With the swift and sudden changes to the global economy, startups everywhere are grappling with how to best allocate their financial resources to ensure they can weather any pending storms. And for many businesses, marketing is one of the first functions to be hit.
Thankfully, even though they say “You have to spend money to make money”, there is quite a lot startups can do on a limited marketing budget. In fact, some of the best marketing opportunities today cost absolutely nothing. You just need a little bit of time and creativity.
If your startup is looking for ways to continue marketing on a limited budget, we’ve got you covered. Read on to see our list of 7 startup marketing ideas for under $1,000.
Even in this digital world, word-of-mouth continues to be one of the strongest marketing and sales tools a startup can leverage. And one of the best ways to encourage your customers to tell others about your company is through a well-designed referral program.
While referral programs come in all shapes and sizes, one of the most common ones you’ll see these days is the “you get/I get” variety, where an existing customer is given a unique referral link and discount code to share with their friends. Once their friends use the code, that existing customer is given some sort of benefit, such as a discount on their monthly subscription, a free upgrade, company swag, etc.
Depending on the size and type of your startup, launching a referral program can be as simple as creating a list of coupon codes and a Google Sheet to track everything. However, if you anticipate a lot of volume, you may consider using a referral automation tool like Ambassador. Though it does not publicly list its prices, it’s reported that you can get started with the tool for well below $1,000.
Plus, if run correctly, a referral program will more than make up for any investments needed to get it started.
One of the best ways to promote your startup is through targeted press features. Not only do you reap the benefits of being seen by thousands (or even millions) of readers, but digital articles will often feature links back to your website, which deliver great SEO benefit as well.
Thankfully, you can get started with a PR campaign without hiring an expensive PR firm. HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is a great tool for founders and marketing teams to leverage for targeted media placements. By signing up for a free account, you’ll gain access to daily HARO email blasts that feature a list of reporters looking for various types of input for stories they are working on. If you find a listing relevant to your business, all you have to do is respond to that report with a pitch based on their requirements. If they like your response, you’ll get featured in their article – it’s that simple!
Though crafting quality responses to HARO requests can be time consuming, it’s certainly worth the effort, as the results can land you thousands of dollars in free media coverage.
If you’re looking to generate quality links and leads for your business, consider a content campaign.
A content campaign is where you put together some sort of valuable resource that’s relevant to your audience, and then trade that resource for a piece of information (most commonly an email address). Here’s an example of one we use here at Future Founders: How to Craft an Elevator Pitch.
For example, say you run a graphic design firm for small businesses. You might consider launching a guide to social media graphic sizes and specs. This is something that small business owners who currently make their own graphics would find valuable, and by acquiring their emails in exchange for the guide, you’ll build a list of targeted client prospects you can follow up with later.
Tools such as Leadpages make it super easy to launch a landing page to host your content and collect emails. Once created, share the link to your content through your social channels, email newsletter, on your website, etc. In addition, you may find it beneficial to reach out to websites and blogs that host content similar to your guide, and encourage them to share with their audience as well. Editors are always searching for quality content!
The best marketing campaigns meet the customers where they live. And online, you can often find your customers living in targeted forums and communities.
Spend some time searching for online communities where your target market spends their time, whether it’s a standalone website forum, a Facebook group, or a subreddit. Join the group and start to build out a presence, consistently engaging with members by sharing insights related to your industry, answering questions, and distributing quality content.
It’s important to note that online communities can be especially tricky, and must be approached with caution. There is nothing these groups dislike more than the brand that does a “drive-by,” where someone joins their intimate community, and immediately begins to spam them with info about their business. This strategy almost always backfires, and creates poor feelings about the brand with this important segment of customers.
If you plan to use forums and communities as a marketing strategy, treat it like a garden. Spend the time to plant your seeds and water your crops before you begin to harvest.
Who doesn’t like free stuff?
For brands on a budget, running a digital contest or sweepstakes is the perfect cost-effective way to generate publicity and grow your community of followers. You can get started with web-based tools such as WooBox for free, and create platform-native giveaways, forms, contests, coupons, polls, brackets, quizzes and so much more.
Not only do contests and giveaways generate a lot of excitement within your existing customer base and social communities, but it’s a great way to expand your reach. Most tools like WooBox offer brands the chance to give bonus entries to those that complete certain actions, such as sharing your social accounts and reposting about your contest on their own pages. With these incentives, you’ll see an explosion in growth as your existing followers try to increase their chances of winning by sharing your brand with their world.
Another great, low-cost way to expand the reach and goodwill of your startup is to adopt a social cause.
This initiative comes in a variety of flavors. You can partner with a cause and agree to donate a certain percentage of proceeds. You can offer your employees opportunities to volunteer with local organizations. Or you can leverage your marketing platforms to share information, events, and donation opportunities with your audience.
No matter how you get involved, adopting a social cause is a great way to generate brand goodwill and publicity. However, there are a few caveats for executing this marketing strategy correctly. First, while there is of course a marketing and PR benefit to this strategy, it must come from a place of goodwill. Charity for self-gain almost always backfires on brands. Your adoption of a social cause must be authentic, otherwise you risk a backlash if the public were to ever learn of ulterior motives.
Second, it’s important to adopt a cause that’s relevant to your brand. For example, the startup JUDY – which sells emergency preparedness kits – partners with the LA Fire Department Foundation, donating 1% of sales to the organization. As a startup focused on keeping people safe and prepared for the unexpected, partnering with a fire department foundation is consistent with the brand, and helps reinforce their brand messaging…a win-win!
It’s clear that video has won the internet. In fact, Cisco estimates that by 2022, 82% of all consumer internet traffic will be video-based.
This stat is astounding. And what’s even more astounding is that there are many startups that are still failing to leverage this amazing tool as part of their marketing initiatives. Especially considering that all of us now possess a mini movie studio right in our pocket!
Whether it’s a live stream, a product explainer video, a brand overview, a video interview, or anything in-between, video is one of the most cost-effective marketing tools a startup can leverage. Just ask Dollar Shave Club.
To introduce their brand to the world, Dollar Shave Club spent less than $5,000 on a video that ultimately accumulated more than 25 million views, and 12,000 new orders in the first 48 hours after launch. Talk about serious ROI…
Though the current economic crisis may have you stretching your startup’s budget further than ever before, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your marketing initiatives. With some creativity and thoughtful planning, you can still launch cost-effective marketing campaigns that drive real tangible value for your organization.
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