5 Ways To Jumpstart Your Startup – Part 5 – Marketing

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This post is Part V of the series: 5 Ways to Jump Start your Startup by Rob Lauer. Read Part IV of this series here.

We’re live! Now what? We were hoping of course that the world was waiting and all we had to do was turn the system on and the hit parade would begin. I said hoping, not expecting. It doesn’t work that way. Apparently there’s this crazy thing called marketing you have to do. If you thought coding was hard, wait until you start trying to attract visitors, increase your page ranking, convert trial accounts to paying accounts and actually start cashing in on your hard work.
If you’re lucky you already have a few customers and enough momentum to get the marketing ball rolling. In our case we’re going to have to do it the old (and new) fashioned way – but again on a bootstrappers budget.

Up until we had setup our infrastructure on Amazon’s cloud, our expenses were a paltry $15.95/month for our hosting service and a small budget for some Sushi planning lunches. There’s only so far you can go however without a marketing budget. In the last few months we’ve spent about $6K on marketing – all self funded. A drop in the bucket and well within the threshold to still consider our effort “bootstrapping”.

Here’s how we stretched our limited marketing budget.

Trade Shows

We’ve signed up for 3 local trade show. Trade shows are certainly old school marketing but we decided they were a relatively inexpensive way to help us get some limited grassroots traction and more intelligence on the market. By talking to our constituents we hope to get more information about their needs, triggers for purchasing and to network as much as possible.

Our market consists of micro to small non-profit organizations. Right away we are targeting parent teacher organizations and booster clubs. In early March we attended the 2013 NJ convention in Long Branch, NJ. To make a decent showing we spent about $2500 on convention fees, marketing materials (that can be reused) and a mass mailing.

We were able to get a mailing list from a government (department of education) website of all school administrators in NJ. We sent a postcard a few weeks before the show announcing our attendance and introducing our product (pre-show marketing). The postcard was designed by us on VistaPrint who also did the printing, processed our mailing list and mailed the postcard. Total fee was about $1000. We spent another $350 on an 8’ft professional looking booth that we found on E-bay. Using VistaPrint and Kinkos we spent another $1000 on various marketing materials (business cards, vinyl banners, shirts, product sheets and posters) that we’ll be able to use at all three shows.

At the NJ PTA convention we were fortunate to meet many local PTA members and representatives and more importantly network with their national executives who gave us a lot of encouragement that we are on the right track. We’re in touch with them and are planning a meeting in the fall to discuss how we might work together to help their membership.

Atlantic City, NJ was our next stop for an Athletic Directors convention. With our $350 booth and marketing materials in hand we were again pleasantly surprised by the conversations we had with folks and were able to connect with another key executive in their organization who has invited us to speak at one of their meetings.
On April 30th, we’re headed for Philadelphia for another parent teacher organization convention. All of these trade shows have been within 1 hour or so from our homes making the time and monetary commitment minimal.

Webinars

In order to provide some training and an opportunity for some of our users to ask questions, we held a webinar one evening using AnyMeeting. Yet another “free service” helped us reach out to our market in a cost effective fashion. AnyMeeting is a web collaboration/communication tool that can be used free of charge (with ads) or for a small monthly fee. For our initial use, the free version’s ads did not get in the way of our message. We’ve used AnyMeeting to host conference calls with potential partners where we’ve been able to demonstrate our product. AnyMeeting allows screen sharing as well as document sharing and in-meeting chat. The product also allows for people to participate by telephone or via their computer’s microphone.

As we become more established we’ll probably be holding more regular webinars and will most likely consider the fee based options.

Facebook

Our social strategy is still evolving (isn’t everyone’s?), so while we have “Facebook” page our more immediate us of Facebook is to use it to spread the word by posting our events and progress on our personal Facebook pages. We’re enlisting friends, family, and associates to help spread the word about our website. You never know who the information might hit square in the eyes.

Longer term we see opportunities for using Facebook and the Facebook APIs in more creative ways, but our immediate concern and focus is on getting exposure and Facebook’s reach is nearly impossible to duplicate.

Co-Marketing

We’ve begun negotiations with a potential partner that we currently use for helping us get nonprofits their 501(c)(3) IRS designation. We’re also looking at ways to co-market with fundraising companies that sell to non-profits. Both of these techniques have the potential to create link cred for our site as well as expand our exposure to our target markets.

E-Mail/Content Marketing

We’ve been able to find free email/mailing lists by tapping government sites. We’ve also been able to get trade show attendee lists. We’re using these lists to create email campaigns that include a “free white paper” landing page offer to engage potential customers. Some of our ideas on the use of landing pages with free offers of our own white papers that we’ve written were sparked by HubSpot. HubSpot provides tools for “inbound marketing” (the use of blogs, whitepapers, SEO and social media as opposed to the old school methods like traditional advertising through TV, radio and direct mail). Along with their tools that they make available by subscription, they offer a host of “free” advice and white papers that are worth looking at for ideas on marketing your startup and designing compelling marketing materials.

So, there you have it. We’re launched, in the cloud, and burning some bucks on marketing – but not too many! We’ve been able to put together a product with sweat, elbow grease, free software, free services and free advice and all with practically no real funding. You can too. Now it’s time to sell!

About Rob Lauer

Rob Lauer is a partner in TBC Development Group, LLC who, along with Lauer-Millen CPAs has developed Treasurer’s Briefcase (www.treasurersbriefcase.com), a cloud based accounting solution for small non-profits. When he’s not bootstrapping TBC at night, he’s the VP of Technology for an information technology company in New Jersey. Rob welcomes feedback or questions - rlauer@treasurersbriefcase.com.