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Marketing a startup on a shoestring

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 11 Jun, 2013
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7 low or no-cost marketing techniques for startups without funding

Whilst many big name startups do receive funding, they're the exception. The startup I co-founded has never raised a penny in external funding, so in this post I share some of the low or no-cost marketing techniques we used when launching MyCurrencyTransfer.com and MyTravelMoney.co.uk. We completely "bootstrapped" our comparison business, but using some of the methods I describe here we’re now helping over 120,000 visitors per month find a fairer and cheaper deal on foreign exchange.

Yes, it was exhausting in the early years. Yes, the pace of growth was infuriating at times. But would Stevan (my co-founder) and I have done it any other way? Absolutely not! In this article, we’ll share some of our startup ‘war stories’ and show you how you can also market your startup on a shoestring.


  • 1. Build one on relationships with key influencers

I highly recommend that from day one, you start to build a hit list of ‘influential sneezers’ that can help amplify your message for free. At MyCurrencyTransfer.com, one of the very first things we did was map our target audiences. We knew we needed to be on the radar of, amongst others: travel bloggers, expat writers, personal finance journalists and the tech press.

Once you have your list, dive into the social networks and hustle away, building one on one relationship.

When marketing your startup on Twitter or Google +, try not to ‘marry’ before the ‘first date.’ Start following debates and reply with your thoughts on the topic at hand. Don’t dive in with a ‘can you please write about us because we do awesome XYZ.’ It’s so important to first build a rapport with key influencers.

  • 2. Focus on measurable paid marketing channels

The moment you start building traction, you’ll be flooded with e-mails and ‘commercial’ opportunities from websites and organizations in your niche. As a bootstrapped business, largely ignore brand-building campaigns with little measurability on performance.

Always remember where you came from and focus on paid for channels that are extremely measurable.

When it comes to paid for marketing, make sure that if you spend £1, you can clearly quantify exactly the level of return you will be getting. PPC and Re-Targeting can be excellent paid for marketing channels channels. Random media buying without a clear, well thought out strategy can be very dangerous.

  • 3. Attend relevant meetups & events

Never stop learning. In most major cities, there are free events you can attend relevant to your business & these provide an excellent forum to learn from other inspiring entrepreneurs.

Meetups are also a great way to network with service providers who can help your business.

For example, in the early days, we needed advice on paid search and came across a very handy freelance marketing consultant. This consultant was just building his website and needed advice on organic search engine marketing.

It benefited the both of us to enter into a ‘barter arrangement’ where no-one paid for the others services, we both just wanted to reach out and help the others business. Consider skills swaps in the early days, they can be a huge benefit to your business.

We never underestimate the power of serendipity.

  • 4. Use Freelancers & Virtual Assistants

Building a strong company culture is key. Over time, your goal should be to build a committed, in house marketing team who are all pulling in the same direction. However, you may not be in a position to hire full time staff on day one.

We certainly weren’t and needed to be creative about resource acquisition. Enter the wonderful world of freelancers. Thanks to the internet, you can now hire virtual marketing assistants and freelance talent across the globe.

You can track their progress using online tools and communicate with your marketing assistants globally on an hourly, daily or weekly basis. However, there are certain pitfalls to avoid.

Firstly, be extremely specific about the job you assign to a freelancer. Set stories, break down the job into mini tasks and constantly measure progress. While using freelancers can be tremendously rewarding, it is a task in itself to manage.

Lastly, try and ‘split test’ as much as you can and don’t rely on any single freelancer. We once used a content writer who couldn’t work for a whole week due to a rainstorm in his home country! If you have a cluster of tasks, post a variety of jobs and recruit a pool of freelancers. You’ll soon have a bank of talent you can turn to. Very soon, you can work out who to delegate any given task to relative to that freelancers skill set.

  • 5. Create Exceptional Content

Inbound marketing through exceptional content can supercharge your traffic acquisition and help build stature within your niche. Best of all? It hardly costs anything to build and distribute great content. However, with so much content being consumed every day, it’s imperative that your content stands out.

If you have access to a Designer, I’d strongly recommend taking the time to involve him or her in your content creation. Ideas for creative content formats include: awards, infographics with graphs and charts, publicity stunts.

Recently, we set up a ‘travel blogger university’ with the big content goal of educating the next generation of ambitious travel bloggers.


  • 6. Enter startup competitions

If you believe passionately about your service or product, enter as many startup or industry specific competitions as you can.

Winning a competition can be great for building your brand, credibility and forging new partnerships with your target community.

Word of caution. Don’t let the process of entering competitions derail you from the day to day running of your business.

  • 7. Have Fun and Be Passionate Every Day

When all is said and done, your best ‘hustle’ and ‘drive’ for amplifying your companies message comes when you have fun and passion in what you are selling.

By taking exciting marketing risks, networking with key influencers and co-ordinating fun content campaigns because you are selling a product you believe in, you will have the most potent ingredient for success.

With the right passion, all of the above doesn’t require a £10k a month PR agency in the West end of London. You can market your startup and be hugely successful on a shoestring.

Good luck!

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