How to market your startup on a shoestring budget
Marc Crouch
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"Marketing is about telling stories that people care about", or, at least, that’s what Jonah Berger, the internationally best-selling author and Wharton marketing professor, says. What this means is that though marketing budgets often rack up in millions, we need to remember what’s at the core of it: making people care. 

Each of the millions of new startups that are launched each year is faced with the question of how to make people care about them. And unlike more established companies, most startups have very limited resources. 

Lucky for you, then, marketing isn’t just about numbers–it’s about finding creative ways to communicate your product. Using a mix of these numerous cost-effective marketing strategies, you can make people care.

In this article, we'll explore various ways to market your startup, from better quality content and social media marketing to more efficient lead generation and enhancing product accessibility.

Let’s dive in!

Content and social media marketing / personal branding

You may have heard that “content is king.” In the age of social media, it has never had a greater reign. Of course it goes without saying that every company needs to have a social media presence of some kind, but what’s important to remember is that the purpose of content and social media marketing is  not just to inform customers and prospects about a product; it’s about establishing a brand people trust and value. In fact, a 2021 survey found that 81% of customers said that trust is a deciding factor in their buying decisions. 

Building your personal and company’s brand requires a consistent, multipronged approach. Here are the leading tactics you should be exploring for creating and curating content:

Your website - the point of sale

Your website is the cornerstone of your online presence and is where your prospects convert from faceless visitors to prospects, so you should invest time in making it as accessible and attractive as possible within your budget. If people have landed on your website, they’re already interested, so don’t lose them at this critical stage.

Of course a full website design project can be costly both in time and money terms, so if you can only focus on one thing, focus on its messaging and design quality rather than the number of pages and/or features. Multiple seminal studies in the field have proven that a website’s first impression is crucial to capturing and retaining interest. You don’t need to design it to win awards, but it needs to convey professionalism and trust, while the messaging needs to succinctly tell visitors what your value to them is.

Blogging for SEO and thought leadership

Apart from the usual website functionalities, you absolutely must create a blog section where you can share valuable content related to your industry or niche. High-quality, informative blog posts establish your expertise and improve your website's search engine rankings. Aim to answer specific questions that your prospects are looking for, and have calls to action at the end of the blog posts to encourage them to take the next step (like at the end of this very article you’re reading!).

You can augment your blogging efforts by building affiliate partnerships with influencers and other blogs, offering to write and contribute to larger website blogs and newsletters, and publishing your blog posts on platforms like Medium. 

Facebook for community engagement and targeted advertising

The old horse of social media, Facebook, is still a powerful platform because literally everybody is on it. Like other social media platforms, it allows you to engage with your audience through posts, comments, and direct messages. Its unique advantage, however, is its advertising tools enabling precise targeting. This ensures that you can get ads in front of the right people, even with a very limited budget. And the results speak for themselves: a recent study by Socialinsider found that Facebook had the highest click through rates (CTR), of 3.06% on average, compared to Instagram, which is 0.68%. 

Don’t ignore Facebook groups either. A rapidly growing feature on the platform in terms of popularity, groups are private communities revolving around specific topics. Find groups related to your niche and participate in discussions. It’s highly likely you’ll be interacting with some of your ideal customer prospects.

Instagram for visual storytelling and brand building

If your brand has any visual component to it, Instagram is the place to show it off. Although you may not want to invest your ad money here until your budget increases, you can use the platform to build viral traction through consistent, regular posting. Even if you don’t go viral, a regular habit of posting captivating images and stories will help tell your startup's story and values to newcomers who are exploring your brand.

Email marketing: keeping your audience engaged

Has a random email from an unknown sender ever helped you find a brand you regularly trust? Didn’t think so. That’s why email marketing isn’t about capturing new audiences but rather nurturing your current leads and keeping your audience engaged. You can begin today by using free or low-cost email marketing tools like Mailchimp or Brevo to send regular newsletters, promotions, and updates to your subscribers. 

Slack & Discord: creating communities

A lesser-used tool for creating communities is Slack, which can serve as both a channel for your followers or a group for industry peers, in addition to its core capabilities as an in-house communication tool for your team. By creating a hub for discussions, networking, and sharing insights, you position yourself as an industry leader. Depending on your business, you can also create a similar community on Discord. Discord takes a bit more setting up and its users are a little more techie so it may not be a good fit for your ideal customer propfile, but do check it out.

LinkedIn: personal profiling to build brand credibility

For years, LinkedIn has remained the top social media site for B2B marketers in terms of engagement. But whether you’re a B2B startup or not, you should put in the effort to create a compelling, professional profile for yourself and your business. LinkedIn offers several tools to search for and identify both peers as well as potential leads. But first, you should showcase your expertise by sharing informative articles, participating in relevant groups, and being a consistently valuable source of content.

Anchor: podcast to reach a broader audience

In the last decade, the podcast space has exploded. And with an expected CAGR of 27.6% from 2023 to 2030, it’s showing no signs of stopping down. You may want a slice of the action by starting a podcast related to your industry or niche, sharing insights, and interviewing experts. With a hosting platform like Spotify for Podcasters (formerly Anchor) and a couple of decent microphones, podcasting can be a surprisingly budget-friendly option to reach a wide audience.

TikTok: engage Gen Z and Millennials

TikTok has been making a huge splash in recent years. In 2022, it was the second most downloaded app, amassing over a billion global active users. With 70% of its user demographic aged between 10 and 39, and almost half of its users under the age of 30, it’s an ideal platform if your target market is in the Gen Z or Millennial groups. It also skews female, with women making up 57% of its audience, making it ideal for brands selling to female consumers. 

There are many AI-powered tools like and FlexClip, which can help you create short, engaging videos that showcase your brand. Apart from making your own content, TikTok is one of the best platforms to leverage user-generated content. In fact, a 2023 study found that 93% of marketers believe that user-generated content holds more credibility than content made by brands. 

You can take inspiration from some of the successful marketing campaigns run by Chipotle. They’ve started their own challenges, like the lid-flip challenge, which generated around 111,000 video submissions. But they’ve also stayed active and responsive to other trends on the platform. After the video of a boy who talked about how much he liked corn went viral, Chipotle filmed a video of the boy ordering a burrito bowl full of corn.

7 million likes. Zero budget. Priceless brand value. 

Lead prospecting

While the previously mentioned platforms were more relevant for a B2C startup, outbound lead generation via cold emails and LinkedIn is more appropriate for a B2B audience. With almost a billion business people registered on LinkedIn, it’s by far and away the best source for finding corporate prospects.

Start with LinkedIn Sales Navigator to build your prospect lists and then build an outreach sequence to start connecting with people on the platform. Check out tools like Instantly and Smartlead for email sending and Waalaxy for LinkedIn connection request automation.

But marketing is not just about counting those you’ve reached but reaching those who count. Tools like Seamless.AI and Apollo can help you extend your prospect research and uncover the highest-quality prospects to engage with using personalized messages.

At the end of the day, the idea is to make meaningful, authentic connections. The results will follow.

Marketing intelligence tools

Better data helps you make better decisions. You can optimize your marketing efforts at a low cost using some of these tools and techniques:

Researching market trends and audience preferences

Reviewing relevant questions on platforms like Quora, Reddit, Twitter, and industry-specific forums can provide valuable market insights to inform your content and outreach strategies. Answering these questions can help build your brand’s credibility and increase your exposure as an industry thought leader. Additionally, platforms like Pinterest offer inspiration for creative marketing ideas. 

A good hack to stay on top of these various channels is by setting up a Zapier integration to your Slack channel. This can alert you to every new question so that you can be the first one to answer.

Google’s tools

You can use Google's free tools, like Google Trends, to identify trending topics related to your industry. These can inform your content marketing strategy as well as potential opportunities for new channels to explore. 

Closer to home, Google Analytics and Search Console, can help you understand and analyze user behaviour in their discovery of, and engagement with, your website. Leveraging this information will help you make better marketing decisions backed by the data; for example, Search Console can tell you which keywords people are using to find your website, informing you of what content categories you can build on. 

Conducting competitor analysis with SimilarWeb

Analyzing your competitors' online presence will provide valuable insights that you can learn from, steal and react to. SimilarWeb offers a free version that helps you understand your competitors' website traffic, sources, and audience demographics.

Startup promotion platforms

The best part about the startup world is how many platforms there are to help you get exposure for your startup without having to invest in billboards. Here are some platforms geared towards exactly that:

Product Hunt

If you’re in the tech community, you should consider listing your startup on Product Hunt to gain visibility. The platform is a launchpad for early adopters and can generate significant interest in your product or service.


App Sumo offers a platform to promote your startup by offering exclusive deals and discounts to its large database of early adopters. You can attract early customers by offering limited-time offers through this channel. Just be aware that converting these customers into profitable long-term customers can sometimes be a challenge, so you will need to nurture them and encourage referrals once they’re signed up.


If your startup involves a physical product or creative project, crowdfunding on Kickstarter can do much more than just generate the necessary funds. Popular Kickstarter projects garner a lot of media interest and a well-planned campaign can ensure people are talking about your product well before its launch. Kickstarter investors are also going to be your first customers.

Low-cost advertising

Advertising costs money–there’s no way around it. But there are some ways you can make the most of your advertising budget.

Local and national trade expos and conferences

While trade expos and conferences may require an initial investment, they can provide significant networking opportunities and exposure for your startup, putting you directly in front of an engaged audience of potential customers in a way that advertising simply can’t. Look for events that align with your industry and budget, attend them as guests first to scope out the potential, and then be proactive when you’re there.

Google Ads

Google Ads tends to work better with larger budgets, but if you’re especially skilled with the platform and have a strong marketing funnel it is possible to generate results with not a great deal of budget. It’s probably not worth the effort if your budget is less than $1000 though.

Facebook Ads

Facebook Ads are cheaper than those on other platforms while still giving you access to one of the largest user bases out there. Its targeting options are ideal for B2C marketers. The platform can also be used for A/B testing and idea validation before you make a bigger investment.

Collaborations with micro-influencers

There’s a huge scope for tapping into micro-influencers–smaller creators who have highly engaged audiences. They are often perceived as experts or taste-makers in their niche. Due to their size, they often charge less for promotions than other bigger influencers. You can try using an influencer marketplace like Upfluence to connect with micro-influencers who fit your brand.

How can these strategies pave the way for more sustainable business growth?

Implementing these cost-effective marketing strategies aren’t just one-off solutions. They shape your company’s marketing ethos and pave the way for sustainable business growth in the medium to long term as well.

  • Content marketing and social media engagement create a lasting online presence, attracting and retaining customers over time. The work you initially put in on your website and social media will pay large dividends as the business grows, offsetting your ad spend with organic customer acquisition.
  • Effective prospecting and lead generation is an ongoing process. The more you refine your approach to it, the easier it gets. You can build on your existing clients and leads to find more leads who are genuinely interested in your brand.
  • When you make marketing decisions, they should always be driven by data. The more high-quality data you collect about your customers, the better you can market to them over time. 
  • Building a community will keep your audience coming back to you. Along with cost-effective strategies like referral programs and affiliate marketing, invest in creating an authentic connection with people who buy from you. Buyers prioritize brands which care about their customers. And the best marketing doesn’t cost a cent–it’s word of mouth.
  • As your marketing budget increases, you’ll be able to dip into paid advertising channels like Google Ads and Facebook Ads. But if you’ve already been marketing on a shoestring budget, you won’t be dipping in blind. Your previous efforts will allow you to be more strategic and target the right audience.

Getting your marketing off the ground

There’s just so much that goes into a marketing plan, and one on a shoestring budget can seem nearly impossible. 

Especially if you’re doing it alone.

Growthmode can help. Our founders come from startup backgrounds and have built multiple business themselves, often on the backs of shoestring marketing budgets. 

Contact us today, and we'll transform how you market your startup.