The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
We'd all like a spot during the Super Bowl, but as a bootstrapped startup, the marketing budget is likely little more than a few hundred t-shirts with your logo. The most effective use of money is to hire those who are crafty enough to acquire customers without using much, if any.
That's why we've asked our friends at the YEC for their most cost-effective, marketing tactics. Below are their responses.
9 Low-to-No Cost Marketing Tips for Startups
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1) Compelling Content
When we started writing high-quality content, we only had a few hundred visitors per month. Six months later, after a sustained content creation effort, we had tens of thousands of visitors per month. We found that potential customers would discover us through Google searches, but then they would stick around and tell their friends because they found the content so valuable. The best part is that the content is evergreen, so an article we wrote two years ago is still generating traffic and awareness for us today.
Networking often carries an unnecessary stigma, but networking gave me the success I have today. Cultivating valuable relationships and helping those people out before you ask for anything in return is an invaluable and long-term strategy for low-cost marketing. People naturally want to help one another, and they don't tend to forget those who help them. Networking can be embodied in meetings, going to events and conferences, working LinkedIn and reconnecting with old friends and colleagues. These are already established relationships, so piggyback off of those to market your business and find direct clients and strategic business alliances.
3. Business Cards
Business cards are often overlooked, especially in the tech world where many are pushing to go digital. But I have gotten more compliments and conversation-starters off of my high-quality business cards. They are inexpensive, but not the cheapest ones. I highly recommend finding an online printing source that allows for spot UV, which is a subtle design boost that makes a huge impact. Hand them out often and watch the results.
4. Social Media Reach
The most effective marketing technique I've used is social media. I've driven sales and referrals to my companies on a consistent basis for the last three years. However, it must be paired with face-to-face networking. Start your company on social media, interact with others and provide content and information on your business without being only focused on sales talk. Then go out and meet the people with whom you're interacting. This puts a person behind the social media handle or page. People will see your passion and interact more with you. When one of their followers is in need of a service, your followers will refer to you! Make yourself an expert in your field and keep meeting in person. This will help you start creating a referral engine for your company through social media.
5. On-Message Email Signatures
We made sure that we all have updated email signatures with our mission statement included. This is an easy and free thing to do to make sure that everyone in the company is sending out the same consistent message for our brand.
6. Cold Calling
Whenever people ask me about how I get initial traction, I always go back to my tried and true method of picking up the phone and calling people. If you have a great product, you should pick up the phone and call people, tell them about your product, and ask them to buy it. Once you get enough of those people buying your product, call them again, ask them if they like it and if they have friends that would buy it, as well. Then, call those friends. Rinse and repeat that process until you no longer have any free time, and then hire out people to do that exact thing for you.
Identify and focus on several key people with influence in your industry. Rather than attempting to make a general connection with hundreds or thousands of people, try to form a good relationship with people who already have the followers and the ability to promote your startup to the right audiences.
8. Guest Blogs
I've found that guest posts create a win-win situation in terms of a blog receiving high-quality content from an expert and my company reaching a large audience. I've found that the right kind of posts can generate newsletter sign-ups, book sales and new coaching clients.
9. Email Marketing
People read their email. When the startups we work with are looking for low-cost marketing tactics, one of the first things we do is set up an email marketing strategy. MailChimp offers a Forever Free plan that allows you to have 2,000 subscribers and send up to 12,000 emails a month at no cost. If you invest in a paid MailChimp plan, you can set up autoresponders for some automated email marketing tactics. All it takes is gathering up your initial base of opted in email addresses, signing up for MailChimp (or another email service) and communicating with your potential customers.