You don’t need to pay for a thing these days. Don’t believe me? Let me give you an example of a marketing plan that can be created using entirely free services.
People need to find you, so add your business to Google maps via places. Create a Facebook page and Twitter feed to advertise. These services are all still free, so your total spend is still $0. Good news, especially for a small startup on a tight marketing budget.
To promote your business you need to give people a reason to choose you over your competitor. Foursquare and Groupon offer some unique opportunities as do QR Codes. All can be set up for free, so you still shouldn’t have spent a dime on all of this marketing.
Send your clients a newsletter for free with Mailchimp (under a certain number of sends). For a startup, again – free services are invaluable.
The above are all off the top of my head. So far, you’ve spent nothing and have what equates to a full-fledged marketing campaign.
So where’s the problem?
There’s isn’t one. For businesses in the initial startup phase (3-6 months), there’s little reason to pay for much more than some initial branding and design. Use as much free stuff as you can for as long as you can get away with it.
Invaluable as freebies are, it’s worth mentioning the following words of caution.
When you use a third party service, you leave all of your content in the hands of third parties that can change their terms at any time, for any reason. Even in the instance of many paid apps, you sign all of your rights away as soon as you click the little box that says “I agree to the terms of service” (and admit it, you probably never read them).
Twitter can go down (and does). Facebook and Google could start charging for business use, change their terms or do away with the services altogether. Those services could drop out of search results if Google updates its algorithm to exclude certain sites or platforms.
The solution is to own your own content. Own your marketing. As soon as you can, take ownership of your website by purchasing a domain and building a basic website. Optimize it for your business name and make sure when people search for you, your website shows up first.
I’m not suggesting that you don’t use free tools. Use as many as you can for as long as they’re free, but make sure that the one person with total control over your business’ web presence is you – not a third party – because, well, sometimes the landlord is a real dick.