We’ve gathered together a list of creative ways to solve the “chicken or the egg” conundrum faced by every business at the start of its journey: what comes first, the customers or the marketing budget to reach them?
On one hand, the first lesson we all learn in the business world is that money begets money. On the other hand, we all know the success stories of those who started out manning lemonade stands that grew into international investment firms. That’s why we would like to suggest that you exchange your advertising budget for a little personal magic and, first and foremost, your own professional abilities, in order to build a name and a customer pool. Here are a few ideas on how to make this a reality right away:
- Make a lot of noise
Some of us will find this the most challenging thing, but it’s also the most basic, most important and simplest part of doing your own marketing. Whether you’re an individual or a small brand (anything more and you’ll need a marketing budget), whether you’re extroverts or the kind of people who think 20 times before posting anything online, the louder you are, the further you’ll go. You don’t have to go nuts with length; a picture here and a comment there will do the trick. The key is to show you’re present. Where you at a conference? Post about one thing you learned there, and tag one of the lecturers. Did you meet with a client or run into someone else from the industry? Take a selfie and tag the person. This might feel ridiculous for some of us, but these are the rules of marketing. In the end, you want people to be aware of you, and that can only happen when they are exposed to you. What they don’t see doesn’t exist.
The key words here are consistency and perseverance. Many things that looked strange at the beginning turn into the norm and more than a few personal successes come from people who simply do things different and stick with it until the world around them gets used to it. At the beginning, the same three people might be the only ones engaging with you, but slowly things start happening – the conversation develops and new people join in. We said perseverance, so let’s add in patience.
And now a warning: The line between creating something new for everyone to get used to and understanding yourself isn’t always clear. Sometimes it fails because you didn’t go far enough (you quit too early) and sometimes because you went too far (the world just wasn’t ready, right?). That’s why, if you’re doing it on your own, we recommend that you ask friends and get some advice. In the end, however, you’ll have to be the one to make decisions if you’re relying on yourself.
- Look for free or cheap traffic
Unless you’re creating insanely viral content, the challenge is always exposure. When you have no budget to pay for it, the solution is to use the organic potential of every platform. That’s why it’s important to first choose the right platforms and then create the appropriate content.
Facebook – Lots of people rush to open a business page, but every little bit of traffic costs them money, and quite a bit. That’s why our first bit of advice here is to use your profile. The downside is that this depends greatly on what you’re doing and whether or not it’s relevant to your friends. The challenge is to find the connection between what you’re doing and what’s interesting too those around you so that your posts are of value for them as well, even if it’s just some inspiration – something they can take with them into their own world. For example, if you’re a mechanic and you show how to take apart a carburetor, that probably won’t interest many people. If you show how to take apart a carburetor with your eyes closed, you’ll probably generate more interest. This is simply replacing a budget with creativity.
In order to maintain a connection with your friends and not to wear them out, we would suggest in most cases that you try to personalize your project as much as possible. This is different than promotion through a business page where you can only adjust the content for an audience that is already interested in your area of business.
Instagram – This is another platform where you can find organic traffic, as of today at least (but probably not for much longer). Before you get started, take some time to explore a bit and find businesses similar to yours and understand the rules of the format. Then, start trying things. The more consistent you are, the more likely you are to generate interest.
YouTube – This is another channel to consider, especially if videos or podcasts make sense for you. In many cases, a small amount of money on YouTube go a long way, besides being able to reach people organically through video suggestions based on their previous views.
- Professional digital activity in your groups
A professional digital presence is without a doubt one of the most effective ways to get exposure and completely justifies 30 min to an hour of time each day. There’s a Facebook group dedicated to just about every topic these days, and if there isn’t one relevant to you yet, there’s huge potential for you to create one. The idea is to answer questions and participate in professional discussions to build your digital presence and enjoy a lot of exposure. You’d be amazed at the number of people who would recommend you after simply running into your name repeatedly, even if you’re the one who initiated all of these leads. The more professional knowledge you display, the bigger name you’ll create for yourself, and without exceptional effort.
Another great direction, albeit one that requires a bit more preparation, is to create professional webinars. This is a great platform to discuss professional issues, share your knowledge and answer questions. This will also require a lot of perseverance to build an audience and create a name for yourself.
- Voluntary or cheap lectures
Lectures are a great way to get exposure, in the real (offline) world, that is. And we aren’t just talking about professional conferences, but smaller forums as well – forums that are accessible to anyone and not just those who have already made a name for themselves in the field.
And if you volunteer or charge nothing more than a symbolic fee, people will reward you even more. This also requires patience and perseverance, but you can build yourself up one step at a time. You impress people, they start to pay attention, then they ask for material and more material and suddenly within a few months you end up with a big client.
- Mentoring (as a volunteer of course)
As opposed to offering professional advice, which requires that you create a name for yourself, mentoring is an excellent way of creating contacts with people, building yourself up and gathering experience and inspiration along the way as you help others for nothing in return. The logic is simple: you give to people and then give back in the form of exposure.
- Professional articles
This depends of course on the field you’re involved with, but the more opportunities you have to publish professional articles or opinion pieces in local newspapers or digital channels, the better. The disadvantage here is that unless you’re a genuinely good writer, you’ll need to invest in professional content writing.
- Be more attractive than everyone else
If you’ve ever worked with a young professional who is dedicated to what he does and does it with his whole heart while also offering an attractive price, you’ll be familiar with the feeling of wanting to reward him in return. Clients of this kind are your best ambassadors; they might remember you for years to come and will make an effort to recommend you and reward you for the service you gave them.
But pay attention to the following note: this initiative has to come from you for someone you want to accommodate and someone you know will appreciate it, and not through bargaining or any attempts to diminish your capabilities. Don’t ever work for an amount you don’t feel comfortable with. That won’t make you more attractive to a customer; in fact, the exact opposite is true.
Of course, these are just some of the things you can do without a big budget. The idea behind all of these initiatives is to fertilize the ground and let things grow a little bit at a time. But these tips alone are a strategy appropriate for small businesses or those just getting started. Over time, they can’t and won’t replace a marketing budget, which is critical for the growth of a business, but they are definitely a good place to start and can even be part of your long-term strategy.
Look for interesting partners you enjoy working with – colleagues and customers – and make sure to be interesting and relevant to your audience while showing off how professional you are without talking too much about yourself.