It's a common story: You want to get your business out there to potential customers and get feedback, but you're working with little or no marketing budget.
I've gone through this process with a service-based company and am working through it now with a product-based company. And I've discovered that the most successful way to maximize a minuscule marketing budget is to find ways for you and your team to personify the brand.
For an example, look to co-founders Alexis Tryon and Scott Carleton at Artsicle, an art discovery start-up that is getting this right.
When they were getting started and bootstrapping, they had to think of creative ways to reach new customers and find their company's place in the industry. While they didn't have much to show beyond the first iteration of their website, they found ways to connect with the local artists here in New York.
Create a Buzz
At the first event they put together (at no cost to themselves), they showcased the work of four local artists. This accomplished three things:
As a new business owner, you shape your company's future with the partnerships your company engages in, the kind of people you hire, and how you present your business to the press—but the most important factor is you. Small businesses are made up of real-world interactions with actual people—and while some decisions are based on the business, most boil down to the people.
Make It Personal
You need to find out where your customers are and personally get involved. Show up at the relevant events for your industry--whether they're fund-raisers, coffee shops, or tradeshows. Talk to people. Live your brand and make others want to be a part of it.
It's easy to give off the impression that your operation is bigger than it is—but in the end, that's not what will make people want to work with, help, or buy from you.
So take a cue from the Artsicle team and get out there. Be genuine while offering your services to others in the community. Build meaningful relationships.
Don't be afraid to reach out to both the influencers and the veterans in your space. Try to learn as much as you can from them, and offer up your services as well. Hopefully, you'll do more than grow your business: You'll also have more fun doing it, and meet some great people along the way.