Bootstrapping your startup? 7 Marketing tricks on a shoestring budget

Catch-22, you need a marketing budget to promote your product, but you need product growth to give you the capital to allocate a marketing budget. How do you raise product awareness and grow your revenue without any ad spend? We look at 7 ways to get ahead on a limited budget. 

If you’re doing something innovative, shout about it

PR doesn’t have to be costly. Newly established denim brand Hiut Denim started making jeans in the small town of Cardigan in 2012. Previous founder of successful brand Howies and ex-advertising copywriter, David Hieatt along with his wife and co-founder Clare launched Hiut Denim with the intention of not only developing eco-friendly long-lasting jeans but also to get the people of the town of Cardigan working again – all jeans are designed, made and packaged in the Welsh seaside town.  

They gained some pretty far-reaching national press coverage when they announced that they had hired 50 ‘breakers’ to wear in their jeans for six months before shipping them out to customers. Although they’re a brand with a deep-rooted ethical stance, the stint was also to meet customer demand – “90% of our buyers want jeans that look old”. The main benefit, however, was that it got the national papers talking and generated a lot of free press for them in their early years as a homegrown company. 

To pitch your story without a communications agency, do your research. Only approach journalists that write about your subject. Contact the newsdesk with your release and ensure you supply high-quality media. Contact details are readily available via most publications.

Reach out to bloggers for guest posts

Guest posting is a great way to gain backlinks, improve your SEO and make an important industry contact. It’s particularly appropriate if you’re an expert in your field. If you had a senior role in a successful company before founding your startup then this will give you additional credibility. 

Do your market research, ensure your post topic is relatable, topical and always run it by an impartial friend in advance of submitting to see how it reads. Grammarly is a great free tool if your forte is more entrepreneurship and less content marketing.

Tap into influencer marketing on a smaller scale 

Influencer marketing has a lot of potential to raise your profile if you’re still in the bootstrapping phase of your startup. Whilst influencers with large followings are likely to be out of your range, there will be a lot with a smaller number of followers that focus on a niche subject and may be open to featuring a review of your app or service in exchange for a free subscription. Searching hashtags and related profiles on Instagram is a good way to find them. Don’t direct message them if they work with an agent or specifically ask for a different method of communication.

Lay strong SEO foundations

Gaining a good ranking in Google can take a lot of time and effort. If you put a lot of the groundwork in during the early days then this will set you in good stead for the future. Do your keyword research via a free tool like the Moz Keyword Explorer or Semrush Keyword Magic Tool. Both will offer monthly search volume, keyword difficulty and competition density during the free trial period. Google Trends is also a good way to see what keywords are trending and offers global insight. 

Focus on onsite and offsite changes; build backlinks while optimising your onsite content. Ensure your website is properly optimised with meta tags, alt tags, a sitemap and keyword-rich page titles. Importantly, be aware of Google’s algorithm updates. Changes will impact how they rank your site. 

Udemy is a great option for low-cost tutorials to get you started.

Offer your services up for event speaking

If you’re a confident public speaker (or even if you’re not – practice has to come from somewhere), events are a great way to gain recognition, notoriety and raise your brand awareness. 

Create an event calendar of all the relevant events in your sector taking place and reach out to the organisers directly to discuss ideas for next year. Ensure you approach them during the early planning stages. Think globally, you don’t have to be physically present, so don’t rule out webinars or virtual events. And, focus on a topical content idea; what do people really want to hear about? 

Focus on content

If you’re handling it in house, content is a great way to raise your brand profile. You need to focus on multiple content types and ensure the creative content you’re developing is engaging to your audience and highly relevant. 

Leverage your content across multiple social channels and maximise social sharing opportunities. Canva is a great way to design Instagram stories, Facebook posts and pitch decks on a budget.

Capture data early on


Designing, building and sending a regular newsletter can cost you nothing. There are some great, easy-to-use tools and services out there like Mailchimp, HubSpot or Sendicate, but developing a database of contacts to send it to is the really challenging and time-consuming part. If you start early, then your contact base will have time to grow organically with your startup. Keep an eye on growth and if it doesn’t seem to correlate to your visitor numbers then consider incentivising, or changing the positioning of the sign-up box on your website.

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