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20 Budget-Friendly Strategies for Acquiring New Customers for Your Start-Up

11 Mins read

In the dynamic world of start-ups, CEOs and Founders often have to get creative to attract new customers on a shoestring budget. From implementing “Pay It Forward” marketing to leveraging customer testimonials and reviews, we’ve compiled twenty diverse strategies from industry leaders. Discover how these top executives maximize customer acquisition without breaking the bank.

Implement “Pay It Forward” Marketing

Try the “Pay It Forward” approach. Instead of spending your budget on ads, allocate it to doing good deeds in your community. Sponsor local events, support charitable causes, or offer free workshops related to your business. People appreciate businesses that give back, and word of your goodwill can spread quickly. 

This strategy not only helps you build a positive brand image but also attracts customers who are drawn to companies with a social conscience. It’s a unique and heartfelt way to grow your customer base without relying on a large advertising budget.

Cyrus Partow, CEO, ShipTheDeal

Engage Audiences on Social Media

To attract new customers on a tight budget, one effective approach is using social media smartly. Instead of spending big on ads, focus on creating engaging, relatable content that speaks directly to your potential clients’ needs and concerns. 

Regularly share tips, stories, or insights about insurance that can help them. Encourage your current customers to share their positive experiences. This creates a buzz around your brand, and it’s all organic. People often check online reviews and social media profiles before choosing a service, so a strong, authentic online presence can really make a difference.

Eliezer Zupnick, Founder, Zupnick Associates Insurance

Optimize for Search Engine Visibility

For startups tight on advertising cash, SEO is your best bet. It’s about crafting content that pops up in Google when people search for stuff related to what you offer.

Focus on specific keywords that aren’t too crowded. This way, you draw in folks who are already looking for what you’ve got. It’s a cost-effective and genuine way to get noticed and grow your customer base.

Tobias Liebsch, Co-Founder, Fintalent.io

Network and Build Relationships

In launching multiple small businesses with budgetary constraints, I’ve found that building relationships and networking is a very overlooked and often free strategy to employ. Go to events, reach out to people to build relationships, have coffee meetings—building a network doesn’t cost very much, and the elbow grease of meeting new people can pay dividends for your small business.

Matthew Sanjari, Founder and Business Coach, PRIME Consulting

Offer Free Trials or Samples

Offer samples or free trials to entice new users and eventually convert them to customers. Let your product do the sales talking for your brand. People love free stuff, so rest assured that there will be takers as soon as your free samples or free trials go live. This tactic is a great and effective way to acquire new customers using resources that you already have, instead of breaking the bank with a large advertising budget.

Experience is the ultimate trump card in convincing people to come to a decision, and that is the premise of this strategy.

Baidhurya Mani, Founder, SellCoursesOnline

Advertise with Mobile Billboards

A startup that wants to risk a “make it or break it” scenario with a small advertising budget can advertise by renting a car, having tarpaulins advertising the business’s products or services printed, and fastening the tarpaulins to the sides and over the trunk of the car. 

Then the car can be driven slowly around the community, particularly in areas where people tend to congregate, with someone inside the car announcing a discount on the startup’s products or services to the public. The point is to get everyone’s attention without spending much.

Erman Küplü, CEO, Analyzify

Host Industry-Specific Events

One strategy that’s been pure gold for acquiring new customers, especially for startups with tight budgets, is hosting an event. At ZenMaid, we did just this with our Maid Summit, a unique event designed specifically for residential maid service owners. We didn’t just create an event; we crafted a platform for over 40 industry experts to connect and share. 

The real magic? The lasting impact. It wasn’t merely an event for immediate attention; it transformed into a powerful lead-generation tool and significantly boosted our brand’s trust. This approach proves that offering something distinctive to your audience can keep adding value and elevate your brand’s visibility, long after the event concludes.

Amar Ghose, CEO, ZenMaid

Utilize Sales and Marketing Tools

Right now, I think Apollo.io is an interesting tool for sales and marketing teams in start-up businesses. 

With a relatively small investment, you can target, communicate, and develop relationships with potential customers using their platform. I’m using it to validate information about our database of customers, to find new targets, to sequence email communication with potential customers, and to enhance email campaigns outside of the platform as well. I haven’t started using their intent data or their lead scoring systems yet, but I think there is an opportunity for those soon as well.

Trice Alford, Chief Marketing Officer

Establish a Strong Social Media Presence

Picture social media as your startup’s bustling marketplace. To grab attention in this lively space, start shopping on platforms that matter most to your customers. Make your presence known, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Engage with your crowd by chatting, responding to comments, and sharing stuff they’d find valuable—it’s like being the friendly neighbor everyone wants to talk to. And when you want to turn up the volume, use a bit of social media advertising magic. It’s like shining a spotlight on your most incredible products or services. 

But here’s the secret: don’t overdo it. Be selective, like choosing the juiciest fruit from the bunch. By building a robust and genuine presence on social media, you’re not just marketing; you’re joining the community, making your startup a go-to spot in the digital marketplace. It’s your chance to shine, connect, and let your startup’s personality sparkle in the social media spotlight.

Chris Hunter, Director of Customer Relations, ServiceTitan

Leverage Newsjacking for PR

Startups with small budgets can still attract customers by using smart, low-cost public relations strategies. One effective method is “newsjacking”—finding a major news story and adding your unique angle. For instance, if there’s a big discussion about urban air pollution, a startup specializing in air-purifying plants could offer insights on how indoor plants improve air quality at home or in the office.

Using platforms like HARO also helps you connect with journalists seeking expert input for their articles. This strategy allows you to gain media attention affordably. Remember, providing something unique and relevant to journalists can help your startup get noticed and attract interest more effectively.

Marco Genaro Palma, Content Marketing Manager, PRLab

Build an Email Marketing List

The one viable strategy for acquiring new customers for a start-up business without a large advertising budget is email marketing. You can persuade potential customers to give you their email addresses by offering something in exchange, such as a discount code. 

Optimize for SEO, engage on social media, and build an email list. Referrals are one of the best ways to get new customers—but if you sit back and wait for your current customers to refer their friends and family members to you, you could be waiting a long time.

Vikas Kaushik, CEO, TechAhead

Capitalize on Customer Retention

One effective strategy for acquiring new customers without a large advertising budget is leveraging customer retention. Happy customers are often the best ambassadors of a brand. They can provide valuable word-of-mouth advertising, spreading positive feedback about your products or services within their network.

This form of organic marketing not only helps acquire new customers but also fosters loyalty among existing ones. Therefore, investing in excellent customer service and ensuring high customer satisfaction can be a cost-effective way for start-ups to grow their customer base.

Ivan Brozincevic, Owner, freeaffiliatemarketingbusiness.com

Form Strategic Partnerships

One viable strategy for acquiring new customers for a start-up business without a large advertising budget is leveraging strategic partnerships. This approach involves aligning with businesses or organizations that share a similar target audience but are not direct competitors. By doing so, a start-up can tap into an existing customer base, gaining visibility and credibility through association. 

The key to this strategy is identifying potential partners whose offerings complement rather than compete with the start-up’s products or services. For instance, a start-up specializing in healthy snack foods might partner with a fitness center or a wellness app. Through this partnership, the fitness center or app can offer exclusive deals or samples of the snack foods to their clientele, who are already interested in health and wellness. In return, the start-up can promote the partner’s services to their audience, creating a mutually beneficial relationship. 

A real-world example of this strategy in action is the early days of Dropbox, a cloud storage service. Dropbox partnered with various companies and platforms to offer additional storage space for actions like referring new users or connecting with other services. This not only helped Dropbox gain new users without heavy advertising but also established its presence in the market as a user-friendly and collaborative service. 

Strategic partnerships can be a powerful tool for start-ups, offering a cost-effective way to reach a broader audience, build brand trust, and drive customer acquisition. The success of this strategy lies in selecting the right partners and structuring partnerships that offer clear value to both parties and their respective customers.

Bruno Gavino, Founder, CEO, CodeDesign

Invest in Content Marketing

If you’re a startup with a low advertising budget, content marketing can be your best bet at building your customer base. Although it’s a long, drawn-out process and may not give immediate results, the impact is long-lasting and continues to support lead generation consistently. 

So, invest time and resources into content marketing right from the start. Tap into email marketing and social media marketing for quicker results. These channels give you the broad exposure your startup especially needs at the start. Make sure you’re tracking the results and analyzing them to gather insights. 

In case you’re open to using paid advertising, you can adopt a mix of paid and organic marketing. First, use targeted paid advertising to acquire marketing-qualified leads. Then, nurture these leads through content marketing to convert them into sales-qualified leads and eventually customers.

Shivani Maheshwari, Content Specialist, WrittenlyHub

Start a Customer Referral Program

Starting a referral program is really helpful for startups. In our startup, this strategy made a big difference. Growing a business from scratch is hard, but when you have connections and a satisfied client base that can give you referrals, it’s an easy growth hack.

In our case, we encouraged our existing customers to refer new ones by offering them incentives. Of course, we also had networks and peers that recommended us to people. This approach didn’t require a big budget but effectively increased our customer base. People tend to trust recommendations from friends or family more than ads, so this method was really effective. Plus, it created a community around our brand, as customers felt valued and part of our growth. The cost of the incentives was minimal compared to traditional advertising, yet the return in terms of new customers was substantial.

Patrick Beltran, Marketing Director, Ardoz Digital

Cultivate Local Community Connections

One strategy I strongly recommend is to focus your efforts on building genuine relationships and partnerships within your local community.

Instead of spending money on ads, redirect that energy into getting out there and connecting with potential customers face-to-face. Attend local events, network at community centers, and introduce yourself to neighborhood businesses and influencers. Offer to collaborate on projects that align with your offerings; this gets your name out there organically. The key is to build trust and familiarity so people remember you when they need what you offer.

It’s slower going at first, but planting those seeds in a grassroots way leads to referrals and word-of-mouth over time. And loyal, local customers are invaluable. As you build rapport, people want to support you and see you succeed. A little hustle goes a long way when you show up consistently and add value without asking for anything right away. So be helpful, be genuine, and cultivate community relationships that will fuel your small business for the long haul.

Gauri Manglik, CEO and Co-Founder, Instrumentl

Drive Word-of-Mouth with PR

When you’re starting up, the last thing you want to do is burn money on ads because, at that stage, you don’t know who your best-fit customers are, and you’re going to burn money on un-targeted advertising. The beginning is about things that don’t scale to find the best-fit customers and keep learning from the market as you get new business.

We’ve seen huge success by building market ecosystem relationships that can drive word-of-mouth and new customers.

Startups can do this by building relationships with journalists, thought leaders, industry analysts, consultants, luminaries, industry associations, educational institutions, standards organizations, and other types of organizations that form their market ecosystem.

Sometimes, this strategy is confused with public relations. However, public relations typically focuses on journalists and media relations. The key to this ecosystem’s communications strategy is not to focus on just one part of the market (like journalists) but to build relationships with the top 10% of the different types of organizations in the market ecosystem. We’ve found that the top 10% of players influence the other 90%.

We also encourage founders to become part of their own ecosystem as thought leaders to drive brand awareness and clients. An example of this is Pep Laja, a thought leader on messaging, and he’s launching a messaging testing platform (Wynter).

Jose Bermejo, Founder and Managing Partner, Predictable Innovation Strategy

Create Viral Content and Engage Influencers

Going viral and riding on viral trends is a really effective way to get new customers. If people really like what you offer, you can get a lot of word-of-mouth buzz, especially if you have a high Net Promoter Score (NPS) and good user reviews. The important thing is to create a product or experience that people love and make it easy for them to tell others about it. You want to turn them into a group of fans who help spread the word about your product. 

One way to do this is to work with paid influencers who connect well with the people you’re trying to reach. You can use them to talk about how much they like your product to their fans and followers. For example, getting Instagram influencers to talk about beauty and fashion products.

Precious Abacan, Marketing Director, Softlist

Utilize Podcast Interviews for Exposure

I recommend booking podcast interviews, which cost almost nothing. Podcasts are really popular now. More than half of the people in the US have listened to a podcast, so there’s a good chance many in your audience do too.

There are two ways to use podcasts for a startup. First, you could start your own podcast and invite well-known guests. People often share interviews on their social media, so you get to reach their followers, too. This is great for getting your brand known, but starting a podcast can be a bit much with all the different hosting services and equipment.

Or, you could be a guest on popular podcasts. This also gets you in front of more people and lets you talk about what you do. But remember, you need something interesting to say. You can’t just talk about your startup for 30 minutes. If that’s your plan, you’re better off with paid ads. To be a guest, first figure out which podcasts fit your brand and expertise.

For example, if you’re in marketing, look for marketing podcasts. In our case, working in home improvement, we look for home-related and interior design podcasts. The goal is to reach a lot of people, but they should still be the right people. Like, it doesn’t make sense to go on a car podcast if you write children’s books, unless it’s about cars, then it’s perfect!

Henry Brook, Founder, The Page

Leverage Customer Testimonials and Reviews

At Simply Noted, we recognize the power of customer testimonials and reviews in acquiring new customers, especially when working with a limited advertising budget. People tend to trust peer reviews more than any form of advertising. 

Therefore, we encourage our satisfied customers to share their positive experiences on various online platforms. This not only helps in building credibility and trust but also boosts our online presence, making it easier for potential customers to find and choose us. 

To bolster this strategy, we’ve implemented a system where customers are prompted to leave a review after their purchase. This simple strategy has proven to be highly effective in acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones, all without a significant expenditure.

Rick Elmore, CEO, Simply Noted

Brett Farmiloe is the founder of Featured, a Q&A platform that connects brands with expert insights.

Attracting new customers stock image by Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

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