I’ll be honest, building a business or starting a brand without a marketing budget is going to be challenging and it will require a lot of human capital; i.e. your time. However, if you’re committed, consistent and determined to grow your business it’s very possible.
I’m not going to tell you there are “6 easy steps” or that there’s a “guaranteed sales funnel” you can copy because there isn’t. Marketing and growing a business is difficult and anyone claiming that they can teach you the secrets to success if you buy their training course is lying to you.
So in order to save you from purchasing a useless training course I’m going to share how I like to get a brand off the ground when I’m running on a very limited budget.
I’m not sure why this is, but for some reason I regularly up work with companies that have minimal marketing budgets; sometimes no budget at all. Luckily, in my youth I didn’t have the means to pay other, more skilled individuals or to fund ad campaigns when I started out which made me quite the scrappy marketer I am today.
The First Step: Getting Your House in Order
This might just be me, but before I invite friends over I like to make sure the house is tidy and looking fresh. I take the same approach when starting a new project.
I start by creating a clean and professional looking website. To do this I use WordPress and then find a theme from ThemeForest.net with a color scheme and layout that fits my industry. If you need help determining proper colors or layouts, check out the website’s of some of the top competitors in your space. They’re usually a good source of inspiration.
The same method can be applied to Shopify and their list of premium themes, but that route usually takes a little more capital where as WordPress is free and the themes are typically under $50.
Once I settle on a theme design I start developing a logo that will fit that design using Affinity Designer. If I need something a little more complex than I can make on my own I look for stock logos on GraphicRiver or Creative Market.
Not that I do this maliciously, but using this method I’ve had many people convinced that some of my weekend projects were fully established corporations with entire teams behind them.
When people land on a well designed website with a professional looking logo it builds instant trust. Not only does it show you put some work into your project, but pretty things are just comforting to people in general.
Well written and succinct copy is just as important as the actual design of the website. If you’re using a variety of fonts, font colors and sizes it’s going to be off-putting to your visitors.
Keep your copy straightforward and clean in appearance and readability. An example of a straightforward and clean landing page I created recently is for a company called Virtu. Upon landing on their homepage you immediately know what they’re offering.
A terrible landing page for contrast would be Cruise.com’s homepage.
The moment you land on that page you’re offered way too many things to click on and look at. Where do you begin? If you visit that page pay attention to what your eyes are doing, they’re trying to focus on the most important element but struggle to do so as nothing is highlighted or pointed out for you.
To top it off, they also include third party ads as you can see on the right side of the screen. Why would you want to give your visitors an excuse to leave your website with an ad if you have products and services to sell yourself?
The Second Step: Start Making Friends
After you get your website set up it’s time to start creating your social profiles. Which social profiles to make depends on the industry you’re targeting, but Facebook and Instagram are good ones to start with.
When creating your profiles make sure you logos and cover images are crisp and that all of the “About Me” and company information fields are filled out. Profiles with blurry images and limited amounts of information come off as cheap or fraudulent and instantly kill trust.
Invite some of your friends to like your profiles, it’s best to invite only those actually interested in what you’re offering otherwise you’re just spamming.
Next, find users that discuss topics or share photos related to your industry and begin liking and commenting on them. Don’t be creepy and don’t immediately spam them with partnership opportunities. Be genuine and write comments that add value or show appreciation for whatever they are sharing; asking them relevant questions about what they shared is also a great way to start things off.
The purpose of reaching out to people sharing things in your space is to build relationships. People tend to like people that like them, so show these people that you care about what they’re sharing on their profiles and before you know it you’ll start building an organic following.
Be consistent with your social profiles, try to post regularly and leave comments often. Social media has become a bloated space filled with spam and bots so staying afloat takes some effort.
The Third Step: Round Up Your Closest Friends
Now that you’ve made some friends via social media it’s time to round up some of your most excited followers and create a special group just for them.
I typically use something like Slack or Discord, but you could also create a private facebook page. The reason I prefer Slack/Discord is that it allows for completely open and free conversations which are important to our goal with this private group.
Now that you’ve set up your private channel and invited some of your biggest fans start asking them questions about your product, business, website design, etc. to gather feedback. Take it all in and let them know you appreciate it, even if you think some of the ideas are bad. Don’t argue with them.
Keep them encouraged to share their opinions by showing them exclusive mockups and an insider’s look into upcoming product features. I also like to send them a free product or swag after a short while, like a t-shirt or something of similar value, but this isn’t necessary if you’re working with an extremely tight budget.
Shortly after establishing your private group you’ll start to notice something. They’ll start telling you that they’ve told their friends and family all about your new company. Soon you’ll start seeing new orders or sign ups (depending on your business model) coming from your private group’s friends and family.
This is how you jumpstart the word of mouth “efforts” within your fanbase. If your product or service is compelling enough the word of mouth will continue naturally. If you find that people aren’t all that interested or satisfied with your product then it’s time to gather more feedback and improve it.
The Fourth Step: Create Valuable and Interesting Content
Content can be anything from blog posts to YouTube videos and Instagram posts, but in order to create a following around your brand you’ll need to create original content that appeals to your audience. I put together a little guide on the main traits of a good piece of content, which will help you get started with content creation.
Content should be created with the goal of adding value to your customer’s lives. It should be related to your product or service, but not be about your product or service (most of the time). The idea behind content is to build a community or following with it, if you’re always creating content focused on how great your company is and how awesome your services are you’re going to struggle to build a following. No one likes a blowhard.
A great example of well-written and useful content comes from a site called A Better Lemonade Stand. They produce content to help ecommerce business owners improve their own businesses, without pushing their products down people’s throats. This has helped them grow their user base to over 400,000 monthly visitors.
Nailing down your content strategy will take some time, but once you get it worked out it will pay for itself 10-fold. In the guide I mentioned above I share some ideas on how to start planning and researching your content, start there and before you know it you’ll be bringing in a decent amount of organic traffic and building an strong fanbase.
The Fifth Step: Partner with Influencers in Your Space
Since you’ve been persistent in your social media endeavors due to the second step of this guide you’ll notice that you’ve accumulated some “influencer” types in your following or at the very least you’ve identified some of the influencers in the space you’re targeting.
Sometimes, if your product is cool enough, you’ll have influencers reach out to you to promote your products. Be careful with these, a lot of them are just looking for free products and reach out to hundreds of brands per week which usually means they don’t really offer much value.
Typically, when you’re starting out you’ll want to find smaller influencers to work with, especially because bigger influencers won’t give you the time of day unless you have a few grand to throw at them. Also, smaller influencers typically have more influence over their fanbases.
Look for people with 1,000 – 10,000 followers, reach out to them via DM and mention how much you like what they represent, the stuff they’re sharing, etc. and then ask them if they would be interested in partnering up with you.
The goal here is to get them to take a natural looking picture with your product as if they use it or wear it regularly and share it with their audience. Unnatural promotions where the influencer is forcing the product to fit in their images are much less effective.
Since these influencers are smaller they’ll most likely agree to share your brand in exchange for a free product, sometimes they’ll ask for a fee but you can usually negotiate them down.
The success rate for this approach has typically been around 5-10% for me depending on the product.
To hone in on influencer prospecting I like to use a tool called PeopleMap, it’s $20/mo. And allows you to find similar accounts to your influencers as well as certain metrics like following engagement.
Once you start digging into the influencer space you’ll find that a lot of people pay for followers, one way to weed these people out is to figure out how much engagement their profiles get and PeopleMap helps with that process.
The Truth of the Matter
If you don’t have a budget to work with then you need to make friends. Social media makes this significantly easier than it has been in the past, but social media does have it flaws. With social media it’s harder to find genuine people to help spread the word about your brand, but with time you’ll get better at identifying these people.
The best part about this process is that the people you meet and share your business with will be your most loyal customers and brand advocates. Building a strong fanbase from the beginning will help your brand grow sustainably and a much lower cost than if you started forcing your brand upon people with ads.
It will also help you build a better product as you’ll have an entire group of volunteers more than willing to help you improve it. Strong products lead to even stronger brands.