17 awesome ways to market your startup for free

11 mins read

This is the most asked question in the marketing topic on Quora. Yes, you’re not alone if you are trying to find an answer to this question. Even, this question also ended up in my list of 67 most asked questions by entrepreneurs. I was asked many times to write a detailed story on “ways to market your startup for free” and here I go.

If you’ve ever read Paul Graham’s essay on scaling and how did Stipe and Airbnb grow, you pretty much know that you need to go to your potential customers. You cannot expect your potential customers to come to you in the beginning. This point is valid for both B2B and B2C startups.

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So, all of the below points to focus on approaching customers via different mediums and channels

1: Referrals – Make your customers bring other people

There’s a reason Uber and Dropbox grew very fast. They used referral programs where one customer gets incentive as soon as he recommends them to someone that that person joins.

Dropbox used to give 500 MB of free space for every successful referral. Uber used to give credits whenever the referred person uses Uber.

Takeaway – Referral program also increases the virality coefficient and boosts viral marketing


2: Press Release – Get found on the internet for free

There’s nothing wrong in posting about yourself on other sites for free, right?

Airbnb does it.

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There are lots of (literally lots of) PR sites available that let you post about you and your product for free. Some big PR firms charges as high as $499 per release but you don’t need that if you’re a startup and don’t have that much budget.

Takeaway – Here’s a list of free and paid PR sites based on their Alexa rank.


3: Content Marketing – Bring a lot of customers from Google

Buffer got its 100,000 customers via content marketing. They blogged a lot on their own website, and on others’ websites (also called as guest posting) also.

Here’s Buffer growth in terms of revenue. The company still uses content marketing as one of its primary ways to bring new customers and keep existing customers engaged.

Below is the revenue of Buffer. Source – Baremetrics

You need to blog a lot. It doesn’t matter if you’re a B2B startup or B2C, you need to post 3-4 blogs per week. Focus more on case studies if you’re B2B.

Takeaway – It’s better to search what your potential customers are talking about before you write a blog. The story you’re currently reading right now is a perfect example for this. I first researched what my potential customers are talking about and then I wrote this story. You can use it Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner tool. You can also re-post the same blog on other websites like Medium.com on your behalf. The benefit is that your article will be seen by the existing readers of those sites. Here’s a list of sites that allow you to post your content.


4: SEO – Your website fails if it is not optimized in SEO.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It means that you need to optimize your site to be seen in the top three positions in Google search result.

You can find lots of tricks that you can use to get to the top 3 positions but ultimately you’ll fail as Google is getting smarter hour by hour. Google only cares about one thing – the person who searches should get the answer what he is looking for. Your website or blog should really provide the action-oriented answer.

Suppose you sell heaters and you wrote a blog on how to calibrate the heater temperature. Then, someone who searches “how to calibrate a heater” and come to your blog, the person should not leave your site with a confused mind.

Google calculates this by many factors like the time he spent on that blog, % he scrolled, number of pages he went to after reading that blog, and so many more.

Takeaway – Just improve the experience of your site. Go to your blog and skim through the articles and ask yourself – what else should be there so that my visitors like the content more.


5: SMM – You have to do social media marketing. There’s no other option

One of the co-founders of PayPal, Peter Thiel, suggested that SMM is the best way to go to your customers. He suggested this in his Zero to One book.

Social media have the potential to make your content viral. With the Share button on Facebook and Retweet button on Twitter, anyone can share your content. Instagram does not have any Share button but your content ends up in Explore tab if it’s good.

Suppose you share a blog post to your Facebook page that has 200 likes and one of your follower shares it and he has 300 Facebook friends. Then you immediately increased your potential to those 300 new people. Of course, all those 300 people will not see the share because of Facebook controversial feed algorithm.

Here is a list of most popular social media sites as per Dreamgrow.

Takeaway – You should also use Social media to stay engaged to your current customers. According to a survey from Aimia, 56% of consumers said they followed brands on social media to browse products for sale, and 31% of online shoppers say they’re using social media specifically to look for new items to purchase.


6: Email Marketing – The best channel to bring back your customers

Email newsletters are still considered as the best way to connect with existing customers or even potential customers. It’s “seen” rate is much higher than other non-paid channels.

Whenever anyone open your emails, we can ensure that the person has seen your compnay mentioned in your email. Below is the benchmark of Mailchimp customers. Data is gathered from Mailchimp. Email open rate is still more than 20% for most of the industries.

Mailchimp Benchmark

Industry Open Rate Click Rate Unsubscribe Rate
All non-labeled accounts 21.09% 2.61% 0.23%
Agriculture and Food Services 23.12% 2.69% 0.29%
Architecture and Construction 23.13% 2.55% 0.35%
Arts and Artists 26.03% 2.66% 0.29%
Beauty and Personal Care 17.01% 1.76% 0.31%
Business and Finance 20.47% 2.59% 0.21%
Computers and Electronics 19.39% 1.98% 0.29%
Construction 21.01% 2.03% 0.40%
Consulting 18.96% 2.15% 0.28%
Creative Services/Agency 21.59% 2.51% 0.37%
Daily Deals/E-Coupons 14.92% 2.30% 0.10%
ecommerce 15.66% 2.07% 0.24%
Education and Training 21.80% 2.48% 0.20%
Entertainment and Events 20.41% 2.19% 0.28%
Gambling 18.47% 3.15% 0.14%
Games 19.71% 3.19% 0.24%
Government 26.52% 3.65% 0.13%
Health and Fitness 20.06% 2.18% 0.37%
Hobbies 27.35% 4.78% 0.23%
Home and Garden 22.21% 3.02% 0.36%
Insurance 20.99% 2.09% 0.25%
Legal 21.14% 2.71% 0.22%
Manufacturing 20.51% 2.18% 0.35%
Marketing and Advertising 16.48% 1.74% 0.26%
Media and Publishing 21.92% 4.55% 0.12%
Medical, Dental, and Healthcare 21.09% 2.25% 0.29%
Mobile 18.41% 1.98% 0.34%
Music and Musicians 21.80% 2.68% 0.28%
Non-Profit 24.11% 2.57% 0.20%
Pharmaceuticals 18.95% 2.39% 0.20%
Photo and Video 22.99% 2.90% 0.40%
Politics 22.30% 2.13% 0.21%
Professional Services 20.77% 2.39% 0.30%
Public Relations 20.21% 1.63% 0.19%
Real Estate 19.67% 1.80% 0.29%
Recruitment and Staffing 19.33% 1.81% 0.28%
Religion 25.33% 2.92% 0.13%
Restaurant 20.26% 1.06% 0.28%
Retail 19.36% 2.24% 0.27%
Social Networks and Online Communities 21.13% 3.16% 0.22%
Software and Web App 19.81% 2.05% 0.35%
Sports 23.77% 2.88% 0.28%
Telecommunications 20.27% 2.20% 0.24%
Travel and Transportation 20.03% 2.00% 0.24%

7: PPC ads – You can put some money to bring a new customer

I know that I wrote free ways, but still I am including this channel because you can do it for almost at no cost.

Google is the best medium to show ads when it comes to PPC advertising. Its AdWords platform is where advertisers buy and run ads. Google also claims that Businesses make an average of $2 in income for every $1 they spend in AdWords. Not bad.

Takeaway – You can define the amount of money you spend per day on advertising. As a starter, don’t spend more than $2 a day on advertising.


8: Personal branding – some people have made millions

If you really want to see how to use personal branding to get customers, check out the Health and Fitness industry.

Anllela Sagra, a very famous face in health and fitness, is doing it correctly. Here’s one of her Instagram post where she posted her online coaching. The post has 97.4K likes.

Here’s one more. Heidi Somers, also known as buffbunny, is promoting her gym clothing collection on Instagram. The post has 44.7K likes.


9: Quora, Reddit, and FB groups – tap the untapped segment of people

It doesn’t matter which industry you’re in, there will be someone asking something on Quora, Reddit, and Facebook groups.

You need to answer those questions genuinely and soft-sell your product. Never ever hard sell there aka directly asking the person to buy your product or come to your website. You must answer the question first. Show how can your product/service solve the problem. If you think that the question is related to your industry but not related to your company then don’t even mention your company in the answer.

Here’s how I use Quora sometimes. If I see a question on which I have written a story then I genuinely answer the question and put a link to my website. Believe me, it works.

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10: Micro Influencer marketing – ask other people to post your product on their social media accounts

According to CNBC, Kylie Jenner asks for $1 million per sponsored post. A lot, right? I should also mention that she has 119.8 million followers (as of November 2018). But, this is not the case with micro influencers (someone who has lesser than 500 followers on Instagram).

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Micro influencers post your product for free of cost. Just ship your product to them for free and there you go.

Your conversion rate will be better with micro-influencers because the engagement rate of micro-influencers is generally a lot better than celebrities.

Takeaway – Use NinjaOutreach to find out influencer in your industry. If you want to search for free than then go to Google and search site:instagram.com + “477 followers” + “entrepreneur”. Replace “477 followers” with the number of followers you want to have, and “entrepreneur” with your keyword.

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11: Reward your customers for reviewing your product

According to business.com, 77% of people read reviews before buying a product. And if a review is missing then people are skeptical of buying that product which results in loss in sales.

You can reward your customers to write a review or testimonial. It could be 20% off on next purchase, free 15 days membership, or anything.


12: Show up in phone notification – Go live on Facebook and Instagram

Instagram sends a notification to some of the followers when a person goes live. So, if you have 1,000 followers and when you go live and 300 followers get a notification, it’s not bad. At least better than no notification at all.

Your brand awareness will increase with those 300 followers.

Below is an image from Buffer.com

According to Livestream, Live video is more appealing to brand audiences: 80% would rather watch live video from a brand than read a blog, and 82% prefer live video from a brand to social posts.


13: Free webinars – Grow your email list

You have already read my 6th point which was email marketing. The problem with many people is that they don’t know how to grow the number of emails. Well, a free webinar is one of the ways.

Host free webinars on something related to your industry. Cross promote it with other relevant sites and heavily promote it on your social media. See, your email list grow.

Takeaway – According to Bigmarker, your Webinar Should Be Between 30 and 45 Minutes Long

As shown in the above graph, webinar statistics show that 41% of attendees prefer attending 30 minute-long webinars and 44% of attendees prefer webinars to last 45 minutes.


14: Business partnership and cross-promotion – the hidden gem

If you ask someone who has so many followers on Instagram and how did he get those, the answer would be shoutout for a shoutout.

Shoutout for shoutout means that you post on your account to follow someone else and in return, you ask that account for the same thing.

We did it one time and we got 78 new followers within 1 hour. We asked an account for a shoutout and that account had somewhere around 9,000 followers.

The same thing is also valid in business. Ask other companies to recommend you and do the same in return.

Takeaway – Make sure that the company you’re recommending is a good one. If you recommend a bad company then you will suffer and you will lose customers’ trusts.


15: Email signature – promote your business to all the people whom you send emails to

You can put a Call to Action (CTA) in the signature. Nowadays, almost all email clients like Outlook, Apple Mail can render HTML so your images will be seen in almost to all the recipients.

Here’s an example from Mail-signatures.

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Takeaway – People generally don’t like and it and don’t expect a high click-through rate (CTR).


16: Cold email and call – People hate it but every hour, 5-7 digits deals happen because of this

Do you ever remember when was the last time you got a call from an insurance and asked you to buy an insurance? You might have said “no” straightaway and thought that everybody would say “no”. Think twice. If all of us say “no” to cold calls then would this channel still exist? No, right?

The channel is still there means that it works and people are marking profit via this channel.

According to DiscoverOrg, 3 out of 4 managers take actions from a cold call or email alone.


17: Meetups – the best way to get recognized locally

There are meetups for all kind of people. Join the meetups and give a small session (maybe 5-10 mins session) and start gaining recognization.

Takeaway – You can find the meetups in your locality on meetups.com.


This is all, folks!

Should you have any other idea, tell us at @iinnovatemag.


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