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I started selling social media services when I was 17 years old. After spending $9 on a logo and domain for my newly created brand, I sat back and waited for my email to fill with orders and partnership opportunities — but that didn’t happen.
Four weeks later, my inbox was completely empty. I had no way to advertise to customers, my social channels weren’t generating leads and nobody knew my company’s name or what we did.
It became strikingly apparent that I wouldn’t get by without some kind of advertising. But I knew that I’d have to find unorthodox ways to match my competitors if I didn’t want to break the bank. These are the three strategies I utilized to elevate my company’s marketing with a budget of $0.
Related: No Money? No Problem. 30 Low Budget Marketing Ideas for Your Business
1. Targeted online forums
The first (and most successful) strategy that I employed was finding websites, group chats and marketplaces for people in need of the services that I provide.
The founding principle of marketing is pretty simple: Reach people that you can sell to. What they don’t tell you, though, is that you can access your target demographics without a full-scale campaign. In fact, online marketplaces make it easy to find free hotspots for advertising your services.
Targeted forums like Fiverr, for example, are a surprisingly frequent destination for two types of customers: those looking to purchase services directly, and companies who need something for a client. The second group can be incredibly important to your success — building a relationship with brands that manage a variety of clients can lead to repeat purchases. Becoming a company’s supplier via freelance forums thus represents a unique way to access large groups of customers without spending money on marketing.
Even more advantageous than larger freelance platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, the niche-specific forums and marketplaces are typically the best way to reach your target audience. Being the Behances (creative art), the StockXs (fashion), and the Steams (video games), these hyper-targeted markets represent the most effective opportunities for conversions.
For me, those outlets came in surprising forms. They were random group chats for buyers and sellers of social media services, aforementioned larger forums similar to Fiverr, and talent forums like Publicist.
Being an active member of my niche’s targeted forums gave me access to a client base of active customers and marketing agency representatives. In doing so, it allowed me to sell my services and build relationships with other social media professionals.
Related: How to Start a Business With No Money
2. Networking and outreach
Branding experts tend to tout networking as the best way to build a resource base for your business. But, what does that actually look like? For my brand, it meant messaging other industry figures by any means necessary. LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, email and support phone numbers were all fair game. I’d write a letter explaining my services, attach my portfolio and send it out to hundreds of companies. Eventually, some of my “Hail Mary” attempts were received by people with the power to bring me on board.
The second part of my outreach plan was more personalized. I sent messages to smaller brands and creators who were in similar positions to me, and I offered to trade my non-rival resources. By swapping lists of profitable niche forums, descriptions of social media growth mechanisms and other industry knowledge, I was able to expand my marketing strategies and company verticals.
Offering to combine resources ended up being one of the best outreach strategies I’ve ever pursued, especially when I didn’t have to worry about competing with anyone. Provided that my disclosure of a strategy didn’t prevent me from utilizing it, every exchange was a net positive.
While most narratives portray sharing information as a recipe for compromising market share, they neglect that it can be a useful tool for catapulting smaller businesses into the realm of owning a market share at all. Especially for inexperienced companies on a small budget, mutual collaboration can yield the same results as an expensive consultancy, a lot of research or a year of prerequisite industry experience.
Related: 8 Ways to Do Big-Time Marketing Without Spending a Fortune
3. Diversify your verticals
The extent to which marketing matters varies significantly by the area you choose to pursue. Certain products or services may only require one client to sustain a relatively profitable business, while others may need 10 consistent customers to break even.
I found that focusing on services that required smaller customer bases (and thereby a smaller marketing effort) was significantly easier to handle in the early stages of my company. I then used the budget and knowledge to open and market a larger array of products, and now have an aggressive service marketing plan with a safety net of relationships that lead to consistent purchases.
Diversification isn’t easy, and the way I went about it involved pulling from all the strategies listed above. I used targeted forums to build relationships and target an active clientele, then subsequently used my newfound connections to learn more about the industry and how certain services could be pragmatically provided.
Listing a wide variety of services eventually led to more customers. By using my prior collaborations to learn about certain strategies, I was able to appeal to a larger percentage of my already incredibly narrow targeted audience.
In the end, building a brand takes time and consistency. By trusting your process, drive and structure, you’ll ensure that your business reflects the effort you put into it.