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When you're low on cash you have to think differently

When you run your own business – be it web or otherwise – it is a general rule that you need two things to accomplish any particular task, money and time. A lot of one means you need less of the other.

If you had a lot of cash, you can just pay someone to do the work, whereas if you’re broke with all the time in the world, well…then you get creative.

In the case of publicity and traffic generation, a lot of money means you can advertise, sponsor and bribe your way to celebrity (or infamy). If on the other hand like most startups you are short on money or just plain stingy then you’ll need to take a different tack, for this situation you’ll need a bit of Guerilla Marketing.

So before you run out to the local zoo armed with placards and bananas, let’s do a bit of definition work. Guerilla Marketing is a term coined by author Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1982 book of the same name, and it simply means unconventional marketing and promotional activity on a shoestring budget.

The name comes from guerilla warfare not the gorilla ape, and is thus named because it’s a technique that is especially powerful in the hands of a small, agile business.

Without a large budget, your primary tools and assets will be time and imagination. Rather than competing you will need to cooperate and leverage off others to strengthen your own position.

Instead of buying your way in, you will need to create value for people in unconventional ways. In every case you will also mix up many different strategies to create your plan.

Although every business and marketing situation will call for different and inventive strategies, here are some examples to get you thinking:

(1) Using a feature of your product to get publicity for its innovation or excellence

When it came time to revamp the website for design agency Good Creative where I work, we thought long and hard about how to best use the design to market the site.

Since CSS design blogs are so popular, we built the site using lovely, clean, table-less markup. While this has other, obvious benefits it also led to the site being listed in numerous CSS portals and generated thousands of visitors.

Of course many of these visits were from designers coming no doubt, to pinch our ideas! But mixed in were many, many leads, and it cost nothing but a bit of extra time and care to make sure the design was done right.

(2) Giving away something for nothing

There’s nothing that gets people interested quite like the idea of getting something for free.

A common application of this idea is to give away a free trial or a no-cost subscription, thus lowering the so-called ‘barrier to entry’ - the initial time and cost it takes a user to adopt or use your product.

While a free trial is a great thing to do however, it’s hardly Guerilla Marketing.

A more inventive idea is to really give something away. Take for example 37signals who gave away an entire framework in Ruby on Rails producing no direct, obvious profits, but creating huge reserves of public goodwill, a large cache of dedicated supporters and a damn lot of publicity.

Still we don’t all have frameworks to give away, at least I don’t.

As an example of something a little less grand, when Internet Explorer began having the “Click to activate” issue with Flash movies, the portal Kirupa.com created a little tool that let designers type in their Flash movie clip name and details and in return generated some JavaScript.

Not a particularly hard feat to accomplish, but for their target market it was very useful. As a result a legion of tech-shy designers would continually return to the site to use this tool giving Kirupa ample opportunity to entice them to use the site.

So what you give away can be simple, but it must be valuable. It might be a tool, free assets such as code or images, a set of tutorials or all sorts of other things.

As a well as being genuinely useful to your audience, it must also be totally free – not a ‘buy 5 and we’ll throw in a set of steak knives’, but actually free.

(3) The gift of knowledge

Writing and speaking are great ways to gain publicity for yourself and by implication your product or business.

Naturally you will need to have something useful to say since no one wants to listen to gibberish. Nonetheless you will be surprised that what appears to be common sense to you, may be fascinating to someone else.

The key to this method is sticking to your field of expertise. You may need to supplement your own knowledge with a bit of research and a dash of reference, but by writing in publications, sites, blogs and/or organizing speaking engagements and giving seminars you will not only gain publicity but build credibility.

This may sound hard, but publications are often starved for good content and provided you write well and edit furiously there is no reason why you can’t get some work published.

(4) Make Friends

That’s right, making friends isn’t just good for your social life, it’s great for your business too. After all if I had a penny for every time someone has said “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” then I’d have … at least 50 cents!

As a warning, I am not advocating you try to push superficial friendship on people who just don’t want to know you. What I am saying is get to know the people in your industry, attend events, join communities, do favours, help others and you’ll be surprised what benefits you reap.

(5) Put on a show

Organising an event, exhibition or competition is a clever way of getting a lot of publicity, though of all the ideas mentioned thus far; this is by far the hardest and most time consuming, so consider warned. Still with great toil comes great reward.

Events such as conferences, seminars or exhibitions are fabulous as they are the sort of thing other people will want to publicise for you. If you can get through the stress of it all, you’ll gain credibility along with your publicity too.

Though you might think there is a lot of financial outlay to putting on a show, you can through the use of sponsors, entrance charges and so on even turn this into a profitable enterprise.

To Conclude…

These five examples should have gotten a few ideas popping in your head and I would encourage you to be as inventive as possible in your strategies. The possibilities and rewards for your efforts are large.

The best thing about Guerilla Marketing is that when executed successfully, it is a far more powerful way of reaching out to your audience than throwing advertising at them. For this reason, it may even be worth pursuing these techniques even if you do have the money.

I can’t say that it will be easy, heck I’ll straight out tell you that the more work, time and effort you are willing to put in the more successful you will be.

Just remember the key to Guerilla Marketing is to give people value, not perceived value, not run-on value, not discounts on your products, but real, genuine, bonafide value.

Do that and you will be successful every time.


About the Author, Collis Ta'eed
Co-Founder, Activeden

Cofounder of the stock flash site FlashDen.net, Collis Ta’eed also works as an art director at Sydney based creative agency Good Creative.


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