If I say “the startup scene in India has taken off in a big way”, it’s probably the biggest understatement of this year! Startups are sprouting from every corner of this country fueled by big success stories. An eager online and print media are doing their best to fan the flames of entrepreneurship. That’s why India has now the third largest base of Startups in the world.
The glamour of starting a company masks a truly challenging task that every brave entrepreneur will confront and that is “how do you market your product idea in a highly competitive marketplace?”. If you are bootstrapping your company and have limited or no seed funding to rely on, you have even more challenges to deal with.
Assuming you have done the basics right, namely, identified a gap in the market that you can address or tap a unmet need and your target market has the required scale to fuel rapid growth for your product, the million Dollar question is how do you market your product or idea without spending money!
Let me narrate my own entrepreneurial journey. I started Jodi Logik in September 2015 with my own money. Till end of February 2016, Jodi Logik was a bootstrapped company and only recently a couple of individuals chose to invest to push my idea to the next level. For over 6-months, I was on my own but managed to move things along in terms of marketing without spending a single Rupee. Let me share 3 lessons I have learnt in my 6-month journey in terms of driving product marketing without spending money.
Lesson #1: Good karma pays off
One of the easiest thing an entrepreneur can do is to help others and let good karma pay you back! Let me explain this idea. Let’s say you have an idea to sell mangoes online. You can just set up an ecommerce site for your mangoes. However in order to attract customers, you will need to spend a lot of money advertising your site through the internet or traditional media outlets. To further compound the problem, you will have to deal with other sites selling mangoes! You will have to outspend your competition even if you are convinced that your mangoes are better than that of your competition!
There is a simple way to get your name out without burning cash.
People are looking for answers and that’s one of the reasons Google exists. As an entrepreneur selling mangoes, all you have to do is to find and answer questions people have about mangoes!
The first thing an entrepreneur should do to get started with product marketing is to seek questions that your target customers have about your product or product category and make sure you make a genuine effort to provide the best answer possible.
Here is an example of what I did. The target audience for my company include young Indians who are single. Jodi Logik offers an online solution to create a biodata for marriage and hence my area of interest was to answer questions from single Indians about marriages, arranged marriages, love marriages, dating and relationships.
So here is what I did. I was already a member of Quora and it has millions of users and a lot of them are young Indians. I quickly figured out that there were plenty of questions on the topics that fall squarely in my product category and the quality of answers for many of the questions that I consider as important were below par. I decided to invest my time in answering as many questions as I can on Quora and in 6-months, the number of views for my answers have grown significantly as seen below.
When you answer questions on Q&A sites like Quora, Yahoo Answers or in Discussion Forums, make sure you follow these guidelines:
- Provide a high quality response. Do your homework before answering anything. Providing an in-depth and meaningful response is always appreciated.
- Don’t try to pitch your product. Try answering the question genuinely.
- Don’t take a holier than thou stance even if the question is really “bad” or poorly framed.
- Don’t get into heated debates with anyone over your responses or someone else’s response.
- Humour always helps.
- Remain consistent. Find time every week to contribute to the community.
Here is a simple thing you can do on Quora. Create a headline that includes your brand! Every time you answer a question, you give your brand some free publicity and potential traffic!
An added bonus in answering questions is that you become very aware of your target customer’s need and expectations from the product category you are interested in and this feeds directly into your product road-map!
If you are selling a B2B product, LinkedIn and Industry forums / sites are a great place to demonstrate your competence and showcase your unique take on the subject matter.
Lesson #2: Cost of creating great content is ZERO
Google is a great leveler! It provides anyone (with access to the Internet of course) the same information on any topic and this is a boon for bootstrapped entrepreneurs. All you have to do is to create great content that people would love to read and share and see traffic to your site grow organically!
While I am still in the early days of launching a company, I decided to focus on creating great content in addition to a great product. I shared the content I created in two ways:
- Started writing detailed blog posts on topics that my target customers were interested about.
- Created in-depth guides to help my target customers and made it available free of cost.
Guess how much I spent to do both? A big, fat zero. But, it’s not easy. Here are the challenges I overcame to create awesome content:
- I worked almost 14 hours a day including weekends. I was obsessed with publishing once every day for 5 days a week. This went on for over four months. I dialed it back significantly after that and I will explain why later.
- I had to go through a crash course on content marketing as I was new to online marketing for a consumer product. All my experiences were in the B2B space!
- I did not have a co-founder who could share my burden and could not initially afford to hire a professional content writer.
Luckily, I was good at a few things that really helped me:
- I was good at finding answers for questions and giving it my own spin.
- I have a decent command over grammar and storytelling.
- I was obsessed with creating great content!
The reason I listed the challenges and my skillset above is that every entrepreneur is different. Some are good at churning out content and some are good at churning out code. But there is one key trait every successful entrepreneur has – i.e. to craft and sell stories! This is a skill that every entrepreneur should develop and improve upon. Irrespective of your own skills, here are some free tools and resources I leveraged to churn out great content:
- Read the Quick Sprout Blog from Neil Patel
- Read Brian Dean’s Blog
- Read HubSpot’s marketing blog
- Start using Canva to create awesome images that will supplement your content
- Install the Grammarly plugin for Google Chrome to make sure everything you publish is free from grammar errors
- Learn to work with WordPress. It’s free and a great platform to launch your awesome content
- Familiarize yourself with basic SEO concepts and analyzing keywords for your content
- Learn to use Google Analytics to track how your content is performing
Recently, I published a post on The TechPanda listing 11 free tools that every bootstrapped entrepreneur should use.
In summary, it doesn’t cost you anything to create great content as long as you are willing to put in the effort. At least in the beginning, great content is one of the primary requirements to build traffic to your website and you can do it free of cost.
Lesson #3: Unleash your hidden PR skills
While it is true that great content on your website can drive traffic, it’s not that simple. For a while, I was under the impression that churning out great content will get me noticed on Google. Boy! I was wrong. I had great content going up on my blog page every day of the week but traffic was just trickling in and the expected take off never really happened. There is nothing more demotivating than to see your effort are not producing the results you expected.
The reason is simple. Even great content requires a vehicle to be delivered to your target audience. Let me explain a few lessons I learnt on the topic of getting the word out about your content or product.
- If you are bootstrapping your company, you cannot afford a PR agency. Don’t waste time talking to any agency of any kind! Believe me. I already wasted my time.
- Hiring a PR agency makes sense when you have traction in terms of customer acquisition and product engagement. Premature publicity can kill your product if you are not ready.
- You need to back yourself to tell a story about your company or product at every available platform. Here are some simple ways of getting word out about your Startup that worked for me:
- Use job boards such as Hasjob to advertise for any freelance positions you may have. I used Hasjob to hire UI designers and front-end developers for my product. Advertising for open positions (even if it’s just freelance positions) creates a good impression. Oh! Did I tell you it’s free?
- Write guest posts on high quality sites. The idea of writing a guest post is not to gain publicity, but to build credibility and reputation. This one article I wrote for Youth Ki Awaaz created a lot of traffic for my site although I had no intention of driving traffic! Reach out to site owners proactively and offer to write. Everybody loves good content and you don’t have to pay anyone to write a guest post.
- Partner with experts who can share useful insights that your potential customers will love! In my case, I reached out to top notch wedding photographers and I am already working on creating exclusive content that my audience will love. The advantage of this approach is that in addition to getting exclusive content, you can also leverage the expert’s network to get your name out! The key question you need to ask yourself before approaching an expert is “What is that you can offer them in return?”. If you think hard, you will invariably find a compelling answer!
- Use Facebook groups to your advantage. One simple way to create some publicity for your brand would be identify active and large Facebook groups that may be interested in the awesome content you have created. Sharing relevant content with the right groups will certainly give you some free exposure. For example, if you have awesome content on how your mangoes can make a great mango lassi, try sharing it with a Facebook foodie group. Just remember to read about the group rules before you share your content!
- If you follow the lessons I learnt in point 3 above, you will reap one more reward. Every time your company name gets mentioned or a backlink to your company is created on other sites, Google will attach a greater importance to your site and that’s good for boosting traffic to your website!
I am already seeing an uptick in traffic to my site. Check out the 6-month site traffic data for Jodi Logik here. Notice how increased focus on promotion in the last three months is boosting the numbers. For a first-time entrepreneur like me, seeing the steady uptick in traffic to my product with no external assistance is encouraging.
In summary, the three lessons I have learnt in the last 6-months has given me greater appreciation of the fact that the Internet is a great leveler! You don’t have to be a marketing wiz kid nor do you need an army of digital marketing experts to get your brand off the ground. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, you can certainly kick start your marketing campaign for your Startup at no cost! Of course, I have provided only high-level information but will be glad to share in-depth insights. I look forward to your comments
Guest Post by Srinivas Krishnaswamy, Jodi Logik