by other publishing platforms that will consider you for their own sites, where you can further that thought leadership. While they won’t pay you to contribute content, you’ll be able to guest blog or syndicate your articles online. Getting your content out there in front of a target audience also helps generate interest in the product or service your startup offers. In this way, you are marketing without obviously doing so and only using sweat equity to develop that publicity.
Nurture an online influencer network
Developing online influencers works much faster and is more effective than spending money on advertising or other paid placement activities at this early stage in the bootstrapping process. Obviously, you can’t go straight to the big influencers who typically want to be paid. Instead, start with your own network of people who believe in what you are doing and ask them to share information with their circles. You can give them a free demo product to try and talk about on their own social media profiles or blogs.
I’ve seen this work incredibly well. Those who begin to spread the news are often asked where to get a demo to try. Send out product samples to those who come through this influencer network.
Look for strategic partnerships
Existing brands do have large audiences and are continually looking for ways to further their value. That’s where you come in, as a startup with something new and interesting that could add that value for that known brand. Look for brands that would align with your product or service offering and approach them with your idea to strategically partner.
Be sure to have the benefits listed out for that brand. Illustrate why your shared values will create a mutually beneficial relationship. From there, you’ll be able to leverage their marketing resources, channels, and audience access to establish your own credibility while the brand delivers more to its customers and further differentiates itself from the competition.
It’s always good to look into your local community to see where you can plant those grassroots efforts that pay off in big ways for startups. This can be through local events that provide you with a booth where you can share what you offer and build offline interest. These events typically do not cost a lot of money but allow you to interact directly with your target audience and let your enthusiasm strike a chord with those in the community. Visitors may look for you online and join your social media sites as well as share with others through pictures and content on their own profiles.
That’s free advertising and maximizes the investment in the local event. Plus, these potential customers will get to put a face to the new company, helping you to build trust at an earlier stage than if you had just stuck with online marketing strategies.
Track every marketing effort and collect data along the way
Even if the marketing strategy does not involve any money, you’re still spending considerable time and effort. That’s why you should track the results of each marketing tactic you deploy. This will help you figure out if these marketing strategies are beneficial to repeat in the future and who your target audience is.
All these low-cost marketing tools can also still collect valuable data, including information on each audience member you interacted with, ways to contact them in the future, what interests them, and how they respond to your product or service. It’s worth its weight in gold and can be prospected further as your marketing budget grows in line with your revenues.