Start-Ups

How to market your startup with no budget

Bold marketing is one of the keys to early success as a startup. Here are some tips for founders who are strapped for cash.

Image: iStockphoto/RawPixel

Gaining early momentum is one of the best ways to mitigate the risk of your startup going under before it even gets off the ground. Of course, you must begin with a good product or service, but marketing well can make or break your company.

Good marketing tends to take money, which isn't in abundant supply for most new companies. Luckily, there are some ways you can market your new startup for little or no cash at all — and they go beyond just email blasting the press.

"Marketing without a budget forces people to put more thought into strategy because you make up for a limited budget by working smart or working hard," said Matt Lim, marketing strategist for Procurify. "When you have limited resources, it encourages creativity."

Here are some ways you can market on a shoestring budget.

1. Talk to people

This is the simplest way to market your business, but it is often overlooked or done poorly. Attending startup events, hackathons, and local tech group meetings are great ways to build relationships with people who could potentially become and advocate for your product or service.

SEE: Startup founders: How to craft your elevator pitch

This is where having a properly refined pitch comes in handy. Be sure to explain the benefits of your product, but be honest and make sure people understand the story. Above all, keep it simple.

"Remember that word of mouth is still hot," said K. Alexander Ashe, founder of Spendology. "Have a message that can survive 'the telephone game.'"

Don't overlook opportunities, regardless of how small they may seem. Sometimes, even the most unassuming conversations can impact your business. David Eberli, co-founder of smart-me.com, said that every time you meet someone, you should tell him or her who you are and what you're doing, and hand them a business card.

"That's the way I have found our biggest customer," Eberli said. "By drinking a beer and talking to the stranger next to me."

2. Generate content

A good way to draw people to your company is by generating useful content about the space your product operates in. Phil Sanderson, a venture capitalist at IDG Ventures, recommends starting a company blog and posting often. UpOut, a company Sanderson funds, has a blog that provides information to underground events in New York and San Francisco.

"Their blog has a steady stream of articles about weird news, local interest stories, and city-specific cultural events and causes," Sanderson said. "It's also nicely designed. UpOut launched the blog only a few months ago, and already they're seeing one million visitors per month."

If your company operates in a specific niche space, try creating and posting how-to videos or webinars. Use tools like Skype and Google+ to chat with potential customers and answer questions about your product and the market.

You should be researching online communities to identify secondary places where your content would be a good fit. Maybe there is an industry blog where you could write a guest post, or a Facebook or LinkedIn group you could contribute to. Also, don't forget to post in popular sites like Reddit, and use the proper sub to get your information to the right audience.

3. Don't forget the fundamentals

When marketing your startup, there are a few foundational tools that could be helpful — the first of which is email marketing. Roger Huang, head of marketing at Flatbook, uses email services such as MailChimp to remind customers to apply to his company's subletting program.

"We have gotten a lot of applications just by gently reminding people when our deadlines are via a mass email to our list," Huang said.

If your company operates as a B2B entity, you always have the old standby of cold-calling potential clients. Take some time with your co-founders and mentors to develop a list of potential clients and go to work. Here, a proper call script will be essential to your success.

Also, look for ways to get your startup featured as a the new must-use product or service. If you are marketing a physical product, try pitching to a cool hunting site such as Uncrate or Outblush. If you have built a mobile app, Sanderson recommends going after a featured list in the Apple App Store.

"Apple's marketing makes its decision independently much like a restaurant review — they cannot be influenced," Sanderson said. "However, you can get to know them, understand their criteria (such as apps that show off the capabilities of Apple) and follow their advice."

Sanderson also recommends building in viral features to your product, such as messaging that encourages users to tell their friends or post to social media. Gamification and contests are good ways to accomplish this, as is the promise of free upgrades with compliance.

4. Think outside the box

Almost every startup will eventually need to raise money, and how you go about it depends on a variety of factors. However, if it would be a good fit, consider crowdfunding. Eberli and his team recently ran a successful crowdfunding campaign.

SEE: Funding your startup: Crowdfunding vs. angel investment vs. VC

"More important than the money we got was the publicity," Eberli said. "Several newspapers and blogs have written about us. And, this was even before you have launched the product."

Additionally, startups shouldn't overlook the local community they are apart of. Ashe said that startups should consider sponsoring local charity events through volunteering time or tech talent to help the cause.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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