It's a common problem for a small start-up: You have a great product, but it's tough getting the word out in a crowded marketplace. Especially when your marketing budget can't match those of your better established competitors. Pinterest may be a way to level that playing field.

That's how it worked for Lisa Daniel and Elizabeth Thurer, co-founders of Elizabeth Daniel New York. "We were looking for a product that didn't exist," Thurer explains. "We loved the look of a woven white shirt but hated the feel. So we did a hybrid shirt that has a knit body and a crisp woven collar."

The company launched in October 2011, and had sold more than 1,000 shirts by the end of the year. "We knew we were a success when stores started contacting us and requesting inventory," Thurer says. The shirts are now carried in 25 retail stores.

The company launched its line of shirts with a professional photo shoot and a professional model but couldn't afford to do a new one every season. Instead, Elizabeth Daniel New York (or EDNY) made skillful use of social media in general and Pinterest in particular. When I talked to Daniel and Thurer recently, they shared some of their Pinterest secrets:

1. Plan your Pinterest image carefully.

"Pinterest has a learning curve, but it's worth the time to learn it and do it well, because it's a great tool for growing your business," Daniel says. A Pinterest board deserves careful planning, she adds. "People just throw images on there. But if you're trying to relay a message that says what your company is about, you have to plan it out."

In EDNY's case, what the company wants to convey is, "Classic, tailored, and timeless," Thurer says. So, in addition to its own products, EDNY has pinned products that convey that image.

2. Tell a story.

"Pinterest works like a great storyboard. It's a great way to tell a story about your business," Daniel says. In EDNY's case, images show the evolution from the original classic white-collar design through ruffled and tuxedo collars. "We thought Pinterest could be a great online 'lookbook' for our business," she says.

3. Connect with customers.

One of the most appealing features of EDNY's Pinterest presence is the many pictures of ordinary nonmodel women wearing the shirts. "It started originally on Facebook, with people posting pictures of themselves in their shirts," Daniel says. "People would email us and say, 'I love wearing your shirt,' and I would say, 'Would you mind sending us pictures?'"

When Pinterest came along, Daniel and Thurer recognized it as a great way to display their various customers and how they use the shirts, and they invited customers to pin pictures of themselves wearing the shirts in their favorite combinations with pants, skirts, and sweaters. "There's a girl on Pinterest right now who's 28 weeks pregnant, and she's posted pictures of herself along the way, wearing the shirt," Daniel says. On-air personalities, notably Dale Atkins, who often appears on the Today show, have posted pictures of themselves in the shirts as well.

4. Stay current.

"We will do another photo shoot in the future, but this helps in the interim," Daniel says. "For instance, fall is coming, so we'll do a board with fall styles that would look great with our shirts."

More permanent than a blog post but less so than a website, a Pinterest board lets you keep updating your image with the times and current trends. "It gives you the ability to post photos and then, after three months or whatever time has passed, pull them all down and replace them with something else," Thurer says. "If you were putting them on your website, it would be much more difficult and laborious to make those changes and more likely to require a Web designer."