It's no secret that operating a startup is expensive. And oftentimes, getting a startup running means spending money that you don't exactly have (yet). This can be a scary thought for many entrepreneurs, which is why expenses that are considered "extra" often end up falling by the wayside.
Unfortunately, marketing and advertising can easily fall into this category—despite the fact that an effective marketing strategy can drastically increase a startup's chances for success and long-term profitability.
The good news? You don't have to spend a fortune to build an effective marketing strategy for your startup. By following some affordable marketing tips, you can spread the word about your brand creatively without overspending.
What is a Low-Cost Marketing Strategy?
Specifically, a low-cost marketing strategy refers to one that is built with cost-effectiveness in mind. A successful low-cost marketing strategy for a startup is one that will have a minimal impact on the company's already-tight marketing budget. The idea here is that by spending less money on marketing, startups can focus their money and resources on other important aspects of their operations. Meanwhile, they can continue to generate new leads and spread the word about their brand.
It's never too early to start developing a budget-friendly marketing plan for your startup. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes founders and their teams tend to make is launching without any kind of marketing plan in place. Instead, they're so focused on the ins and outs of operating their businesses that they've forgotten to let their target customers know that they exist. It sounds like a recipe for failure, doesn't it?
Ideally, marketing plans should be created early in the process of building a business. This way, when it comes time to launch the company and/or a product, marketing and advertising steps can be carried out as seamlessly as possible.
Low-Cost Marketing Strategies for a Startup Business
No matter how limited your marketing budget may be, there are plenty of marketing strategies that don't have to cost your business a lot of money; in fact, if you're willing to put in the work yourself (or recruit a talented member of your team), some of these techniques may not even cost your startup a dime
People still rely heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations from others when it comes to making their own purchasing decisions. With this in mind, you can get a lot of marketing mileage out of a single referral. If you haven't done so already, consider setting up some kind of referral program where customers are incentivized to bring in new customers. A referral program doesn't have to cost much yet can make a massive difference for your startup. You might consider, for example, simply offering a small discount on services for each referring customer.
2. Focus on Search Engine Optimization
Having a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy in place is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to get your brand out there. Specifically, SEO refers to the methods your business uses to improve its ranking on the search engine results pages for keywords related to your business/industry.
There are many inexpensive and even free strategies you can follow to improve your SEO, including:
making sure that your business website is optimized for mobile.
putting out unique and high-quality content (blog posts, white papers, etc.).
strategically incorporating relevant keywords into your content.
Ultimately, most SEO success boils down to the use of keywords—so make sure you know what kinds of terms your target audience is searching for online. A little keyword research can go a long way and doesn't have to cost anything when you use one of the many free keyword research tools available online.
3. Get Featured in Press Releases and Newsletters
When your startup has exciting news to share, such as the launch of a product or the addition of a new team member, of course you want to get the word out there. A great (and potentially free) way to do this is to get your story featured in another company's newsletter or in an industry press release.
Press releases are an extremely effective way to share news about your company while enjoying some free advertising in the process. The key is not only to craft a well-written press release but to reach out to journalists and get it published. This can be easier said than done, but getting your press release included in a major publication can establish a lot of credibility for your startup.
4. Don't Forget About Business Cards
Contrary to what you may have heard, people are still very much using physical business cards. After all, what better way to exchange information with a potential customer or business partner than to swap business cards? If you haven't already printed off some professional-looking business cards for every member of your team, now is the time to do so. Business cards are among the most inexpensive marketing materials you can buy—and they can be extremely effective for on-the-go marketing.
In addition to paper business cards, many brands are also using digital business cards. The nice thing about digital cards is that they're easy to make using a free online template. Most startups will benefit from having both physical and digital business cards available so that all their bases are covered.
5. Print Promotional Merchandise
Hosting giveaways for promotional merchandise can be another cost-effective marketing strategy for startups. Many businesses find holding special giveaways on social media, where contestants are required to share the startup's business page or otherwise promote the business in order to gain entry to the contest. From there, names can be drawn at random to determine who receives the merchandise. This is a great way to spread brand awareness organically while generating some excitement around your brand as well.
To make printing merchandise as cost-effective as possible, many startups will benefit from using drop shipping services, which require no inventory and typically include shipping/fulfillment. From band t-shirts to custom apparel and more, the right merchandise can take your brand's marketing to the next level.
6. Set Up a Google My Business Account
If you don't already have a Google My Business account set up for your company, get started today! It is completely free to set one up and can make all the difference in your SEO and overall brand awareness. Having a Google My Business profile can be especially helpful if you're looking to grow your brand locally, as it allows you to include details about your business that include:
your business address/location.
your business hours.
photos of your business.
your services offered.
To get the most out of your Google My Business page, be sure to fill it out as completely as possible and update it as needed. This may include updating your business hours during the holidays and even sharing new posts from your business blog as they become available. A little time and effort can go a long way here.
7. Sharpen Your Content Marketing
Speaking of business blogs, does your startup have a blog yet? If not, then it may be time to set one up. Aside from hosting fees (which you're probably already paying for your business website), having a blog doesn't cost anything but your time and creativity. Meanwhile, a company blog gives you a platform on which to share news about your business, details on your products, and other news that's relevant to your industry and its audience.
A blog is also a great place to carry out many of those SEO strategies we mentioned above; by creating content maps and strategically incorporating keywords and even backlinks into your content, you can boost your search engine rankings. And, of course, blog content is easy to share on your social media pages and other platforms.
8. Offer Special Discounts and Promotions
People are always hunting for deals—and special promotions or discounts may just give potential customers the encouragement they need to try out your business for the first time. Many startups rely on one-time discounts and similar promotions to bring in new customers. Even though you'll need to spend or lose a little money to bring in a new customer with the discount, the idea is that the return on investment (ROI) will pay off many times over when they become a lifelong customer and refer their friends.
Even something as small as a 10% discount on the first order and/or free shipping can make a big difference, so brainstorm with your team to figure out what kind of special deal you want to offer.
9. Be Active on Social Media
Social media is, by far, one of the most effective (and free!) marketing tools—when it's used properly. If your startup doesn't already have a social media presence, make this a priority. Start by doing a little audience research to see which social media platforms your target audience is using (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.).
From there, establish accounts on these platforms and get posting! By sharing engaging content and interacting with your followers, you'll establish trust in your brand. Likewise, you'll have a great platform on which to market your company and its offerings.
10. Attend or Host a Special Event
While there's nothing wrong with a marketing plan that's mostly digital, it's still a good idea to get your brand out there in the physical world. This may mean attending an industry event (such as a trade show or seminar)—or possibly even hosting one of your own. Not only do these events provide excellent marketing and networking opportunities, but they're a great way to simply get your brand's name out there.
Attending an industry event can be more affordable than hosting one of your own. However, if you can afford to host your own event, this can be a wonderful way to show appreciation to your customers and potential customers.
11. Ramp Up Your Email Marketing
From an ROI perspective, email marketing is one of the best uses of your startup's marketing dollars. In fact, it is estimated that for every dollar spent on email marketing, a company can make $36 in return.
Of course, making the most of your email marketing campaign means crafting it wisely. Rather than sending out daily email blasts to all of your subscribers, consider sending out less promotional content in the form of a newsletter. Even going out of your way to send a "thank you for your purchase" email to a new customer can go a long way.
12. Increase Exposure With Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing has become an increasingly popular (and effective) way to get the word out about your brand, even if you're just starting out. Specifically, finding an influencer with a large following to recommend and/or discuss your brand's products/services can make you a household name while targeting new audiences in the process. In exchange, influencers may receive free products and/or services from you—which is a pretty small price to pay in the grand scheme of things, especially when you consider the potential reach of an influencer. You can also leverage free search tools to find the right influencer. This helps to save resources, so you’re not spending too much money or time on sourcing influencers.
13. Get Involved in Groups and Discussion Boards
If there are online groups and forums related to your business/industry, it costs absolutely nothing to get involved—but the payoff can be huge. You might, for example, respond to a comment or post with your own expertise and work in a business/product mention where applicable. Discussion boards and online groups are also a great way to connect with your potential audience in a community-like setting. Just be careful not to become overly promotional or pushy.
14. Create Fascinating Infographics
Infographics are a great way to share information in a way that's accessible and interesting to your audience. If you have somebody on your team who is talented in graphic design, see if they're up to the task of creating an industry infographic that's branded with your name and/or company logo. Because infographics lend themselves to sharing, these can be a great tool for spreading the word about your brand while also establishing your company as an industry thought leader.
Get Started With Your Budget-Conscious Marketing Today
No matter what stage of the game your startup is in, it's never too early (or late) to get serious about your marketing. Even if you're on a limited budget, these affordable strategies can help you make the most of every marketing dollar you've allocated. From there, you can grow your brand and set your company up for success!
Bernardo Montes de Oca
Content creator in love with writing in all its forms, from scripts to short stories to investigative journalism, and about almost every topic imaginable. From start-ups to nature, from literature to aviation. Hearing impaired, so let’s talk loud and clear.