The way you market your business can shape everything from the way your brand is perceived, to the customers you reach, and (ultimately!) how well you do: without being able to reach your customers (and potential customers), you probably won’t have a business for long.
However, marketing can get pretty pricey. You only have to turn on the TV to see the lengths that companies go to in order to promote their brands – and when you’re running a startup, excessive spending isn’t (usually!) a good thing.
Your marketing plans should encompass everything from your brand and your USPs, through to your story: stick to your values and ideas, and you can’t really go too wrong! Everything from your shop window to your website’s About Us page can help communicate who you are and tell your story.
"Everyone knows that the money’s always tight for new businesses. You've got to make every penny count if you want to be a success, so it’s important to think outside the box when it comes to marketing. Doing things differently and thinking creatively are some of the most important mentalities behind every successful business – it gets you noticed and makes you stand out from the crowd. In my opinion it’s all about being honest and letting your personality across – if people like you then that’s half the battle won. Making the most of your story and your character is the best way to win support for your business." - Doug Richard, founder, School for Startups
So, you don’t need to spend your entire budget on marketing your business, but if you can put in the time, you’ll be able to market your startup on any budget: more effort = less money. Without further ado, let's take a look at some ways you may be able to market your business on a tight budget:
Content creation A well-written, interesting blog can keep people on your site for quite some time, and it’s a great way to help people get to know you and your business. You may also want to find a selection of blogs in your industry to which you feel you can add some content - ask if you can write a few articles for them - the wider your range of platforms is, the more likely you are to build up a strong collection of followers, and become a reputable voice in your online community.
Make sure you reply to any comments, and don’t just promote your company: give people something genuinely interesting to read, and they’ll keep coming back for more. If you’ve got the time, why not try creating your own e-book or user guide? Don’t expect to make millions on selling it, but it could work as a great way for readers to let you know that they’re interested in hearing more, perhaps by leaving their email addresses: people love free information, and if you know they’re interested in your content, and leave an email address, you’ll be able to get in contact to seek their opinion on the book or guide (as well as mentioning your product!). If you’ve got the knowledge, people will really appreciate it being shared!
Customers Already got a loyal customer base? Why not ask for a small favour? Ask customers (politely!) if they’ll write a testimonial for your website, or have a section in your shop or on your website for case studies: describe how you helped your customer or client, and how pleased they were with the result.
You could try offering your most loyal customers new products to test and review: everyone loves a freebie! Keep in mind, it’s usually easier to retain an existing customer than to market to a new one – so don’t make the age-old mistake of forgetting your loyal clients as you chase after new ones!
Word of mouth Virtually nothing is more powerful than the recommendation of a trusted friend, so use this channel to your advantage. If you can always make sure that your customers or clients are delighted with your service or product, you’ll have happy, loyal customers, who’ll love talking about you! If something does go wrong, act quickly, openly and honestly, and consider going beyond the call of duty to fix and make up for any mistakes.
Sort out your website If you’ve got a website, make sure you rank well when people search for what you do on Google by optimising your site for search engines. It can get pretty expensive hiring an agency to do it for you, so check out this guide and gain an understanding of the basics for yourself. Some parts can be quite time-consuming, but other parts, such as building relationships and writing content on other sites, may be part of your marketing plan already.
Relationships with influencers “Influencers” could cover everyone from journalists at your local paper to the editor of the biggest blog in your industry. If you can target your attention on a couple of ‘big names’, you’ll probably find it pays off more so than chasing thousands of individuals. Think of it like a waterfall: if an influencer knows about your business, they’ll tell their network and awareness of brand will begin trickle down to all of their followers, making the word much easier than going after them all individually.
Social media Get active on social media – but manage what you post carefully. People probably won’t want to follow you if all you do is boast about how good you are and tweet promotional ads all the time. Post interesting articles, things that inspire and entertain you (videos of cats, anyone?) and of course, you could try the odd discount code or offer! But, try to pick sites and networks that are right for you and your business and focus on them – different social networks will work for different businesses. Aim for where your communities ‘hang out’, and where they are most active.
Online communities Engaging with forums and message-boards can really pay off… but you need to be tactful. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of online communities that you can tap into – but if you’re too pushy, it can easily backfire. Stay away from promoting your business, and instead be a voice of reason and advice that people respect and want to listen to. Similarly, comment on as many relevant blogs as you can – they usually have a space for leaving your own website, and the more you interact, the bigger your community will be.
Go local If there’s a local project with which you can get involved, it’s a great way to raise local awareness of your business, as well as giving back to the community. You could sponsor a sport’s team, donate equipment to school clubs, or help fundraise or run events for local charities. Remember - be careful that you don’t make it about your business: if you’re going to support a cause, do it because you actually care, and you have a vested interest in what you’re supporting.
Competitions Offering giveaways on your site or via your social media accounts could send a lot more traffic your way, from both existing customers and potential customers. You don’t need to give away anything big or expensive: usually when prizes are small, people think they’ve got a better chance of winning.
Discounts & loyalty cards Something as simple as a loyalty card could work wonders for you – everyone loves something free, and it’s a great incentive to keep people coming back to you. Using a card to collect stamps is popular in retail and restaurant based businesses, and online discounts are often easy to create – make a code, post it on your social media sites or in an email newsletter if you have one – and wait for people to start spreading the news! Even a small discount could be enough to tempt a buyer into spending now, or encourage new customers to try out your service or product.
Email newsletters Try sending out newsletters: you’ll be able to keep existing customers involved in your business, as well as maybe even attracting new ones – that is, if you’ve interesting content to share. Try putting a subscribe box on your site: that way, people who like what you do can follow you, even if they haven’t used your service or bought your product. If you have genuinely good content, and attractive discounts or offers, you might end up attracting people who aren’t just your customers – opening a whole new load of people to explore. Don’t go overboard though: people don’t want to be spammed by daily updates. Be ruthless with what you send out, and if you’ve only got enough to send out a newsletter once or twice a month, better to do that than bombard people with useless and badly written content all the time.
Press releases You need not be a PR genius to write a great press release. Every time you release something new, change something of note, or do something great, try putting together a press release and sending it to relevant websites, magazines, and newspapers, as well as your local press. To make this easier, you could even create a press kit, so you know that every source is getting the same information – and the information that you want spread about your business. And of course, if you can build a relationship with a journalist, even better.
Business cards Well, we thought it’d be silly not to mention business cards! A distinctive business card can really set you and your business apart when meeting potential customers, especially if you can showcase as much of your work as possible. Think of these as pocket portfolios, an extension of your shop or studio. They’re a cost effective way of making sure you leave a piece of you and your business behind with everyone you meet – a great way to kick-start your word of mouth marketing!
Get interactive If you have the resources at your finger tips, try setting up webinars, podcasts and YouTube videos. As long as you’ve got a phone that can take decent video footage, there are plenty of free online editing programs you can use to freshen it up. If you can offer people exciting and different content for free, they’ll be more likely to want to use your services.
You don’t need a marketing budget that stretches to hiring David Beckham for photo-shoots in Madrid – you just need time and creativity. Next week we’ll be looking at the world of blogging and social media: potentially the most important parts of a startup’s marketing strategy.
So, you've (wisely!) planned how you'll spend your budget and the creative ideas are flowing... do you have any other budgeting tips to share? We'd love to hear them! Tweet us using the #MOOStartupKit hashtag and share your tips with the MOO Community.