How to market your new business on a tiny budget, from successful entrepreneurs who have been there and done it
Plusnet Pioneers and the founders behind innocent drinks, LDN Muscle, Social Chain, and Mush offer tips on creating an effective and affordable marketing strategy that makes your business stand out
Even with a limited budget, you can use marketing to your advantage and attract new customers in the process.
By carving out a recognisable brand identity and making use of all the tools you have at your disposal, you can stand out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive space.
Using marketing tools such as social media, email advertising, testimonials and partnerships or collaborations, it’s never been easier to spread the word about your start-up – and you don’t need large amounts of cash to make your marketing a success.
And to show you how, we’ve brought together a panel of successful UK businesses for the Plusnet Pioneers programme – a series of exciting content created by business broadband and phone provider Plusnet and Startups.co.uk to enable small businesses to succeed with marketing and funding.
Our Pioneers all have a wealth of experience marketing a business on tight budgets. Richard Reed co-founded innocent drinks and now leads JamJar Investments, Steven Bartlett is co-founder of social media agency Social Chain, Tom and James Exton are co-founders of fitness brand LDN Muscle – which has over 200,000 Instagram followers – and Sarah Hesz and Katie Massie-Taylor have brought together thousands of mums through their app, Mush.
The Plusnet Pioneers
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Here they share their insider tips.
Make your marketing unique to your brand
innocent drinks is famous for the quirky and irreverent tone used on its packaging and social media.
Richard explains that this approach came organically, not by paying out for branding advice from an agency: “All we did to come up with our branding was to write in the same way we spoke to each other as friends. There was no conscious creation of tone. There was just the need to combat the question of ‘why do all businesses sound really busy and legal and formal in their writing?’”
But how can you find that voice for your brand?
“Finding your voice is about understanding who you are as a business, what you believe in, how you act, how you want to be perceived in the world, how you want to engage with customers, what you want to advocate for, the things you want to advocate against, and then being true to that as a business.”
Rather than using copywriters or content experts to create content for their social media pages and sites, James and Tom of fitness brand LDN Muscle found that less polished content was a big winner for their audience.
James recalls: “I think the beauty of it was that it was quite organic, it wasn’t corporate at all, it was just four guys posting as and when. That approach worked to get us off the ground because customers got into it and it didn’t look so polished.
“More basic content can actually work better because when you overcomplicate it, it can dilute customer interest. Basic videos [those created by filming on our iPhones]do so much better for us than polished ones with a videographer.”
But does an un-polished approach like this work for any brand?
Tom: “You’ve got to be careful depending on what kind of industry you’re in but if you want to engage with customers on a personal basis it doesn’t need to be that polished. As long as it’s still professional.
“There’s a difference between having the content you share be more organic and rough-and-ready than totally unprofessional.”
Test content before you commit spending on marketing channels
With limited resources, you need to know that the marketing channels you’re using are going to be effective tools for promoting your business.
With this in mind, Richard says that “the best use of research before you spend any money on marketing is to check that what you’re doing is in fact being received by customers in the way you have intended.”
For Mush, trying out different marketing routes has been key.
Katie: “Our marketing strategy has been based on testing lots and lots of things.”
Sarah: “We have tried lots of different marketing channels in the last 12 months deliberately.
“For instance, we wanted to see how PR can work for us, and how outdoor advertising can work for us versus using social media and our community.
“We’re fortunate as we’ve got a loyal community and we incentivise them and make them feel part of Mush.”
Make use of cost-effective marketing tools
Steven, co-founder of Social Chain, urges new brands to make use of the various marketing tools available for small businesses – and for him there’s one in particular that needs more recognition than any other:
“The single most underappreciated marketing tool that any small business can take advantage of is Facebook Ads Manager.
“There is no form of advertising that has ever before been so brilliantly targeted at scale, whilst being affordable. For some businesses, I literally implore them to become an expert in using Facebook Ads Manager, if not anything else.”
Steven also recommends Iconosquare for businesses using Instagram:
“If you’re looking for influencers and brand advocates, you can use Iconosquare and search for keywords such as ‘UK’, ‘London’, ‘fashion’, ‘influencers’ etc. and put in the size of their audience you’re looking for and it pulls up a big catalogue of relevant influencers. It’s super cheap for small businesses.”
Be the face of your brand and use your personal brand to sell your business
Alongside marketing tools, there’s another very important resource that all founders of small businesses can make use of – yourself.
It’s never been easier to become your own personal brand and spread your message to the world.
Steven, who’s become the public face of Social Chain through social media and his speaking engagements, explains:
“The rise of the personal brand has been triggered by a number of things. The basic premise is that humans buy from humans, and they prefer to buy from humans who appear to be more knowledgeable or more intelligent because they have a big following – it’s modern day social-proofing.
“Back in the day the only way to build a personal brand was through PR and press, such as getting in the newspaper and getting on the radio. Now in 2017, with the rise of mobile internet and mobile video, I can sit in my bedroom and give the world my opinion.
“It’s no longer about being invited to the club of people who can afford PR. You can now create your own platform and own that platform; you now have an opportunity to give that opinion and to be heard.
“The way to be heard is by being completely honest, not fluffing your opinion, talking on contentious issues and having a definitive and disruptive opinion.”
Mush founders Sarah and Katie “didn’t set out deliberately to become the face of their brand”, but it ended up being a key part of their business growth.
Sarah explains: “We fixed something that we wanted to fix and it turned out that most other mums in the country also wanted to fix this problem so it’s really exciting that we can be part of that.”
Have a wider social role
Having a social agenda and a commitment to a wider issue has helped the Mush founders secure free PR:
According to Katie, “we’re lucky enough now to secure TV slots or to talk on the radio and that’s because we’re talking about the big issue behind why Mush exists; as a network for mums who are lonely.
“We’re a couple of people who can talk at length about this issue, especially now that we’ve got hundreds of thousands of mums who have come on board with exactly the same problem.
“We’re now spokeswomen for them.”
Your checklist for marketing your small business on a budget:
- Create your brand identity and enable this identity to come naturally – you don’t always need to pay an agency to tell you who you are and what you stand for
- Use content to promote your business and advertise this online and via social media. You don’t need to spend big to create this content; a rough-and-ready approach can work just as well as long as you keep it personal and unique to you
- Test, test, test! Try out different marketing channels before committing lots of budget.
- Utilise affordable marketing tools such as Facebook Ads Manager
- Leverage your personal brand to sell your business
- Make your business part of a wider issue or social movement to gain momentum. For instance, if you run a renewable energy business you could become involved in the conversation on climate change and carbon footprints
Interviews were conducted as part of the Plusnet Pioneers programme, a stimulating series of inspiring content created by business broadband and phone provider Plusnet to help small businesses grow and reach their full potential.