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Marketing as a startup with a tight budget

“You must spend money to make money”, said Titus Plautus, a Roman playwright from the BC era. This quote that has stood the test of time probably rings truer to those marketing their products or services.

For startups trying to grow their business, this is a paradoxical situation. While technology and social media has enabled them to do more than they could in the past, it has also contributed to fragmentation of audiences and entrepreneurs trying harder to make themselves “heard”. While there is more funding available now, startups also have to work quicker to market and scale their products to keep up with the rapid pace of growth.

Previously, marketing was predominantly a customer acquisition strategy. But with the ubiquity of the Internet, the pressure is on startups to market not just to customers but also to investors, employees (current and potential), governments and industry bodies.

So how do you create an impactful marketing campaign to grow your business on a tight budget? We recently ran a small business grant inviting women-led / owned organisations to apply asking what challenges they face in growing their business.

Here are my three tips to overcome common marketing challenges:

Build partnerships

In an increasingly collaborative environment, it is easier to partner with complementary brands to amplify your campaigns and reach new audiences. A recent example is Uber’s partnership with ice cream companies to deliver free ice creams to new customers and at a small cost to existing ones in over 250 cities globally.

It was a win win situation for ice cream brands and Uber as they got their products to new customers and gained substantial social and traditional media momentum. For Uber, it was a strategic move that was probably market research for its upcoming food delivery service.

Partnerships do not have to be expensive affairs. You could offer your services, time and even insights to help complementary brands. You can start small too. Uber first started its ice cream on demand campaign in seven American cities in 2012 for National Ice Cream month and has since scaled it to over 250 cities.

Create your own content

It seems like the last thing that busy entrepreneurs want to do, but often a critical part of business growth and its public image. For startups, especially those trying to grow overseas, your public profile (not your website) is a broader representation of who you are as a company and an entrepreneur.

Blogs, social media engagement and groups and media commentary – online engagement will get you to different corners of the world with little or no costs.

Rather than a constant push strategy to get customers on board, go to them with valuable insights and tips. Discuss your challenges and how you overcame them, share interesting articles and follow and comment on posts. Leverage YouTube with rustic or home-style videos if you don’t have the budget for bigger productions.

Show that you care about the community around you – maybe one of your next investors or customers could be an outcome of these conversations.
In our digital and hyper-connected reality, content opportunities are endless.

Leverage events

As you build your profile, use industry and consumer events to amplify your message. While networking does require some money, you could look at speaking opportunities at intimate events or even create your own. Showcase your abilities and that of the company by speaking at relevant events and participating in panel discussions that give you exposure to a wider range of audiences.

Attended or spoke at an industry event? Summarise your observations for those who could not attend.

If your brand is still in early stages and you are not yet in a position speak at events, consider hosting your own high tea or round table discussion. Invite like-minded individuals, complementary brands or even an industry blogger to discuss a pertinent issue. The key discussion points from this can then be taken online and shared with the world. This works particularly well if to grow your business you have to grow the category.

Marketing your company no longer has to cost big bucks. As the company grows, traditional marketing platforms can also be explored in combination with the above tactics. But until then, strategic, engaging and value-driven campaigns focusing on customers and your business community are the best way to spend less and make more money.

About the author:

Renata Cooper is the founder of Forming Circles Global, a unique angel investment and mentoring organisation that predominantly invests in female-led technology startups. Committed to empowering women entrepreneurs, Renata has invested in over 100 national and global businesses, individuals and organisations since 2011. She is a member of Scale Investors and a muru-D mentor.

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Renata Cooper

Renata Cooper

Renata Cooper is the founder of social and ethical investment company Forming Circles. Committed to empowering people and ideas, through Forming Circles, Renata has invested in over 100 local and national businesses, individuals and organisations since its inception in 2011.

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