Most startups are strapped for cash and the majority of them don’t have the budget to dedicate any serious funds to marketing.
So I’ve compiled a list of 51 ways you can acquire customers without having to spend thousands of dollars on marketing.
1. Looks Matter
It sounds silly, but if your website isn’t smart, inviting and intuitive, most people these days aren’t going to stick around for long. Make sure that it looks like somebody updated it a few hours ago—rather than a few years.
2. Break the “Skill” Barrier
If new users don’t have the skills to use your website, they’re not going to take the time to learn them first. Make it so that they don’t have to, and they’ll value you all the more.
3. Meet Market Behaviors, Don’t Try To Change Them
It sounds complicated, but it’s simple: be innovative, but make sure that you’re not being an inconvenience. It’s exactly how Square became the titan it is today.
4. Find Your Micro-Market
You’re not going to appeal to all 7,000,000,000 people on the planet. So instead of trying to win everyone over at once, follow Facebook’s example, and target one group and expand from there.
5. Become a Life-Hack
Save people time and effort, and they’ll naturally start coming to you. Offer a one-stop shop appeal, and you’ll make it hard for them to go anywhere else.
6. Be Sharable
Make sure that your site is equipped with easy-share buttons to all of the big social media sites. Make things tweet-able, email-able, and even text-able. People won’t go too far out of their way to spread the word.
7. Plug It In!
If you can make your service a plugin or extension—do it. It’s an easy way to get your name and product out there, and makes you all the more accessible.
8. Blog, Blog, Blog, Blog, Blog
If you don’t have a blog on your website, then you’re still on the ground floor. This is an essential part of promoting your site. Get started right here.
9. Start Spreadi–er, Reporting the News
If you’re having trouble coming up with fresh content, engage with current stories out there! Get involved with the news, and watch how relevant your blog can become.
10. Find Your Money Keywords
It’s like cheating. Google has a free tool that allows you to see who’s searching for what every month. Start with what you want to target and develop a set of keyword silver-bullets.
11. Exclusivity: The Art of Invite-Only
Done right, the invite-only strategy can be a great way to build hype around your new product. Just make sure you don’t wait too long and invitees forget who you even are.
12. Provide Amazing Customer Service
If people are having trouble with your site, respond! If you’re responsive, they’ll appreciate you, and have a lot more grace for the bugs that are naturally going to occur.
13. Be on the Cutting Edge of Production
A broad part of Vimeo’s appeal was publishing in high definition—at the time, 1080p. Now YouTube has come out and started to provide 2K and 4K upload definition. For no other reason than that they’re the only ones doing it, it will surely attract new users.
14. Encourage Multiple Personalities
For sites like Etsy, the genius is in taking a group of people and engaging them at both ends: make them the buyers and the sellers. Done right, you can capitalize on this same principle for any industry.
15. Give Power to the User
Whether it’s Reddit’s up-voting system or YouTube’s thumbs-up and thumbs-down ratings, giving users the power to self-regulate can help make the user generated content on your site its best—which will in turn make your website all the more appealing.
16. Non-Monetary Incentives
Whether it’s credits that go toward your service, or features that can be unlocked by sharing, try to find creative ways to incentivize your visitors to spread the word.
17. SEO For Dummies
You may not have time to become the next SEO whiz kid, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn the basics to help boost your traffic. Here is a great place to get started.
18. Content Marketing!
And along with SEO, there are myriad ways to use content marketing to your advantage. It’s free, easy, shameless promotion you should be doing right now!
19. Be a Part of the Conversation
With the number of resources and different sites across almost every industry, there’s plenty to be read and commented on. Get out there and begin to engage with those contributors!
20. Get Social
Beyond just signing up for social media accounts, check out these tools that will help you get the most out of each individual site. Learn how to convert your social media followers into customer’s here.
21. Make Growth & Engagement Synonymous
When people publish content, make it easy for them to engage with outside audiences. Don’t keep your user-generated content inward facing. When they engage, it’s an opportunity for you grow.
22. Don’t Rely on Other People (Well, Other Users)
If your site needs a large community to function, it’s going to be hard to get those first few users. Try to make it functional no matter how popular it starts out.
23. Create Your Own Buzz
One of the more controversial suggestions on this list, some might call it “faking it.” But the reality is, generating some community buzz yourself can help get things going.
24. Cherry Pick
Speaking of shady, going to Craigslist isn’t always a bad idea. They, and sites like them, can be a way to seed information for a directory like Yelp.
25. Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is a simple way to cross-promote websites, and benefit from other people’s popularity—like High School, but better. Find successful bloggers who fit well with your blog’s voice and ask them if they’d like to post to your website. In exchange, they’ll get free press, and they’ll want to promote your website.
Pro tip: If you aren’t having any luck cold emailing people to guest blog on their site, try writing an article and linking out to them from your site first. Then email them saying something like this asking for a guest post – “I love your blah blah blah so I had to mention it in my blog.” It works.
26. Give People a Voice
Allow your website to be a place where people feel they have a platform to truly express themselves. In fact, Twitter said it best in their IPO filing statement: “We aim to become an indispensable daily companion to live human experiences.”
27. Be Transparent
A lot of people don’t like to tell all their secrets. I mean, no one really knows what goes into McDonald’s secret sauce – ahem! it’s thousand island. But GrooveHQ startup journey blog is sharing everything and everything they do to get to $500K monthly revenue. It’s building their credibility in the online help desk space and their blog has become pretty popular.
28. Start Your Own Podcast
A podcast is a simple, free, and engaging medium that you can create right from your own home. Most computers even have the microphone built right in! Check out these websites for a potential place to host it.
29. Start a Web Series
Having YouTube Videos on your site has been reported to be the biggest harbinger of traffic of all the social media—on average, a YouTube video will lead the average viewer to visit 2.99 pages on your site.
30. Inform with Infographics
Creating helpful infographics is a staple in the viral content wheelhouse. Everyone from Fast Company to Moz does it. It’s a fun, engaging way of explaining any range of topics, and it’s something that people will be excited to share and link back to your site. Here are a few places that can help you make one.
31. Build a Newsletter
As you’re building a network of email addresses and various contacts, you’ve already got the foundation for a traffic-driving newsletter!
32. Tack on a Widget
33. Link Building
A staple of SEO, make sure that you’ve got healthy link building within your site and across the web. It’s an easy way to boost the authority and relevance of your site.
34. Quora Hack
There are questions to be answered! Make yourself a relevant voice of authority. It’s quick, and free to sign up. Here is a guide to everything you need to know about using Quora.
Pro tip: Having trouble getting the most out of Quora? Have a friend seed a question that you have the answer to already. Answer the question and provide a link back to your website with content that provides further explanation. Then have other friends upvote and share your answer. BOOM.
35. Hold a Contest
Everybody likes a contest, prizes can be as simple as a free membership, and it’s a great way to have other promote your site.
36. Be a Middleman
If you’re providing a service where two parties can more easily meet, you have all the promotional tools you need. Just like Trello, create a platform where people can better mediate their work.
37. Email Marketing
There’s nothing wrong with good old-fashioned email marketing. It’s actually still one of the best channel to reach your customers. To get your started, here are some email marketing resources as well as a great interview for more concentrated efforts.
38. Make Subscribing Easy
Don’t leave subscription to be an afterthought. Catch them early, and make it easy. As I’ve said before, people won’t go out of their way. You have to make it easy! Try using the Hellobar (pictured above) or other tools like Sumome.
39. Find Your Influencers
Whether you have someone of influence backing you on the development end, or you simply can track down “celebrity” users: capitalize on their influence whenever you can.
40. Optimize Your Map Listing
It’s something I’m surprised more people don’t do. As Maps becomes more deeply ingrained in search, a well-optimized map listing has amazing value.
By inserting yourself into another platform, you can ride the promotional success of other sites and software. Widgets and plugins do it all the time!
42. Foster Viral Behavior
Services like MailChimp are spreading themselves—literally. People use the service to reach the masses. It’s the perfect tool for free promotion.
43. Incentivize Sharing
Whether it’s the iPhone game that promises 25 tokens for a share on Facebook, or the paywall that can be bypassed by connecting to social media, there are great ways to make spreading the love more appealing.
44. Bring Out Consumer’s Creativity
Another great way to incentivize your consumers is to highlight and reward their creative work. A “featured work” section can go an extremely long way.
45. Be Ahead of The User-Acquisition Curve
People catch onto tricks. So when Facebook marketing gets old, make sure you’re on the look out for the next trend, not beating the old one to death.
46. Gamification: Make Organic Marketing Fun
There’s nothing wrong with gamifying your service. From surveys to quizzes, give users something they can share and brag about to all of their friends.
Jimmy Daly from Vero wrote an interesting blog on how adding gamification to your product onboarding and communicating it through email can turn consumer behavior into habit.
47. Benchmarking Your Competitors
Every industry has some level of competition. If you’re looking for direction, one of the best things to do can be to watch your competitors. It can help you determine if you have markets you should be tapping into, or even new ones that no one has reached. The good news is that there’s a tool to help you do it in a flash.
48. Update Your Toolbelt
Generally speaking, it might behoove you to update your toolbelt across the board. If you’re still using metrics from five years ago, you may be seriously miscalculating the market. But beyond that, the way we share and market has simply evolved. Check out the myriad lists of helpful tools that can improve the way you approach marketing online.
49. Master Headline Writing & Copywriting
Creating a high volume of good content on a regular basis is hard. Titles? Forget about it. If you’re feeling stuck on the same ideas, and the same tired jargon, then here’s a guide to help you write headlines like a champ.
Learning the necessary copywriting skills isn’t enough though. Being able to write persuasive copy that leads to conversions should be the goal. Here is a great resource to learn how to write persuasive copy.
50. Update Your Speeds
Don’t kid yourself: if your website is slow, you’re going to lose traffic fast. People are impatient, and there are plenty of sites ready to help them a lot speedier than you can claim. Invest in a quicker site.
Firefox reduced its load time by 2.2 seconds which led to a 15.4% increase in downloads. Check out this infographic on how load time and site speed effects conversions.
51. Don’t Be Mute
Especially when you’re starting out, every customer matters. Engage with them, let them know you’re excited, and enable them to help your site evolve.
Whatever tricks you decide to use, be empowered to know that you don’t need a big budget to acquire customers. You just need the will to do it.
P.S. Sorry for the click bait-y title 🙂