How can I market my business with no money?

Top tips for raising awareness of your brand with little or no marketing budget

Q: I’ve recently started a slogan t-shirt business, specialising in timely, humourous prints. I’m funding the venture from my personal savings so trying to keep costs as minimal as possible, by making up the designs to order, for example. For business to take off I know I need a strategic marketing campaign but I’m not sure how to get my voice heard without a substantial financial outlay. What low-cost or free marketing opportunities are there?

Alyssa Smith writes:

As someone running a young business myself, straight out of university and with no financial backing or savings when I first started, I found getting my company name out there to be really difficult. No one wanted to buy from someone they had never heard of before, who didn’t even have a ‘proper’ website. I tried getting retailers to stock my jewellery on a ‘sale or return’ basis, but even that was difficult, as they were reluctant to stock someone’s work who didn’t have any existing retailers in the first place.

It seemed like no one wanted to give me a chance, because they had never heard my name before. It was a vicious circle. How was I going to get my brand name out there if no one would give me the chance in the first place? I won’t lie, I felt very disheartened, and for a split second I considered giving up. But that would have been the biggest mistake of my life.

I decided to explore my ‘free marketing’ opportunities, and after a bit of brainstorming, I came up with some free ideas and unusual ways to promote my business. After all, this was my only option; I had no money for advertising so I had to make these ideas work. I put my business onto social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and I made a collection of jewellery that actually looked like a ‘family’ of related items, not just random pieces I had made, giving the collection a name.

I used to post pictures of my jewellery, along with the price and contact details for people to phone me if they wanted to buy. It was as simple as that. I had no website so this was the best I could do at the time.

The phone started ringing with enquiries. It was slow at first: one person would call, and then a friend of that person. But eventually news spread and my collections started selling, and this gave me the fuel to carry on and keep promoting my business on Twitter and Facebook. I would post testimonials of what customers had said about my work, which would lead to more sales.

However, this alone wasn’t enough. I started writing to local newspapers and magazines, and asking them if they would feature my new business as I was a local person. Local press love local news, and if you can think of an interesting enough angle, they will often feature your story.

I used to write to magazines and ask If I could write a column for them on ‘how I started my business’, or ‘the trials and tribulations’, as this would be beneficial to both parties and allowed me to get my name out there a little bit more. Once I had been featured in the smaller magazines, I could then approach larger ones with a portfolio of media that had already featured me. In this way, I slowly climbed my way up a small ladder and started gaining recognition of my company.

Referring to the question, I wouldn’t say I planned a ‘strategic marketing campaign’ for my business; I just did whatever I had to do to get my name out there. Celebrity endorsements are also a great way to build recognition of your brand. Perhaps you could send a few of your t-shirts off to celebrities who you feel would reflect your brand well and who would appreciate them? This worked for me from the very early stages of my business, and again, it costs very little.

There are so many ways to market your business but my main advice would be to get creative with your ideas, make your company stand out from the rest, and most importantly, never give up! I even tattooed the word ‘Dreamer’ onto my wrist to remind me to keep going every day – silly things like that can really make a difference to your drive and enthusiasm to achieve your goals.

Good luck; and if you haven’t already rocked the world of social media, what are you waiting for?

Alyssa Smith founded luxury jewellery brand Alyssa Smith Jewellery in 2009. She was shortlisted as ‘Entrepreneur of the Year 2012’ and is resident entrepreneur at North Hertfordshire College and an ambassador of the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy. Follow Alyssa on Twitter: @alyssajewellery

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