The number one challenge for any startup is generating traction. Even if you’ve built something that is much better than what the competition has to offer, the reality is that most people are reluctant to try something new. Building a solid early adopter base and getting to product-market fit usually takes a lot of time and effort. Traditional marketing channels are not making this any easier, as small startups are often forced to compete with large companies who have the budgets to spend money on SEO and seemingly ubiquitous advertising.
However, startups typically have limited resources and cannot afford to spend much money on advertising. This means that any digital marketing tactics they choose to implement need to rely primarily on organic traffic, which makes it especially hard to attract customers’ attention.
When we started EllisX, we knew that spending money on advertising was not an option for us and had to find creative ways to find our early customers. We experimented with a number of marketing channels including direct outreach, content marketing and free trials in order to find early adopters and prove our business concept. Here are four low-cost channels we discovered that would help you take your startup to the next level:
- Partnerships: this is a low-cost way to drive potential customers to you. There are likely a number of organizations in your space that work with your target customers and might be able to help you reach them (e.g. if you sell to startups, you should consider partnering with incubators and accelerators). To make this work, you will need to understand what you can offer to the partner and what their incentive to work with you will be.
- Community: building community around your product is highly underrated. Not only does it increase word-of-mouth referrals, but it also provides brand loyalty and emotional connection to your product, leading to higher stickiness. In addition, you can try posting about your product in communities that already exist online and whose members are likely to be interested in a product like your (e.g. Meetups, sub-Reddits, etc.).
- Authentic marketing: this is a new category that is rooted in the fact that customers no longer simply buy products. We all want to feel connected to the brand, its mission and values, and we often see people choosing to take their money elsewhere if they disagree with a company’s values. There’s no better way for customers to learn about your values than you repeatedly telling your story in independent media outlets, such as podcasts, newsletters, blogs, magazines, etc. Given that 80% of consumers prefer to discover new products via media, this will likely generate good ROI.
- Customer referrals: if you have a really great product, sooner or later people will start talking about it. The best validation you can get is when customers like your product so much they start referring their friends. Word of mouth is a great marketing channel that is 100% free but it can be sporadic. That’s why you can engineer incentives for your customers to refer friends more frequently. For example, you can offer them a discount for every friend who they invite and who signs up within a specific time-frame. When done well, this can be a powerful marketing channel that engineers viral growth for your startup.
Finding your first customers and reaching product-market fit is always a challenge, but it doesn’t need to be expensive. It takes trial and error to learn which channels are best-suited for your business, but by running a number of quick experiments, you can identify the low-cost channels that are best positioned to help you take your startup to the next level.
This article was originally published on HackerNoon.