If you are like most startups you have virtually no cash to spend on Marketing and Advertising. Having a tight budget pushes entrepreneurs to get creative (fortunately that is usually an inherent trait). Here are a couple of ideas that I have used and shared with others.
One way is to auction your services off. No matter what city you are in, there are bound to be local non-profits that are holding fund raising events. It might be a fundraising dinner or brunch or school bazaar, but almost all non-profits hold silent auctions and are always looking for unique items to sell. Put together a nice package of your goods or services and provide it to the non-profit to auction off. If you are a photographer you could put together a package for “3 hour photo shoot and 100 proofs” or a “discount on a wedding package”, etc… If you are a personal chef, you could offer “a custom dinner for you and 6 of your friends.”
This ends up being a win, win, win. The organization get the money, the person who wins the bid gets a great product or service and (most importantly for you), you get exposure to a new group of people for only the cost of your time or your product.
Another approach I encourage business owners to try is to attend events that are outside of their industry norms. For example, if you are a graphic designer attend a convention for Dentists. Dentists often need graphic designer for brochures, websites, business cards, etc… and you probably won’t be competing with many other graphic designers at the conference.
My final suggestion is to try to do some cross promoting with people that are servicing the same audience you are going after, but who’s business is different than yours. Take this scenario for example; let’s say a company is throwing a party for its employees and their families. Here are a few examples of companies that could be cross promoting: Bar tending services, bounce house rentals, inflatable movie screen rental companies, DJ’s, Photographers, caterers, cleaning companies, landscape companies… you get the idea. When I was consulting entrepreneurs, I had a list of trusted resources that I recommended to my clients: web designers, insurance reps, lawyers, graphic designers, accountants, PR firms and software developers. These same folks also recommended me (and sometimes we offered our services together as a package).
I hope these tips help you come up with additional creative ways to market on a budget. Feel free to comment and share ideas that have worked for you.