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6 Ways to Bootstrap Your Marketing

Unless you’re Sean Parker (or Justin Timberlake playing Sean Parker), chances are you’re in that lovely phase that everyone affectionately calls “bootstrapping”. The word comes from the 1860’s, when--if Johnny Depp movies are to be believed--everyone wore boots. It’s referring to those loops on the back of your boots, and it means to pull yourself up by those straps. Nowadays, we think of it as scrounging, hustling, pinching pennies, and doing what you can so that your new sprout of a company can flourish from the entrepreneurial ooze.

Okay, let’s assume you have an awesome product or top-notch service. If not, get back to work and stop reading this blog. Aside from being great and all, telling people about greatness is important. Really important. And for all the aforementioned reasons you’re stuck at the marketing budget line item of negative zero. All is not lost. There are a few things you can do during that pre-budget period to get the ball rolling, the only cost is a little time and imagination.

  1. Social Media. I know, duh, right? But hang on, hear me out. What about using social media in odd ways? Check these campaigns out, they should get the juices flowing: using Tinder to break the fourth wall by having movie characters listed as users, congratulating the wrong Super Bowl team on purpose to promote needing a new social media manager, or setting up profiles for adoptable dogs on Tinder. Think of ways to use social media as part of the ad, not an interruption to it.

  2. Pull Tab Flyers. Your cities telephone polls are littered with cheap tear off flyers. You can print these from home or work. If you don’t have a printer you could bribe an artsy friend to draw you some. The key here is to embrace the cheap, make it part of the campaign. Also, remember to post them near where you would find your target customer. Check these neat ideas out to get you started.

  3. User-Generated Content. Gamify your sticky. If you have a bit of an audience--say, over a few thousand--maybe let them have a crack at it. You could even go so far as to have them vote on which one they like best. It gives them ownership of the marketing and gives you an idea how they view your company. This works especially well if you have a lifestyle brand. Get creative with the prizes too: maybe a job, a year's supply, or just invite them to your Holiday party so you can clap at them. Here are some great ones done by huge brands, but the same could work just as well for a smaller brand with an active audience. Also, this one is just funny. I miss John Stewart.

  4. Offer to guest blog or speak. This one is a bit meta (given that I am, in fact, guest blogging here), but offering to share knowledge and ideas is the cheapest marketing you can do. Show the world what you know. Find some blogs that speak to your target audience and write something they can actually use. The only downside is that if you’re doing it right, they may not need to call you at all.

  5. Homemade PR. That local newspaper? That industry journal? That thing that your target customer is already reading? Read it too. Find a few reporters that write about companies and people like you and drop them a note. Be friendly, interesting, and respectful. Realize that they probably get fifty of these a day, and you’ll need to give them a reason why they and their readers should care (aside from you’re new and awesome). Some will ask not to to be contacted anymore. That’s okay. Thank them for their time and move on. If they’re really nice they will forward you to someone that might be interested in you. Don’t focus on the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, either. For one, they don’t care and for two, you want a more specific audience. If you send a 100 emails and only 5% respond, than you’ve got 5 good articles. I would take 5 good targeted articles over almost anything. Remember: people come to these publications to read the articles, not the ads. The articles are free.

    This little hack may work, or it may backfire. Nothing beats a personal email, but it could save you time--use with caution.  

  6. Contests. If you’re just starting out and trying to grow your social audience, give them a reason to share. I have a buddy that’s great at this. He owns a local film production gear rental house, and promotes his social media pages by giving away things for sharing the page. You need shares and the words to be spread through the land; they want free stuff. The giveaways can be free trials, free demos, some schwag, or a coupon.

   6 ¾. Knock on doors. There is no replacing face to face contact. Go to events, get coffee, shake hands, kiss babies, talk about the weather. In all stages, knowing people helps. From service business to product companies, B2B to B2G; having a list of contacts is essential. You never know where meeting one person will lead. Better yet, this doesn’t even require imagination and there is usually free food.

Hopefully you’re not bootstrapping forever, but take advantage of it while you can. You’ll never be this flexible, this nimble again. What you lack in cash, you’ll have to make up for in imagination--but there’s something really inspiring in that, isn’t there?


Dan Schepleng is the founder of Kapowza—a full service creative agency that specializes in startups. Dan has been on the creative side of advertising since he was hired to edit a commercial at 15. He was paid in golf clubs and used them twice.