Startup marketing can be a real pain in the ass. We’re not talking about the I-kicked-you-in-the-ass kind of pain. We’re talking about the I-sat-on-a-pack-of-rusty-nails kind of pain. Not only do you have to prototype, code, plan, write, stay up all night for months, talk to people, meet people, breath in the stale air in your parents’ basement, but now you have to deal with startup marketing and, what’s even worse, you have to deal with a marketing budget.
Geez, I’m tired of eating noodles just so I can save for some marketing budget. If only there was a blog giving me a detailed, in-depth guide on how to do a kickass promotion of my soon-to-be-revolutionary startup for little to no money.
This article will cover some things that, in our opinion, should be the very foundation of startup marketing. Especially to all you who don’t shower in gold.
It’s worth noting, however, that startup marketing strategies mentioned here are not reserved for startups on a budget only. For starters, we’re a firm believer that almost every company can and should have a blog, no matter how big that company is. It’s just that when you have large marketing budget, you’ll have a plethora of options to choose from. When you’re on a tight budget you’re limited to options that are free or don’t cost a lot. That doesn’t mean that they are less effective. It just means that they cost less. Startup marketing, like any other form of marketing doesn’t have to be expensive to be efficient. It just has to be good. Now let’s get down to business. Here are 6 options you should consider if you’re dealing with budget startup marketing.
User: Here we go again, yet another article telling us to write a blog. What are you going to tell me next? That the Pope is Catholic? Where do I exit?
Us: And here we go again, another user who has been told a million times to write a blog and yet he still hasn’t written a single letter.
But, no, seriously, write the damn thing. Immediately!
This answer gets thrown around a lot and, frankly, it does for a reason. While we could argue whether an established startup needs a blog, if you’re looking for low budget startup marketing options – a blog should be one of the first things, if not the first one, for you to consider. First, it can give you some serious visibility if done right. Second, having a blog is a prerequisite for some more advanced forms of startup marketing that can help you tremendously and that we’ll describe in more detail later.
Now, how your blog looks and feels is important, but we won’t go too much into that. What matters is what your blog offers to its visitor. The premise here is very simple and it all comes down to how you answer three simple questions:
People tend to get too philosophical when it comes to blogging. The honest truth – blogging is easy. As long as you’re willing to dedicate your time and expertise to it, you’ll probably do good. People are curious creatures and that makes blogging not just easy but also enjoyable. Remember, as long as you keep it fresh, interesting and (highly preferable) useful, you’re on the right track.
Like previously mentioned, there is no definite answer to this question. It depends on what your startup is about and who your target audience is, but to clear up things a bit, let’s imagine that you’re developing some sort of a travel app startup that enables quick and easy travel. Pretty original, right? Now, what do we know about your target group? They are probably tech-savvy, urban young professionals who earn solid money and like to try new things while traveling. Pretty soon, you discover that your Average Joe doesn’t give a shit about you. Actually, your Average Joe doesn’t know you exist. That’s why you blog. The whole point of startup marketing is to convince Joe that he better use your startup or he’ll die by the hands of the poison dart frog deep down in Amazon.
Write about various cool places, people and traditions. Give them hints on how to travel, how to pack their bags, where to go. You teach them how to filter water in wilderness, how to build shelter or how to start fire in case they get lost. You tell them how to stay safe while on road or how to barter on flea markets. Maybe you ask a couple of former hobos to tell you their stories. You make a top 10 list of dirtiest toilets in Eastern Europe. If you were an backpacker and now your startup is aimed at backpackers, tell the story of how you survived Ayahuasca poisoning back in Peru. The list is endless. Oddee, although not a startup, does this all the time and they are doing pretty good. Triposo writes about destinations of the week and other interesting stuff. Using blogs for startup marketing isn’t hard. After all, you should know an awful lot about the topics you write about.
Your young urban travelers, being young and urban, will appreciate the content and show it to their friends. Some of them will take notice of your startup and use it. This helps you reach broader audience. As time goes on and your startup progresses, catching some serious attention, you begin to write about your startup. The day your startup “hits the shelves”, you should already have a solid promotional platform. In case you succeed in making your blog really popular, the effect this can have on your sales is beyond ridiculous.
A fantastic example of a (now former) startup having a great blog is Mint.com. These guys have been posting regular content since 2007. Ever since they started up until today, they have been writing one of the most influential personal financial management blogs out there. We’re talking about 3000 posts here. Three thousand!
It’s the blog, among other startup marketing strategies, that helped Mint.com gain traction and establish authority in the field of personal finances. Not just that, but it helped them climb up the Google ranks. The rest is history.
This is a tricky question. Assuming that your startup can be considered to be “established”, you probably don’t have to worry about finances as much as you did while you were starting out. Also, it’s safe to say that you’re not looking for budget startup marketing options anymore.
But, hey, maybe you are. Maybe you don’t want to spend a dime on marketing, even though your startup gained a lot of attention from public and users. Is it still worth to blog about your business/industry?
Anyways, in 99% of the cases, our answer is going to be – Yes, you should. The point is – startup marketing never stops. Even if you stop calling yourself a startup, you are no longer dealing with startup marketing. Instead, now you’re just dealing with marketing. But it never stops. You no longer write about how you vomited all over a budget hostel in Moldova. Now you write a list of top 10 golden toilet seats. Whatever the case might be – remember that people still want information. They want cool information, they want useful information and your target audience are still – people.
The first example that immediately crosses our mind is the legendary OkCupid blog. While this isn’t something that anyone can and/or should do, if you can do it, this is how you are supposed to. Basically, using various data from millions of users using their app, the team at OkCupid wrote a fantastic blog in which they presented findings on topics such as racial preferences, mathematics of beauty and so on. With tens of thousands of Facebook shares and god knows how many visits, we think it’s safe to say that the blogging strategy was a success.
As an established startup, you can follow the path already beaten, just like Mint.com did, continuing to blog about various topics that your target group finds relevant. Also, you can blog about your startup and important and interesting data and/or features related to it or you can do both.
Having said that, I’d say that a company blog should be the first step you take when dealing with startup marketing. It’s an incredibly efficient way to reach your customers, provide additional value, gain visibility and establish authority. I know this “you should have a blog” thing is becoming boring, but there is a reason why so many articles say the same – entrepreneurs keep refusing to blog. Don’t be one of them.
Seeing how so many businesses get the majority of traction using nothing more than a corporate blog, you might ask yourself – “should I go further”? The answer – as you might have expected is – Yes, you should!
Although having a blog is a great way to reach the desired audience and provide them with content, you still need to use other communication channels in order to fulfill the potential. In this point, I’ll concentrate on two, in my book, best strategies to communicate with you audiences – through guestblogging and social media.
Guestblogging is a fantastic way of gaining recognition and is a criminally underrated strategy when it comes to startup marketing. It helps you to:
Guestblogging, in itself, is very easy in a sense that it doesn’t require a lot of work. Reaching major and well-read blogs, however, is going to be very, very hard. Blog owners, in general, are open minded when it comes to guestblogging. It’s free content, after all. Don’t get carried away, though, as not all blogs are worth it. You want to make sure that you take advantage of this opportunity. Having an established startup and/or a startup blog will help you tremendously as it’s easier to persuade someone into giving you a chance to guestblog when you already have something to back up your claims, but they are not mandatory. However, we strongly encourage you to work on your own blog/product/website before you decide to reach out to potential guestblog spots. Once you got it all figured out, you should do some research using various tools at your disposal.
There are various tools you can use. You can use the good ol’ Google and search for opportunities by Googling “____ guest post”, “_____ guest post submit”, ” ____ accepting guest post” or something similar, or you can use specialized tools, such as Buzzstream, Dropmylink, MOZ, Buzzsumo etc.
Bear in mind that most of these tools are paid but they offer some kind of free version. While this can be bothersome sometimes, it can be managed with some tinkering.
Once you have a list of desired websites/blogs, it’s time to contact them. Send them an e-mail. PERSONALIZE IT! Tell them you’d like to guestpost and explain why they should accept. If they say yes, it’s pretty much straightforward afterwards. Just remember to actually put some effort in it.
Ah yes, the almighty social media. The best friend. The tyrant. The lover. Hate it or love it – you can’t deny the importance.
Now, how you’re going to use them is so relative that it’s pointless to write about specific channels and strategies. Instead, since we have experience with social media marketing, we’ll write a couple of quick thoughts on using social media to beef up your startup marketing game:
Humans love asking questions. If you’re a human, and I presume that you are, you should know that. We are curious by nature and the more knowledge we amass – the better. In his classic self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote that one of the best ways to do so is to ask a lot of questions. However, if you truly want to capture their attention – try answering their questions.
Now, the startup craze seems like a fad nowadays. If that’s true or not, that’s up for debate, but there is no denying that startup industry is extremely popular these days. Everybody wants to be a part of it, whether as a user, developer, designer, entrepreneur or something else. The fact that the whole industry is extremely romanticized helps, as well.The Internet is packed full of questions regarding how startups work, how to become an entrepreneur and similar. Why not take advantage of that craze and step up your startup marketing game? Here’s where you hit the scene with your knowledge and experience.
If you haven’t heard about it before, Quora is the most popular Q&A website on the planet. It’s full of useful answers and questions, spread across countless topics, ranging from Fashion and Style, all the way to Programming Puzzles. Quora’s massive userbase enables the most popular (who are often the best) answers to gain some serious visibility. Sometimes, some answers catch on and provide massive, massive amounts of visibility. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of views here for answers that sometimes talk less than 20 minutes to answer.
There is nothing too complicated about basing your startup marketing on Quora. The premise is simple:
Now, it’s worth noting that Quora’s algorithm is far from perfect and that a lot of times a good answer gets ignored and you waste your time, but with some tricks, that can be avoided. First, let’s look at the numbers.
As a Quora user, you can subscribe (follow) to a certain topic to get notifications about new and popular questions and answers. The number of followers shows how popular a certain topic is. The 10 most popular topics in 2016 were (you can read the whole list here):
#10 Visiting and Travel
As you can see, the most popular topics are the most general ones. Luckily, there are tons of other popular topics so you can find that perfect question without too much struggle. Even better, the most popular topics are those topics that are interesting to startup developers. Oh, and the startup topic alone has 1.7 million followers and 162 200 questions and sits comfortably on 29th place.
Quora is a great way to promote your startup or yourself. If you want to establish yourself as an authority in certain area, being active on Quora is a good way to do so. Consequently, your startup will get recognition. If you manage to use your startup as an answer to a popular question – say hello to your future customers. Before we go any further, though, there are some things you should have in mind when it comes to startup marketing and Quora:
If you are cool with this, you can start building your Quora persona. We won’t explain how to register/look for questions/answer questions because that’s pretty much straightforward. However, we will give you some general rules on how to maximize the results of time spent on Quora.
Understand that Quora is a Q&A website and not a shameless self-promotion platform. This means that, instead of copy pasting your startups’ web address like mad, you need to get the feel for the community. Don’t use Quora just to drive some traffic to your website. Instead, try to fully immerse yourself and be active, even if you can’t gain anything from the answer directly. In the end, you never know which question will make people follow you and give you credibility. The more you give, the more you can expect in return. Only by becoming a true, legitimate member of the Quora community can you expect to develop authority and recognition. Remember that.
Every Quora user has an unique profile that says a lot about a user. The main thing you have to consider is your profile bio that tells people who you are. My bio says that I’m a “Content and Digital Marketing strategist”. Your bio can say whatever you want. It is worth noting, however, that you can add various bios for various topics. Use that to your advantage. By adding various bios, you can fortify your expertise when answering questions from various topics. As your persona develops and you start getting recognition, you might want to stick to one bio, just to avoid confusion. By the time that happens, you’ll probably be well known among the Quora community and a single bio can help you to further promote what you stand for.
More often than not, you’ll run into answers that have gained some massive traction with thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. To be honest, this is extremely difficult, albeit not impossible, to achieve. The ugly truth is that most of them are popular because the person who provided the answer is popular and well known, even though the answer itself often isn’t the best. Also, a huge majority of them are popular, well, because there are ways of getting paid upvotes. This needs to be stressed out, although it shouldn’t be a concern to you. Just keep your expectations in check. If you manage to get millions of views on a single answer – good for you. If you don’t, it’s not like you expected it, anyway. It’s the conversions that count, after all.
Choosing the right question to answer can be tougher than it looks. Since nobody really knows how Quora’s algorithm works, you’ll have to do quite a bit of tinkering to choose the right question. It might seem counterintuitive at first, but, sometimes, questions with little to no answers can prove to be the right questions, given that your answer is good enough to catch attention. It would be wise to experiment and answer a few of unpopular questions now and then. Most of the times, though, you’ll want to save your best answers for the most popular questions.
Last but not the least – answering the questions. Actually, this is the most important part. Here are some quick tips:
Using specialized Q&A sites is a great way to gain visibility, establish authority and learn new things. I’ve read that some people had success with MetaFIlter and Yahoo Answers. While they are viable options, Quora seems to be best option due to its userbase, quality of content, algorithm and general popularity of the site. Try to post Quora-related content as often as you can. If you successfully manage to use Quora to drive traffic to your site, you’ll kill two birds with one stone.
Here, we hand-picked some questions that you can start answering right now.
For most startups, this is quite possibly the most crucial step of the startup marketing process. Reaching people was hard but you gained some leads. Now comes the easy part, right? Well, you might wanna think about that again.
As we have background in content marketing, we love creating content, but honestly, the real fun starts when it comes to converting. Reaching people and getting leads is one thing, but converting them in customers is a completely different story.
As always, the rules to this are not set in stone and you’ll have to use every last bit of your creativity and knowledge to make it work. There are, however, some things you should consider. First of all, the conversion strategy you’ll be using varies greatly on your preferences and the type of you startup. My general suggestion would be to implement as much inbound marketing ideas as possible. In case you have a blog you use to gain leads, you are already dealing with inbound marketing. Now it’s time for you to adapt it to your general startup marketing strategy. When it comes to resources, one of my favorite blogs, Hubspot blog, has an incredible amount of relevant articles.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to understand what inbound marketing brings to the table. You create content, people find it and become interested and then you convert them to customers. Simple as that. Of course, like you might have guessed – executing it isn’t easy as it sounds but, in the end, it all comes down to this – the more you give, the more you can expect in return. While certainly viable in scalable B2C situations, inbound marketing works best if your startup is B2B oriented. It goes like this:
While in theory it does sound simple, and it is, inbound marketing isn’t something that you just do. Instead, it’s a collection of various marketing tactics that are gathered under the same umbrella term and methodology. Let’s see what are some of the most important things you should consider should you decide to include inbound marketing in your startup marketing strategy.
Opt-in strategy is one of the fundamentals of inbound marketing. While I can’t tell you what you should offer to visitors, the more opt-in options you have, the better. Of course, the common sense already tells you that you shouldn’t overdo it so I don’t need to. Whether that’s an free ebook, free webinar or something else, opt-in has shown to be a good way of increasing conversions. Oh, and don’t forget to offer them to opt-out should they wish to do so. Once they opt-in for something, you’ll have to keep them regularly updated. Most of the times, creating newsletters is the best way to do so (Mailchimp is your friend here). Also, make sure to dedicate some time to opt-in boxes design. They should be aesthetically pleasing, have a nice copy and simple to use. Bear in mind that this is 2016 we are talking about. People are no longer illiterate when it comes to Internet. You need to give them a pretty good reason to click on that “submit” button. More on that here.
Now that you understand that opt-in strategy is effective, it’s time to up your game with some flashy buttons. Now, we know that we’re writing about budget strategies here, but if you’re going to make a web page, you should pay attention to the quality and design of the CTA buttons as that can greatly influence the amount of leads and conversions you get. Here is a neat article on how to design high converting CTA buttons. If you opt-in for opt-in strategy and dedicate hours to it, putting some time in to high-converting CTA buttons is a smart move. Our personal favorite, without doubt, is Dropbox, as seen below. It’s simple, elegant and inviting. Makes you want to lick the monitor, doesn’t it?
If your startup isn’t going to scale up to gazillions of users, you will want to make sure that you convert as much leads as possible. For a conversion strategy to be successful, like I mentioned, most of the times you’ll collect leads by various forms of opt-ins. CTA buttons are just one aspect of this process. Contact forms are also something you’ll have to pay attention to. Let’s say you write an Ebook and you want to gather as much leads as possible. You’ll probably want people to fill in the contact form before they download. While this might not seem like a big deal, remember that we’re dealing with budget startup marketing here. You’ll find a great article discussing how to design the perfect contact page, over at Webdesignerdepot. As a rule of thumb – keep it extremely simple and intuitive. Don’t put separate fields for name and surname. Ask only for the most relevant information. The more people have to do to fill the contact form, the more likely they will decide not to do so. Like with CTA buttons, there are a lot of factors that influence the conversion rate and most of them have to do with the way they are designed. Hotjar is a fantastic tool to monitor the behavior if your visitors and, if you can afford it, I’d definitely recommend it.
One of the most powerful startup marketing strategies lies within community creation. While this is not really different from previous points I mentioned, this is really a niche thing. Take this with a grain of salt as, again, it has a lot to do with the specifics of your startup. Not every startup can benefit from this. Creating a startup-centric community can serve many purposes, but the two most important immediately cross our mind:
Though not a startup, but a digital agency, Webris did a great job creating a community. By creating a Facebook group Digital Marketing Questions, with almost 4000 members, they created a gathering place for all those interested in digital marketing. This means they created a community for their potential clients and potential business partners.
Just like the case with Quora, creating a niche community enables you to reach people, make new connections and establish authority in your field which is especially useful if you’re dealing with a specific niche that can benefit from it. A custom community enables you to further expose your startup with sticky posts and alike. Unlike Quora, however, custom communities require a lot of dedication. You need to acquire new members, promote your community, moderate discussions and keep them constantly going. That takes time. If you can’t find time, it’s better if you do do something else, otherwise your community will turn into a breeding grounds for countless of spambots posting porn.
Other than being time consuming, building an online community isn’t extremely hard. However, there are some things you should know about. Luckily, the good guys from Mack Web wrote a great guide to building online communities that you can get for free here.
When it comes to creating a community, there isn’t really a golden rule. It all depends on what the aim of the community is. Facebook is great, but it’s not the only network out there. Linkedin groups are great too. Even some unorthodox channels can be used to create a community. Consider Slack, for example. While Slack doesn’t immediately cross the mind when it comes to building a startup-related community, it most certainly is possible. levels, a guy who runs Nomad List did a great job building a Slack community. This is a great example, as Slack serves both as means of getting traction and visibility but also as great added value to the startup. All you have to do is to find a suitable communication channel that enables you to connect with your target audience and to exchange ideas. Whether it’s Stack Overflow or Github or something else, gathering people around common cause is possibly the best way to build immense authority which is especially good if the startup is niche oriented.
The bottom line is this – creating a community can do wonders for your startup but it’s not an easy task by any means. Creating a well-engaged, productive and homogeneous community takes both time and dedication. It’s nobody’s business but yours to keep the engagement going. If Quora’s admins could spend hours and hours answering questions just to get it kickstarted during its beginning, so can you. Work on it and you’ll see the results. That leads us to the last point of this article.
In the end, it all comes down to this. It all comes down to your drive and motivation. This is a guide for all those who dream of building a successful startup but are limited when it comes to resources and trust me – if you don’t have mountains of venture capital being thrown at you, you will work your ass off. On the other hand, in order to experience the weight of a mountain being thrown at you – you will have to work your ass off. Startup marketing on a budget isn’t an art of selling a product. It’s an art of putting cold compress on your overworked ass.
Come to think of it, I probably should have put this at the top of this article. It’s that important. There are no articles or books ever written, there are no words ever uttered that will help you promote your startup if you’re not making a sacrifice. Without that, this whole article makes no sense because you’ll do a shitty job at each of this points if you’re not hustling like it’s your last day on Earth and that’s the only Truth about startup marketing. Quora can’t help you if you’re not dedicated. Don’t write a blog if you aren’t ready to spend hours and hours writing a single article. If I can see that you would rather watch Netflix than write that answer on Quora, you should probably go and watch Netflix.
Whatever you do, whichever way you choose, remember that being on a budget will take every last ounce of strength to make it out alive, but, as it’s always the case with “started from the bottom, now we here” kind of stories – it will make you stronger and prepared for perils that await you.
To pull budget startup marketing off you’ll need to use every last bit of your brainpower, your wit and your willingness to succeed in order to make it work. Your startup is not the only one that’s competing for attention. In fact, there are probably hundreds of startups that look more interesting. As a hustler, your job is to persuade me otherwise.
A hustler doesn’t act like a child, meaning that he has enough drive, willpower and, what’s most important, have enough humbleness to accept new ideas and progress, all in favor of making it work. Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of easily falling in love with something. They fall in love with a certain methodology, technology or something else and often times flat out refuse to accept change. Remember that a tool is just a tool. You don’t see a gold digger fall in love with a pickaxe. They are in love with gold. Fall in love with results, not with tools. I don’t give a shit if you think that only washed out celebs use Twitter. If you’re even remotely serious about startup marketing, you will use Twitter because you are in love with results it brings to the table.
The whole point of being a startup marketing hustler is avoiding being THAT GUY. Don’t be that guy. Don’t destroy your startups’ progress by acting like a child. Now let me explain what I mean by “don’t be THAT GUY”.
THAT GUY is ignorant and oblivious of what it takes to build a top-notch startup. THAT GUY lets his emotions cloud his judgement.
A hustler oozes confidence.
A hustler knows that if he won’t do it, nobody will.
A hustler doesn’t love tools. He loves results.