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Marketing with no money? How to do it

how to start a business

This is really important. You can have the greatest product in the world but if no one has heard of it then it’s useless.

When you think about marketing you think big marketing campaigns, giant ads across huge billboards and Super Bowl commercials. Basically, really expensive stuff beyond your means.

And you’re right! That stuff is beyond most small company budgets’ - but you don’t need it and it isn’t the be all and end all of marketing. You don’t start running until you’ve first learned to walk.

What is marketing?

At its core, marketing is about influencing and persuading people to do something. It doesn’t really matter how you do it as long as its effective.

Think about what you do when you’re trying to persuade someone of something: You have a message that you hope is powerful enough to sway them. The same principle applies to your business: What is your message? What should people think about when they think of your company?

You can’t sell something if you don’t know what it’s about, and part of that involves thinking about who it is you’re trying to sell to. Are your customers soccer moms or are they young single males? Depending on who they are changes the content and style of your message.

Finding your voice

Whatever you do don’t sound like a marketing robot. Also try to avoid typical marketing jargon. We’ve been refered to companies that we could work with in the past but when we visited their website it was in a language we didn’t understand - corporate speak. We couldn’t actually decipher what it was they do and we’re pretty clever over here, not to brag or anything but we build interesting and complex software all the time.

So the takeaway is that your voice should be understandable, don’t try to sound so smart that you just can’t be understood. Simple is good, simple is smart. Don’t make it hard for people to know what you do and what it is you’re selling.

Your voice should also be consistent and personable, you want to be able to engage with your customers and over time become so familiar to them that they know who you are without thinking about it, like this for example:

nike logo

It’s all psychological

Psychology is the science of behaviour and of the mind. If you want to be able to influence people you should have some understanding of how they think. One key finding from this science that you can use to your advantage is the power of reciprocation.

It’s really powerful. For example the Hare Krishna society was struggling for funds and their street soliciting for donations was not going so well as their manner of dress was and is unconventional by American standards.

The obvious solution would have been to change how they dressed, that’s what a good marketer would say right? But they couldn’t change the way they dressed for religious reasons, instead they took another approach.

Now when approaching passers by for donations they would give them a gift, a small flower and they wouldn’t allow the passerby to give it back. Their donations skyrocketed, so much so that they could now buy temples, houses and property in 321 centres in the United States and overseas.

You’re interested aren’t you? What psychological rule did they take advantage of to increase donations? The principle of reciprocation. The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. The passers by felt an obligation to give a donation after having received a gift even if as many did they threw the flower away once the Krishna devotee had left. It didn’t matter that they had not requested the flower in the first place, the sense of obligation was still created in the passerby.

How can you apply this to your business? Give something away to create an obligation, it can be as simple as a free consultation or a goody bag. Plus people talk about free stuff and deals to their friends and family.

You know how the conversation goes “I got a deal at…”. So get in that conversation by giving something away, it sounds counter intuitive but it works.

There are many other rules of human behaviour that you can take advantage of described in Influence The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, a great book filled with examples of actual salespeople and marketers applying these rules to close deals and get people to buy from them. You’ll be surprised at just what people will agree to if you know what you’re doing.

Do a good job and be helpful

This is marketing and it works really really well - plus its cheap. We’ve found when a new user starts using RealtimeCRM with their first free user account to get a feel for it, even if they run into problems and get in touch with us either through the phone or by email and we work our butts off to sort it out they’re much more likely to become a paid user down the road.

Even if the answer is on our support page we still bend over backwards to provide a personal touch to solve our user’s problems. It works almost every time in converting our free users into paid users because people appreciate that you care about their problem and that there’s a human on the other side working hard to solve it. Plus the fact it’s a free account already invokes the reciprocation rule.

Go one step further and get testimonials from customers. If you’ve done a great job they’ll have no hesitation in singing your praises. People trust reviews - especially millennials - so get some.

Since we’ve mentioned millennials, there’s this stereotype that they’re spoiled kids, well many of them were born in the 80s and they’re in the workforce, many are now starting families. So basically they’re in their prime earning years and so have increasing spending power and they’re a big demographic group that’s why they’re sometimes known as the echo boomers.

In fact by 2020 millennial spending power will reach $1.4 trillion annually in the US alone, that will represent about 30% of all retail sales and they’re going to be here for a while, you can already guess what is the clinching factor in deciding whether they buy something or not, its reviews. Ninety-seven percent of 18-34 year olds read online reviews to judge a business before committing to a purchase.

Go to the money

What does an ice cream truck do? It goes to where the kids who are going to buy the ice cream are. You should do the same, think about who your customers are and go to where they congregate.

Talk to them, figure out the kind of language they use and incorporate that into your message. Don’t make it hard for people to see if your product or service is right for them.

Networking events can be great too. The last one we attended we ended up talking to some guys who build supercars for a living who were looking for some guys who build software for a living.

Dominate your location

You should have a website. That’s so obvious it’s kind of not helpful. (Unless it’s not obvious to you then we’re happy to help).

Anyway, you’re a small business and Mount Google is at this point way beyond you. Why not focus on dominating the SEO for your local market? Go to google and type in “software in Cambridge”. We’re dominating that search.

If you’re a bakery in Bakersville make sure when people think about baked goods in Bakersville they think about you. You start small before you work your way to the top of Mount Google.

It doesn’t need to be location though, whatever is your niche work on becoming the top of the pile in the search results for it.

Getting away from SEO and back to your website, make sure it’s fast and mobile friendly. If it’s slow or isn’t optimised for mobile which is how many people now view websites your bounce rate is going to be through the roof losing you potential sales. We have some tips hereon how to speed up your website.

Free tools

You don’t have to spend a fortune to build a great marketing armoury. There are plenty of products available that are free to use. For example you can use Buffer to schedule all your social media posts. Need royalty free images? Pexels has you covered. We use it all the time, like now:

Pexels joke

You don’t need expensive fancy software to design a logo - just head over to Space’s free logo maker and get to work. If you’re looking to improve your SEO then check out a free alternative to google’s keyword planner and the king of them all, Mailchimp.

Facebook, instagram and all the other social media platforms can be great depending on the type of business you are, say a small fashion company. Then sending free stuff to popular YouTubers and Instagramming is a great way to go but email is still king. It allows you to stay in touch and to keep marketing to your customers. Of all platforms it has the best conversion rate in turning prospective customers into actual buying customers. Don’t ignore email.

How do I get email?

Recall back to when we spoke about the reciprocation rule, it applies here too. To get the email you have to give something useful to get it.

One option is through having competitions. Part of entering the competition to be in the running to win the prize will require the prospective customer’s email. That’s one way to go but another approach is content marketing.

Content marketing at its core is about producing engaging, informative and useful content for your potential customers. If you’ve managed that then it can direct those customers back to your brand website, where you can capture leads and sell your products.

It’s a relatively cheap way to build brand trust, develop and get your voice out there and it endures. Content that is well written and incisive that you wrote years ago will have legs like no other type of marketing. Once it’s written and posted it’ll keep adding value as it’s shareable and more and more people come across it. In fact 75% of HubSpot’s blog views and 90% of blog leads come from old posts.

The other benefit is that it’s not expensive, all it takes is some time, commitment and figuring out what it is you want to write about that’ll be interesting to you and to your customer base. Google docs is free and great for drafting blog posts, getting input from others and tracking edits.

google doc writing

It’s also cheaper and more effective than traditional outbound marketing. Content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing yet it generates more than three times as many leads.

Plus it helps improve your SEO too, if you write really incisive content others will want to backlink to your content which ranks well with Google which compounds the positive impact of your content marketing.

It’s just writing blogs right?

That’s only part of it and in the beginning a small part of it. Writing great stuff only matters if people read it. Just because the “content” part in “content marketing” comes first doesn’t mean that’s all there is to it. You have to actually market and promote your content.

When we started out we had no idea how to write our content let alone promote it, maybe you’re in the same boat. The best way to improve is to learn from people who’ve been there and done it.

That’s where we ran into the guys at Groovehq who had just launched a content marketing course and being noobs we decided to take part. Why did we choose Groove? Well we were fans of their blog, we liked their content. If we were going to learn from anyone it had to be from people whose content we respected plus they’ve done pretty well out of their blog too, they’re half way on their journey to $10 million in annual revenue and a large part of that journey was off the back of their content marketing.

In next week’s post we’ll be reviewing our experience with Groove’s content marketing mastery course, what we liked, what we didn’t like and the key lessons we took away from it and above all else whether we’d recommend it to you.

The last word

Let us know whether you’re excited by content marketing the way we are and what are the challenges getting in the way of you starting your own content marketing journey.

And finally at the end of the day whatever marketing strategy you undertake not even the greatest marketing plan in the world will save a bad product or service. If you haven’t mastered that yet then that’s the first problem you have to solve.

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