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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 fledgling brand, I sat back and waited for my email to fill up with orders and partnership opportunities – but it 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 no one knew my company name or what we do.
It became glaringly obvious that I wasn’t going to go without some publicity. But I knew I would have to find unorthodox ways to measure up to my competition if I didn’t want to break the bank. These are the three strategies I used to elevate my company’s marketing on a $0 budget.
Related: No Money? No problem. 30 Low Budget Marketing Ideas for Your Business
1. Targeted online forums
The first (and most successful) strategy I used was to find websites, group chats, and marketplaces for people in need of the services I provide.
The basic principle of marketing is quite simple: Reach people you can sell to. What they don’t tell you, however, is that you can reach your target demographic without a full-scale campaign. In fact, online marketplaces make it easy to find free hotspots to advertise your services.
Targeted forums like Fiverr, for example, are a surprisingly common destination for two types of customers: those looking to buy services directly, and companies that need something for a customer. The second group can be critical to your success—building a relationship with brands that drive diverse customers can lead to repeat purchases. Thus, becoming a company supplier through freelance forums is a unique way to reach large groups of customers without spending money on marketing.
Even more profitable than larger freelancing platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, niche-specific forums and marketplaces are usually the best way to reach your target audience. Being the Behances (creative art), StockXs (fashion), and Steams (video games), these hyper-targeted marketplaces represent the most effective opportunities for conversions.
For me, these exits came in surprising forms. They were random group chats for buyers and sellers on social media services, the aforementioned larger forums similar to Fiverr, and talent forums like Publicist.
Being an active member of target forums in my niche has given me access to a client base of active clients and marketing agency representatives. In doing so, it allowed me to market my services and build relationships with other social media professionals.
Related: How to start a business with no money
2. Networking and communication
Branding experts tend to tout networking as the best way to build a resource base for your business. But what does this actually look like? For my brand, that meant messaging other industry figures in any way possible. LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, email and support phone numbers were all fair game. I would write a letter explaining my services, attach my portfolio and send it to hundreds of companies. After all, some of my Hail Mary attempts were received by people with the power to turn me on.
The second part of my outreach plan was more personalized. I messaged smaller brands and creators who were in similar positions to me and offered to trade my non-competing resources. By exchanging 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 promotion strategies I’ve ever followed, especially when I didn’t have to worry about competing with anyone. Provided my disclosure of a strategy did not prevent me from using it, each exchange was a net positive.
While most narratives describe information sharing as a recipe for compromising market share, they ignore the fact that it can be a useful tool for catapulting smaller businesses into the realm of having market share altogether. Especially for inexperienced companies with a small budget, mutual cooperation can produce the same results as an expensive consultation, a lot of research or a year of required industry experience.
Related: 8 Ways to Do Big Marketing Without Spending a Fortune
3. Diversify your verticals
The degree to which marketing matters varies greatly depending on the field you choose to pursue. Some products or services may only require one customer to maintain a reasonably profitable business, while others may need 10 repeat customers to achieve profitability.
I found that focusing on services that required smaller customer bases (and therefore less 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 range of products and now have an aggressive service marketing plan with a safety net of relationships that lead to repeat purchases.
Diversification isn’t easy, and the way I did it involved pulling from all of the strategies listed above. I used targeted forums to build relationships and target active clientele, then subsequently used my newfound connections to learn more about the industry and how certain services could be pragmatically delivered.
Listing a wide variety of services ultimately led to more customers. By using my previous collaborations to learn about certain strategies, I was able to attract a larger percentage of my already incredibly narrow target audience.
After all, building a brand takes time and consistency. By trusting your process, drive and structure, you will ensure that your business reflects the effort you put into it.