Having no marketing budget or a very limited one does not mean you can’t start planning and establishing the marketing, branding and positioning foundations for your company and product. Even if your startup is still in stealth mode, there are a few things you can do in preparation for your startup launch.
The identity of your potential clients, where they are located, and even which devices they are likely to use when visiting your site or trying your product are important pieces of information to have. Understand as well that who you are selling to and what it is that you are selling does not necessarily require a marketing budget. Marketing is a lot about planning, strategizing, and, for the most part, understanding who your audience is and which message will hit the spot and sell your product the best.
Early on in the life of a startup, there may not be a budget to have a full-time or even a part-time marketing manager. Often, that responsibility falls to you, as the founder, to figure out the best way to spread the word about your startup. Fortunately, you can take on all these tasks without spending a dime!
Once you are ready to showcase your product to the world, you can make use of free distribution channels that will help you boost your marketing efforts and drive traffic to your site.
This will require preparation, though:
Make sure your landing page or website is working well, especially on mobile devices, and that your analytics are intact. You wouldn’t want to work hard and submit a product to launch resources, only to see that traffic bounced off your site due to technical issues.
The launch resources below can be used, of course, on top of your own existing social networks – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, you name it. All these can act as free marketing tools to help spread the word about your product.
One of the most popular resources for launching products is Product Hunt. Many people, including tech journalists, regularly check this site for new apps and products. Being featured on Product Hunt could lead to even better exposure for you and your brand. When approaching Product Hunt, you might want to first ‘hunt your hunters’. You can use this website to find some of the most active hunters – http://www.yvoschaap.com/producthunt/.
Other tools to help you launch your product include:
Working with affiliates is a great way to get other people to sell your product for you. Most affiliates like working with known affiliate networks, but networks usually cost a fee on top of the commission paid to the affiliate.
With a zero dollar marketing budget, you may not be able to sign up for affiliate programs, but you could find affiliates that will agree to “old-school” business and work with you directly, without a third party affiliate program.
Before reaching out to potential affiliates, make sure you create clear affiliation rules and agreement that establishes what qualifies for an affiliation commission. There are many templates for an affiliation agreement online.
You can also check the affiliation agreement of a similar company or one of your competitors, just to get a feel for how the agreement might be worded or structured. There is also a nice downloadable template available from Entrepreneur magazine you can use.
PR is sometimes mistaken for something that will help your company “explode” in the media. But that is (mostly) not the case. Instead, PR can gradually bring your company or product to the front of the stage and expose it to a wider audience.
Getting good PR is hard – and expensive. Good agencies charge around $5K-10K, and it is a long, drawn out process. Compounding the difficulty is that to get a reporter to ‘bite’ on your story, you need to have some kind of news or juicy details. Reporters love numbers, names (they’ll ask for your competitors to make sure there’s a market), and graphics. But getting that kind of information and assets will take some time.
If you don’t have news or something juicy, you can test the waters and simply provide your input on topics related to your business by utilizing tools that connect reporters to sources of information. A terrific service that we highly recommend is HARO.
This service is an established tool for US-based reporters to get information, quotes, or tips for articles and stories. Besides feeling good that you’ve Helped A Reporter Out (get it?), in return, the reporter is usually happy to mention you and your company, together with a link to your website. Oh, and it’s 100% free!
Top reporters from publications like Forbes and Entrepreneur use this tool, so it’s worth the free subscription. Once subscribed, you will get daily emails with requests for information on different topics. Find one that’s relevant to you and send a direct reply to the reporter.
Another way to do PR with a $0 budget is to just do it yourself. It won’t be easy, but you can give it a try and see what works and what doesn’t. Also, personal connections are very important, and you should try to cultivate them as well.
With any PR you choose to do, remember that PR has a lot of strategy involved in it – make sure you have a plan before you start. Conduct research on media outlets that are relevant to your company and then identify which reporters your stories would interest the most.
Look up previous work they’ve done and make them feel that you’ve done your homework. Also, when debating who to approach first, be careful not to waste good PR-worthy news on a small news outlet. If you have big news, it’s better to try to spark the interest of the big fish before trying the small ones.
If you’re looking for advice straight from the horse’s mouth, there is a great blog called Best Pitch I Ever Got that is entirely dedicated to reporters sharing tales about the best ways people have pitched ideas to them. Also try these resources for some more information about pitching (or how NOT to pitch) to reporters:
Quick PR tips:
1) Make sure there are no big events the day you send the pitch or the day you schedule to launch your product or deliver news. It’ll be hard to get noticed by reporters the same week Apple launches a new product.
2) Try to pitch stories about the industry/niche you’re in, not just specifically about your company. This will make the pitch less “sales-y” and can also establish you as an expert in your field.
3) When reaching out to a big outlet, consider offering them exclusivity. For reporters, getting the beat on an exclusive story is what it’s all about!
4) Make your pitch short and to the point – attach images and files with more information so the reporter can learn more if need be.
There are several outreach tools you can use to get in contact with journalists and influencers alike:
- Hey Press
- Bonus – TechCrunch reporters’ emails – http://techcrunch.com/2014/07/14/please-dont-spam-us/
Creating social media pages for your company is a critical part of your online presence. We recommend that you reserve pages with your company’s name. However, social media pages need to be maintained – otherwise there’s a feeling that your company is inactive, and you won’t be able to keep up the social media momentum. So, before opening all the social media accounts possible, consider which ones are the most important right now, where your potential clients are most likely to be active, and focus your energies on one or two social media outlets.
We understand that you are likely pressed for time, but an effective social media campaign needs to be something you devote time to managing. After launching the account, you want to build a community around it while keeping its members engaged. Posting once a month on a Facebook page won’t cut it!
So, having one social media page is hard enough to maintain, but what happens when you need more than one? Before worrying about hiring a social media manager, there are several free tools that can help you with the social media work and the distribution of posts. Social Pilot is one of our favorites and is a great free tool that helps you schedule your posts and distribute them to all your social media accounts. No need to draft a different post for every social media page – you can reserve time on your schedule once or twice a week to plan, draft, and schedule your posts.
As for posting times, always keep in mind which time zones are relevant to your potential clients. There are numerous studies that outline the best times to post in each social media outlet. Here’s a great article by FastCo that dives into that very subject.
If you have a Twitter account, ManageFlitter is a great way to increase your followers by searching for accounts by keywords in the account or bio. They also allow to search by max/min number of followers and following, so if you want to up the chance that someone will follow you back, you can look for people with a smaller number of followers – they would appreciate your following more 😉
Other tools include:
Some interesting articles to help you get started:
Once you know your company’s name, it’s time to secure a domain. There are dozens of new domain extensions, but the ones most likely to be used by startups are .com, .co , .ly, and lately, the .io TLD has gotten really popular. There are some great tools to help find a domain:
A reliable place to buy your domain would be GoDaddy. They have constant promotions so make sure you search for coupons before purchasing a domain. With them, the cost can be as low as $2.00 per year. But for hosting, make sure you go elsewhere. GoDaddy has a reputation for being unreliable (something we have personally experienced), so we can’t recommend them for hosting. However, you can buy a VPS (Virtual Private Server) on KnownHost for $40, and it will provide you a reliable and issue-free hosting solution.
If you don’t have the budget to buy a domain, that’s ok too. There are a bunch of 100% free domain sites like Dot.tk,Freenom and FreeDomain that will provide you with a suitable solution until you’ve got the budget to purchase your own domain and hosting.
Before establishing your online presence, ask yourself what your company’s online needs will be. Do you need a full website or just a “coming soon” landing page coupled with a sign-up box? Our advice is that you can always start small and add more later. It’s important to have something parked, to get your online presence up and running, and “reserve” your company’s spot on the web.
There are numerous free options to build both landing pages and websites. You can use Unbounce, Launchrock, Pagewiz or Instapage to build a nice landing page. The problem, however, is that once your needs grow beyond a landing page, you would have to switch to a different platform because these services are for landing pages only.
WP has its advantages – if you know code, you can basically build whatever you want and are not restricted to a template and website builder capabilities. The drawback is that WP is not an easy tool to work with if you don’t know code. We recommend it only for people with either prior experience or that have someone to help them with this task.
An alternative to the cumbersome WordPress interface would be using a free website builder. Not long ago, website builders were inferior to WordPress in most aspects, but recently they have stepped up their game and are now a valid alternative that is ranked and managed as easily as WordPress. These builders are more intuitive and fast – you can have a website up within an hour or two.
Marketing is not a touch-and-go business. To make it work, you need to constantly review results and decide whether to continue with your current marketing or pivot in a new direction.
Once you have an online presence, whether it is a landing page or a full website, make sure you know how to track and understand the visits it gets. There are various analytics tools that will allow you to have a better understanding of whether a marketing tool has a positive ROI for you or not.
For example, if you have a promotion on Facebook, an analytics tool can help you calculate the ROI and develop a better understanding of what you did right and what you did wrong.
Using an analytics tool is important for several reasons:
1) You want to be able to measure and track the results across time.
2) You want to better understand who your visitors, leads, and potential clients are, where they come from, which operating system they use (that can affect your product plans), and so on.
3) You want to understand and improve your conversion funnels.
Fortunately, the most popular analytics tool for the web, Google Analytics, is also 100% free, well-known, and reliable. If you decide to use Google Analytics, make sure you set your goals and create a conversion funnel so you can see where users drop off and where you can do better by changing the text, images, or even the entire messaging and layout of the page.
Email marketing is a great way to engage with both existing and potential clients to update them on news, discuss new features, promote product launches, and more. But before looking at an email marketing solution, it is advisable to get the consent of the recipient to receive an email from you. This will help you avoid troubles down the road because being blacklisted by an email marketing software, or worse, Google (if you use Gmail), is something that can harm your business, take up valuable time, and require your relentless efforts to try and get whitelisted again.
A simple line such as “we’ll send you only relevant content” or “we promise not to spam you” can assure people that it’s ok to sign up and give you the peace of mind of complying with spam laws.
When starting your email marketing efforts, your volumes may be low, so one free tool your company can use is its email. Most startups use Google Apps, so we’ll assume you use it too. And using your gmail account for email marketing has the major benefit of being free.
However, in addition to the possibility of being blacklisted by Google, another issue is that tracking openings of emails sent through Gmail can be tricky. There are tools to track Gmail email openings such as Hubspot’s SideKick Chrome extension, but with it, you can only track openings of 1 recipient per email.
Meaning, if you send an email to 20 recipients in BCC, you will not know who opened the email, just that someone opened it. Also, with SideKick, you won’t be able to track the clicks on any links (other than attachments), unless you use another tool, such as bit.ly.
Despite the benefit of being a free tool, Sidekick is not 100% reliable, and there are ways from the recipient’s end to block it (it’s even on Hubspot’s website). If you do decide on using Gmail to send emails, YesWare, Streak and MixMax can be good alternatives to SideKick as a tool that will allow you to track links and provide analytical data (btw, if you want to block people who track emails they send to you or know who tracked you, use Trackbuster.
Once your email volumes start to rise, you will need a better tool than Gmail to keep track of your client database and email management. At that point, we recommend using an email marketing tool, most of which have a free option that will suffice, at least initially.
When choosing an email marketing tool, it’s important to choose an app that’s been used by many companies and is known to have a minimal bounce rate. The free tool we like the most is SendInBlue, a reliable service that gives you a real bang for your buck with 9,000 free emails per month.
Other tools you can use to send emails are:
Getting your app discovered is one of the biggest challenges mobile app developers face because there’s such heavy competition in the app stores. As a result, ASO for mobile is as important as SEO for the web: Your app needs to be found in the store and be ranked as high as possible for important keywords.
The higher your app ranks in Google Play or Apple’s App Store search results, the more visible it is to potential users. This increased visibility tends to translate into more traffic to your app’s page and more downloads. Much like other marketing methods, ASO requires a crucial understanding of your target audience, including the keywords your potential customers are using to find apps similar to yours.
Your store rankings depend on things that you can control, and things that you cannot. What you cannot control are the number of downloads and reviews. You can try to manipulate these figures, but in the end, the app store algorithms will know what’s right and what’s not. Keywords, on the other hand, are things that you can control. Adding at least some of the keywords to the title, as well as to your app’s keywords section and description, will get you more traffic.
When choosing your keywords, keep in mind that ranking on generic keywords such as ‘social network’ would probably be very hard as big brands with older apps and more downloads will always rank higher than you. On the other hand, picking long-tail keywords might generate a low volume of downloads, even if you manage to rank for them. Instead, try to strike a balance between the two. It’s a challenge, so keep testing and see what works best. To research and optimize your keywords, we highly recommend using Keywordtool.io.
When submitting your app to the store, put effort into developing quality screenshots. They are the one of the most crucial factors when a user considers downloading your app. Smashing Magazine created a helpful guide for how to create effective screenshots, and Visme is an excellent tool for screenshots as well.
As we mentioned in the Analytics section above, it’s important to add a layer of analytics to understand if your marketing is working or not. To get data on your app once it’s in the store, or to view keyword and other information of your competitors, we recommend using the free tools AppAnnie and SimilarWeb. SimilarWeb is good for both mobile apps and websites.
The online world is all about good content. To start your SEO efforts and get your name out there, you need to first create quality, unique content, then distribute it.
At this point, with a $0 budget, we assume you will be the one creating and distributing the content (check out the other sections for people with a $1000+ marketing budget for information on how to pay for content services). There are several free platforms you can use to distribute your content:
1) Launch a blog on your site: The first step is to make sure you have enough content prior to launching your blog. Similar to your social media pages, your blog needs to feel “alive” and up-to-date, so you should have multiple posts ready to go before you publish the first one. Schedule posts at decent intervals, say, once or twice a week, to maintain activity on the blog. You want people to engage in your blog and come back to read it, so consider using sign-up tools. HelloBar is great if you used WordPress to build your site. There are similar widgets available if you used a website builder to create your site.
2) Guest blogging: Blogging can quickly get your name out there and give your product some exposure at the same time. You might write a guest post on another site about an app you liked using or submit a byline to media outlets such as TheNextWeb or TechCrunch.
3) Pulse (LinkedIn): As an entrepreneur, you know the power of LinkedIn. Pulse is LinkedIn’s publishing platform and can be another great (and free!) tool to distribute content to your network and groups around the world.
4) Medium: Medium is a very popular blogging platform to which many tech people subscribe and read. You can open an account for free and start blogging away. Medium can be a good solution before you have the capacity to launch your own blog, as it gives you the freedom to blog as much as you want with no need for scheduled posts. It also helps distribute your content, so try to create interesting and compelling content to increase your chances of engaging the millions of users on Medium.
Another great approach to building your content strategy requires no writing or creation of any content. Content curation is a great way to get your name out there by sharing other people’s content. Follow relevant blogs and social profiles, curate high-quality content like blog posts, images, videos, quotes, resources, and tools, and share it with your audience. You can then take the content you’ve curated and create something like a ‘top 10’ blog post on your blog. Sharing other people’s content is also a great way to start growing your relationship with other influencers in your niche.
As with many other things, when creating content, it’s crucial to have attractive graphics and images. Go to our branding & graphics category and check out tools you can use to create great visual elements.
Quora/other online forums
Quora may not seem like an obvious marketing tool. It and other forum-based sites are intended for people to share their experiences and ask others questions. It can be used to ask other entrepreneurs something like “What’s the best email marketing software?” or “Does anyone know a good product manager in San Francisco?”. However, Quora can also be used to do smart, free marketing. Being smart is important here – Quora members are savvy people just like you, who don’t like BS or plugged marketing. So when mentioning your startup, don’t do it in an obvious way. For example, ask the community on Quora to help you decide on something relating to your app or product.
Quora, Yahoo Answers, and other industry forums can also be a great way to find content ideas. See what people are asking about and write a blog post about it. Then, go ahead and share it with the people who asked the question. If you create high-quality content that really digs into an issue and solves a problem, your article is bound to be shared.
Another great way to get your name out there and draw some attention to your product is to comment in forums, on blogs, and on websites regarding news and posts relating to your company or industry. Again, much like you should do when posting to Quora, the secret here is not to be too blunt. Don’t comment “I just launched a new app – check it out!!”, with a link to your app. Instead, try to provide an interesting and thought-provoking comment that will make people who read it more likely to see that you and your product are all about. For example,
To be on top of things, use an alerts tool to monitor what’s being said about your company, your competitors, or your industry. Google Alerts used to be the main tool for alerts, but it has underperformed in the last couple of years. The new and popular tools that replaced it monitor not only mentionings in the news, but also in social media, forums, and other popular venues.
Our favorite tool to use is Mention, which has a free option that is pretty generous. It gives you a basic, free subscription and only when you need to get more mentions or increase the number of mentionings, does it ask that you upgrade. Other free tools include IFTTT and talkwalker. Since they are free tools, you can try each one and then stick with the one you like best.
Once you create content, there are several sites you can submit it to in order to reach a wider audience.
The immediate circle for content distribution is social media – both your personal accounts and those of your company. After that, you can submit content to Reddit and voting sites such as Digg. Reddit even has an AMA (ask me anything) tool through which you can offer your expertise and provide advice to its members while also including your product or company’s name.
As mentioned before, whether curating content or following leading bloggers, it’s always good to establish relationships. You can then use those relationships to distribute your content. For example, if you have created an interesting post, you should reach out to relevant bloggers and ask that they publish your content on their blog. They might ask that you do the same for them, or they may even like your content so much that they ask you for more. Either way, you will be able to get your content to a larger audience because of the relationships you’ve built with other people in your industry.
We’ve assembled a list of some of our favorite tools and information to help you create content:
- 102 headline formulas to grab users attention
- Part 3 of the amazing series ‘the definitive guide to copywriting’ by neil patel is all about headlines
- Headline generator. Can result in some hilarious stuff.
Content Creation and Ideas:
The online world has shifted in the last couple of years towards organic and real content and away from fake links and content duplications. Nowadays, to be ranked high in Google’s search results, you need to invest in unique content. The SEO landscape has changed so drastically that it is now more of a branding tool than a marketing tactic.
As a founder, it is crucial that you invest in developing solid, SEO-optimized web infrastructure that is search engine-friendly. To achieve this, your business needs to have an SEO strategy in place because SEO remains one of the single most important components of any company’s branding efforts and online presence.
We can split the SEO process into two parts: off-site and on-site.
Off-site optimization is basically all about links and brand mentionings. This used to be done by buying links. A word of warning, however: Don’t buy links because it’s against Google’s guidelines and can result in a penalty from which it is hard to recover. Even if you see this tactic working for your competitors or colleagues, it’s not ideal in the long-term because Google is sure to grow more sophisticated and discover such shady tactics with ease. One Google update and your site might be removed from searches altogether.
Instead, you should focus on creating content and tools to which people want to link. Most of the tactics we mentioned in the ‘Content Marketing’ section would work for this purpose, but to get even more information, you can analyze your competitor’s links profile to understand the sources from which they get links. You might even be able to get a link there too if you just ask or if you create a piece of content that is relevant to the page linking to your competition.
On-site SEO is where you should focus the most attention when you have a zero dollar marketing budget. There is a lot to consider when optimizing your on-site SEO:
1) Meta titles and description – In short, make them unique, consider Google’s title and description length, include your keywords, and keep your potential clients in mind. After all, you want them to click on the link to your site.
2) Page speed – Use Google PageSpeed Insights for suggestions regarding how to improve the speed of your website.
4) Text and keywords – Google loves informative, comprehensive content. Don’t stuff keywords, but make sure to use them properly.
5) Keep your site responsive and mobile friendly – This is super crucial in light of Google’s efforts to show mobile responsive sites at the top of search results.
6) Navigation – Create an easy-to-understand navigation and site architecture for your site to better your chances of a higher search ranking.
7) Internal linking – Do it smart. We recommend https://moz.com/learn/seo/internal-link or http://searchengineland.com/the-hitchhikers-guide-to-an-internal-linking-strategy-158059 to learn more.
9) Add a Sitemap
So how do you create an SEO strategy?
First, you need to get a clear understanding of your goals and objectives. Think about the performance benchmarks you want to achieve. Second, determine who you are trying to reach. Who is your audience? Third, since your company doesn’t exist in a vacuum, who are your competitors and what are they doing right now for their SEO?
After you answer these questions, start researching keywords. You want to find the keywords that best fit your audience and business, but you want to make sure that there’s volume in the searches for those keywords as well. As we mentioned in the ASO section above, investing in terms that are too broad or too narrow may lead you down the wrong path.
Keywords research tools:
Links analysis tools:
- Rank tracker
PPC & Paid Media
PPC is a good marketing tool to get a more targeted audience. Using PPC, people who make an active choice to learn more about your product are driven to your site.
PPC campaigns can be run on Google Adwords, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and they cost money each time someone clicks. Although there are various free credits/coupons online for starting a PPC campaign (like getting $25 on $100 you spend and such) and ways to stretch your PPC budget, we don’t recommend using PPC when you have a low marketing budget.
Branding & Graphics
We assume that by now, you at least have a name in mind for your company. If you don’t, it’s ok 🙂
The process of searching for a name is a very important one. You want a name that aligns with your brand and product, and that has a positive connotation as well. You don’t want to have “valu” or “value” in your name if you are looking to tap into a more sophisticated, high-end crowd. You also don’t want to name your email-related app Xobni and expect people, who are not quite even sure how to pronounce it, to understand it’s “inbox” spelled backwards (true story).
After initial brainstorming and getting some idea of what you want for the name, you can use free tools that will help you generate it. We recommend naminum, Wordoid (for cool, made up words), and Gospaces. Some of these will even help you grab the domain that will go along with the company name.
There are a bunch of free logo generators out there, but they usually are not of high quality. We know your marketing budget is limited, but being stuck with an unmemorable logo, or worse, having to change it later on, is something you want to avoid.
There are many websites that can hook you up with a graphic designer that will help you create a terrific logo. With a limited budget, your best option would be either finding a designer on Fiverr and having them prepare a customized logo for you for $5, or purchasing a logo from a marketplace like GraphicRiver.
Whether you’re building your homepage, working on a new blog post, or posting something new on social media, you will need graphics and photos. There are many free resources and high-quality tools to create graphics. Here are just a few that we love:
- For infographics – http://piktochart.com/
More tools can be found on https://blog.bufferapp.com/tools-create-images-for-social-media and https://blog.paymill.com/free-high-resolution-images/.
CRO & A/B Testing
So, now your landing page is live. That’s awesome! But we can guarantee it doesn’t perform as well as it should. With conversion optimization, there’s no such thing as hitting the jackpot, especially not right away.
First, you will need to test things out and replace buttons, headlines, text, and images to find the best combination that will boost your conversion rate and make you a happy founder. You will be surprised how a small change in the color of a button or the size of your header image can boost your conversion rate. A simple change like this can boost conversions by 20%-30% or more!
Out of all the A/B testing platforms, Optimizely offers the best solution for a startup with a $0 budget, and it’s really easy to implement. You just need to add one piece of code to your website, and that’s it. The other, more complicated option is to use Google Analytics A/B testing called ‘Content Experiments‘. CrazyEgg created a great guide for it that will make it less complicated for you to implement.
Other tools we recommend for a/b testing are:
Ready to move up to a larger budget? Check out our marketing plan for $1,000/month budget.