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If you’re operating a startup, nothing’s more critical than getting your name out there and grabbing attention. The expense of marketing means many startups are effectively dead in the water before they get a chance to sail. Do you know how to pursue marketing efficiently and effectively while you’re on a tight budget?
The challenge of marketing for startups
You need visibility in order thrive, yet that generally costs money to achieve. That’s one of the prime challenges for startups.
Visibility is required to engage customers and generate revenue. On the other hand, startups often lack the funds to invest in marketing until they’ve generated a respectable amount of revenue.
This is why it’s futile for young companies to mimic the marketing strategies and techniques of more established organizations. If you do so, you’re trying to employ an approach that doesn’t fit the stage you’re at.
These strategies clearly work for the larger firms that use them, but your circumstances are likely to be significantly different. You have to take a grassroots approach to marketing if you want to achieve an ROI that makes sense for a firm like yours.
Not to put too fine a point on it, you have to hack your way to the top.
Five tips for marketing on a budget
Some entrepreneurs mistakenly assume that marketing on a budget means you have to settle for low-quality results. But the fact is, you can attract some excellent buzz by being creative.
- Leverage your connections
There’s a reason people say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Even lacking an advanced strategy or bundle of resources, you can develop some strong marketing victories by leveraging your connections — both personally and professionally.
The people you already know can give you access to other individuals and resources you otherwise might not have the opportunity to contact. For example, perhaps the boss at your previous firm has the ability to put you in front of a major client in the industry in which you’re starting up. Think hard about the relationships you have and don’t be afraid to leverage these connections.
- Utilize social media
You may not recognize how great a luxury social media can be for a business. Among startups and small operations that are strapped for financial resources, social media outlets can serve as an equalizing force; they level the playing field somewhat and let you compete with larger firms.
You should investigate Facebook advertising and other paid strategies, certainly, but you can accomplish plenty with organic social marketing. The key is to (a) know whom you’re reaching, and (b) create engaging content that resonates with your audience and moves them to action.
- Hire interns
From the perspective of a business owner or CEO, you probably don’t have the ability to focus most of your time on marketing. You have other operational and managerial tasks on your plate.
On the other hand, you also probably lack the financial resources to hire a multi-person marketing department and allow them to address these needs. The best solution is to hire one or two full-time marketing people and use marketing internships to arrange cost-effective (or even free) help for them.
Not only do internship programs save you money, but they also create a potential talent pipeline for your company in the future.
- Create buzz
If you’re constantly having to push yourself in front of your connections, customers and media outlets in order to gain a little visibility, this should tell you something isn’t right. Ideally, your personal network, customers and media outlets that cover your industry should be coming to you.
One way to flip the script is to create buzz. Where there’s buzz, there’s curiosity. This interest leads to press coverage, which generates exposure and leads to brand engagement. From there, it’s pretty self-driving.
- Earn referrals
Not all leads are created equal. If someone finds out about your brand via a PPC ad on a website he visited, that might create interest, but the person isn’t necessarily ready to convert.
But if someone is referred to you via a close connection who says lots of positive things about your company, the referral could be highly nurtured and ready to close. Referrals are a quintessential element of cost-effective marketing.
By developing a robust referral program, you can give your marketing efforts a nice foundation to build on.
Ready, set, go!
Startup marketing entails a marathon, not a sprint. Still, how you get out of the gate matters a lot.
Unlike an actual marathon, in which the first few miles are typically the easiest, your initial stretch could well prove to be the toughest. Once you gain confidence and enjoy some wins, things will become easier and new opportunities emerge.
While the connotation of “hacking” your way to marketing success might sound cheap and unprofessional, an organic approach has a lot to recommend it. Use what you have to gain visibility, one customer and interaction at a time.