This is the second post in my "Bootstrap Mondays" series. Read last week's post, Revenues & Momentum is Everything, first.
Bootstrapping obviously works best when you don't have loads of expenses & overheads burdening you down. One of these expenses that seems unavoidable in a startup, is marketing-related expenditure.
Regardless of what you classify under marketing, most of your options (PPC, Banner Advertising, PR etc.) will cost you something. The free alternatives are obviously viable, but they rely on significant word of mouth / viral traction, which in turn is only achieved if a couple of stars align for you: you have an amazing product, the way you first pitch that is perfect and your timing is spot-on. Whilst I wouldn't necessarily say that you only have one shot at this, it does sometimes feel like that; fuck it up and you might as just well move onto the next idea / project.
I did this a little bit differently when I launched the first product that eventually became WooThemes.
Reputation is free
Unlike these days, I used to have a thriving blog back in the day (probably due to being a relatively early adopter and the fact that everyone & their aunt has a blog nowadays), I blogged a lot and had a prominent voice within the WordPress community. I spent a lot of time making sure that I was being heard (sometimes controversially so) and I shaped my personal reputation & profile around that voice.
For better or worse, this culminated in the "Adii - WordPress Rockstar" moniker that I labeled on top of myself and people knew me as a result. (As I said: for better or worse… In hindsight I know that even though I probably seemed arrogant to many people, at least I had their attention…)
This meant that I had an audience; one that I had cultivated because of my reputation and the work that I put into building an online profile. I used my blog to do all of the marketing for my first ever product. I didn't have to pay $1 to get my message to my target audience; they were already there.
This is how you do it now
Sounds a bit like pipe dreams? Maybe… I'm the first to admit that it is hard to have a thriving blog these days and have seen a decrease in my own blog's traction since those earlier days. But I think there are other ways to build your reputation these days:
- Make friends & be easy to find. Yes, this means you'll have to interupt work every now & again to be active on Twitter for example, but that is where you connect with like-minded people that could be part of your eventual target market. Become known for something, so that people looking for someone like yourself are easily able to find you.
- Augment your online profile. If you're a designer, you need to be on Dribbble. Similarly, if you're a developer without a GitHub profile, then you're doing it wrong. Share your work. Connect with others through that work.
- Have an opinion. The person in the corner of the room that keeps quiet the whole time doesn't get any attention. Make yourself more visible and heard by commenting on blogs or across social networks. Be unique when shaping your online voice & share your opinion with humility (something I only learnt later on).
- Get noticed. The trickiest bit is to get attention the first time; thereafter it becomes easier for subsequent attempts. Get onto the homepage of Hacker News by writing a great blog post or sharing something cool you've built.
Your Strategy Simplified
Building your reputation & online profile is free. This is also the perfect foundation to launch a new business.
By doing all of this, you don't necessarily get closer to your target audience, but you do come onto the radar of influential people that will help you spread the word when you eventually launch your product / service.