How to market a startup business for Free
Learn basics to advanced tips every startup founder should be doing to grow their startup. The advice given here is time test and proven. Reading this doesn’t mean success, that comes when you implement what you will learn here.
Some of the content on this article may sound basic, but these are fundamentals. Startups that have their fundamentals in place are more likely to succeed.
Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals- Jim Rohan.
Founders are fantastic at building their product or service. They work days and nights, pump up on coffee, junk food, and make sure their MVP or Beta product is ready. Once it’s done, the next step is marketing it and getting people to try it out. This is where the stress starts.
Many founders start hitting the wall. They don’t know much about marketing, and generally are not sure how to get started. They’ve built an amazing product, but don’t know exactly how to get the word out and get users.
Most will start searching on Google and find a ton of articles and “gurus” who will sell you e-books, webinars, videos, etc and after spending 3 days the founder may know a ton, but will have no idea how to get started and execute on this mass of knowledge.
So, dear founder. Allow me 32 minutes of your time to show you (founder-to-founder) what I suggest as a process to get started in your startup’s marketing.
Please bookmark this page so you can access it in the future… go ahead, I am waiting 😉
You should get some coffee now.
The dark roast high caffeine kind.
I wrote a lot.
I was on caffeine when I did, so you should be on it too when you read.
3 important points to read
1) Know who your clients are going to be.
I know you are looking for marketing steps and not product market fit. But trust me, the below is necessary. Once you know who your customer/end user is, all your marketing will be focused on finding them and their look-alikes.
BTW, even if you know who your customer is, spend time reading the below.
The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. – Peter Drucke
Your marketing is going to have language, jargon, images, graphs, branding, visuals etc and those should instantly connect with your potential clients.
Knowing who your client is gives your product a clear mission. Since you know who they are and what their problem is, you are going to solve their problem and build more cool sh*t to make their life even more better and love you more.
But, there is a but here…
Many startups don’t know who their ideal client base is! WTH(eck)?
I know most VC’s will tell you that you should know this, but the reality is sometimes you don’t. My feedback is that it’s okay. However, you can’t possibly be marketing to everyone in this planet… right? You do have some particular type of audience in mind. So will eventually need to figure this out.
You should be saying things like…
- My customer is someone who does X and needs a better way to do X and my product does X thus solving this issue for them.
- My customer is someone who uses X and hates it because of X and I my product will fix this issue for them.
- My customer is someone who does X and it’s a lot of work. But by using my product they can reduce their X by half and lift X by X%.
You are trying to answer what the issue is and how you are going to solve this issue or make things better. As Paul Graham from YCombinator would say to me “Lloyd, who’s hair is on fire?”
Even if you have a couple of these, it’s fine… for now. But really… just for now.
If you try to have your foot in two different client pools you are going to go crazy with the amount of marketing work you are taking on. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that, lost hair, and hope to never do that again.
Back to knowing who your customer is. If you do know this well, then you are going to know where to look to find them and how to do that. The majority of the below marketing steps are much easier to filter down and focus on when you know who the idea client is.
2) Facts you need to know about marketing.
It is an ongoing process.
Don’t expect to spend a week on marketing and reap the fruits of your labor. Marketing requires a plan and series of events done consistently over time for it to be successful.
“Marketing is the roadmap your product follows to reach it’s destination, which is the “customer”. You will make a series of small stops called “milestones” and keep going until you reach your destination.” – Lloyd Jacob, Founder – InstallMonetizer, Orange Shark,
Planning is key.
It won’t work unless you plan for it and set schedules to execute on it.
Let me say it again “planning your marketing strategy is key.” Once you have a plan, you know exactly what you need to execute on. Also, the great thing about a plan is you don’t feel like you are mindlessly doing work. Everything you are doing is baby steps to reach your potential customers.
Each week you should be planning 8-16 hours of time allocated to your marketing plans. Please don’t work 16 hours all at one! Spread it out 4 hours per day.
Want to read about their full marketing process?
Enter your email below and I’ll send you this full article and an e-book, plus all the resources mentioned here. http://thekazushi.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Mint_Marketing_Plan-2.pdf?
Marketing plans require research and learning.
Although I can write steps to get you started, there are many startups and grown companies who’ve executed creative marketing strategies to grow. Research them on the web and spend some time learning from them.
I’ve collected a set that can give headstart.
Enter your email below and I’ll send you this full article and an e-book, plus all the resources mentioned here.
It may require hiring employees or consultants.
There is really no need to become an SEO, SEM, Retargeting, etc expert. There are plenty of other people experienced in this. You should be leveraging their skills. Below are some sites where you can easily find consultants who can help.
- Upwork – for just about any help you need
- Freelancer – for just about any help you need
- WriterAccess – for great content writers
- Scripted – for great content writers
- Behance – for amazing creative help
- Dribble – for awesome graphic help
Marketing sometimes requires money.
A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time. – Henry Ford
Okay, so maybe Ford had a lot of money and you don’t. Not to be concerned. In this article, we will stick to mostly free marketing techniques and channels, however, keep in mind paid advertising does have it’s benefits. I’ll go over those in another article.
3) How to successfully execute this marketing plan.
Let’s get real for a second yo…
There are a lot of marketing steps in this article. If you have a dedicated marketing person, they are going to go through and setup everything mentioned quite fast. However, if you are founder who is also doing marketing, you need to set some reasonable expectations for yourself.
You are dealing with product specs, QA, investors, coding, etc on your plate. Don’t expect to to add marketing on your plate as well and expect yourself to hit everything I mention below.
At the same time, I feel if you dedicated the 8-16 hours in a week that I’ve asked from you, you can do this at a pace where you won’t overload yourself and you will see a series of small successes in your marketing.
GET THE BASICS SETUP FIRST!
1) Let’s work on you first.
Get some business cards.
You should always be carrying around your business cards. I’ve met plenty of people at random coffee shops, events, etc where I’ve had the ability to stike up a conversation about my company. To ensure they remember me, I always hand them my business card.
You can easily get these made online for less than 30 bucks for 500. No matter how much time you spend pitching someone, when they get back to their home or office, they are going to forget your site’s URL. So give them a card to remember you by.
Tip 1: you really don’t need 5 credit cards in your wallet. Take out 3, replace with business card.
Tip 2: add some personality to your card. It’s a reflection of you.
Tip 3: make sure the card has your name, phone #, skype id, email, linkedin link and company URL.
I can suggest a few places to get cards made for a good price:
- Overnight prints
- I’ve heard of others like MOO or gotprint, but I’ve never used them. I’ll leave them a shoutout if I ever do.
Quick ADD moment from me….
I went to a meetup last year and met a startup founder making awesome SaaS finance software. I swapped cards with him, he pinged me back yesterday (6 months later) because he had my card and was ready for our product. See, it does work!
Get your Linkedin profile updated.
Seriously, I don’t need to be typing this here, but so many startup founders forget to update their profiles. It’s important. Investors or at least their staff are going to visit your profile to learn about you.
Update your profile with your work experience, projects (big, small or dead ones). Get some recommendations from colleagues, professors, clients etc. Also put up a semi-professional picture of yourself. You want the world to know your experience (if any), your professional past (if any) and what other’s think of your past work (if any).
Get your company listed on Linkedin’s company pages. Click here to open a new tab with info on how to launch your company page on Linkedin (page will open in a new tab, go there once you are done here): https://business.linkedin.com/marketing-solutions/company-pages/get-started#
2) Your website’s fundamentals.
Below are some fundamentals you need to have setup to begin the process. Some of this may sound basic, but just do it! It will pay off later. Future marketing tools you use will depend on the basics to be in place.
In this section we are going over:
- Getting your website up to speed
- Lead collection
- CRM to manage all your leads
Get your website up to speed:
Pre-launch: If you do a pre-launch then your goal is to spark the interest of those who hear about you and visit your site. At the same time, you should be collecting the visitor’s email so that you can follow up. You can read more about this further down. Use a service like launchrock.com to get your page up and running.
Launched: If you product is ready for the world to see, make sure your website looks professional. First impressions count for a lot. Most visitors to a site will give you up to 8 seconds of their quality brain attention time. After that they are not interested and will likely leave. So impress them in 8 seconds with clear info on what your product will do for them and make sure visually that your site looks modern.
There are plenty of bootstrap themes, wordpress themes, or sites like Wix to get something good looking up quickly.
Also, there are plenty of web designers on sites like upwork, freelancer, behance, dribble etc. But you should be aware of a few things before you do. Click on the following link, it will open in a new tab, read it once you are done here. I thought this was a good primer before hiring a 3rd party. Link.
12 must do improvements to your website:
1. Google’s website requirements:
Google is your search daddy. If you don’t play by it’s rules, you are about to get a time out. Open this link, and check it it out later. It has some rules that daddy Google wants you to play by.
2.Mobile friendly website:
Make sure your website is mobile friendly. Google will rank your site lower if it is not. Open this link later to see how mobile fiendly your site is.
3. Website speed:
Make sure your website is fast. Google will love you more. Check your site speed and find any issues that could be slowing it down here.
4. Page title and description:
What is a a page title and description?
The title is what is shown as the first line of every search result. It’s the page’s title. Description is the 2-3 lines that are shown about the page’s content, which you get to write and place into the MetaTag.
Look at point 3 below for our advanced meta tag generator.
Meta tag is a snippet of text that describes the page’s content to search engines. It is a must to create. You can do it easily on our advanced meta tag generator. Using the generator you can create your website title, description, open graph and Twitter card data.
6. Image Alt Tag:
Make sure all images have Alt tags in place.
What is an image Alt tag?
An image alt tag is the shortened term referring to the ALT attribute of the image (IMG) tag in your html. By giving each image an ALT tag, search engines will index your images (images.google.com), and browsers that have issues when loading an image will display this text as a backup. Learn more about it here.
5) Ban Flash:
Remove all flash elements from your site. They are not mobile friendly, cause issues on older browsers, and most search engines dislike you having them on your site.
7. Avoid fullscreen lead windows:
These are also called ‘Welcome Mat’ by some sites. Currently Google bans it’s usage on your mobile web version. I suggest avoiding this completely as they may ban this on a desktop web version eventually as well. Read more about it here.
Setup a sitemap for your website. A sitemap is a list of pages on a website that are accessible to search crawlers or users.
– make one for free here.
Submit your sitemap to various search engines:
- Google site map submission
- Bing site map submission
- Yahoo site map submission
9. Subfolders vs Subdomains:
Winner is subfolders. They are easier to be indexed by search engines.
10. Invite Search Crawlers
Once you’ve got the above setup, search engines will automatically crawl your site. However, you should setup a Google Console account (used to be called Google Webmaster Console) and request a manual crawl through there.
Invite search crawlers to your website:
Google search crawler
- Bing search crawler
- Yahoo search crawler
You can Google search this and find a ton of resources. I’ve collected a set that can help you get started. Enter your email below and I’ll email you this article as an e-book and included all the resources.
12. Monitoring & Analytics tools to setup:
Anyone using the below tools will swear on the value of each product listed below. Most of these are free, or free to start with. Get them setup so that you can gain insight on your marketing and the performance of visitors on your site or product.
A) Google Alerts:
What are Google Alerts?
Google monitors new content related to any keyword topic. You simply type in the keywords you want to monitor and it will alert you when it finds something new.
I would suggest setting up alerts for:
- Your full name
- CEO of Your company name
- Founder of Your company name
- Company Name
- Company URL
- Competitors you want to monitor
B) Google Analytics:
What is Google Analytics?
It is a a free web analytics service by Google where you can gain insight into traffic sources, page visits, user demographics and more. Google analytics is a benchmark and 100% free to use.
What is Hotjar?
Hotjar gives you insight into your user’s behavior on your website. My favorite is that it tracks your user’s mouse as they navigate your public website or your internal pages. There is so much you can learn by watching your user’s behavior. Learn their page navigation behavior on any page, where they spend a lot of time, where they click around when something is unclear.
They have a lot more capabilities, but I feel they do this the best.
What is Wufoo?
Wufoo is a form tool that you can use easily to collect feedback from your site visitors. They let you create 2 basic forms for free.
3) Collecting Leads.
What is lead collection?
It’s the process of collecting information from those interested in your product or service.
Once you start your marketing, you are going to get traffic coming to your site.
Woohoo. But if you aren’t collecting leads from the visitors to your site, you are a crappy woohooer. These are free leads that came to your site. You will have potential customers, journalists, influencers, investors, your mom :), colleagues, and friends visiting your website. You should be collecting their email so that you can keep them posted on your product and announce events as they happen.
4) CRM to manage all your leads.
What is a CRM?
CRM is a tool used to manage customer data, actions such as downloads, purchase behavior, reading patterns, lifecycle on a product, demographics etc. Its goal is to manage the customer’s data and communicate on a personal level using the data available on the CRM.
You are going to get leads from organic traffic coming your site, leads from your marketing campaigns, people you meet at your incubator, coffee shop, events or conferences, etc. You can’t manage them on an excel, your gmail account, or as a stack of business cards.
Take all your leads and add them into a CRM, tag them as who they are “investor, journalist, potential client” etc. When you are ready to launch, just visit the CRM and start sending out your emails based on their interest in you and your product (ex: potential customer, or investor).
Shameless plug #2, you can get a free CRM as part of BigEngage.com
MARKETING YOUR STARTUP’S PRODUCT OR SERVICE
Let’s do this!
Places to find customers without spending money.
Below are actionable items you can do to begin the marketing process and start getting customers. Most of this is free, and all that is required as cost is your time. But I already asked you to set aside 8-16 hours a week to work on the plan I am setting up here for you, so spend some of it on this.
1) Become active on social networks.
Social media is a free channel where all you have to do is be active by posting content and comments. Doing this has a lot of positive returns such as the following.
- You get more exposure to potential clients, investors and journalists.
- You get high quality backlinks to your site.
- You start becoming an “expert” in a particular topic.
- You start spreading the word about your product due to all the content that you are now generating across all the social channels.
- Your posts and comments start appearing on search engine results. Another added benefit is that these will show up in your Google search results.
By regularly posting your followers on the social media channels will grow. At some point you can reach out to your followers and ask them to recommend you, buy your product, etc.
TwitterCreate a free account. Start tweeting some of your recent blog posts, pictures from industry events, screenshots of your product, team pictures, pictures with your investors etc. Once you have content up, start following others who are in your same space. If you follow them, they will follow you.
This is not for your personal use, rather for your company. Follow these instructions to setup your Faceook business page. The same content you posted on twitter can be posted here.
Linkedin is the world’s largest professional network. The world now uses Linkedin as it’s resume. It is massively known for its networking capabilities. That makes it valuable to any startup founder wanting to connect with investors, journalists, potential employees and potential customers.
What is LinkedIn Groups?
LinkedIn Groups exist inside the LinkedIn platform. Here professional within an industry or anyone with like interests create groups and share content, data, case studies, post jobs, build contacts and build individual reputation as an industry expert.
As a startup founder, you should join 1 -2 of these groups. There is too much activity in some of these so it will be hard for you to keep up with the discussions if you are part of many groups.
What is Medium and how to use it?
Medium is a blogging platform made by Twitter’s co-founder Evan Williams. It’s free to use. Post your blog content here. Don’t copy it exactly, modify some of the content and design it so that it looks good on their UI.
Content on medium is liked by Google (for now) and so it’s PR backlink value is high and I’ve found content there often appears on Google’s search results.
Lastly, Medium has a dedicated readership. You can get access to them by posting your content here.
What is Quora and how to use it?
Quora is a question and answer website where it’s community of users post questions and replies. The industries that are discussed in Quora are wide. From fashion to marketing tips and more can be found on Quora.
This is a good place for you to be active and start understanding the real issues that users are facing. It will help you spy on solutions that companies are building to solve them.
Before you start, build your profile with a proper picture a description about who you are.
Here is my profile for example.
Little trick for Quora (shhh, don’t tell everyone)…. Join into the community by posting 1-2 questions in your space. Purposely make it something you are knowledgeable about. Once someone responds, go back in and leave a comment about their comment and add more valuable content so you are more of an expert that the last commenter.
It’s also a good time to give a link back to your blog where you have written more on this topic.
Lastly, you should be posting responses to questions from other users. It will get you “cred” on Quora as an expert. Be sure to leave responses that are around 750-1000 words long. Also it should provide value to the readers. If it does, you will see your response get “Upvotes” that will push your response up to the top.
What is Hacker News and how to use it?
Hacker News is a social community where mostly founders and geeks post news about whats happening in their industry or their product. It was launched by Y Combinator as social tool for it’s incubated company but now is open for all.
Just by the screenshot listed below you can get a glimpse into the type of topics they discuss.
Browse around their site. If your product is something their community would enjoy, then starting talking about what you are doing, who’s problem you are solving, and how.
Blogs & Forums in your industry
There are plenty of these, just run a search on Google for it. The important thing about being part of any blog or forum is that you need to provide that community with value.
Do NOT sell your product. Your purpose there is to provide other members value and in a subtle way include your product info (like in your signature or case studies you could post).
I also suggest finding a topic in that community, then writing a researched & well written blog posted related to it, and finally going back to the forums or blogs you are active on and having people check out your new blog post.
2) Public websites where you should be listed.
When someone “Googles” you, you need to be found. But it would be nice if you are listed in more places than just your website. Here are some easy place to get yourself listed. Listing yourself in these sites will also get you early adopters, testers and long term customers.
Crunchbase:What is Crunchbase and how to use it?
Crunchbase is a site that lists startups, developed companies, investors, VC firms, and investors. For each, they display additional data points. For example when it comes to a company, they may list the number of employees, past funding, location, and major PR releases.
It’s free to add yourself on this list.
Twitter accounts that talk about startups: there are plenty of them. I’ll list a few here for you to tweet and connect with.
Beta sites directories:
What is a beta site and how to use it?
If your product is not quite ready for taking on customers, however you want some early feedback, then beta sites are perfect for you. These sites are full of early adopters who want pre-market access to your product. In return they will provide you feedback, help you QA, spread the word about you to their friends/colleagues and give you testimonials. A small (tiny) portion of them may end up staying as long term customers.
What is Betalist and how to use it?
It’s an online site platform where it’s community of users discover and get early access to startup’s products and services. It is an easy place for new startups to it’s first set of users.
Take the experience on this site with a grain of salt. These are early adopters and only a small portion are going to stay on as a long time customer. But lets ignore that, think more of the feedback you will get, and potential recommendations. BTW, make sure you have Hotjar installed so that you can watch what they are doing once they visit.
What is BetaBound and how to use it?
Betabound lists beta products that it’s community of users can test and get access to before the rest of the world.
Like other beta testing sites, keep in mind that your product doesnt need to be perfect to be ready for these sites. Also, take the experience on this site with a grain of salt. These are early adopters and only a small portion are going to stay on as a long time customer.
Other Beta testing sites you can put your product on:
Places early adopters & geeks like me hangout to learn about what new startups.
- ProductHunt – right now the king of startup listings. Read more about how to post on ProductHunt here.
- HackerNews- see my notes above.
3) Mine business in unusual places:
Listed below are sites where picking up a few customers per week can be easy (IMHO). Don’t mistake this for a long term marketing plan. Most of these will get you a few customers, it won’t make your platform a success. Also, depending on your business model, these sources may not work. But have a look and skip if needed.
Outsourced project sites
Often times projects are posted on these sites where your product may be a perfect fit or fit part of their needs. Ping them and start up a chat. This WILL upset the site admins, but till you get shut down, this is a hack to getting a few customers.
- Upwork (used to be Elance)
Consultants and development firms
Consultants and development firms are always networking and finding companies to whom they can provide expertise, advice or resources. Connect with them and explain what you do and try to partner with them. You may need to give them a commission for a deals that close on your end, but that’s totally fair.
Didn’t expect to see this one did you? Nothing entices a customer like a good coupon. Tech companies like GoDaddy know this and that’s why they release new coupons each month via major discount and coupon sites. You can do the same.
Give away 10%, 20% off coupons on some of these sites. Note, you may be questioned by their site admins as to how you are a fit for their customers and also the period of the discount. Ask them about their customer demographics, if it’s a good fit tell them how.
As for the period, you should try to on going coupons. To create a sense of urgency, you can put an expiration date of a few weeks. Keep in mind though that you’ll have to log into the coupon site and keep the coupon up to date if you have an expiration date.
4) Find customers at networking events
These are events that are held at bars, company campuses, restaurants, conference halls etc. Usually each networking event has a topic or is setup for those in a certain common interest or background.
This gets a lot of people nervous.
When attending a networking event, you may be alone and don’t know anyone and what’s worse is that you feel everyone knows each other and are mingle only amongst each each— NOT TRUE.
Everyone there is nervous just like you. They came there for the same reason that you did, to meet others.
You can do this. Don’t over think, just walk up to someone and say “Hey, hows it going?”.
Does the place have a bar? If so, grab a soda or drink, and turn to the person next to you and say “Cheers. How’s the event going for you?”
For a more dramatic effect an to ensure you get their attention say something random like “Hey, I remember you from high school?” to which they will respond. You can that conversation anywhere you want.
So get out of your cube/office/den, or where else you’ve been spending the last few weeks. Get out and meet some people.
1 SUPER REASON WHY YOU SHOULD ATTEND NETWORKING EVENTS.
You can practice your pitch. You don’t know the people at these events. It’s a great place to pitch someone other than your mom (kidding). Practice your pitch with real people and watch their reactions. See if they understand what your product or service does. If they look confused, change it and try a different pitch on the next person.
How to find networking events in your area:
There are plenty of events around you. My favorites are listed here:
Other fantastic events you should attend:
- Talk sessions: can be found easily by using one of the two services above
- Trade Conferences: great place to spy on your competitors, and meet customers walking around
- Pitch events: these places are usually full of investors. So go network.
- VC parties: these are sometimes “invite only”, but not all. Subscribe to all local VC’s newsletters and hope you get invited.
LASTLY, NEVER STOP LEARNING
Marketing is constantly improving. Stay on top of the latest trends so you are using the best technologies and techniques.
Fantastic resources IMHO. Sign up to get their newsletters.
- SingleGrain – one of my favorites. Eric Siu shares some of the best content out there. Check out his podcast as well. “I’m in love with the PoPo(dcast)” (if you didn’t get that, never mind)
- Growhthackers – amazing resource where marketers openly share their learnings with the community.
That’s all. Congratulations for getting this far.
I hope you found this valuable.
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Sorry about the cheesy high five picture.
What’s going on with that guys hair?
Note to myself, fire graphics team member for giving me this image.