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9 Ways to Market on a Budget 

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The cheapest marketing on the planet is word of mouth, but word of mouth doesn’t spring forth out of nowhere. To get the word-of-mouth engine running, you need to make sure a few people actually know about your product besides your mom and your cousin.

We asked entrepreneurs to share their cheap marketing tips, from blogging to PR to social. But don’t be fooled by the word “cheap” – these techniques take an investment, but it’s time rather than money. Doing a half-assed job on marketing you didn’t pay much for is something users will detect immediately. 

“Marketing is both an art and a science. You can do many things inexpensively but don’t do it cheaply. Marketing works when its tasteful and crafted well, like a good product should be,” says Hashem Bajwa, CEO of DE-DE.

Content

“My favorite trick for cheap marketing on the web has to be YouTube. If YouTube were its own search engine, it would garner about 20% of online searches. That would be the second-biggest search engine next to Google. It’s really difficult to get on the first page of search results on Google, but it’s easier to get on the first page of search results on YouTube, simply because there’s less competition.”

- Adam Barger, founder of WebStarts

Customer service

“Ensure that you provide excellent customer service. When a customer calls in to customer service, even if they are having a problem, you are talking to an engaged customer. By providing excellent customer service, you can turn that customer into a very effective marketing agent on your company’s behalf. It helps to build relationships and build up the net promoter score.”

- Aimee Cronin, marketing director at Drync

“We at Utrip are able to give unique individual attention to our trip planners; we are able to ensure every part of their experience is great. This is something Expedia could never do due to their size. The guys at Y Cominator often state that at first you must do things that don’t scale; that is our advantage over the big guys.”

- Gilad Berenstein, founder and CEO of Utrip.com

Sponsorships

“Think unconventional. You might not be able to afford to sponsor your local NFL team or even the local Minor League Baseball game, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sponsor something. For $250, we were able to sponsor a women’s full-contact football team complete with ad in the program, mention on the website (actually got a front-page article), and a field banner. We picked the team based on the fact that their team name was the same as our product name. The buzz we got with both customers, partners, and excitement among employees following the season was intense. So much bang for our buck.”

- Douglas G. Mancosky, PhD, VP of research and development at Hydro Dynamics

Press

“Use HARO to search for those looking for advice and tips in your industry and then submit a pitch! If they don’t use your notes, now you have a post for your company blog. If they do use it, you could end up getting great exposure.”

- Janine R. Holsinger, founder and CEO of NextChapter

“When it comes to inexpensive marketing, it’s all about PR. When you have a compelling tale to tell, the media will jump at the chance. So, make sure you always have a story. Become a resource for journalists with juicy story ideas and unique angles. Study up on individual reporters and specific press outlets and give them exactly what they’re looking for. In the end, media exposure beats paid advertising any day.”

- Jennifer Barbee, founder of She’s Funded

Freebies

“First of all, give your product/service away for a limited time, especially to people who are in a position to promote your company. . . . I think many new entrepreneurs have a guarded approach, only wanting to give away small samples and in small numbers. If you truly feel confident that people will want your product/service then get them hooked on using it. Not only did some of the media people I sent emails to mention us in their publications but two did stories on us and we received good reviews in two other popular sites. All of this gets published to the web and indexed by search engines, all of it helping your company. . . . For the first three months, we didn’t charge anyone for our product but we had several thousand people in the site trying us out. When we ended our free period, nearly 30% of them stayed on as paying customers.”

- Bryan Wetzel of Skubes

Social & community

”Of course the low-hanging fruit in marketing these days is social. It’s theoretically free but it takes a commitment of time and real content of value. It’s like being at a neverending networking event where you are always ‘on,’ and that can be exhausting. The other cheapo way to market is to get involved in something meaningful in your community. Do it to genuinely help, but it’s a natural law that when you give with no expectation of a return, things just seem to come back to you.”

- Matthew DeVoll, CEO of VerticaLive.com

Be creative

“After launching my website in May of 2010, I had to figure out how to tell the world about Cheek’d. It wasn’t just going to go international on its own. I had to get creative about how to market my business on a shoestring budget. I decided to target 20 of the major editors in New York by messengering a sole Cheek’d card that read, “this card could change your life” in a mysteriously packaged black envelope. A few weeks later we were coined by the New York Times as ‘the next generation of online dating.’

I’ve bootstrapped my business for three years and have had to get pretty creative about drawing traffic to my site. I spend a lot of my time guerilla marketing, sidewalk chalking my URL and slipping Cheek’d cards into pockets, hoods, bags, etc. My favorite story to date would be when I personally Cheek’d Hip Hop Mogul, Russell Simmons. I also Cheek’d Rapper Flo Rida on stage at a Samsung Smart TV launch party sponsored by Klout a couple of months ago.

The most successful tool has definitely been spreading the cards everywhere I go… [One] campaign involves NYC’s Citibike Bike Sharing Program. I printed a batch of Cheek’d cards that read, “my bike likes your bike” and I strategically placed them on the baskets of as many bikes as I could. I got tons of hits from the codes on those cards – it’s working as planned and driving traffic to my website.

I’m constantly plastering the brand and product – I carry around fun-tak (a sticky adhesive) and attach Cheek’d cards to the inside of the subway cars, movie ads on the platforms, the back of bathroom stalls, and I even tag noticeable existing street art. I’ll leave the cards in the sugar stacks at Starbucks, drop them into people’s shopping bags, pockets, etc. etc. I’ve even slid a few into dating books at Barnes and Noble to see what kind of traffic they’d drive. I often sidewalk chalk ‘have you been cheek’d?’ outside of large events and parties and even have a cheek’d stamp (that has a code that leads to my profile) that I’ll stamp on cocktail napkins at bars. I’ve had people send me messages (via my marketing code) that say things like, ‘I found your card riding uptown on the 9 train’ or ‘I don’t know how this card ended up in my pocket, but I’m intrigued.’”

- Lori Cheek, founder and CEO of Cheek’d

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About the Author

Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and positive psychology. Since 2011, she has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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