When I was a senior in college, I pitched my undergraduate capstone project as such: I was going to start a business on paper. As a marketing major stuck in an artsy honors program, my capstone project options were limited to literature seminars or the like. So, I tracked down my favorite marketing professor and begged her to customize a syllabus for me.
About a month into my project, I had another ridiculous epiphany. Hey, I thought, let’s do this for real. I had a mentor, I was already starting this business on paper, and I’d grown up around the concept. Why not turn this into a real party?
So, my business gained a name, a face and a website. And I gained a title of ownership and a responsibility to deliver. Well, turns out I didn’t have all the resources I needed: My budget was zilch. I may have been working a part-time paid internship, but I was still in school and didn’t live with my parents. (Go me!)
Many small businesses with tight budgets believe that marketing spend should be the first to go. I was no different. But, I refused to limit myself to through-the-roof traditional advertising expenses. So, I got creative.
Here’s how I grew my business from paper (literally) to profitable with little to no marketing spend.
1. Network like crazy.
I worked my network. At 21, my measly network consisted of my mom and dad, my hair stylist, my college professors (that actually liked me) and my friends’ parents. But, you’d be surprised at how many people will help out a young entrepreneur. Once I built up the courage to cold call and email strangers I found online or through friends, many were willing to hear my story, give me advice and even leverage their networks on my behalf. (I even got a little mention in our local paper.)
2. Partner with other local businesses.
I traded advertising and exposure. Thankfully, I live in an area that celebrates local startups and where small business owners support each other. Since my business’s target audience is well-defined (which is important), I contacted non-competing businesses that market to similar clientele and offered cross-promotional opportunities. Even those small businesses that have plenty of marketing spend love free advertising.
3. Be smart about email marketing.
I emailed the heck out of people. Man, oh man, are emails annoying. I was apprehensive to use email with my business, but the truth is email marketing is hardly dead. So, I chose a free email marketing software, placed a web form on my website, asked for emails at check-out and offered an enewsletter. Turns out email has become the best way to reach the masses and build relationships with my customers.
4. Focus on the social platforms your customers actually use.
I leveraged social media correctly. After first creating my website, I jumped right into snagging similar handles on multiple networks. Bad move, Allie. Turns out, I only needed Facebook and Instagram. Once I lightened my load, I was able to give my business an online personality, post what my audience wanted to see and even invest in some advertising.
On – 04 May, 2017 By Allie Decker