How should bootstrappers allocate resources for marketing and advertising? How do you figure out what’s reasonable when your company is still new?
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
1. Channel Your Inner Seth Godin
When I was starting TalentEgg, I read a lot of Seth Godin, and one point stood out to me in particular. Seth often writes that advertising is the cost of having an unremarkable product. What’s the solution? Build something remarkable that people want to talk about, and then enable and encourage their conversations. This has been, and continues to be, our main strategy.
- Lauren Friese, TalentEgg
2. Devote Resources Toward Customer Development
Bootstrapping is the act of scaling a product based on its merit. If you want to bootstrap, build a great product that people want; interfacing with your customers/users and making improvements on your product so they’ll tell other people to use your product is the core function of bootstrapping. Don’t spend on marketing; spend your time and resources on creating ecstatic customers.
- Derek Shanahan, Playerize
3. Invest in Your Brand
Budget reflects priority! As the head of a CEO brand implementation firm, I can tell you that your brand should be your biggest priority. Focus on strong business cards, great clothes, an immaculate website and networking events that your potential clients attend. If you focus on these items and you have competency in your craft, you will always do well.
- Raoul Davis, Ascendant Group
4. Focus on Early Adopters
Give your early adopters a product they want, and give them the tools to easily spread the word about your product. If you can please a group of people, there are enough people like that group who will also gravitate to your product.
- Brett Farmiloe, Markitors
5. Try Everything
6. Start With Guerrilla Marketing
In the early stages, when you’re looking to keep costs down, you shouldn’t spend any money on marketing or traditional advertising. Instead, you should initially rely on guerrilla marketing and sales activities. Spread the word about your company via your personal business development efforts, word-of-mouth marketing and social media.
- David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services
7. Create a High ROI
A marketing budget should always be tied to sales. Come up with a break-even number for your business — a basement figure of revenue you need to bring in so your lights stay on and the doors stay open. Find marketing funnels where you put in $1 and get back $2. You can tweak from there, scale quickly and understand what’s really bringing in customers.
- Brian Moran, Get 10,000 Fans
8. Be a Scientist
Bootstrappers can’t afford to “go with their gut” and make a mistake. Instead, take a scientific approach. Track referral sources. When we started, we had no budget. We used guerrilla marketing tactics and then asked clients how they’d heard of us. As we grew, we continued to invest in techniques that gave a return and forgot those that didn’t. It’s simple and clinical, but it’s effective.
- Nick Friedman, College Hunks Hauling Junk
9. You Have Friends, Right?
Too many startups spend way too much on marketing even when they are still trying to figure out their message. Tap into your network of friends and get them involved. Make some t-shirts and stickers, let them be walking billboards for your company and hand out stickers while they’re out and about too. You don’t have to create an elaborate campaign to make people take notice of your business.
10. Work With What You Have
When I started, I did not have a marketing budget. So I spent time writing articles and pitching guest posts on popular blogs. In addition, I religiously read HARO emails and responded immediately to any press opportunities that were a good fit. It didn’t take long before I was writing two columns for popular blogs and getting regular, national press and plenty of clients.
- Rachel Rodgers, Rachel Rodgers Law Office
11. Give Your Service Away for Free
This depends on whether you’re retail or enterprise. With retail, you are likely forced to advertise in some way. However, if you are focused on enterprise, offer your service free to clients for a certain amount of time. Then, after the allotted time, try to sign them on at a discounted price. Although this is not traditional “marketing,” it will put you in the best position for a future sale.
- Adam Stillman, Ditto Holdings
12. Go Rogue
13. Understand the Time Commitment
Many bootstrappers love to use social media and online marketing because of the low cost of entry, which is a great idea! Ask yourself, “How many people can work on it, and how much time do I have?” My rule of thumb is that it takes about 15 hours a week to maintain one social media feed or online initiative properly, so don’t underestimate what you’ll need for success.
- Caitlin McCabe, Real Bullets Branding
14. Use PPC Advertising
With PPC advertising on Google or Facebook, you can get several hundred clicks for $100 or less. This should convert at least one or two sales or generate at least 20-30 leads (email addresses). If you don’t get those results, your marketing needs to be tweaked or overhauled. Always split test different offers and copy, and look for the winners.
- Joe Barton, Barton Publishing
15. Seek “Ripple-Effect Referrals”
Invest in referral-based initiatives. Whatever industries you are targeting, chances are they have contacts that possess similar needs. Work at developing great relationships with your existing clients, and offer an enticing incentive if they refer an affiliate to your company.
- Alex Lorton, Cater2.me