Many startups face problem of breaking the clutter. Nobody per se cares about your startup. They have their own busy lives and your startup is probably just another website they visited today. Making people notice and care about your product is perhaps the toughest challenge a startup faces. The challenge becomes even more difficult if you are a bootstrapped startup or are unwilling to spend thousands of dollars on press, paid advertising or sponsorships. So, what are the best ways to market your startup without spending any money?
Build a following by producing irresistible content
My primary marketing technique has been producing great content and then simply trying to spread that content. I write extensively about A/B testing and post it at a lot of places and that is what drives a lot of signups for our product. Some of the blockbuster guest posts I did are driving visits and signups even to this day (even months after of originally writing those articles).
Halo effect: how your startup gets marketed along side your content
In the content I produce, I don’t explicitly write about Visual Website Optimizer. People would only come to know about the product if they read the author bio. But that’s the best part: if you write good content, people will be naturally curious to read who wrote it and when they read about that, they will remember your startup. The key is to produce absolutely irresistible content that people cannot help but say “Wow, this is fantastic. Wonder who wrote it“. This is a big challenge but it is imperative that you invest time and effort into coming up with great content.
Multi-pronged approach: occupy mindshare of your market through multiple channels
Your prospective customers usually hang out at similar places, they read similar blogs and they talk with each other online or offline. in fact, people that share common needs and talk with each other regarding that is the definition of a market.
When you initially produce a piece of content, some people notice your startup. If you produce some more content and push it via a different channel and some more people notice (and among them some of them are the ones who noticed you previously). If you do this enough number of times, eventually you start occupying a mindshare of your target customer base and people start remembering your startup as one of the key solutions in the market. And lo and behold, you have successfully occupied a slice of your market’s collective mindshare. That’s what marketing does and you did that without investing any money (or at least not a lot of money in direct terms).
As a bootstrapped founder, you have time but not money. If you use that time writing and spreading good content, that will be one of the best early stage investments you can make.
The key is to keep reminding your market that you are alive and kicking by constantly publishing great content from various different channels. These channels can be:
- Twitter and Facebook: share relevant industry updates and re-tweet most interesting articles (relevant to your industry). Become an indespensible source of information.
- Blog: use blog not to promote your product but to talk about industry and teach best-practices, publish customer case studies, etc. In short, use blog to teach your readers something that they didn’t know.
- Guest Blogging: seek widely read sources in your industry and contribute good content. (Don’t talk about your product or your guest posts won’t get accepted)
How to produce good content?
Now, that is the hardest part as it depends a lot on creativity. However, to give you a few broad themes on what has worked for us, here’s a short list:
- Writing in-depth articles (with lots of images) such as this and this
- Posting interviews and guest posts on our blog (from industry experts)
- Releasing free tools (such as A/B testing duration calculator)
- Doing a webinar with a complementary startup in same industry
- Making an infographic (we are yet to explore this tactic, but it works wonderfully)
- Crunching/compiling statistics and releasing them (people LOVE reading about statistics)
As a new startup, how do you promote your great content?
Producing great content is not the only thing you need to do; you need to promote that content too. Initially, when you have no readership, no followers or no fans — how do you get your content out to millions of eyeballs? For promoting Visual Website Optimizer, there are various methods I used, some of them are below:
- Reach out to industry influencers and ask them what they think of your article (they will tweet it, if they find it useful)
- Promote it on industry specific forums and communities (every industry has lots of forums online. You should go there and promote your content)
- Promote it on general social communities where influencers may hang out (such as Hacker News, Reddit, etc.)
Contacting people and asking them to promote your content if they like it is perhaps the easiest way to seed your initial readership. People are generally very nice. Just try emailing 10 industry experts today with a link to one of your contents and see how many of them reply.
Slowly, once you achieve a sizable number of readership, every new piece of content that you publish will be guaranteed to be seen by a number of individuals (who will share that content with their own readers/followers). So, it snowballs and your readership increases over time (given you keep producing great content, which is a hard job in itself). Each additional eyeball becomes easier to acquire. That’s the beauty of building a following.
Summary: produce great content, build a following and your startup gets promoted as a side-effect
I would love to hear about which tactics have worked for your startup so that I can update my list above. Please leave a comment below on what you think about this post or if you have anything to add.