The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Your Startup Online Without a Big Budget

By Josh Ledgard

The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Your Startup Online Without a Big Budget

Face it. There is truly no such thing as an overnight success for startups. It doesn’t happen. It’s hard to get your name out there. It’s even harder when you’re low on cash and bootstrapping. What can you do when you just don’t have the budget for a big marketing campaign?

Let’s go over a few things that can get your marketing moving in the right direction, without having to spend much besides sweat equity.

Build a Network With Online Influencers in your Industry

Building a strong online network should be the foundation of any free marketing strategy. Having other people share your brand simply because they want to is an incredibly powerful thing.

You can use a tool like Fedica (formally Follwerwonk)

You can start free to find influential networks and bloggers based on your products target market keywords. If, for example, you are selling donuts online you might search for “donuts”, “pastries”, or “coffee” within the tool.

Fedica dashboard

If you find yourself in a position where your network is…lacking, get out there and start being active with influential people. Follow them on their social networks, comment on their posts, share their content with your friends, engage with them and make them notice you.

Don’t be a pest, but show them that you care about who they are and they should care about you too. Always be sure to include a link to your site in your signature.

Start With a Smaller Niche

Today our product can be used to generate all kinds of landing pages and opt in forms… but we started as JUST a tool to launch new businesses. We only had 3 themes and only allowed you to collect a persons email address without any additional information.

Although the product was limited it meant we had a smaller, more approachable, target (entrepreneurs) to market to. It allowed us to focus on those communities and those influencers without worrying about the larger community of online marketers.

If you don’t start with a niche you could have some larger problems…


Grow Your Email & Lead List

If you don’t yet have a list of subscribers, you can start building one by utilizing a landing page or set of opt-in forms on your website. If you haven’t built a website, you can even use your landing page as your main page – until yours is up and running.

Ringo prelaunch landing page

Offer potential subscribers an incentive for signing up – contests are a great way to collect Email addresses! If you’re not sure where to start, KickoffLabs has a great set of features – We can even help evaluate your campaign as part of your subscription.

KickoffLabs reward campaign example

See more great landing examples here.

Publish Industry Specific Content Regularly

This goes hand in hand with networking and social media. A great way to get your name out there without having to spend any money is by publishing great content on a regular basis. The things you write should cover topics that are in your general niche, but you really can write about just about anything. You don’t need to be a master of prose to start blogging, just make sure the content that you post is relevant to your potential customers.

Post about things that your ideal readers will be inclined to share with their friends, family and colleagues. Do a little SEO research and make sure your blog contains keywords that are going to help your blog rank higher than other blogs posting similar content. This is, again, where a tool like Buzzsumo can help.

Publish Higher Value Content for Subscribers

If you’re really not sure where to start, make an awesome how-to guide as a downloadable resource! People have a thirst for knowledge and when it comes to the Internet, “how to…” is the most commonly used search phrase. Take advantage of this by making a how-to guide that is better than anyone else’s. It’s amazing how much more value people place on something that’s downloadable vs “just another blog post”.

You want to write something that people will use and remember. Not only will this make your readers more likely to share your guide with their friends, it will make other content influencers more likely to promote your guide to their readers. You can also utilize your landing pages and opt-in forms in this manner by asking readers to submit an Email address in order to gain access to the guide.


Leverage Other Bigger Audiences with Guest Podcasts

Your own podcast (or blog) is a long term play since you’ll be starting without an audience, but this effort will pay off with a larger SEO footprint down the road. However you can also jump start your podcast by leveraging other podcaster’s audiences.

In addition to doing your own podcast, it’s also a good idea to reach out to fellow podcaster’s who are in your respective industry. Offer to appear on a few guest episodes and be sure to include a link to your site.

Ecommerce edge marketing podcast guest

Watch the full episode here

Alternatively, extend the offer for fellow podcaster’s to join your podcast, as well. Guest podcasts give you the chance to share your brand with someone else’s customers.

Santana Snacks KickoffLabs podcast guest

Watch the full episode here

Keep Leads Warm

Once you’ve got a list of subscribers, start sending out newsletters and updates to keep your customers interested and intrigued about what’s going on with you. Don’t bombard them with daily updates, but a weekly or bi-weekly update is enough to keep your subscribers in the loop without making them feel like you’re sending them an alert every time you sneeze. Make sure you include links to the great content you’ll be building (see below) that your subscribers can follow you and share your content with their friends.

You can also use these Emails to help stay engaged with your customers. Send out polls, ask questions and provide a platform for your subscribers to send responses. Sometimes, all the difference comes from making your customer feel needed and involved in what you’re doing.

Utilize Social Media – Start Small

We all know that in this day and age social media is pretty much everything. If you don’t have at least one social media account, you may as well be a dinosaur. That being said, not all social media networks are created equal, and just because Instagram works well for people in the fashion industry, doesn’t mean it will be all that effective for someone looking to promote their new technology startup.

Start by leveraging social media as a way to amplify the content you are creating.

Find the networks that will work the best for you (start with just one or two) and really work those ones. Post relevant content, post content that people who follow you will want to share. Respond to any messages and replies in a timely manner. Don’t talk down to your followers. Be active and involved. The biggest disservice you can do yourself is having your social media page look like a ghost town.

If you’re not sure what social media networks are out there, here’s a list of the most used:

  • Facebook – Best for B2C Products
  • Twitter – Good for B2B
  • Instagram – Is you product visual?
  • Google+ – Do you have customers here?
  • LinkedIn – Good for B2B
  • Pinterest – Another option for highly visual products and services.
  • Tumblr – Short attention span theater.
  • Flickr – Another visual option.
  • Quora – Great for finding B2B leads.
  • Meetup.com – Good for local marketing (see below)

We, for example, started on Quora & Twitter. On Quora we dedicated ourselves to publishing high quality answers to questions asked by people that could be customers of ours. On Twitter we engaged anyone that was discussing landing pages, lead generation, etc that we could find. These two strategies led to nearly 50% of our initial growth in terms of sales and email list size.

Start Locally

Sometimes the easiest way to get your name out there is by starting local. Utilize your friends and family! Ask them to share your brand with all of their friends and families. Make a few posts on your local Craigslist community and discussions forum. Place a free ad in your local newspaper or a local magazine. Get involved with a like-minded Meetup.com group and share your start-up with them.

Additionally, you’ll want to add your company to as many local directories as you can – and be sure to leave your link!

You should also consider speaking publicly about what you have to offer. You can speak to local Chambers of Commerce, rotary clubs, other professional organizations, meetup groups, etc. This is a great way to help show others that you are considered to be an expert in your field and to get your name out there with a community of people who have common interests.

If you happen to have an eBook or any published works, this is also a great opportunity to promote yourself and give away (or sell) your content. A lot of people may be intimidated by speaking in front of people, but it’s really just as simple as talking about things you know and relating to your audience.

I definitely recommend having your talks recorded so that you can re-use them online.  Here is an example of a talk I gave that’s been helpful to re-use.

and the slides are here:


Get Listed in Online Directories

Besides local directories, here’s a list of online sites that you can use to help you get more users. You’ll want to be sure that you submit your company to the sites that are related to your niche:

  1. HackerNews
  2. TechCrunch
  3. Mashable
  4. KillerStartup
  5. SpringWise
  6. CrunchBase
  7. Gust.com
  8. Vator
  9. Reddit
  10. VentureBeat
  11. NetWebApp
  12. Betalist
  13. AboutYourStartup
  14. AppVita
  15. RateMyStartup
  16. StartupTunes
  17. FeedMyApp
  18. 101BestWebsites
  19. MakeUseOf – Though primarily a HowTo Blog,
  20. Ziipa – You can submit your mobile and web apps here
  21. AppUseful
  22. listio
  23. TechPluto
  24. Go2Web20
  25. TheStartupPitch

An example of a startup directory.

Pro-Tip: After you’ve done a few you should have answers to the common questions that need to be filled out. Hire an assistant to help submit to the larger breadth of listing sites while you focus on creating the best answers to the common questions.

Use Viral Features to Stretch Your Budget Further

When someone signs up for your email list or your product are you asking them to tell their friends about you? If you simply take the time to ask them for a referral you could easily generate 30% more leads for the same amount of money and traffic generated. The trick is to find the right time to ask for this referral. Typically it’s right when they are already engaged on your site, you’ve just delivered them something useful, and they’ve had a good experience. That’s the moment when you want to ask for a shout out.


BTW – This is something that’s built into our service. :) You can even create an incentive for people to share.

Think Beyond Adwords

Google Adwords could be lucrative in the long run for your business… but that typically requires a lot of money to test, learn, and fine tune campaigns. The best thing you can do is look for alternatives. We discussed several in our post about “Thinking outside the adwords”.

Alternatives to Adwords

Create a Remarkable Customer Experience

Any product or technology even the tiniest amount of success can easily be copied. What can’t be copied, as easily, is the complete customer experience. What you do to make your customers lives easier and how you handle their support questions will determine how likely someone is to recommend you and become a repeat customer.

When we started out we personally conecated everyone that setup a landing page and offered them tips, specifically for their page, on how to improve it.

We built small features for 1 or two paying customers that asked as long as they aligned with our overall vision. We delivered them quickly.

We made sure our support was top notch and encouraged people “Don’t thank us directly… let 5–500 of your closest friends know about our service”.

Still today, these efforts, account for a large percentage of our growth. Make sure you consider the customer experience a key component of any marketing campaign.

Lets Review This Startup Marketing List….

  • Build out an influencer network of people you can contact to help amplify your message.
  • Start with a smaller niche than your ultimate vision defines.
  • Focus on growing an email list within that niche. This applies to all the strategies below.
  • Publish niche related content regularly
  • Include high value content, such as downloadables, in your content pipeline.
  • Leverage larger audiences with guest posts related to your niche
  • Keep your email list warm with regular engagement that delivers useful content or involves them in your process.
  • Focus on 1–2 social networks to really win in that space instead of getting lost in the noise.
  • Win locally within a smaller market first.
  • Get listed in as many directories as you can.
  • Use viral features to stretch your budget.
  • Think outside of Adwords and leverage competing ad services that cost less.
  • Create a remarkable customer experience.

Have any tips we missed?  Send them our way!

Even if you choose not to utilize all of these methods, as long as you put the time and effort into a few of them you should see a noticeable growth in the exposure you are receiving. I wish you the best of luck in your marketing endeavors!

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Read more Building a Waitlist with the next chapter:

8. Waitlist Strategies

Explore additional resources, expert advice, and industry secrets that will transform your waitlist into a powerful tool for customer engagement and growth.

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