7 Strategies For Shoestring Budget Startup Marketing

Online marketing is fantastic. It popularizes your business, gets you all sorts of publicity, and is easily one of the biggest factors to achieving financial success. But unfortunately, it can also be quite expensive, especially when you’re a cash-strapped, budding entrepreneur trying to bootstrap his or her way to financial freedom with a day job on the side.

The costs all add up: blogs + ebooks + infographics + web design + PPC + SEO + ? = $$$$$

For instance, an average digital marketing agency of good repute will often be unwilling to take on clients with budgets less than a mid-sized, four-figure sum.

If you don’t have enough dough in the bank to pursue an expensive content marketing regime, then try giving some of these creative strategies a whirl.

However, just because marketing can be expensive doesn’t mean it has to be. While it may not always be easy to operate on a limited budget, most entrepreneurs will at some point or another be forced to start their startup marketing in a cash-strapped setup, and such situations are just another challenge to overcome.

So if you’re currently working with a tight purse and you need some budget startup marketing strategy ideas, read on. In the following post, I’ve collected seven creative marketing ideas that you can start implementing in your business at minimal cost, right away.


Social media is easily one of the most budget-friendly marketing strategies around. If you stay away from any advertising opportunities, then the cost of social media marketing is often $0.

However, you will need to invest a lot of hours of your time before you start seeing any significant results.

The first step to take, of course, is simply to sign up on social networks relevant to your niche.

Remember: don’t spread yourself too thin by trying to be active on every network out there. There are simply way too many networks for that to be possible. Instead, select the three to five networks that are most popular with your audience and your major competitors.

A business in a clothing industry, for instance, may choose to target Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Instagram.


Vine, if you’re not familiar with it, is a pretty popular social network among teenagers and young adults, particularly in the US. It is a Twitter-owned company and not dissimilar to Twitter as a social network. Just as Twitter users have 140 characters to write in a tweet, users have seven seconds of video to produce in a “vine.”

Unlike traditional video marketing, Vine can actually be quite low-cost. Because each video is extremely short, any business that uses it doesn’t really need super-expensive professional recording equipment in order to make high-quality vines that will become popular.

Nearly all of the videos that go viral on Vine inspire either laughter (e.g. a funny video centered around a pun or a quick joke) or awe (like an extremely difficult or flashy sports play). The average business will want to target the former.

If you can get the humor part right, then you’re pretty much guaranteed an audience, because hilarious vines spread like wildfire.


Referral marketing is a super-powerful marketing strategy that also involves very little cost. The driving idea behind it is rewarding current customers/clients when they bring in new customers/clients.

One such company that uses referral marketing well is Sidekick, an email tracking and management app from the HubSpot team. Whenever a Sidekick user gets someone else to sign up for the service using a unique referral link, both the existing and new user each receive a free month of Sidekick’s premium features.

Not only is this sort of marketing a great way to get some free publicity from your users, but it can also help to establish rapport with your customers. This rapport is established in two ways. First, the inviter begins to love your business because he/she gets rewards from it (keep in mind that the quality of the reward is key). Second, the invitee is also happy with your business because he/she has been referred to it by a friend or an acquaintance. Thus, the invitee has an established connection with your business, and will therefore be more hesitant to leave it or switch to a competitor.

The two main costs involved in referral marketing are 1) the software to maintain the system, and 2) the cost of providing rewards (e.g. free service) to your inviters.

The first cost is not too significant if you choose the right referral marketing software, and the second one is only a small loss that you will eventually recoup from all the customers your inviters bring to your business.


Another way to promote your business on the cheap is to constantly run special promotions and deals. Give out coupon codes, institute seasonal pricing, or offer a buy-one-get-one-free deal.

After you’ve setup the deal, make sure that you work to create awareness of it by submitting relevant information to sites that aggregate coupons, like Groupon and RetailMeNot.

Once again, the only major cost here is footing the bill for the deals that you run. Just remember that in the long run, the outpouring of new customers obtained from a new promotion will often recoup any losses you incur while running it.


One more low-cost marketing tactic comes in the form of contests. Like referral marketing and deals/promotions, contests have great potential to go viral.

Take, for instance, the example of AppSumo, a website that arranges discounts for B2B software. One day, they decided to run a small giveaway of Dropbox Pro subscriptions: 10 lucky entrants would win a 50GB Dropbox for Life subscription.

At first, their expectations for the contest weren’t very high. However, all of that changed when the giveaway collected 200,000 new email signups in just a single week.

Prior to this giveaway, AppSumo’s average cost per subscriber stood at around $5. The cost of the subscriptions they gave away was approximately $60,000, which droppped their cost per subscriber during this period to just a measly $0.30/subscriber!

Of course, you probably have less than $60,000 to spend on a single giveaway, but no worries. You can always start at a smaller scale (even one prize with a $100 value can make for a popular giveaway) and then work your way up as profits start rolling in.

What’s more, contests are now super-simple to setup on your website, thanks to certain WordPress plugins. Personally, I’d recommend using AppSumo’s own plugin called KingSumo Giveaways.

At $198, the plugin is a little pricier than some of its competitors, but it makes up for that with stellar customer support, zero recurring fees, and a long list of testimonials from successful customers.


Word of mouth marketing is an especially important strategy if you operate a local or regional business. When your customers sing your praises, it’s impossible to not succeed.

But how, exactly, do you get people to sing your business’s praises from the rooftops?

The answer is simple: provide superlative customer service.

And when I say superlative, I mean it. You shouldn’t have good, great, or even excellent customer service.

Instead, you need to provide the absolute best customer service in your industry: the quality of your service must be unparalleled, unequaled, and unsurpassed. Nobody should be better than you, because stellar customer service is what inspires word of mouth marketing.

Let me provide a poignant example from where I live, India. Right now, the top two eCommerce retailers are Amazon and Flipkart, respectively. In India, Flipkart has been around for much longer; Amazon only started selling here in 2013, while Flipkart launched in 2007.

However, Amazon India’s incredible level of customer service has enabled it to grow leaps and bounds in the short while since its arrival. Compared to Amazon, Flipkart’s customer service is quite poor. Just browse through a few Quora threads like this one to see what I mean.

Although it’s impossible to tell whether Flipkart has been totally displaced from the top position yet, from the way things are going, it most certainly will be within the next couple of years. All because Amazon’s unequaled customer service has caused its customers to spread the word about it in a major way.

The best thing about this strategy is that it doesn’t cost a red cent. Not a single penny. All you need to do is make the customer the #1 priority in your business, and then the results will follow.


Hey, SaaS (software as a service) and membership business owners: listen up. This tip is especially relevant to you.

Decoy pricing is a pricing strategy that leverages the use of a “decoy” pricing plan/product to encourage the purchase of a more expensive plan/product.

The Economist is famous for using decoy pricing in its subscription sales. At one point, they priced subscriptions in the following structure:

  • $59 for an online subscription
  • $125 for a print subscription
  • $125 for a print + online subscription

Do you spot anything irregular? That’s right: both the print and the print + online subscriptions cost the same amount!


To show people the value in selecting option #3 (the most expensive one), and to discourage them from selecting option #1 (the least expensive one).

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist, ran a test to see just how much of an impact this sort of pricing model can have on revenue.

He got 100 MIT students in a room and showed them the above pricing model, telling them to pick a subscription. Sixteen opted for the online subscription and 84 for the print + online subscription. As expected, nobody selected the print-only subscription.

Total revenue: $59 x 16 + $125 x 84 = $11,444

He then got together another group of 100 students, and changed the pricing to as follows:

  • $59 for an online subscription
  • $125 for a print + online subscription

In essence, he removed the print-only option (the decoy). This time around, 68 students chose the online subscriptions and 32 the print + online subscription.

Total revenue: $59 x 68 + $125 x 32 = $8,012

The pricing structure that used the decoy, therefore, resulted in a staggering 43% more revenue ($3,432). Just imagine what you could do with nearly 1.5x more money from your business!

And best of all, decoy pricing is quite easy and cheap to setup, especially for those who run SaaS or recurring membership businesses.


Even though marketing almost always produces better results when you have a large budget, being cash strapped doesn’t mean that you’re totally out of the game.

If you don’t have enough dough in the bank to pursue an expensive content marketing regime, then try giving some of these creative strategies a whirl. None of these will break your bank, but all of them certainly have the potential to thrust your business into the limelight.

Try them out, and let us know how they’re working for you in the comments below!