Marketing with Zero Budget

When you have money, when you have the budget, marketing and advertising are so much easier. But what do you do if you’re a startup and you have no money or no budget? How can you turn things around? How do you generate leads? How do you grow your business?

I get calls every single day from people who sheepishly ring me up, saying, “I have this idea. I’m just looking into it, but I don’t really know what anything costs.” In our marketing agency, we appeal to a lot of different people—people with high hopes and dreams and people who are trying to make it happen. But here’s the thing: When you come to a company like ours, we charge money. We’re certainly more expensive than zero dollars, so people are sheepish when they call me up and say, “I have $200,” and I say our projects starts at eight grand. They’re going to get pretty embarrassed by it. I try to make them feel better. I try to give them some tips. But here’s the thing: if you’re reaching out to people, if you’re reaching out to an agency or a marketing company, or if you’re trying to get someone else to build your company for you, it’s going to cost a lot of dollars.

When you’re in startup mode (when you don’t have a lot of cash flow to support the new campaign, the new marketing, and the new activities you’re doing), how do you make this happen? It falls on your shoulders to make this happen. Don’t get overwhelmed. There are three simple things that you can focus on to grow your business: generate more leads and do your own marketing without spending a single dollar on it.

Step 1: Take a cold, hard look at your website.

I know it seems obvious. I know it seems basic, but there are huge companies and small companies that do terrible, terrible websites. Look at your website. You don’t really say what you’re doing. You don’t really have any design or photography on there. You don’t do a good job of explaining who you are, what you do, why you do it, and what you do, and how you help people.

I’m not talking about lead-generation strategies, landing pages, split testing, or anything advanced. I’m talking about just your website’s content. Your navigation should use words that are intuitive. The way you explain yourself when someone lands on that page and sees the headline there, does it say something like “We do this” or “We help people do that”? Or do you actually speak in your terms? Do you speak to the people you want to help? Have you thought about the values you drive? These are really basic things. Look at Wix. Look at Squarespace. Look for templates that are free. Start to drop your stuff in there because there are so many solutions and so many things you can do without hiring a crazy number of developers and designers.

You spend next to no money if you focus on it. Ask some friends and get some opinions. Learn about your clients and try writing. Try making it better and better and better. This will fill the gap. This is not a long-term solution. This is not a replacement for coming to an agency, hiring a designer, or coming out with a world-class company. This is filling the gap. This is “I have no money right now. I need to turn things around. I’m going to start up, and I’m desperate for clients. I need something that doesn’t lose me the sale, something that doesn’t embarrass me, and something that explains things for our own firm.”

Our website is two years old and completely out of date. It looks pretty good. It has some great examples on it, obviously, because we’ve been doing this for 13 years, but it does not explain who we are right now. We’re in the process of hiring new people into our firm, and if they go to our website, it literally doesn’t say what we do right now, who we are, how we act, or anything.

I spent a day and a half on a Wix site that is like four pages, and it’s a super clean design. I just grabbed the template, and I just started writing who we are, what our culture code is, what our services are, and how they work. There’s no photography. There are barely any icons on there. It’s mainly just words. It’s super clean, minimalistic, and simple because I am in desperate need to explain to the people who are applying to our company who we are and what we’re about for zero dollars.

I threw up a Wix site, and guess what, it did the job. The first thing that you need to do is to get your website to a point where it explains what you do, why you do it, and who you are. All these things don’t embarrass you, don’t lose you the sale, and don’t hurt your credibility. Get something up on a template right away.

Step 2: Pick one social media platform and start doing stuff there three to five times a week.

You need to decide what your skill sets are and the best place for you to be focused on introducing yourself to as many people as possible today—you know, where the place to go. You got to go to a social media channel.

If you don’t have money for an advertising campaign, if you’re not going to throwing money at things, then you need to start introducing yourself to people in the current cocktail party that is social media. Is your home base going to be Facebook? Is it going to be Instagram? Or if you’re in B2B, LinkedIn? Do you love the idea of Twitter? If you already find yourself on one of these platforms and you love it, then you are way ahead. But if not, if you’re uncomfortable (I was uncomfortable being on social media) to say, “Look at me, world, I’m awesome,” that’s not what it’s about. What it’s actually about is sharing with the world who you are, what you’re trying to do, and what your intentions are. It’s about giving them a sense of what you do and why you do it that way so that they can learn from you or they can be entertained by you.

I love writing really long posts on Instagram. I’m visual. I love visual things, so I prefer using Instagram for photography, stories, and all those things. But I use it as my daily journal as well. I literally release stuff and write these super long posts, whether people read them or not. It is like just workshopping ideas on Instagram. You may not ever think of Instagram as a writing platform, but I really enjoy writing there. You have to decide whether you’re going to use Twitter (because you love the interaction and you love the now), LinkedIn (because you’re more into B2B and you want to be able to share expertise), or Instagram (because it’s a little bit more visual).

As I’ve said, you can write stuff, and you can share stories and videos. You need to pick the platform that you are going to spend time on. You need to start. Do you want to entertain people? Do you want to educate them? You need to start releasing stuff. Here’s a great thing: If you don’t have a following yet, you should use this as a moment of freedom to say, “I can literally make mistakes. I can literally scrape my knees and get back up. I can do anything. I’ve released stuff with typos. I’m a copywriter who writes amazing strategic copy for people. I run an agency, but guess what, not one person noticed.” The thing with these social platforms is you don’t have to know about algorithms, hacking, or tags. You don’t do any of that stuff. You literally just have to consistently release content that’s true to you. Decide who you want to be. Decide who you want to help. Start putting content out right away.

Step 3: Decide one activity that you are going to do consistently that will help you blow up.

The natural thing that people in startup or people with no money do is go networking. Well, if you’re an extrovert and you’re in kind of a niche and you’re in a city where there are lots of people and networking makes sense, then go for it. Have fun, shake hands, and take people for dinner and coffees. Do all those things. But what if you’re an introvert? What if you’re far from the hub of the city? What if you’re working from home? What if you just find that you’re in an industry where people aren’t coming together and networking? Well then, the idea of networking is a total waste of time.

You are going to select one activity that you are going to do that leverages everything and that makes you the way you are. If you’re an artist, then go out there and pick your favorite piece of content, culture, or area and create the best art that you can give your time. Create something that you absolutely love, and do so whether people are paying you or not. Go ahead and share that on Reddit. Share it on your social platforms. Go ahead and put it out there as an art collection or something. If you love talking to people, start a podcast. Start interviewing people, and start learning from them. Take that audio and start to put it out there. If you love networking, then network. If you love one-on-ones, grab coffees with people. If you find that you’re really good at getting attention, then start a PR strategy where more people and newspapers come to you. Every business that starts to grow without spending money on advertising will tell us that this is the secret. They will say, “I grew my business to $10 million without spending a single dollar on advertising,” and then when you dig into how they did it, they did it because they just literally did the thing that they love the most, and it kind of blew up.

I’ve seen people talking about how Facebook was the answer to growing their business huge. Well, it’s because they love being on Facebook. They love doing photography. They love managing a group and bringing people together and answering questions. But that doesn’t mean Facebook is going to work for me or maybe for you. You know, I love having one-on-one coffees with people in conversations and just digging into who they are. So that could look like networking. It could look like a podcast. But mostly, I just call people up and take them out for lunch or coffee and just get to know them. However, if you don’t like people or their backstory the way that I love learning about them, it’s not going to work for you. Besides your website and the social platform that you are going to utilize, select one activity that you can do consistently. It must be something that is true to you and that you can dedicate time into.

If you are trying to market with zero budget for your startup or turn your company around, you have to do these three things. Then when they start to work and you’re tired of all the scrappy stuff that you’re doing, you can start to pull some budget out and get real with marketing. But for now, you have to do the things you need to do. They will take you so far. But here’s the thing: Most people won’t do it right. Most people won’t spend the time that they need on their website to really do a good job. They’ll just give up. They won’t spend the time on it. Most people get depressed with social media. At first, they get excited about it, but three months in, things start to fall off when they see that fewer people are reacting to the things they share. Just stay with it. Just be consistent. If you push through, you’re going to get there. But people give up, and they get excited about jumping into something. They tell themselves, “I’m going to have all these coffees with people. I’m going to set all these meetings.” But after setting up some meetings, they don’t follow up, or they don’t really care, or they get busy with other things.

So these three things are what you need to do with everything that you’ve got. These are the thing that’s going to make you rocket. This is your obsession, your passion, and your commitment. I want you to promise me you’re going to get obsessed with this. Do each of these activities with full passion, and then you’re going to come back to me and tell me, “Thank you, Mark. This was the best.” You also have to remember to think big, be bold, and to say yes.