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Bootstrap marketing for small businesses in 2021

JR Farr



JR Farr


August 31, 2021



One of the priorities of bootstrappers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs is to get the word out and make their products count. The caveat is: small businesses owners may not have the budget to splurge on large marketing campaigns. This is where bootstrap marketing comes in.

As an entrepreneur, you don’t want to spend an exorbitant amount of money and find out you’re bled dry after a successful quarter. At the same time, promoting your business should be a top focus for new and bootstrapped companies.

Don’t worry. Modern, organic marketing isn’t one-size-fits-all. Luckily, there are a plethora of ways you can promote your bootstrapped business on a budget.

Many small brands have effectively carried out marketing campaigns and scaled their business. And without spending too much.

Here’s a look at what topics we’ll dive into:

  • What is bootstrap marketing?
  • Content Marketing
  • Organic Social Media Marketing
  • SEO — Organic Search
  • Word of Mouth
  • Doing your own PR
  • Start an affiliate program
  • Purpose driven marketing

We’ve got a lot to cover so let’s get into it.

What is bootstrap marketing?

At its core, bootstrap marketing is to work with little or no budget at all to promote your products and reach out to the target audience. It takes some effort but with a little focus and creativity, bootstrap marketing can be extremely effective.

So what’s the catch?

Bootstrapping involves a lot of time, in exchange for a lower cost. Because of this, entrepreneurs should use creative and cost-effective methods and channels to maximize their budgets. In other words, you’re not doing less, you’re just stretching your investment further.

It can be challenging to come up with powerful campaigns and gain top-of-mind awareness. Remember that you’re also competing with larger corporations for consumers’ attention. Stepping in with creative ideas and innovation can level the playing field and give you an edge.

Here are some bootstrap marketing ideas for small businesses to use in 2021.

Use content marketing to scale

Beyond snazzy copy and colorful visuals, content marketing is a strategy that small businesses and startups use to scale.

Nowadays, consumers want to purchase from brands that they can connect with. Not everything has to relate to your business either. You find brands that put out online content, in the form of video, social media, or blog posts, that do not directly promote their product or services.

Instead, brands leverage content to inform, educate or engage with their audience, thus building a deeper emotional connection and fulfilling other needs.

Here’s the thing, content marketing costs 62% less than traditional advertising and can generate three times as many leads. If you’re bootstrapped for cash, this is an extremely cost-effective and scalable way to grow your audience. But only if you do it right.

Focus on providing value and consistency

One tip for putting out valuable content is to always make sure that it is relevant and consistent with the brand voice.

Take a look at how HubSpot constantly puts out helpful blog posts to educate its audience. By providing in-depth information to the customers, leads, and prospects, HubSpot is placing itself as a knowledge hub for all marketing and growth needs.

While their articles and eBooks are technically free, they also include specific calls-to-action and downloadable links in exchange for user emails. This way, they can build an extensive contact list of leads.

Make use of organic social media traffic

When was the last time you bought something after seeing a social media ad?

Probably not too long ago.

The advent of social media platforms has definitely changed the way people communicate. Currently, there are over 4.4 billion social media users in the world, accounting for almost 57% of the population. For brands, this means that your potential customer is probably on social media, and it’s time to get on board.

Social media is the perfect place for promotion, and costs way less than TV or Out-of-Home (OOH) advertisements. Social media helps you reach your target audience and for way less.

Consumers are constantly connected to their mobile devices, and brands can engage with them and promote their products. Another great thing is, with tools like Instagram for Business and Facebook Business, businesses can tap into specific demographic segments, create lookalike audiences, promote their brand on a low budget, measure metrics, and track activity all in one place.

Here’s a real-life example of leveraging your social accounts

Let’s take a look at the weekly WordPress newsletter, The Repository.

Besides paid promotion, such as running facebook ads or influencer marketing, The Repository makes a great case for organic social media marketing to boost their reach. A quick look through their site and you can see what they’re doing with their Twitter account (@TheRepositoryWP).

For starters, each week they tag the accounts they have included in the week’s newsletter. This in itself, encourages those to like, retweet, and engage with.

Every week they have the ability to reach a whole new audience.

SEO — Optimize your online presence

If you haven’t realized by now, digital marketing is much cheaper than traditional marketing. That is why it is so useful for bootstrapped businesses and entrepreneurs. Another way to harness the power of digital marketing for small businesses is to put some effort into SEO.

From an organic standpoint, it’s the highest-intent traffic your company can get. It’s also the hardest type of traffic to create.

Fun fact — did you know that 81% of shoppers search online for a product or service before making a purchase decision?

By optimizing your website’s on-site and off-site SEO, you’ll be on your way to making it easier for people to find your business. This can generate a good amount of organic traffic, which is traffic that is not influenced by paid promotions.

What keywords do you optimize for?

A simple keyword analysis will tell you what queries consumers are making and the terms they are using. One tip for bootstrapping SEO is to target long-tail keywords, rather than compete with large corporations for popular buzzwords. This way, there is less competition and an ability to target niche audiences with specific needs.

For businesses that are serving a specific geographic area, it can be worth investing in local SEO. Research has shown that 47% of Google searches are made with local intent. Consumers are relying on their devices and search engines to recommend the best places and businesses that are in their immediate area. Small businesses can tap into this to support their growth efforts.

In short, SEO isn’t the easier route, but the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.

Use Word of Mouth bootstrap marketing

So you’re strapped for cash, but you want to drive attention to your business. Why not ask your customers for help?

Word of Mouth takes place when people, mostly customers, talk about your business to their friends, family, or colleagues. On average, WOM drives a staggering $6 trillion in global spending and accounts for 13% of all sales.

Happy customers who talk about and generate buzz around your business are also known as brand advocates. They actively promote your business to the people around them, prompting them to take action to find out more. A study by The Nielson Company revealed that 83% of respondents said they trust the recommendations by friends of the family.

People also generally tend to trust their close friends and family over other forms of endorsement, such as from celebrities or influencers. Other than generating a substantial amount of leads, it can also improve trustworthiness and brand reputation.

If your customers love your product, you should encourage user-generated content through online reviews, forums, discussions, and starting interesting topics.

This is also a great first step to building your own community around your brand or product.

Netflix and chill taken on a life of it’s own

Stop 'Netflix And Chill” If You Wanna Get Laid

One of the most popular and relevant at the moment is how Netflix has popularized the term “Netflix and Chill”. When more people talk and mention a brand, it effectively boosts their top-of-mind awareness. Right now, Netflix is a global content platform that holds a large market share for binge-watching and on-demand entertainment.

Do your own PR

If you haven’t started on a PR strategy for your business, you’re missing out on a lot of potential. This is a quick way to earn a lot of media coverage that can boost your brand. However, while PR is about getting ‘free coverage’, it can be costly to hire professionals or an agency to help you out. That is not to say that you can’t do it yourself, though.

By focusing on PR, you’re building up credibility and trustworthiness while effectively promoting your brand. It takes a bit of grit and research to get it right. But when done right, PR can bring in the media exposure you need to boost your business.

Get in front of where your audience is listening

Start off with researching relevant blogs, Reddits, podcasts, Facebook groups, their segments, and topics of interest. Then, reach out to them to get them and ask to do a short interview or even a product review.

It is important not to set unrealistic goals. More often than not, people immediately reach for tier 1 media and are discouraged when they get rejected. Remember that PR takes time and is founded on newsworthiness and public interest.

After some time, you will be able to build meaningful media relations and contacts that are more receptive to your ideas and will reach out to you for media opportunities.

As you find your brand or product on more predominant outlets, use that as your own marketing material to establish social proof and credibility. Win-win.

Start an affiliate program

Building a successful affiliate program is one sure-fire way to ignite your business in no time. The reach you can build overnight is like nothing you’ve ever seen. The audiences your product or brand can tap into is off the charts. With fruitful affiliate partnerships, you gain access to a whole new audience.

On the flip side, there’s also a dark side to running an affiliate program. It can attract some bad lemons if you’re not careful. As it relates to affiliate schemes like fraudulent purchases and other pitfalls you can get into some deep waters quickly.

Put guardrails in place early on

If you put the necessary guardrails in place early you’ll be just fine. You’ll want to think through things like minimum payout thresholds which require affiliates to have a balance of a certain amount (e.g. $50 balance). Additionally, consider payout terms (NET30, 45, 60) depending on your industry.

Building an active affiliate program is a great bootstrap marketing technique for any online company. It aligns the incentives with you and your affiliates to drive more revenue.

Use purpose-driven bootstrap marketing

If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic taught us that purpose-driven campaigns are the way to go. In a generation led by emotions and social causes, having marketing efforts driven by kindness and inclusivity can help brands resonate with the audience.

Consumers are increasingly expecting businesses to do more than just sell products. By developing a brand voice, businesses are able to align their core values and their campaigns. This way, they can connect with an audience that shares the same beliefs and interests. A survey by social media platform Twitter found that consumers aged 18 to 35 value brand involvement in culture. The report also stated that some of the ways brands can do this are through staying on top of current events, demonstrating shared beliefs and knowledge of their customers, and giving back to the community. It is also a great way for bootstrap businesses to find new customers and support their local communities.

Remember, keep it genuine not just for a marketing campaign.

As a small business owner, you may be wondering if it takes a lot to run a purpose-driven marketing campaign. In reality, it takes dedication to your mission and consistent actions. Some ideas include: donating a small portion of profits to a local organization or partnering with charity organizations.

Take a page out of TOMS

Toms became a pioneer of charitable commerce when it launched “One for One” in 2006. It’s donated over 95 million shoes since then. Keep in mind, the results on this type of stuff are always mixed. Consumers want to know this is a genuine cause and not just a marketing gimmick.

And that’s a wrap.

When it comes to promoting your business, it doesn’t have to be expensive and over-the-top for it to work. With these bootstrap marketing ideas, you can perform your own marketing campaigns and take your business to new heights.

Bootstrappers FTW.


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