A brand new business is under pressure, high on stress, and low on cash. It’s a brutal combination of factors, and in the midst of it all, marketing may not be a top priority.
Founders are likely more concerned about getting products ready for launch, setting up fulfillment and payment, and just generally making sure the wheels don’t fall off along the way!
With so much happening at once and money running dry, how is marketing supposed to fit in when you have a shoestring budget in the first place?
We talked with marketing masters who have made their business dreams come true without tons of funding from the start. Here are their best tips to remember and implement for your own marketing game plan, even if cash is tight.
Organic Content Creation
The era of original content is in full swing, and every brand is flooding the web with new digital assets around the clock.
Content marketing has always been on the periphery of the business world, but it’s not front and center for brands of all sizes – especially small companies without tons of money to burn.
The beauty of content marketing is not just the low cost, but the huge potential upside of building an audience through an organic process of growth online.
“Think about how brands had to attract audiences before the internet, and you realize what a huge advantage we have by producing new content,” said Matthew Mundt, Founder and CEO of Hug Sleep. “Now, you can post on social media, write blogs, release videos, and create so much amazing stuff that people appreciate and enjoy. Just keep creating content and your plan will click at some point.”
Content is not truly free of course, but brands can go a long way with just a few simple tools and a small team. When out, rely on the old-fashioned magic of words to fuel your content fire.
“Utilizing blog content is great when working on a shoestring budget,” said Daniel Seehoff, CEO of Sophistiplate. “With a blog, you are able to use keywords and boost SEO all organically and for free. This will boost your Domain Authority and generate brand exposure. Creating curated content that is continuous is great free marketing for any brand.”
Not all content needs to be made in-house, either. Believe it or not, many brands turn to social media to have content created for them in real-time.
“Arguably the biggest asset you have in the content landscape is your audience, even if it’s small, to begin with,” said Jared Hines, Head of Operations at Acre Gold. “Connect with them across all channels and inspire them to make user-generated content that benefits you both. Show the human side of your brand in the content you make and turn it into a team effort. That’s what people want to see these days – authenticity, not artificial marketing.”
Cost-Effective Promos and Ads
Many marketers hear about promotions and ads, then immediately clutch their wallets in fear of money being ripped from their hands.
Yes, that reaction is justified given some of the sky-high prices we’ve seen in the marketing space of late, but there are more ways to promote a brand without emptying all accounts.
“When advertising on platforms like Facebook and Insta, understand that you can save some serious cash by being more targeted with your initiatives,” said Sarah Pirrie, Brand Director at Healist Naturals. “Pick your spots and time it wisely for major savings.”
Ad targeting is also an all-important practice that any budget marketer must embrace.
“The scattershot approach is not going to work anyway, so you might as well direct your ads towards people who are already interested,” said Cindy Le, Co-Founder and COO of Revela. “As you target ads with precision, you’ll keep cash in the bank and promote your brand more effectively as well.”
Marketers can also pare down ad costs by forming partnerships with lesser-known influencers with dedicated followings. The audience may not be large, but they are often fiercely devoted to the niche and ready to buy.
“Don’t waste money by trying to get the biggest, most famous influencer to promote your product,” said Jim Beard, COO of BoxGenie. “Not only is there no guarantee of returns, but it also looks try-hard and doesn’t make sense if your brand is new and super small. It’s a more economic and strategic choice to work with smaller ambassadors who are on the rise and you can trust to do a great job.”
As always, brands can get creative to promote their products in fun, exciting ways that don’t cost a lot. These are the “guerilla” marketing campaigns that can still be hugely effective if coordinated well and executed cleanly.
“The internet is the perfect environment to leverage humor, fun, and the element of surprise in your marketing campaigns,” said Ryan Lee, Co-Founder and CEO of Rooted. “If you can combine these three elements and take some calculated risks on social media platforms here and there, you can set yourself up to go viral and really put your company on the map. Money isn’t the determining factor – it’s more about risk tolerance and creative thinking.”
Keep Audiences Engaged
Audience engagement is the glue that holds a marketing plan together. A bigger budget can help add more glue to the mix, but the quality of the mixture depends on strategy and tact.
“There is no blueprint to audience engagement that works across industries, platforms, or demographics,” said Alvin Oommen, Founder and CEO of OXFORDhill. “You need to embrace experimentation and discovery to unveil the engagement strategy that works for your brand, because nobody else has that secret waiting for you. The good news is that a lot of trial and error is free when interacting with audiences, as long as you stay within reasonable boundaries.”
Not sure how to improve poor audience engagement? Look no further than the people themselves! In this always-online era, customers are more than willing to speak their minds if you ask – and even if you don’t ask.
“Did you know that polling your audience and gathering their feedback is free?” said Chris Allaire, President and CEO at Averity. “Gather information, then educate your market with a data point that gets their interest. Get your audience what they need to know, then they know what they need to do. By setting up a strategy that engages your audience around market education, they’ll be more apt to inquire about your services or products.”
Feedback is a pillar of great audience relationships, as always. However, great marketers think two steps ahead and anticipate the needs of customers based on intuition and information.
Reframe the customer experience so that customers are always benefiting and getting the better end of the bargain. That’s how trust is built in short timeframes, and how loyal audiences grow and last forever.
“When we create something, we think, ‘Will our customers thank us for this?’” said Ann Handley, Head of Content at MarketingProfs. “I think it’s important for all of us to be thinking about whatever marketing we’re creating; is it really useful to our customers? Will they thank us for it? I think if you think of things through that lens, it just clarifies what you’re doing in such a simple, elegant way.”
Trim the Fat, Stay the Course
Not all marketing campaigns will be winners. In fact, a good portion of them will fall flat. That’s part of the game, and it can be devastating when cash is low.
However, these lessons need to be learned quickly and integrated with a rapid turnaround so that the mistakes don’t compound.
“All great marketers have a common trait, which is that they bounce back and apply the lessons from their mistakes immediately,” said Ayal Ebert, Co-Founder of Particle. “This is a vital attribute in a startup environment especially, because you don’t have an infinite pool of funds to draw from. If an idea doesn’t pan out or it’s not doing the numbers you need, shift your focus and give into the next thing. It’s a money thing, but also a time game, so speed is crucial.”
An adaptable mindset is also the marketer’s best friend. This means embracing new platforms and technologies on the fly, even if they aren’t 100% comfortable with them.
It also means abandoning projects that no longer show promise, and being ready to move on at a moment’s notice with no regrets.
“It’s hard for any artist or businessperson to ‘kill their darlings’ and scrap a campaign or idea that isn’t working, but that’s a key part of keeping costs low in the marketing world,” said Inesa Ponomariovaite, Founder of Nesa’s Hemp. “The quicker you can get rid of things that don’t serve you, the more easily you can jump into the next project, cut your losses, and do something that makes a positive difference.”
Shoestring budgets are part of the startup grind, but the show must go on for the marketing department. These tips will help any small business get started in the marketing mayhem and rise to the top in no time.