And the problem is that many startups spend so much money on getting their business to the starting line, that they have little money left to spend on actually acquiring customers or clients.
Think about it: Before you’ve made your very first dollar, you’ve already spent thousands on:
- Having a website built
- Inventory (if you’re a product-based business)
- Legal fees
- Office supplies
- Business licenses
and the list goes on and on.
The good news, however, is that the days of taking out expensive newspaper or magazine ads are all but gone, and are being replaced with low-cost, targeted, highly effective and trackable forms of online advertising.
In fact, if you commit to carving out some time each day to focus on online advertising for your startup, I’d argue you can do most of your advertising for free (not counting the cost of your time).
Free Online Advertising for Startups
Let’s start with some free options. Keep in mind that free doesn’t mean less effective or less valuable. Not by a long shot.
Being active on social media is hands down, the most effective free marketing tool you have available to you. But be careful: Think of social media as a way to connect with potential customers, engage, help, and build relationships.
Think of it as way to make a quick sale? You’re setting yourself up for a huge disappointment.
Unlike a print or online ad, social media is about coaxing potential customers or clients into a dialogue with your business. It’s not just talking to (or more commonly, at) them, but engaging them, asking questions, getting feedback, and eventually, making the sale.
Nurture your social media relationships, and you’ll find yourself not only making initial sales, but building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.
With around 1 billion (yes, that’s BILLION) estimated users on Facebook, business owners can no longer afford to not be active on this social media giant.
How to use Facebook for business
- Create a page for your business
- ‘Like’ relevant pages using your business profile
- Post videos, images, and text updates
- Use links in your updates to entice fans to your site (but this should only be a small % of your overall updates)
- Get feedback and ask questions
How to use Twitter for business
- Follow people and businesses in your niche, and in complementary niches
- Keep it social: 70-80% of your tweets should be related to blog posts, interacting with other people’s content, retweeting, etc., while 20% should be related to your own products or services
- Share your expertise to build credibility
- Build brand loyalty by being active and responsive to questions and concerns
Take the Orabrush for example: A small company that sells tongue cleaners (yes, you read that right). After attempting to jumpstart the business by creating a pricey infomercial - with no success – the founder approached Brigham Young University students to help figure out what went wrong. At the suggestion of one of these students, a $500, 2 minute video, was just what this fledgling company needed to get off the ground.
The year their YouTube video went viral, Orabrush pulled in around $11 million.
How to use YouTube for business
- Create a branded YouTube Channel
- Create simple, engaging videos
- Engage with others on YouTube
- Share your videos through different social media platforms
- Include a call to action
The often-overlooked, “baby sister” of social media, a presence on Pinterest is essential if you’re a product-based business, or if your target market is women between the ages of 25-34. With over 20 million users, Pinterest is well on it’s way to becoming a major player in the social media sphere.
How to use Pinterest for business
- Follow brands in your niche
- Use descriptive labels for your boards
- Repin popular links
- Use basic SEO techniques (think keywords!)
- Don’t only pin your own content or products
LinkedIn really shines when it comes to businesses offering professional services.
- Create a profile
- Get recommended by associates or previous clients or customers
- Find and connect with key players in your niche
- Ask and answer questions on LinkedIn Answers to increase your credibility
- Create a LinkedIn group where people can connect and discuss industry-specific issues.
With iTunes now boasting 200 million users a month, creating a podcast is a super savvy way to not only dramatically increase your exposure, but to gain recognition as a leader in your industry.
How to use ITunes for business
- Record a podcast using a microphone and podcasting software like Garageband
- Upload podcast to your website
- Submit to ITunes (for free)
Now Let’s Look At Other Free Online Advertising Strategies like: Cross Promotion
Regardless of whether you’re an online or brick-and-mortar business, teaming up with complimentary businesses in your niche can be huge in terms of both making sales, and building credibility.
Some ways you can cross promote are:
- Flyers or pamphlets in each other’s store or office (for brick and mortar businesses)
- Special deals or promotions for each other’s customers
- Interact with each other on social media (tag each other on Facebook, recommend each other on Twitter)
- Cross-blog conversations
- Swap banner ads
- Mentions in each other’s newsletters
- Co-hosting an event or seminar
This is similar to cross promotion, however there is no agreement to promote someone else’s business.
Find relevant and popular blogs in your niche, and ask if they accept guest posts. Writing a 400 word post shouldn’t take long, and in exchange for free content the blog owner will generally allow a short bio following the article, with a link back to your blog.
Offer a deal or coupon in your bio to drive targeted traffic to your site.
Regardless of whether you’re marketing to a local or global audience, Craigslist can be an easy and quick way to get the word out about your business.
If you’re looking to advertise to multiple cities or locations, just be sure you’re aware of Craigslist’s rules for posting: Post identical ads in multiple cities, or post too frequently into 48 hour period and you could find yourself getting dinged.
Sponsor a Contest
While not necessarily completely free, sponsoring a contest on a complimentary site in your niche can drive website visitors, increase awareness of your startup, and even earn you some goodwill.
Just be sure you’re offering something of significant value: Giving away a $20 gift card isn’t going to elicit much of a response. Particularly if you’re wanting some serious exposure, don’t be afraid to go big! Prizes should be at least $100 in value (more depending on the size and reach of the site that’s sponsoring the contest).
Don’t forget to offer a consolation prize to all the entrants who didn’t win! (usually a % discount on their first purchase).
Cheap Advertising for Startups
If you’re ready to invest a few bucks in your online advertising, here are a few relatively inexpensive options to get your started.
Simply put, niche advertising is advertising to a small, highly targeted segment of a larger group.
The key here is advertising wisely. Think quality, not quantity.
Given that the cost of banner advertising is generally based on CPM (cost per thousand impressions), would you rather pay to have your 1000 impressions shown to a general audience, or to a highly targeted, pre-qualified audience?
Do a Google search for small sites in your niche, and inquire about purchasing an ad spot, hosting a giveaway, or getting a sponsored review.
The benefits of advertising on a niche site can be:
- Cheaper ad spots
- Higher click through rates
- More customized and personalized options
- More targeted audiences
Here’s an example: Let’s say your business is selling dog training products. Do a quick Google search for ‘dog training info’, ‘dog training sites’, ‘dog training articles’, and see what kinds of sites come up.
Chances are, it won’t take you long to find a small, niche site that’s already getting tons of traffic from long tail keywords related to dog training. This traffic will be as good (or better) as what you’d get from an ad on a larger, more expensive site.
For instance, this niche dog training site gets around 30K impressions per month, and ad spots start at just $30/month!
When done wrong, Adwords can be a huge waste of time and money. But do it right, and you get a steady stream of highly-targeted visitors, cheap.
Here are a few tips for using Adwords effectively :
- Don’t overpay. As a startup you don’t need to be #1 in the sponsored search results. #3 should be sufficient to get you clicks and you’ll be paying significantly less than the guy in the first spot. Then when you have your results you can test other positions.
- Only pay for keywords you don’t rank for organically. As a starpup you can save some money by not advertising if you are already ranking in the organic search and the sponsored results. For established businesses I recommend both, then depending on the results we choose appropriately.
- Review your ads daily. Take some time every single day to figure out which ads worked and which didn’t. Tweak your ads regularly for optimal pay-off. Pay particular attention to the ‘see all search terms’ feature in the keywords tab and continually add negative keywords to reduce click waste.
- Turn clicks into relationships. Most of the time, you’re not going to make the sale right away. So rather than pay for the click and lose the ‘clicker’ forever, make sure you provide ways for your visitors to connect with you further. This could be an opt-in form for your newsletter, an email address or phone number for them to contact you, or an invitation to join you on Facebook.
While not as cheap as they once were, there is still a huge opportunity for startups to find qualified leads on Facebook for pennies on the dollar.
And unlike with Google Ads, the targeting options available to you through Facebook Ads are absolutely unparalleled. With Facebook Ads, you can pretty much design your ideal customer or client, and have your ad shown to only those who meet your precise criteria.
You can target users by:
- Marital status
- City (even zip code in the US)
- Education, and
Bottom Line: Advertising Doesn’t Have to be Expensive if You’re Smart About it
In fact advertising can ‘look’ extremely expensive, but if you get great returns, it ends up paying for itself and therefore becomes free. You ideally want to get to a point where you spend X and your advertising returns 6X, 10X or 20X+.
Also, keep in mind this little analogy:
In real estate investing you have to buy property.
In stock market investing you have to buy shares.
In business you have to buy customers.
With that in mind, in the ‘end’ a seasoned marketer will know that any advertising is free or ‘cheap’ given the returns they get from their investment in using it.
Unfortunately most startups focus on the ‘free’ or ‘cheap’ advertising before they can ‘buy’ their customers. I know, I’ve been there.
This post is geared to startups to show you how to use those types of media that are free and/or cheap from a purchasing point of view.
You can use these strategies to not only start off, but as a foundation of your marketing and advertising plan moving forward. Then you can move into what you would think of as more ‘expensive’ advertising strategies to really ramp up your business – if they are appropriate.
What’s your best tip for cheap startup advertising? Have you found something that’s worked really well for your business? Tell me in the comments below!