Marketing your early-stage startup for free (do it now, not later).
Here is a list of free (and nearly-free) things you should be doing right now, even if your startup’s product won’t be ready for several months.
Successful startups begin their marketing efforts long before they actually have a product ready to sell. Customer acquisition always ends up being harder than you think it’s going to be, so begin the process of building a marketing foundation now.
Also, great entrepreneurs know that product development needs to be informed by real-world interactions, so you want to be doing customer development while you are doing product development.
The good news is that there are a whole bunch of tools and techniques available for free (or nearly free) and so there’s no reason not to implement them right now!
Here’s my quick list of things every startup should do, long before you are actually ready to start selling products and services:
Don’t put off building your startup’s website, thinking that you need time to develop content and hire a designer. Just get a quick landing page up! Use one of the many DIY platforms such as Wix, Squarespace, Wordpress, etc. Get a nice photo for free from Unsplash, write a few sentences about your startup, and say “Launching soon — sign up here to find out more!”. While you’re at it, make sure you install Google Analytics on your landing page. It’s free.
Growing an email list of followers is important, so when people arrive on your landing page you want to make it easy for them to enter their email address for future updates. You can use the free versions of MailChimp or HubSpot to create a sign-up form on your new landing page and keep your email list in a way that is fully compliant with all the privacy and spam laws.
Get on the Socials.
It costs you nothing to create accounts for your startup on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, etc. Start posting things that are relevant to the sort of customers your startup will be targeting, with links to your landing page. For almost all startups today, a social media presence is important for getting awareness.
Be a Thought Leader.
As the founder of a new startup, you want to start building your personal brand around being an expert in the field. Write an interesting article on Medium and then post it to all your socials. Publish a LinkedIn article and share it with your network. Find online magazines that are looking for contributors and submit an article to them (here are the submission guidelines for Business Insider, BuzzFeed, Fast Company, TechCrunch, and the New York Times). Always make sure anything you publish has a link to your startup’s landing page, of course. Also, get yourself signed up on Help a Reporter Out (HARO) — if a Wall Street Journal reporter is writing an article about your sector, you want them to contact you for a quote to include in the article!
Find out what people are searching for.
Free tools such as Google Trends, Answer the Public, and UberSuggest will give you insight into what people are searching for online. This will help you to craft articles and posts that will align with current search traffic, plus it will give you market visibility that will help to inform all of your marketing efforts.
Launch a Podcast!
Platforms such as Anchor.fm are free and will syndicate your podcast across Spotify, Apple, Google, Audible, and more.
Be active in online communities.
If you’ve developed a new brand of ice cream, you’ll want to join all the different online groups for ice cream lovers. Check out Facebook Groups, Reddit, Slack groups, Quora, and find groups that are relevant to your venture. Join the conversation. It costs nothing, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll develop leads that will end up being valuable for your startup.
Do video livestreams!
If your startup is a app that helps you cook healthy meals for your family, then you’ll want to do some free livestreams from your kitchen, including interviews with a leading nutritionist! A platform like Streamyard makes it easy to produce videos that are simulcast live across Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You can even make these scheduled events, like webinars, and collect emails of attendees. Free.
Create content that performs well.
Ultimately what matters is not just generating content, it’s generating content that engages well and ultimately drive traffic to your startup’s landing page and email signup. Tools like BuzzSumo can help you to find what sort of content performs best.
Stalk your competitors.
Browsing review sites such as G2, Captara, and Product Hunt will give you insights into what consumers are saying about your competitors. This will not only help you to understand the competitive landscape, it will also give you ideas on the sort of messaging and content will resonate well with your audience.
Make Bob Metcalfe proud.
Metcalfe’s Law says that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the nodes. For you, this means the magic happens when do all these things (landing page, social posts, content, events, PR, comments, and email) while you are actively cross-linking and driving user engagement across all of them.
The bottom line:
Even if your startup is many months away from actually having a product or service to sell, executing on some of the ideas listed above will give you insights, data, leads, and online equity that will dramatically improve your odds of success. Great entrepreneurs know that successful startup methodology means doing customer development while doing product development.