What to do if you have little or no marketing budget| Maria Kolodenko
Do you have a tight budget - or even zero budget - for your next marketing milestone? That’s OK. We all have been there.
Marketing agencies do not like to work with small businesses, which typically have limited resources and small budgets. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got no options when it comes to marketing. Whether your sales funnel is B2C or B2B, all you need is a good marketing strategy and a solid understanding of your market.
I myself have worked as a Marketing Strategist for over ten different businesses. And I can say one thing with certainty: a lack of strategy always leads to unnecessary expenses.
Before you invest your efforts and resources into marketing, you have to understand:
- your product-market fit hypothesis,
- your target customers' needs,
- your business goals;
Then, you have to align these with brand and positioning.
When you start building your own marketing strategy, you should begin by analyzing the following:
Your Target Audience
Who are your ideal customers?
Where do they hang out / take in information?
How do they interact with your business solutions / products?
Why do they need it / them?
When do they think of it / them?
What problems do they have? How do they describe those problems?
How can you reach them?
Your Business Goals
Analyze your authentic, performance-objective business goals.
Think about your mission and motto and your expectations for your business's growth.
Ask yourself: Does your marketing strategy match your actual business development stage?
And: Does your marketing budget reflect your business needs?
Define your and your team's capacity: expertise and time.
Prepare your team and tools, and define their expenses
Marketers have highlighted a total of 19 channels you can opt for (Google it if you want to see the full list). Each channel requires its own marketing strategy, techniques, and tools. But they all do one thing: grab your target customers’ attention.
Which marketing channels to avoid if you have a small budget
First, let’s break down traditional marketing options, which we recommend avoiding if you’re on a tight budget.
The main goal of PR is to “increase positive exposure for a business or brand.” Boosting positive exposure is absolutely helpful. But it also involves real long-term investments in relationship building, which in and of themselves do not necessarily lead to sales in the future. PR is time-consuming and typically requires at least one full-time specialist, which small businesses often can’t afford.
Offline Ads: Newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, billboards, posters, vehicle commercials.
“Outdoors” ads are good for promoting your brand to hundreds or thousands of people at once. They don’t, however, do a great job of targeting specific people.
Offline ads help you to show your message repeatedly to people who are passing by on a road, taking the subway, watching TV, or listening to the radio.
But ask yourself a question: how many target customers of yours pass by the sign you paid (a lot) for? How many of them read the magazine you took an ad out in - and how many of those will actually stop to read your ad?
The other reason why I do not recommend offline ads is that the purchasing intention is too far removed from the audience. People who see offline ads are rarely moved to immediately purchase the solution or product they were presented with. Instead, through repeated exposure to your offering, ad viewers may become more partial to your solution or product over time.
There is an article in Harvard Business Review from the 1990s that refers to trade shows as being a "necessary evil"... unfortunately, not much has changed since then. Trade shows are terribly expensive. You need lots of prep time, connections, and money to make them worthwhile. These are not resources that small businesses tend to have in spades.
These strategies should not be your go-to tools because they often take a long time to work and have results that are difficult to track. Without a doubt, brand awareness and impressions are important. But if they’re your main focus, it could be quite a while before you see a return on your investment.
There are crucial mistakes you can make while managing other marketing channels, too. Let’s look at some common pitfalls.
What NOT to do if you have a minimal budget for marketing
Investing only in performance marketing
Of course, sales are your highest priority. And thus, you may be convinced to invest all your resources into conversion-driven campaigns. But from our experience, online advertising campaigns work the best as a part of a larger, more comprehensive marketing strategy.
Realistic example: Your article, optimized for a search engine, brings you a new user via their Google query: “marketing agency low budget.” Then, that user browses your impressive website, which features clear positioning and potential cooperation value propositions. But then, they leave the website and are about to forget you. Here’s where PPC comes into play - you catch them with the remarketing banner “Bring your marketing to the next level, even with no budget with BRAND name.” Boom! They go back to your contact form and leave their email.
Unrealistic example: Your potential customer sees an ad for your brand, which they’ve never heard of but is potentially related to their needs. They click through the ad, like your product, and purchase it.
Through the realistic example, you can see how many factors led to the real conversion. Before investing in a performance campaign, make sure your channels are ready to convert users at every stage of the deal pipeline - from those who have never heard of you to those who have heard of you but haven’t done business with you to those who have items / services of yours in their shopping carts but haven’t yet clicked the “buy” button.
Not setting proper success metrics
Begin by setting clear success indicators. Try to research marketing metrics common to your industry so you can compare your results and drive conclusions. Record your hypothesis regarding the numbers you expect to see, and then create a comprehensive report on the flow of work and results. I touch on some important metrics-related points in my video on startups in different stages.
Not having end2end analytics
Before you invest in any marketing, you need to set up analytics. You have to know where people are coming from, what they do on your website, when they close their tab, and how they interact with your interface. When you have many different channels - LinkedIn, Facebook, Google ads, etc. - you need to be able to see what generates the greatest value.
Not increasing your effort on channels that are working well
One of the benefits of having clear success metrics and well-working end2end analytics is understanding where to ramp up your efforts. If you see a channel or strategy working well, you can calculate return on investment and say, with confidence, “This works for us.” Double your efforts on those fronts.
What to do if you have a minimal marketing budget
There are many channels you may use to drive organic interest in your business, increase conversions, and withstand competition.
Content Marketing and Engineering as Marketing
Provide information (or tools) that your users are looking for. Drive their attention to your business organically by answering the right questions. Bring value to them, and they will love you for it. Say your potential customers are looking for a “science business plan.” If you are a business consulting company working with deep-tech startups, you’ll want to appear in Google search results for queries that deep-tech startup employees are searching - ideally, by creating a useful article that answers their questions.
You can utilize the power of content at any stage of your lead cycle:
1. Generating leads: collecting contacts for potential customers (e.g., lead magnet - leave your email and download this document, tools - sign up and use it for free, newsletter subscriptions, social media subscribers);
2. Nurturing existing leads (sales decks, educational videos on how to use your solution / product, sales campaigns on social media);
3. Increasing retention (building loyalty through updates about your solution / product and team, educational content)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
To make sure the content you created for your website is found by potential customers, you have to keep an eye on SEO. Find the right keyword gap and fill it with articles, videos, infographics, lead magnets, and any other forms of content you can create. With SEO, you will not just be answering the right questions, but you will be answering them at the right time - i.e., when your potential customers are looking for answers. Likely, those users’ purchasing intentions will be high when they use Google to find the tools or infographics you are creating. SEO is like going viral but in a smarter and more predictable way.
Search Engine Marketing and Social & Display Ads
If you have no marketing budget for long-term investments such as brand awareness, the only online ads you should focus on are those bringing the quickest conversions.
Promoting your startup on Meta is cheaper than promoting your startup on Google. But the average click rate on Meta is far lower. Scrolling their feed, your potential customers are far away from buying, even if they like your product. But when they are themselves looking for something, your appearance in search (via [ads]) will be far likelier to generate a qualified lead or a trial user conversion.
The disadvantages of performance marketing are:
- You need a sizable budget to figure out what works well in your campaigns;
- You just always need some budget;
- It is not organic and hence might bring negative attention;
- You promote to a “cold” audience, which makes it difficult to generate high conversion rates;
Bloggers and Influencers
In contrast to ads, bloggers and influencers are a more predictable investment. They’ll require a smaller testing budget to see if their channel works well. And they offer you great flexibility. You can search for specific “micro-influencers,” who have higher conversion rates because they're closer to your intended audience. You can also try making someone who is genuinely interested in your product into a brand ambassador.
Some key advantages of using bloggers and influencers are:
+ Bloggers have an audience of “warm leads.” It’s easier to convert leads to marketing qualified leads, who in turn can become first-time customers and then, ideally, customers who are loyal to your brand;
+ You have lower risks - you know in advance the average conversion rates and number of views you’ll get from a promotion;
+ You can learn about bloggers’ audience in great detail. Typically, bloggers can provide you with complex analytics, which you can use as a metric for evaluating the success of your messaging and the target audience you approached;
+ You precisely know how many real people will see your promotion;
However, there is a lot of work to do before partnering with a blogger. You have to understand if their audience meshes with your potential buyers hypothesis.
Targeting Blogs / Podcasts / Media
What do your target customers read? What podcasts do they listen to? What YouTube videos do they binge-watch? If you can learn the answers to these questions, you can reach your audience more effectively.
Advertising on blogs brings you the same advantages as promoting through influencers. You know average conversion rates in advance. You can rely on certain metrics or drive clear conclusions based on results, and you can compare yourself to other advertisers. If we speak about recurringly posted content, like episodes of podcats or YouTube videos, you can discuss with the author what exact topic you want to have integration with. It may help you to bring not just the regular audience of this blog / podcast, but newcomers, looking for specific topics.
You have to scan the market and carefully decide if a blog is speaking to an audience that overlaps with your potential customers (and you have to make sure that blog is speaking in a manner you want to associate with!).
If you are an early-stage startup, targeting blogs might be a perfect strategy to bring the first wave of customers.
Honestly, I am skeptical about viral marketing. I saw a funny LinkedIn post about it, and I agree with that post’s author completely - the “virality” concept itself is centered on the unpredictability of a publication going viral.
And yet there are certain patterns and channels that you may utilize to increase the predictability of your content going viral. Examples include quickly reacting to trending TikTok sounds, jokes, or memes, and writing content on relevant topics with a content gap (i.e., there are few media and influencers talking about a certain topic, and an audience is eager to learn more).
“Going viral” can indeed yield an insane ROI. Having a high-quality product / solution and being truly creative in your approach can boost your chances of going viral - but a ton is still left up to chance.
Direct outreach (for B2B)
Direct outreach might be the most intuitive way to promote your business. For successful direct outreach, you need to:
1. Understand the type of company that is your ideal target customer,
2. Learn who is the buyer personas (deciding powers) are in these companies,
3. Be able to explain what you can offer them and what value they’ll get from it.
Once you have these three points down, start searching for potential customers and build a database of potential leads. You can use LinkedIn or Sales Navigator, Crunchbase, or local databases, or you can search directly on search engines.
Once your database is ready, you have to decide on your outreach strategy. Different target customers have different preferred channels of communication. It may be email, LinkedIn, or even Facebook. Executing your outreach strategy, you’ll have to consider some marketing metrics. For example, if you reach out to 100 leads, only 10% of them might be interested in your offering, and only 3% might convert into clients.
That is why, for some campaigns, you may want to consider automation tools. My favorite tool right now is Phantombuster, but you should also check out reply.io, expandi.io, and others. Make sure the tool(s) you use is safe and won’t hurt your LinkedIn or Gmail account.
Building community around your business might be the most pleasant and beneficial way to promote your products or services.
The advantages are:
+ You foster stronger relationships with customers, whose loyalty increases over time.
+ You get constant feedback from your clients.
+ You surround yourself with like-minded people.
+ Your community members will become your brand ambassadors, bringing you new clients and activating the cheapest marketing channel: “word of mouth”.
Some disadvantages include:
Creating and maintaining an active community requires you and your team’s consistent, active participation.
You need to work hard on core concepts. You should be able to explain what the value you bring to community members, what their ✨shared values ✨ are, and what their community goals are. You need to establish rituals so they don’t feel disconnected and maintain communications between members.
Offline Events and Speaking Engagements
Offline events and speaking engagements are great tools for both B2B and B2C marketing.
B2B offline events offer you a chance to introduce yourself to your target audience without being intrusive.
You can search for conferences or meetups where your potential customers hang out and reach them via networking or a speech. It might even be completely free. A big advantage of this channel is that you also access the network of the event organizer.
Events can be great exposure tools for B2C too.
Finally, here are some PRO tips for your low-to-no marketing budget strategy:
Don’t Forget About UX
Your product architecture should be friendly for any user. It should be quick, readable, and good-looking. If you are generating traffic for your free trial, it should be as user-oriented as possible. Make sure users understand how to use your product and how to derive value from it, and show them why they are better off staying with you.
Work Hard on Your Brand
Establish clear creative messaging, value propositions, missions, and claims. Be remembered. Make sure you understand your target customer's pain points. Your positioning has to resonate with them. Be clear about what you are selling and how it will make their (business) life better or easier.
Bet on Organic Engagement
Build a loyal audience around yourself, your brand, or your business. Become a business ambassador, and make your employees into thought leaders. Network in communities of your target customers and interact with the market.
Save on Tools
There are so many marketing tools now that it’s too easy to get lost. Don’t forget that many solutions are developed for enterprises and corporations. If you are a small business, you have to be careful about deciding what tools you need and what investment makes sense. You can always find solutions providing freemium subscriptions or which are even completely free. And you do not need many if you don’t have a complete marketing department. Sometimes you or your marketer will have to deal with things by hand.
Start by understanding your own business as well as you can. Define your specific authentic business goals. Identify KPIs. Choose your approach (target audience, brand, UX, etc.) and establish a workflow.
If you need help connecting dots in your minimal budget startup marketing strategy, contact us!Let's discuss!