Having participated in the launch of numerous startups, I’ve seen many founders spend too much on marketing. They perceive that they have to spend a ton of money to make money (and get noticed). They end up struggling to sustain it. Plus, investors don’t look too highly on unnecessary expenditures.
Truthfully, as a startup, it isn’t necessary to spend anywhere close to the amounts allocated for marketing. This will 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. Here are few tips to help your marketing budget work smarter, not harder.
1. Start with a budget
Just because you don’t need to spend a lot of money on marketing it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t establish a budget. A marketing budget is a necessary tool. It will keep you focused on ROI and increase your accountability and discipline to stick to it.
Create a marketing budget based on a) a percentage of your bootstrap fund and b) an amount you can spend without creating a cash crisis that will impact other areas of business development. Also, prioritize one or two marketing strategies.
2. Develop thought leadership
One of the best ways to market your business on a budget is to focus on thought leadership. This builds your reputation in an industry or segment as you provide expert advice, thoughtful insights and valuable tips your audience can use. Start with your own personal niche blog.
This initial thought leadership effort can get you noticed by other industry platforms. If considered, you can further your thought leadership and increase your reach through content distribution. While they won’t pay you to contribute content, it is a part of a solid content marketing strategy which is a proven investment.
As you guest blog or syndicate your articles online you increase your visibility, build credibility and establish yourself as an expert. When your content is out there in front of your target audience it helps to generate interest in your business. In this way, you are marketing without obviously doing so. In essence, your sweat equity develops publicity.
3. Nurture your influencer network
Cultivating online influence works much faster–and is more effective–than spending money on traditional paid media in early stage bootstrapping. Obviously, you can’t go straight to big influencers who typically want to be paid. Instead, start with your own network and ask them to share your content with their circles. You can offer a free product or trial.
I’ve seen this work incredibly well. Those who begin to spread the news are often asked where to get a sample or free trial. Send out incentives to those who come through this influencer network.
4. Identify strategic partnerships
Existing brands have large audiences. They continually look for ways to further their value. That’s where you come in; as a startup with something new and interesting you can add value. Look for brands that align well with your product or service. Approach them with your idea to develop a strategic partnership.
Be sure to convey your “ask” clearly, list the benefits for that brand and confirm what the next steps would look like. Illustrate why your shared values will create a mutually beneficial relationship. From there, you can leverage their marketing resources, channels, and audience access to establish your own credibility. In exchange, the brand delivers more to its audience and further differentiates itself from the competition.
5. Think locally
It’s always good to look into your local community. Identify where you can plant grassroots efforts. For example, local events provide you with a booth where you can share your message and build offline interest. These events are typically low cost and allow you to interact directly with your target audience.
Direct visitors to your online presence with incentives and sharing. Word of mouth advertising will maximize the investment at local events. Plus, potential customers can put a face to your brand, which will build trust quicker than many online marketing strategies.
6. Track 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.
This article has been edited.
Drew Hendricks is a business professional and CMO of Flint. He’s written for many major publishers such as Forbes and Entrepreneur.