Bootstrapped Marketing
6 min read

Bootstrapped Marketing

In this article, you’ll learn different marketing strategies you can implement for free — that require zero capital. This is effective marketing with just a bit of hard work and sweat. You can listen to the full recording of the presentation above.

Let’s start with an example:  Dropbox.

In 2008, no one had heard of Dropbox. Everybody was still using USBs and everything was stored on your hard drive. How would you market Dropbox, before anyone knew what it was?

After they built up funding, they tried to accelerate user acquisition by spending money on Google Ads.

But Dropbox couldn’t keep acquisition costs down because people were seeing the ads and then searching for very competitive keywords like “file hosting” or “data storage”. Their customer acquisition costs were much higher than the ROI on those customers.

Eventually, Dropbox realized that word-of-mouth was actually their most powerful acquisition method — people were just telling their friends about it. So, they created a double-sided referral incentive:  if customers referred a friend then both people got extra storage.

That had a viral network effect and is still Dropbox's main method of growth. Now they have more than 500 million users and are valued at roughly $9 billion. All while spending next to nothing on paid marketing and instead focusing on their referral network.

What is Bootstrap Marketing?

With bootstrap marketing, you look for tactical marketing plans that give maximum ROI.

Use an objective-first framework. First, you identify the outcome you want (sales, sign-ups, or growing a social media following).

Second, you define your measures of success (your key performance indicators or KPI). For example, to make $10,000 do you want 100 people spending $100 or 200 people spending $50?

Knowing your desired outcome and your KPI helps you determine how successful your marketing is.

Third, figure out where you are in your marketing funnel, or where your prospects and customers are in their journey toward purchase. The top of the funnel is the awareness stage (people who know of your brand or product). Moving down the funnel, you get more engagement:  people visiting, inquiring about you, and then ultimately purchasing.

Keep in mind that as you move toward purchase — you’re losing people at each stage. This is why each stage requires different tactics and different objectives.

Finally, make your marketing objectives SMART:

●      Specific

●      Measureable

●      Actionable

●      Realistic

●      Time-constrained

Other things to consider when choosing your marketing tactics are your cost per acquisition or CPA (what can you pay for a new customer?) and your customer’s lifetime value (what's the total net profit you can make from a customer?)

Once you know what your sales targets are, how much you can spend, and what you can afford to spend per customer — you set your budget.

Then, your next step is to evaluate your marketing channels. Consider which would work for your brand, what your past key channels have been, and what your historical performance on them has been.

Tactical Approaches to Bootstrap Marketing

First things first, you can use PR to build up your customer base by making people aware of what you’re doing.

Some companies spend $10,000 per month paying a PR representative, but the good news is that you can do this yourself with some clever shortcuts.

News Jacking

Here’s an example from something I did in 2015 as head of marketing at a company called Lawpath — an online legal services provider.

In 2015, Buzzfeed was making a big push for “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift to be number one on the Triple J Hottest 100. It was turning into a media storm with people arguing back and forth on Twitter. But there was one problem:  no new information was coming out about it.

So we wrote an article questioning whether or not Taylor Swift had the legal rights to sue Triple J Hottest 100.

Pretty over the top, right?

By creating this new angle on the story, journalists were contacting us like crazy for interviews or comments. We got featured in major media outlets like Vice and the Guardian — huge exposure for a company just starting out.

The trick to news jacking is to carefully pick your news:

●      Something that breaks as a news story

●      That’s getting a lot of exposure

●      That tons of people are talking about

●      But — there’s not a lot of news coming out about it.

News jacking works because today, news cycles are all driven by page views, shares, and likes. If a piece is getting a lot of exposure, the media wants to produce more of that content. But, with nothing new coming out, journalists start seeking new angles.

To find your news story, set up a Google alert for news on your particular topic and follow what’s trending on Twitter.

Once you’ve found your story, the next step is to contact some journalists. (Here’s hint: don’t use the website’s “Contact Us” link.)

Find the writers working on a topic in an article’s byline. Then, find their email address using VoilaNorbert, an email extraction tool. (You can get 50 leads for free.)

Next, use Mailshake to email up to 200 journalists at a time. Mailshake also gives data on your open rate and click rate. If you’re not getting responses, you can set up an automated reply. (Most journalists are incredibly busy so when you follow-up, they know you’re serious.)

Extra tips for News Jacking:

●      About one in eight people will respond, giving you a 12% response rate.

●      Talk to multiple publications to increase your chances.

●      Send your emails really early in the morning. (This is when journalists are figuring out what to write about during their day.)

●      Keep the momentum going by replying fast.

Finally, the main point of news jacking is to get the link for your website out there. Work to get it included in your article!

Content Marketing

Content marketing is the creating, publishing, and sharing of content — with the goal of building reputation and visibility across your brand. This topic is pretty huge on its own, so I’m just going to give a few tips:

  1. Content marketing is a guaranteed avenue of success IF your writing is high-quality and consistent.
  2. It covers many stages of your funnel. You can create awareness or snag new people and then take them to the next step. Content can also help you retain your current customers, by continuously adding value.

Your goal should be to write content that they’re searching for and would be valuable to them, and that helps sell your brand.

Content marketing is a guaranteed way to build a strong relationship with your customer — and it costs next to nothing. It only requires time and effort to create the content.

Different types of content include: blogs, quizzes, videos, guides, white papers, case studies, ebooks, and podcasts.

Your goal is to give out these things, in exchange for an email address.

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic is very easy to set up.

Here’s an example from Lawpath:  A few years ago, we gave away a will kit ($40 value), on OzBargain. 1,800 people picked up this free kit — and our goal was to use their product reviews to make more future sales.

Over three months, we actually drove $15,000 in sales off that one post on OzBargain. (It literally took us 10 minutes to put together an offer and tap into a community that already exists.)

Reddit and Facebook groups are both great places to get in front of potential clients. (There is a subreddit and Facebook group for everything.) You can also drive traffic to your website on Quora by answering people’s questions and then linking back to a piece of our existing content.

Focus on active communities where people are posting regularly. Avoid the largest communities, where your interactions will get lost.

Referral marketing is all about building up a reputation. Get into these communities by posting regularly, answering questions, and sharing tips. Then, when they show a need, make them aware of your company.

Three Bonus Bootstrap Marketing Tactics

Refer-a-friend programs:  Offer the right kind of incentive to people who are already satisfied with your brand and want to refer people. helps you build referral schemes with milestones.

Partner marketing:  This works for businesses that have a related focus.

For example, if a law firm helps people with property law, they can partner with real estate agents.

The goal is to create a mutually beneficial relationship by adding value. You can offer a product or service for free that incentivises people to work with your partner. (Hint: find your partner’s contact information using ViolaNorbert.)

Email Marketing: This helps you turn prospects into customers, and then turn customers into loyal and raving fans. And it can help you get repeat transactions. (It costs you 4 -10 times more to acquire a new customer versus retaining an existing one.)

Email Marketing Tips:

-       Keep it balanced between text and images

-       Make people feel like they’re getting an email from a real person

-       Write short and intriguing subject lines

-       Segment your list to create different offers for different types of customers. You will have more success by sending out a super personalized offer.

-       Mailchimp offers a free solution for getting started with email marketing. (You can send up to 1,000 emails for free.)

Each of these bootstrap marketing tactics can be done completely free. All it takes is a little time and effort.

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