All businesses need to market their products or services. Without marketing, you'll never sell anything. In other words: no marketing, no business.
But you might be thinking, "I've never done any marketing, and I'm doing very well."
If so, you've probably got the wrong idea of what marketing is about. Marketing isn't just TV commercials and internet pop-ups. Marketing is anything you do to help sell a service or product.
This could be:
- having a Twitter account for your business
- setting the price for your products (price is one of the four Ps of marketing)
- pitching your services to a potential client
- attending networking events and handing out your business card
- speaking with a reporter about your latest product launch
All businesses need marketing. But not all businesses are good at marketing. This is especially the case for small businesses. Why? Three reasons:
- Not all marketing strategies are equally effective. Some approaches to marketing are better than others.
- Marketing is part art and part science. There's no perfect solution to marketing.
- Many small businesses—especially start-ups, solopreneurs and freelancers—don't have a lot of time or money to invest in marketing.
The aim of this article is to help small business owners solve these three problems and become better marketers. We'll do this by showing you how to bootstrap your marketing.
First, we'll look at what it means to be a bootstrapper and to adopt the bootstrapping mindset. Then we'll cover some basic bootstrapping strategies.
Sound good? Let's get started.
What is Bootstrapping
Bootstrapping is all about taking a small amount of resources, and making them stretch as far as possible.
The idea of bootstrapping dates back to the 1920s. Back then, the phrase "pull oneself up by one's bootstraps" had been around for close to 100 years, and was used to refer to an impossible task. In the optimistic environment of the 1920s, the meaning of this phrase changed. It came to refer to the idea of bettering yourself by your own efforts.
Bootstrapping, then, is about taking a DIY approach to running your business. You make your business better through your own efforts.
Thanks to the internet and social media, bootstrapping a business is easier than it's ever been—especially when it comes to marketing. Websites and social media accounts are so easy to set up that you can create a solid online marketing platform in just a day or two. Add to that the power of email marketing, and you can quickly create a marketing platform that sends a constant stream of customers your way.
If you run a start-up, you're a solopreneur, or you offer services as a freelancer, you probably already operate as a bootstrapper. The question is, are you doing it in the most effective way possible?
The Bootstrapping Mindset
Bootstrapping is primarily a mindset. It's about recognizing that you're capable of far more than you imagine—as long as you approach marketing in the right way.
To get yourself into the bootstrapping mindset, ask yourself the following questions:
- What marketing skills do I already have?
- What marketing skills could I quickly develop, through reading, watching videos, or a low-cost training event?
- With these marketing skills, what types of marketing could I do myself?
- Out of these, which are the most likely to be effective at connecting with my target audience?
- Which would have the lowest financial cost?
- Which would take the least time?
By applying these questions to yourself and your marketing, you'll discover effective ways to market your products or services for the least amount of time or money.
Bootstrapping is primarily about doing things yourself at low cost. But it can also involve asking for help from others—especially people in your network who are willing to help you for free.
Questions that can help with finding people to help include:
- Who do I know that can give me good marketing advice without charging for it?
- Which of my contacts have good connections with my target audience? These could be face-to-face connections, or online followers.
Now you're armed with these questions, let's take a look at some marketing techniques that are ideal for bootstrappers. Chances are, not all of them will be right for your business. But some of them will be. Take what looks good to you, and add it to your marketing toolbox.
Manage Your Own Public Relations
If you've never pitched a story to a journalist or written a press release, managing your own PR can sound like an intimidating prospect. Don't be daunted!
Running your own business, you've got a huge advantage over PR professionals who represent bigger companies: authenticity. You're the one who's running the show, so journalists will love hearing from you.
Here are our top tips for doing your own PR:
- Start with easy wins. PR is partly a numbers game: the more you pitch (and the more rejections you notch up), the more you'll be featured in media outlets. But there's no point in chasing rejection for the sake of it. Start by reaching out to your local media—such as newspapers and radio stations—as this is easier to break into. You can also share stories will small and medium sized blogs who'd be interested in your company. By doing it this way, you grow in confidence. You also develop a track record as a good storyteller, which helps when you start to pitch bigger media outlets. And you never know, being featured in a small local newspaper could lead to a national publication getting in touch.
- Connect with reporters on social media. This does two things. First, it establishes trust and mutual respect. If you interact with reporters on social media, they're more likely to pay attention when you send them a story. Second, it will open the lid on opportunities, as many reporters will share requests for sources on social media.
- Sign up for HARO. Help a Reporter Out is the key place where journalists go to seek out sources. Getting yourself on HARO is likely to be one of the most effective things you can do to improve your PR.
Take the Plunge on Social Media
According to research by LinkedIn, four in five small business now use social media. And of those with social media accounts, 94% use it for marketing (If you're not yet on social media, what are you waiting for?).
The fact that so many small businesses are using social media makes sense. It's the ideal bootstrapping tool. Signing up is free, and it gives you the potential to connect with thousands (or even millions) of potential customers.
Yet when it comes to social media, there's an elephant in the room. A 2013 survey by Manta found that 60% of small business have seen zero return on investment from social media. In other words, social media has failed to bring in any new customers for these businesses.
What went wrong for these businesses? Chances are, many of them failed to understand the basics of social media. You can't just sign up for an account and expect followers to just roll in. Nor can you treat social media as a promotional tool. Social media is about engaging with your customers, and sharing lots of useful content. To do that effectively, you need to create a system for your online marketing efforts.
Other ways you can use social media as an effective marketing tool include:
- Connecting with potential customers on LinkedIn. This strategy is ideal for businesses selling products or services to other businesses (B2B). It's also helpful for freelancers who are looking for new clients.
- Finding out what your customers want or need. Social media is a ready-made, free-to-access focus group for your market research. Twitter is especially powerful for this.
- Growing a tribe of loyal fans. A tribe of customers who love what you do will amplify your business's reach—because they'll talk about your products or services with their friends. Facebook is a great tool for finding your tribe.
Grow Your Own Email List
If you choose just one technique from this list to use in your marketing, growing your email list should be the one you opt for. That's for three reasons:
- Email is here to stay.
- When you create a list, it's yours, forever.
- Email establishes strong relationships with your subscribers.
Setting up an email list is a lot of work up front. You'll need to prepare an email marketing plan, put together a buzz piece to encourage people to subscribe to your list, and create an autoresponder sequence that engages your subscribers.
After this initial investment, you'll only need to do a small amount of work to keep subscribers engaged. A weekly or monthly email is more than sufficient. In exchange, you'll be growing a marketing asset that will stay with you for life.
Connect with Influencers
As we previously mentioned, bootstrapping isn't only about doing everything yourself. It's about putting the resources you have to their best use—and other people are a great resource. That means you need to know how to strategically ask for help when you need it.
Influencers can help you:
- Amplify your message. If they've got a big audience, they can quickly boost the visibility of your business.
- Network with power players. Perhaps there's an investor or potential customer who you'd love to connect with. Being put in touch with them through your network means they're more likely to respond, compared to getting in touch with a cold call.
- Make sure you're taken seriously. Influencers are people whose words carry weight—and when they talk about you, they transfer the trust people have in them to your business.
How can you connect with influencers?
- Follow them on Twitter. Then respond to their tweets. You'll find some people are more willing to talk to you than others. That's okay—you don't need everyone to talk to you.
- Join a LinkedIn group they're part of. And engage them in discussion. LinkedIn groups are a good way to build all kinds of connections—influencer or otherwise.
- Write about them on your blog. Writing about someone is a big compliment, and a good way of getting their attention. A simple way of doing this is to take something they've said, then explain why you agree or disagree.
Learn from What Works
It's unlikely that you're the best small business in your niche. Even if you are, there are still things you can do to improve.
Instead of discovering marketing strategies by trial and error—which is a rapid path to burnout—look at what your competitors are doing. What do they do to engage with their customers? Sign up to their email list. Follow them on social media. Create a Google Alert to track their media appearances.
You'll quickly learn what works, and you can use what you find as inspiration for your own marketing strategies.
Now, Over to You
If you're a small business owner, have you ever thought of yourself as a bootstrapper? What bootstrapping marketing strategies do you use?
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in December of 2014. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.
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