#Asia 19 steps to marketing your startup when your budget is next to nothing


It’s all about networking, content, distribution, engagement, and data

Once you have launched your product and validated market assumptions, the next step is to actually go out there and push your brand and product to your audience. The problem, of course, is that your website or online presence is likely to lack traffic at first.

Many entrepreneurs today start saving on the stage of developing the resource layout. They just go to a trustworthy website templates provider, like TemplateMonster, for instance, and choose the item that meets their requirements. Indeed, using a ready-made design is the simplest, quickest, and the most cost-efficient way to set your website up and running.

Supposing you are one of those savvy business owners and now it’s time to market your website. How much are you going to spend on promotion? Would you like to try out all available free strategies first? You’ve got to the right place. We will enumerate tips, tricks and lifehacks that work here. And they won’t cost you a cent.

Are you ready to start?

Many experienced marketing specialists believe that promoting a startup with little to no budget is entirely dependent on good old fashioned networking.

1. Find influencers

See who’s already socially influential on related topics. Try tools like Kred or Klout to see who’s influential on social networks instead, but be aware that nothing beats personal research.

Find out which of them has an engaged audience that responds when they speak.

2. Engage

Then, reach out. Share their relevant social content, participate on their blogs, etc. In other words, get the big players to know who you are (even if you don’t know them yet), then give them something worth sharing and talk to them about it. Letting them spread the word is a lot more cost-effective than trying to promote your own content to a large number of (probably less engaged) viewers.

Specific Blogs/places to reach out:

  • Killerstartups
  • Twitter curators like @startuped
  • More importantly, though, try industry specific sites — in your case you’d be looking for more niche sites that try & find new and unique web pages. Posting an unofficial press release on some LinkedIn groups has proven successful for lots of startuppers.
  • Go manual — you’re obviously already on Quora, but check out related forums too, it’s a quick way to meet bloggers. Throw in a few Squidoo lenses, too,  about, say, ‘learning from mistakes’ or the like, that link to your site as well as have useful info.

3. Crowdfunding sites

Kickstarter or IndieGoGo:  You may have already considered this, but with a good campaign these sites can actually work really well for startups — with the added benefit of raising capital.

4. Be a pioneer on user-acquisition platforms

Be the first to get onto a new user acquisition platform: There is a window when a new channel launches when users are still gullible enough to be harvested. Yelp did it with SEO, Zynga did it with Facebook. The same tactics don’t work when both the users and the channel get more sophisticated later on.

5. “Steal” traffic

Steal: There are a lot of niche classifieds and eCommerce sites that compete with Craigslist. Quite a few of them started off by posting listings on Craigslist and directing the traffic to their site.

6. Piggyback on an existing network

Piggyback on a thriving network as long as your platform is contextual and complementary to that network. StumbleUpon benefited a lot from being one of the first plugins on the Firefox browser. It was a natural complement to a browser which is essentially used to find information. It was one level of abstraction above Google’s “I’m feeling Lucky” if I could put it that way.

7. Content marketing

Content marketing is amazing free marketing: Blog away like the guys at Buffer and Mint, and not about your product, just anything that your target market would want and that would make them want to explore the product.

Also read: 3 dead simple rules to get better with content marketing

8. SEO at scale

Ensure that whenever users create content, the permalinks are search-engine friendly. This is a great way to get users to market your product. Quora does this amazingly.

9. Distribute widgets

Be shareable and embeddable. Facebook sharing was great but users have, over time, become desensitized to what gets shared on Facebook. Instead, ensure that what gets created on your platform can get shared where your savvy users want to share it, namely on blogs and niche forums. YouTube got traction because MySpace users (musicians) needed a way to share videos and YouTube offered them a solution.

10. Fake it ’til you make it

When users come initially to your platform and there’s nothing there, they see little value in using it. Platform usage requires investment; you set up a profile, you browse around … it takes time. Users won’t invest if they don’t see activity. Well, if there isn’t any activity, create some. Reddit did it. Paypal did it. A lot of marketplaces do it. Once you create some activity, more users start coming over.

11. Create tools of self-expression

These should be really easy to use: No matter what your platform does, users should be able to create something there which they would want to spread. A user may not want to spread the word about your platform but would definitely want to spread the word about what they created on it. For example, YouTube grows every time a video goes viral because users personally invest in marketing it. This is marketing that scales with adoption and super-effective. Kickstarter and Change.org allow users to spread their cause to the whole world. Users are vested in marketing it.

Forget gamification, forget viral design. there is no bigger incentive for users than the ability to spread their creations, beliefs and causes in a manner that wasn’t possible before.

12. Target a micro-market:

Facebook’s early users were at Harvard, Yelp’s early users were the tech-savvy crowd of San Francisco, Quora and LinkedIn’s early users were the VCs and startups of Silicon Valley. Find a micro-market which contains your early adopters.

13. Design your product to align growth and engagement

For instance, when I post an answer on Quora, it allows me to broadcast it to my network. Posting the answer helps with engagement, the simultaneous broadcast helps grow Quora.

14. Provide a service for producers that enables them to interact with their consumers

This is so obvious, but it’s often ignored. Your producers already have consumers. There, that’s the solution to getting in more users for free. Loyalty startups like Shopkick also do something similar. Get the producers, get their consumers on the network, cross-promote other producers to these consumers. Rinse. Repeat.

15. Leverage UGC

If you’re building for user-generated content, ensure that users create good content and are appropriately motivated: Usually, only about 1-10 per cent of your community actively contribute content. To keep creating value, you need to ensure you cater to their motivations.

Also read: User generated content is king, and product reviews can bring your e-commerce business to the next level

16. Create organic virality, a product that spreads every time it’s used

SurveyMonkey, EventBrite, MailChimp, and the original HotMail  — these are products that just have to be spread to be used. But even if your product doesn’t fall in this category, you can create features that show this property. For organic virality, ensure that there is a non-monetary incentive for users to spread the word.

17. Focus on superconnectors:

Remember, Branchout gained rapid adoption the day Michael Arrington downloaded the app. He had a large following on Facebook.

18. Build an invite list before you launch:

Nothing is as good as having a Launchrock-powered user base raring to hit your product on day one.

19. Be exclusive, but be smart about it

Try starting with an invite-only beta. However, this is not a one size fits all as what worked for Gmail didn’t work for Google wave.

Final thoughts

The great thing about social networking and SEO is that it’s usually free. It just takes work and dedication to actually accomplish. Most of what mature marketers do for their clients and for themselves revolves around quality content and measurable data.

So it goes something like …

Create quality content (free), share it among your social networks (free), analyse the data and metrics that result from your posting (also free), create more content based on hoping to optimize those metrics (free). Lather, rinse, repeat.

This way, you can better understand exactly what drew your readership/community and what topics they’re responding to, when the best time to post is, how often to post to get their attention, and where your readers/viewers are coming from.

We hope our tips will help you save some money on marketing your startup. Do you have any more questions/additions/suggestions/thoughts on the topic? Please post them at the comments section.


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The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here.

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