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Digital Marketing on a Shoestring

One of the best channels for bootstrapped entrepreneurs is digital marketing. Here's how to do it right.
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I personally believe that one of the hardest roads traveled is that of the bootstrapped entrepreneur. The hours are tremendously long, compensation is delayed, and the ability to grab meaningful market share generally will take many years. I found this out the hard way when I launched my company Rise Interactive in 2004.

I only had $10,000 to invest in my company, and I had to figure out a way to grow my interactive agency. What I learned is that when you're starting out, you need to figure out a way to market your company on a shoestring budget. This generally means that you need to focus your efforts towards time-intensive activities that do not require an extensive amount of cash.

I believe that one of the best channels for bootstrapped entrepreneurs is digital marketing based on the scale and number of avenues one could promote themselves through the Internet without spending a lot of money. If you decide to pursue digital marketing, check out the below tips to help you get started.

Own Your Media

When you're bootstrapping, it's vital that some of your efforts go towards building your brand. The beauty is that you can develop content yourself and own your media. Content marketing doesn't require a large budget, but it can have a huge impact on your organization. It can help you become a thought leader, as well as increase traffic to your site through search engine optimization.

The key is to analyze your competitors and determine how you are going to differentiate your content from theirs. Once you determine your angle, there are many different ways to create content such as a blog, videos, presentations, infographics, and e-mail newsletters.  If you do happen to have a little money, you can partner with a content creation vendor who can help you produce quality content at a low cost.

Syndicate Your Content

Developing compelling content is only half the battle. The next step is to determine how you are going to syndicate your content. One of the first things I did when I started my company was e-mail everyone in my personal and professional network to let them know what I was doing. My experience is that many of your friends will want to help you get started so make sure you leverage this asset.

Social media is also a great way to syndicate your content. This will require a great deal of work, but with creativity and great content you should be able to develop a large following. One thing that I have done since I started my company was invite everyone who has given me a business card to follow me on LinkedIn. It is a simple way to start getting a following with people who are already familiar with your brand.

Become a Student of Search

I highly recommend you spend a lot of time learning SEO, especially if you are a smaller company, when you have more man hours than actual dollars to spend. My experience with SEO is that the quality of traffic is extremely high. It is also a channel in which companies just getting started can still compete with the larger organizations. If you are just starting out with SEO, The Beginner's Guide to SEO by SEOmoz is a must-read.

If there are words that you cannot rank for organically, you also should consider a paid search campaign. You can start with an extremely small budget, and it is a great way to get traffic to your site immediately. Paid search campaigns will allow you to:

  • Only pay for visitors delivered
  • Determine your return on investment for every keyword
  • Start with a small budget, learn, and if it's going well, grow from there
  • Make changes instantly

The one challenge is that you need to have the patience to do it right. It won't be a huge success and generate money immediately. It may take a few months to optimize. I suggest you attend a Search Marketing Expo (SMX) or Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference to build your foundation.

Form a Posse

I believe that it is crucial when a company is just getting started to determine ways to spend marketing dollars on a variable basis. With affiliate marketing you will only pay your advertisers if they deliver a customer or lead. It will take time to identify advertisers that are willing to pay you only on a performance basis, but there are some sites that can help you. Both Commission Junction and the Google Affiliate Network have created a marketplace to help you find these partners or affiliates. These sites not only help you identify these advertisers or affiliates, but also help you manage the relationship. You can upload your creative, provide your commission offers, communicate with your affiliates, as well as determine the performance of each affiliate.

Just Get Started

The bottom line is that there are many channels to drive traffic to your site. Don't overwhelm yourself and try and do everything at once. Pick one channel, whether it's Social or SEO, hone your skills, and then move onto the next channel. There are abundant resources to help you build your knowledge base, so don't make excuses. Get started now.

Last updated: Apr 1, 2013

JON MORRIS | Columnist | Founder and CEO of Rise Interactive

Jon Morris is the founder and CEO of Rise Interactive, a digital marketing agency in Chicago which specializes in digital media and analytics.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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