As entrepreneurs we have many innovative, distinctive — and sometimes weird — ideas to share with the world. But if we’re just starting out, our vision may reach a lot farther than our budget.
To get those ideas to spread, we need to use the power of marketing to promote them.
But what if you have diddly-squat to spend on marketing?
I’m here to tell you that there are many, many ways to promote your business that don’t cost a lot of money. You just have to choose a few of these bootstrap marketing tips and apply them consistently over time.
Decide which of these ideas will work for your business and spend the time and effort to do them — and these marketing techniques will pay off in the long run.
1. Network the Old School Way
When you’re just starting out with a brand-new business, your first fans may be your family and friends. That sounds lame, doesn’t it?
But consider this: your friends and family may not be your customers, but someone in their social circles may be your perfect customer, or even a potential investor.
So don’t be afraid to talk about your new business in social situations. Of course you don’t want to be annoying or pushy, but keep those business cards handy, and have the courage to pass them around.
Follow up with any potential leads, and ask those people to spread the word, too.
2. Network the Virtual Way
Establishing your business as an authority on the product or service you offer is a fantastic way to get noticed in the marketplace. Try this:
- Find blogs or trade journals that write for your target customer.
- Submit well-written, carefully edited articles.
- In your author bio, add a link to a custom page on your website that you create just for the readers of that publication. This makes it easy to track whether or not the publication is sending you visitors.
- When the visitor arrives on the custom page you created for them, offer more resources on the topic you wrote about. Invite them to sign up for your email list (see #7 for more information on this).
3. Reach Your Audience with Your Media Arm
You might think you don’t have the resources to get your business mentioned in major publications, but it’s easier than you think.
Research the magazines, newspapers and newsletters your target market reads and send press releases to them.
Don’t just submit anything. Think about a story angle that will be interesting for the readers of the publication.
Maybe it’s a human interest story that centers around one of your customers or employees. Or you could write the story of how your product was invented. Or you could use idea #4 below.
Be sure to pepper the press release with quotes from the people mentioned in the story, and make it easy to contact you for more information.
4. Grab Attention with a Well-Planned Stunt
Here’s an idea that relies on a heavy dose of creative thinking. Think of ways you can promote your product or service with a public stunt.
Do you think your business doesn’t lend itself to a public stunt? Look at the examples below and see if you can find inspiration:
- If you’re an accountant, offer one hour of your services to the first 10 attendees at a business conference.
- Do you own a bakery? Bake an extra-large birthday cake for a local celebrity or politician, and present it to him or her. Or bake batches of chocolate chip cookies and present them to the local after-school program for underprivileged youth.
- Do you offer design services? Run an “ugly website contest.” Let people enter their own websites, and offer the winner five hours of your time toward a site makeover.
- If you create hand-knitted baby socks, place some in strategic trees (with permission, of course) in your downtown area and alert the media the stork has been dropping baby booties.
- Try to break the Guinness book of World Records in a category that will help bring attention to your products. World Largest Freestanding Paper Clip anyone?
Make the most of these stunts by alerting the media in advance so you can get coverage — and photos — when they happen.
5. Understand and Use SEO, ASAP
The time to optimize your website so that search engines will find it using the keywords you want to be associated with is yesterday. When you’re starting a business, you can’t do this step soon enough.
Search engine optimization takes time to take effect. So start now. Familiarize yourself with keyword tools, figure out what you want to rank for, and write your web copy so that it includes these words naturally and effortlessly.
6. Keep Your Website Simple and Clean
Content management systems like self-hosted WordPress sites are the easiest way to get your company on the web. Premium templates — which are less than $100 — will make your site look polished, professional and easy to use.
For each page of your site, ask yourself, “what do I want the visitor to do on this page?” Don’t give them too many options. Make each page of your site clear, clean, and easy to understand. Confusion leads to inaction.
Don’t clutter up your site with too many ads, blinking graphics and calls to action. Simple sites not only look more sophisticated, but they get better results.
7. Build a List of Interested Prospects
As early as you possibly can, begin to build an email list.
Why would you want an email list? Because email lists allow you to speak directly to your potential customers.
The easiest way to entice people to sign up for your list is to offer them something in exchange for their email address.
Do not — I repeat — do not simply say “sign up for our newsletter.”
People’s inboxes are filled to overflowing. Give your site visitor a compelling reason to receive more email then he or she currently receives. Try these ideas to entice your site visitor to hand over an email address:
- Create a white paper or a special report that answers a thorny question your visitors have.
- Create a video series that demonstrates how to do something your site visitors would benefit from learning.
- Set up an auto responder: a series of emails that’s sent out over time. Write these five or ten emails ahead of time, load them up in your email software, and every time someone signs up for the series, your software will send it out automatically.
Use email to stay in touch with your prospects and share valuable information. It’s a great way to keep them “warm” so they remember your company when they’re ready to buy.
8. Going to Press? Gang Up On It
If you decide to print something for your business, work with your printer to see what else might fit on the sheet they’re going to put through the press.
For example, on the same sheet where you print your business cards, they may be able to fit a bookmark at the edge of the paper.
Alongside the three-panel brochure you plan to print, the printer may be able to fit a one-panel flyer that you can slip into your invoice envelopes.
Think creatively, and tell your printer early on that you’d like to “gang up” your printing job to get more than one piece out of your print run.
9. Know When to Bring in a Pro
For certain marketing projects, it’s important to work with a professional so you get a result that reflects the quality of service and products your company offers.
If you need a logo, for example, it’s a good idea to work with an experienced graphic designer. Or if you need to print something commercially, it’s a good idea to work with a professional who has experience creating art for commercial printers.
Many sites, including mine, offer DIY advice for people who are searching for a way to promote their businesses without spending a lot of money on ad agencies or marketing firms.
Learn to DIY when you’re starting out so you can handle many of your marketing tasks on your own. Save money by putting together non-crucial items yourself, so you can bring in a professional for the high-visibility jobs.
10. Stay the Course
One final and important way to bootstrap your marketing is to make good decisions early on, then to stick with them over time.
If you continually change your marketing strategies and your visual brand, your efforts will be diluted. Stay the course and apply your marketing techniques and your branding consistently over time so you can see the cumulative effect of your efforts.
Your target market will begin to recognize your company through these consistent efforts. And that’s the ultimate bootstrap marketing result you want.