Is it really possible to start a business with a zero budget? Are the tales of entrepreneurs building empires from nothing just a pipe dream? How on earth can you go from a blank sheet of paper to a bustling, profitable business with oodles of customers?
Your business will need to be marketed, but how can you do so with nothing in the bank?
If you’re opening a business or have decided to leave your current job and become your own boss, you may be asking yourself the above questions. For many, the inability to see past a non-existent budget can cloud the route ahead and force an early abandonment of their big idea.
Even for existing businesses, the prospect of working with a zero marketing budget is a challenge that will often rear its head. An unexpected VAT bill or compensation payout may require funds to be robbed from marketing, and when you’re left with nothing, it can feel hugely debilitating.
If you’re in this position, you shouldn’t feel dispirited and certainly shouldn’t give up. It is possible to market a new or existing business without a marketing budget. You just need to get creative. Here’s how:
- Focus on the web
Advertising requires funds. However, you don’t have funds. Luckily, we have one of the most game-changing, cost-effective tools at our disposal when it comes to marketing: the Internet. Therefore make it the focus of your marketing plan.
- Start with a small niche
You may have big aspirations, but with no budget, you’ll need to pull back a little. Some of the biggest businesses in the world started by focussing on just one niche. So, pick one product with one or two key features and a single market at which to target it.
- Build the website yourself
Investing in a professionally-built website is still advisable for businesses, but you have to start somewhere, and with tools like WordPress, you can build a good looking website yourself and spend nothing on it but your own time.
- Begin building your email subscriber list
Sign up to MailChimp (you currently get 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month for free), create a new list and incorporate it into your website as a popup using a plugin such as ChimpMate. This will enable you to easily add a newsletter pop-up form to your website in order to start building that subscriber list (see below for what you can send them).
- Start blogging
One 500-800 word blog post published every week on the same day is all that is required to start your content marketing strategy. A lovely bonus of doing this is that you can use the blogs as content for your monthly email newsletter. Content marketing is king and, again, costs you nothing more than your time.
- Build your LinkedIn network
Over the last few years, LinkedIn has transformed from a ‘check out how many connections I’ve got’ bragging rights website into a rich, vibrant social network full of opportunities for free marketing. If you’re not on it, set up a profile now and start connecting with old colleagues, customers and industry influencers.
- Send higher value content to subscribers
As your email subscriber list goes, you can start treating them to higher value content. Create a free guide which relates to your industry and make it clear your subscribers are only receiving it because they signed up. It is a brilliant engagement technique.
- Utilise social media
Ensure your business has presences on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Spend time ensuring the profiles are accurate and decorated with your logos and brand ethos and start a regular posting regime. One a day will do, but try and utilise hash-tags which relate to your product or offering to make sure your message cuts through.
- Look on your doorstep
The Internet makes it all too tempting to try and launch a global business from the off, but that’s impossible without a budget. Instead, look locally for potential clients. Attend free business seminars, place free adverts in the local paper and start talking to other local businesses. You need your local friends!
- Automate your marketing
You may not have time to publish your social media posts yourself, so lean on tools like Hootsuite to help lighten the load. Most will offer a free tier.
- Use referral techniques
Viral marketing is a powerful tool, and it’s free. Why not tempt customers and new subscribers to your mailing list to share with their friends the brilliant experience they had purchasing from you. In return, offer them a discount.
- Connect with influencers
Influencer marketing has grown significantly in importance over the last couple of years. Principally, it is the method by which companies seek the assistance of bloggers and YouTube stars to promote their products and services. The influencer benefits from additional content, so everyone is happy. Find influencers in your industry and pester them – you never know what response you may get.
- Create customer testimonials
If you’ve got some happy customers, use them to your advantage. A quick telephone interview will draw out a nice testimonial you can use as a blog post. This is then content you can use for your social media marketing.
- Create videos
Anyone with a modern smartphone or tablet can create a video and upload it to YouTube. So why not harness the power of the technology you have in your pocket? Product demos, behind the scenes tours and how-to’s work brilliantly and are very popular online. You can publish them to a ready-made audience on YouTube for – you guessed it – zero cost!
- Hit forums and Reddit
Make a positive name for yourself online. Regularly post on industry-related forums and contribute to discussion on Reddit – people will start to notice you.
- Re-purpose content
As your blog fills up, you have a unique opportunity to make the content contained within work harder for you. Give it a new lease of life by turning a blog post into a YouTube video. In doing so, you’ve made one piece of content work twice as hard marketing yourself, at no cost to your business.
- Make sure your audience can share your content easily
Every blog post, every web page and every single email you send to customers should be sharable. Ensure you’ve included Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon share buttons on all of your content. As a result, you are opening up another free marketing channel which is your customer base. They can become marketers for you by sharing your content with their friends and followers.
In truth, there’s no better time to be devoid of a marketing budget. King of the castle is content marketing, and all that requires is some creative thinking, the ability to express yourself and time. Combine that with some of the free marketing tools suggested above, and you’ll be amazed at the results.
Make sure you commit to this for the long run because marketing without a budget takes time. It’s a slow burn, but once you’ve established yourself within your industry, the orders will start coming in.