If wishes were horses, beggars would fly.This sums up the combined wishes of all entrepreneurs when it comes to marketing. Everyone would like to have more, only some manage to find the money for it and still fewer manage to do it right. But marketing much like bootstrapping can be done with limited or relatively no budget for the bootstrapped entrepreneur. All it takes is patience, a lot of hard smart work and a pinch of ‘roll up your sleeve and get to it’ work culture
1. Get yourself some Interns.
I know many of the readers are going to shout “exploitation” here. But I would ignore them. The fact of the matter is that young grads need experience and there can be no better experience than working in a start up and being mentored and guided by the entrepreneur himself. I always hire fresh interns with no work experience for about 8 weeks and pay them an internship allowance.
Some may call this exploitation of cheap labor, but the reality is that both the intern and the entrepreneur gains immensely in this relationship. For the entrepreneur it’s no doubt cheap hired intelligent labor who will help him drive his vision forward and for the intern it is a work experience he or she will never ever forget.
You could source interns from your local college or community school or even private centers. Often learning institutes farm out interns as part of their curriculum.
2. Make yourself a marketing plan
The 2 most important tip and I cannot emphasis enough on how important this! Most entrepreneurs I have met have a rather vague idea of how they would go about marketing themselves. They thrive on the product /service superiority that they have imagined and feel that customers will fight themselves to their doors. Realization dawns when they find themselves down to their last dollar that customers really don’t care all that much. Not unless you have of course sold them the idea of your business.
Just remember the golden rule while making the plan- Be objective. Don’t assume that people will love your product or service.
3.Open your social media account.
No matter what your business or service is, you can’t go wrong with opening up your company pages on Linked in, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter. You could also consider G+ as another option although personally speaking I haven’t used it much to comment on. Another great social media is Quora which I have found as a great place to get the word around. But the top 5 is a must. You ought not to be doing any new business today if you’re not using social media!
The next step is to prioritize your social media. You will neither have the time nor the energy to do adequate justice to all 5 accounts as a startup entrepreneur. Focus your attention on 2 or 3 to start with, preferably the ones where you believe your customers are. If you’re in B2B markets, the top 3 in order of priority would be LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. The other two are to be used strategically.
4.Write up your press releases.
Do you think you can write? Great. Start writing up your press releases. If you can’t write, there are a host of sites that will allow you to reach out to professional writers who will churn out your press release complete with back links for a penny a word. Literally. Your writer may be located in the Philippines or possibly in India. But who cares? We live in a flat world.
While writing your press release bear in mind that every reporter, every editor, every publisher gets thousands of press releases every day from hopefuls such as you. You therefore need to make sure that there are enough ‘media hooks’ or ‘story pegs’ that reporters or editors could use to write you up in their publication. Think over your business, your life, your family background, your co-founder, your community, your industry and put together as many story pegs as you can have and weave your press releases around them.
Factor in about 7-8 press releases that you can use over a period of time, each with a different story peg.
5.Get yourself some Free PR
There are umpteen sites on the net that offer free press releases. Take them. A simple Google search should throw up several. My first press release I sent to over 30 free press sites and when I ran a Google search on my company name Agencyonnet, it threw up several places where my press release had actually been published.
A lot of hard work searching the Net and actually going beyond page 5 of the Google helped! Most people tend to give up after page 1. And if you have about $15 to $20 to spare, save yourself the trouble and hand over your press release to a professional press release submission site like ABN Newswire. As an entrepreneur I did both.
6.Build your own website
Make no mistake. The Internet is where most people will head to find out more about a company or a brand or a service. And the beauty of the Internet is that you can look as big, as sexy, and as great as the biggest brands in the world.
Invest your time and money in building a great website. Nobody knows your business or your customers more than you do. You therefore need to spend time building your own wire-frames. A wire-frame is nothing but a way a website will be laid out. You know what your customers will come looking to your site for.
7.Prepare your prospect contact list
Sit down and prepare a list of all your business and personal contacts. You can also scrub the Internet for prospective clients. This is a pain staking job and that’s where the interns you have hired will come in use. Sit with them and guide them how to find relevant business contacts from the Internet. There are a host of directories to try. You should at the same time begin scanning and preparing as comprehensive a list of open forums, blogs, news magazines, open communities where your target audience are present. You will need to begin engagement with them hence having a comprehensive database of contacts and locations on the net is a good way to start.
8.Begin your social engagement
Devise your social media approach. What will you post? What will you comment. Who will you comment to? Frequency? Content? I would suggest reading up as much as you can in this area. There are several better qualified people who run blogs and have articles devoted to this subject. What I would leave you with a tip is to be socially very active across your top 3-4 social media sites. Join as many groups on LinkedIn that are relevant to your business. Remember LinkedIn only allows one to join 50 groups so be choosy. Follow posts of others closely and comment where you feel is relevant. Avoid over spamming your connections with sales messages. Nobody likes it. Once in a while I guess everyone lives with it. Over spamming will get you booted out.
When you do comment, make sure that your comment is meaningful and relevant. You are the face of your company and the more you are visible, the more your company will get known. Share relevant facts and tips to your audience. You may come across an article that you find relevant. Share it with the group. Likewise on Facebook. Find out groups and communities that share the same interest as your business. Scan through Quora for questions that beg an answer relevant to your business. Post questions yourself. Start discussions on LinkedIn.
Keep your interns busy full time as your social media managers under your supervision. It’s an experience that the will always remember and carry forward to their real job.
9.Make some videos
Video is the fastest growing media on the Internet. You tube is great. The only catch is the cost of making a video which puts off most entrepreneurs. Don’t let that scare you away. You can make fairly professional looking videos all by yourself if you have the time. All you need is a good HD quality Digital camera, a good video editing software like the Power Director, some sound tracks and you’re good to go.
During the initial months when I was yet to launch my site Agencyonnet, I spent a couple of days experimenting with video. I wanted to recruit some young post grads and thought it would be a great idea to showcase my company culture through a video. The problem was that a professional video was costing way beyond what I could afford to spend. So I spent a few days searching the Net and shot created the video myself. I won’t say it was 100% professional looking but as a first attempt it was a good one. I managed to improve the number of post grads applying for my company by a whopping 100% after I uploaded the video. The total cost? About $50 for a one time license for the Power Director Video editor, which by far is the easiest to use and about $10 for the sound track license and about ½ a day to shoot and then edit the video. You can see the outcome here!
I have in mind several more videos to make now that I know it can be done!
10.Benchmark. Test. Benchmark. Test
You want to be a whiz in marketing? Benchmark and test everything that you have never done before. This ensures that when you do have the money to spend on marketing, you will know exactly what needs to be scaled up and what needs to be scaled down and where. Over the past few months, I have been testing nothing less than 10 different marketing initiatives and bench-marking each initiative carefully. I am operating in a domain, in an industry, in a market where my personal knowledge is limited. Hence testing lets me know what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong.
I am less than 3 weeks into my launch but the word out there in the market is that people are becoming aware of my company. My Google analytic tell me that I am having a regular stream of unique visitors coming to my site without me having spent much money on marketing. My total marketing spends till date cannot have been more than $300 over the past 2-3 months prior to launch. I have had 850 unique visitors to my site, 30 of whom converted into paying customers!
What more can a bootstrapped entrepreneur want?!
About the author: Rajesh Menon is the CEO & Founder of Agencyonnet, a global marketplace that connects businesses with the marketing communication industry. Rajesh is also the MD of Impact Marketing Services, a marketing & digital services agency that he kick started in 2006.