8 Ways to Market Your Startup

Tell the world. Stick your name on a sign. Do WHATEVER it takes to get the word out about your new venture. (Original image source)

Startups are the lifeblood of the American dream. In the midst of economic turmoil and uncertain financial stability, these visionaries continue to pursue their dreams. The startup world is a subculture of passionate, enthusiastic entrepreneurs who stop at nothing to make things happen.

They turn to bootstrap tactics to operate the businesses and when it comes to marketing, they often use Guerilla tactics.

Here are 8 ways to get your startup started without breaking the bank:

  1. Word of mouth
  2. Social media marketing
  3. Use partnerships to build awareness and credibility
  4. Sponsor a contest
  5. Do some pro-bono work
  6. Host an event
  7. Content is still King – Write Like a #&@#$&@$^@^
  8. Use a pre-launch landing page to collect leads

1. Word of mouth

(Original image source). Before I made it more awesomer.

Word-of-mouth marketing is the oldest form of marketing and still one of the most effective. People trust people, especially those they already know and respect.

Startups can capitalize on word-of-mouth by tapping into their social networks, both online and offline. Old colleagues, friends and loved ones and business associates can help spread the word.

Make it happen

Give an elevator pitch to everyone you talk to, and ask them to share the message with at least one other person. You should also pimp yourself shamelessly via email to all of your contacts – you never know when the right person will take your story and run with it. Not spam – make sure you’re emailing people you actually know.

2. Social media marketing

Social media marketing is akin to word-of-mouth, but technology allows messages to be spread to far more people in a shorter amount of time.

Users connect with old classmates, former co-workers, distant relatives, acquaintances and like-minded folks they meet on Twitter. The same message can be easily shared with hundreds of thousands of people.

Make it happen

Now is not the time to be humble. Let your enthusiasm show and announce your latest venture to your personal networks. And set up business accounts for your company on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+. Start sharing regular updates on company news and relevant industry information to build a following.


Use each social medium for a different reason. Facebook for fun company culture and sharing related but fun industry links. Twitter for starting the conversation of your latest post, Google+ for more marketing related content (but it needs to grow up) and Pinterest if you have graphic heavy content.

3. Use partnerships to build awareness and credibility

Startups are faced with at least one common hurdle: a lack of brand recognition. Depending on the industry, consumers aren’t always enthusiastic about trusting a new entity. Other times, they’re happy to dive head-first into the latest trend. A good strategy for overcoming this initial hesitation is to partner with a well-known trusted brand for marketing or for an event. Piggy back with a related business for an interview, co-host a webinar or offer to write a guest blog.

Make it happen

Make a practice of reaching out to related companies & startups. Approach other entrepreneurs with an idea in mind, or state your interest in working together on a project. You’re already a member of the startup community. Members are typically friendly to their own kind, and most are happy to help.

If you’re a funded startup, it can be worth getting some PR just to get those 5 big logos on your homepage (CNN, Mashable, FastCompany, New York Times etc.) – but be very strict about goals with PR companies.

4. Sponsor a contest

Contests are a viable way to boost followers on social media channels. This can be something closely tied to your industry or completely unrelated. For instance, Emeritus Senior Living is running a “Grandma’s Worst Date Ever” contest. It’s a great example because it’s in line with a few good rules of thumb:

  • Industry-relevant
  • Fun and easy to enter
  • Ties into a mainstream event: Valentine’s Day
  • People tend to enjoy the occasional mindless task, so concepts like the “Bubble Game” can also take off in social media. Offer a valuable prize, but it doesn’t have to cost thousands. A tech gadget or even a package of free services from your company are suitable

Make it happen

Create a fun, lighthearted contest that can be run via social media or the real world. (Or both!) Make it relevant to your industry and if possible, tie it into a widely-known event or holiday.

5. Do some pro-bono work

Charities are always in need of help, especially volunteer services. Startups can capitalize on this need to enhance credibility and build brand awareness. Not to mention the gratification of knowing you’ve done something to help someone else.

Make it happen

Seek opportunities to participate in fundraising events or do some free work for your favorite charity. This could mean doing some free web work, volunteering at a fundraising drive or sponsoring a local event. You might not get paid in dollars, but you’ll reap rewards through free exposure and good karma.

6. Host an event

Webinars, Twitter chats and Google+ hangouts. There are a multitude of ways to host an event online, and most don’t cost a dime. Services like AnyMeeting allow businesses to host meetings or webinars for free, or you can opt for a paid service like WebEx. People love free information, and they also love being able to attend from the comfort of their couches.

But you can take this concept to the real world, too. Partner with local groups, like the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Center, to serve as a workshop facilitator. Or if you’re cool with spending some money, host a conference by renting a room, providing some food and investing in some traditional advertising.

Make it happen

Set a goal and set a date. What information does your business have that people want to know? Start working on some awesome visual materials and start promoting your event.

7. Content is still King – So write as much as you can

Content makes the Web go ’round. And if you write it yourself, it’s free. If you’re not such a good writer or you don’t have the time, it’s probably in your best interest to spend some money to hire a professional writer – Contently.com is a great source. The content on a company’s website is just a starting point. Content can be used to build backlinks, feed links to social media channels, establish thought-leadership and develop connections.

A content strategy may include creating some or all of the following:

  • Static web content
  • Blog content
  • White papers, case studies
  • Guest bloggers
  • Newsletters
  • Social media content
  • Infographics
  • Marketing collateral

Make it happen

Create an editorial calendar. Start blogging immediately. Hire an expert writer to help craft your message. Use content consistently to draw traffic to your Website, promote your business and catch the attention of investors or potential partners.

Startups are known for using creative tactics to market their businesses. Use the tactics above to get started and enhance your campaign by stretching the limits of your imagination.

8. Use a pre-launch landing page to collect leads

Don’t be one of those companies that’s afraid to have a presence before you have a product ready. You can throw together a “coming soon” pre-launch page in minutes to sell your idea and collect leads for your beta version.

— Angela Stringfellow

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About Angela Stringfellow
Angela Stringfellow has spent the last few years of corporate life working in marketing management in the healthcare industry before transitioning her real-world marketing experience to the web. For the past several years, Angela has worked as a consultant with businesses small and large to build comprehensive social media campaigns, blogging and editorial strategies and enhance overall brand reputation and media presence, with a primary focus on Web 2.0 technologies and content marketing.
» More blog posts by Angela Stringfellow


  1. Travis Brown

    I love the idea of #8. Anything to do with testing can not only show you how successful a potential product might be, but you can build up the hype behind something awesome that you are going to distribute. Pro-bono work is vastly underrated and can nearly help all of the others in the list here.

    Thanks for the post. Lots of good reminders for me in it.

  2. Sourav Saha

    Great post Angela!

    As you mentioned in point #7 Content is the king. Absolutely and always will be. But without the right promotional strategy it can’t be the king.

    Can we get a post on different promotional strategy of contents.

    And I would like to add couple of points…like distributing brochures to potential customers, print ads, joining the local chamber of commerce can also be helpful.

  3. Mark Simchock

    Good stuff. Thanks!

    Three quick thoughts:

    1) With regards to marketing, the #1 thing an entrepreneur / startup can do for themselves is to realize that no one is as passionate about their product as they are. In fact, it’s likely they’ll be marketing to people who have too little time and a natural unwillingness to redirect their attention as they are bombarded with clutter. Keyword: Empathy.

    2) Somewhat related to Word of mouth, is: Develop a Quality Product Worth Talking About. This isn’t based on their personal bias but on what the market defines as share / news worthy. Again, empathy is crucial.

    3) I’d like to add that, “If you’re not measuring then you’re not marketing.” So while this list of 8 is great, there should also be a ubiquitous embrace of looking at the data to see what is working and what isn’t. Passion is important, but so is measuring results.

    Thanks again.

  4. Alex Rascanu

    Great post, Angela. From my perspective, content creation and building partnerships can do wonders for client acquisition. I’d add a couple of ideas to your list: targeted media releases and speaking at industry events (not necessarily hosting them).

  5. Anderson

    Great article, I 100% agree, sometime it’s hard to expline this to co-founders that are not coming from the marketing side, your article will be a great help

  6. Steve Landon

    Nice one. In B2B, there’s also the age old approach of actually ‘calling’ someone. Seems strange in today’s world of technology, but a nice phone call to another local business to introduce yourself goes a very long way. And it’s free.

  7. Max @ ML Quotes

    Each point is good indeed.
    But one thing we should not forget is to know the product we are trying to introduce. I think before choosing a specific method, we should ask ourselves where it will fit the best : is it by social media ? Is it with an event ?

    There’s a quote by Peter Drucker that goes like this :
    “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

  8. Ruth Gray

    I love that word of mouth is included here. There’s nothing like the good ‘ol classics, and they even work better than people think. It’s all about building relationships, after all, and there’s nothing better for that than personal interactions. All in all a great list of tips!

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  10. Jane

    Hi Angela, thanks for this article, did you try maybe to promote your website and get visitors by using some profitable phrases/keywords on your website (title, headlines, content). By using good niche keywords you can position your page in the first results of Google and get many new visitors. There are even some tools which help to find such keywords like Metrics11

  11. Peter

    Great post!