Marketing is an expensive business. As a marketer I’ve spent years spending millions of pounds on behalf of business owners in order to promote their businesses for them, however what do you do if you need to do marketing with no budget?

There are plenty of blog posts out there discussing how to carry out your marketing on a low budget but no one seems to be talking about marketing without a budget, yet this is something a lot of small businesses and startups face every day.

Get a budget for marketing

The first thing to say is there are no really good answers to not having a budget except do what you can in a structured manner and expect it to take quite some time to build up the kind of momentum you need.

The second thing is, (and most important if you need the business to get going quickly) find a marketing budget from somewhere – beg, steal and borrow it. Without a marketing budget it’s very difficult to carry out any kind of targeted marketing so you’re going to have to rely on a scattershot approach until the business has built up a momentum that will accommodate a budget.

What can you do without a marketing budget?

Let’s think about the things you can do without a marketing budget. These are the things you can easily do with your time and that don’t require you to pay someone else:

  • PR
  • Social Media
  • Email Marketing
  • Website development (product/severces/categories text, blogging, onsite optimisation, web dev if you can)
  • Link Building
  • Affiliate marketing

You might be looking at all of those points and thinking you need to spend money to do all of those things. With anything marketing orientated if you put a budget behind it you’ll be able to make it move faster, have a greater reach and therefore a greater impact.

Press Releases

Let’s look at PR, this is a good one because it’s all about personal relationships. If you get to know the journalists on a newspaper, on industry related websites and magazines you’re going to be able to persuade them to include your content. You can write your own press releases, make sure you get a friend to read over them beforehand. If you want a method for Press Releases I write them as follows:

  • Descriptive Title (10 – 15 words)
  • Opening paragraph that says what the PR is about (40 – 50 words)
  • Background to organisation (1 paragraph)
  • Details of the announcement (2 paragraph)
  • Quote from someone at the business (if you can get a second quote from someone outside the business even better) – (2 paragraphs)
  • Summary (1 paragraph)

You need to be looking at around 450 words in total.

Remember journalists are working under pressure and to deadlines so if you can create something that they can cut and paste even better.

If they’re online journalists they’re likely to be more cautious because it’s easier to get caught out for copying, and perhaps more importantly copying verbatim could damage their rankings in Google as it will trigger Copyscape – the key here is getting the key message of the article and the business in the article early on.

Money is always important with PR as well, to do it properly and get noticed you’re going to have to come up with something eye catching, I’ve always found industry surveys work particularly well, especially if you’re discussing how an industry demonstr6ates something about a group of people or the economy more generally.

Social Media

If you want to promote your business these days you’re going to have to be on social media. All of your competitors are and more importantly all your customers are on social media, even if you think they’re not (I’m amazed about how many business owners think their customers live in a world without social media!).

Your social media gives you the chance to build an audience tailored to your products and services. If you just post info about your business you’re not going to get very far, you need to be doing things that are aimed at building up your followers so when you start promoting the products and services you’re efforts aren’t going to fall on deaf ears. This is going to take time, effort and creativeness. You need to understand your target market, and be posting things on there that they’re going to want to read about – but most of all to get things going you’re going to have actively target them. You can do this through ego bait posts in which you reference industry leaders or your potential customers, or you can simply contact them directly and ask them to follow you on Facebook or Twitter or Google (and wherever else you plan to be active.)

Make sure you’ve got activity on Google Plus and be sure to use the hashtags, you won’t get huge amounts of engagement on Google Plus, however this will help your rankings on Google moreover so it’s something you need to be doing.

You’ll have heard loads about virality of social media (where you can piggyback off the reach of your audiences’ reach when members of that audience engage with you), well make the most of it but don’t expect it to set the world on fire – unless you come up with the kind of creative awesomeness of One Dollar Shave Club you’re going to find virality means you increase your reach in low multiples.

You’re never going to beat paying to promote your social media accounts in order to increase the reach of your posts but you will be able to slowly build up over time and as long as you stay consistent you will get the right people, viewing the right posts.

Email Marketing

If you’ve got an existing database of customers you need to be letting them know what the business is up to via email marketing. If your database if small you might be able to send out simple eshots via your standard email account, however it’s likely you’re going to need a bulk email marketing solution. MailChimp is generally a good option for most businesses – it’s free up to the first 2,000 subscribers, so you can mailout to 2,000 people a month as often as you want to.

Mailchimp also allows you to create segments in the data so you can really create some special targeted market campaigns – the more targeted you are, the less you’re going to send out but the more your conversion rate is likely to increase.

Don’t get disheartened by email marketing, the results won’t come through straight away and it will often feel a bit like a waste of time (especially at small numbers) but they are an important part of your marketing and they will help you convert now and in the future – just be consistent with them and the message so people know what to expect each time they receive them.

Of course if some money comes through you should be thinking about buying some more email marketing data in, be careful where you get it from, that it’s good quality and you’re allowed to send out to it.

Remember you’re only going to get a small percentage of the people that you mail out to on your site – so really you’re probably going to need tens of thousands of records to make email marketing work on any commercial level.

Website Development

I’ve lumped a lot into this subheading – working on the website. You can do a number of things on the website itself with just your time, you can improve the content and the optimisation making sure each page has the keywords a searcher would be making (where appropriate and useful!), writing extra content for the blog, adding categories and new pages etc. If you’ve got the skills inhouse to do some of the developments yourself then improving the way users interact with your site could be another thing you can do to get your site used more.

Remember you can do more harm than good by constantly twiggling with your page titles and headings so make the changes and forget about them – for a couple of months!

The key thing you can be doing is adding relevant blog posts to your website – check out content marketing, coupling this up with a social media strategy can be a great way to increase your websites audience. But it’s a long term approach and you tend not to see any results on the first, second, third or even fourth time someone visits your site. It’s a long game – but there are plenty of companies that have been producing content as part of their strategy for years and wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that (promotion of that content is the key though, you’re going to need to find some audiences for that content because since Google went all semantic on us, you can’t guarantee if you write an exact match page title and heading, that you’ll automatically rank and suck up traffic.

Link Building / Offsite Marketing

Gone are the days of mass links. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. It means you need to get fewer links pointing at your site (so you don’t have to pay lots of other people to build them or by into some crazy linking scheme). It does however mean those links are harder to come by.

As part of your content strategy you want to be creating content that people will link back to. Think of useful content that informs people. Perhaps with guides or infographics, you might also want to think about targeting individuals in your content – by focussing on a influencer in your industry you might be able to get them to link back and promote your content for you.

Make sure you use your existing network, speak to your suppliers to see if there’s anything they can do to create content on their websites in order to get links to your site.

There are still free links to be had in social profiles and directories, many of these will rightly be nofollowed but you’ll need as many of those as you can get.

Affiliate Marketing / Introducers

If you sell products you might be able to get your products on other people’s websites where they just take some of your profit (rather than taking a fee upfront like the marketplaces will).

You might also want to pay a introducer fee to anyone that sends a customer your way, you can do this by recording unique queries on urls – it’s relatively simple, but you’ve got to have an existing audience to encourage to get involved in the first place.

Remember Marketing Isn’t Sales

Although we all strive to be ROI driven marketers it’s important to remember marketing isn’t the same as sales. In sales a sales person gets on the phone and creates sales, they then get paid on the back of the money they’ve earned. In marketing it takes time to build up and depending on the market, and how unique the proposition, it can take a lot of time to break into a market and start the ROI cycle. If you can get a budget together you will be able to make this happen a lot quicker.

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