Posted: Tue 2nd Jan 2024
Bootstrapping means starting a small business with a limited budget. When you have little to no money to play with, creativity is crucial. It is possible to launch and market a business for a small investment, but only if you use the funds effectively.
In this blog, we explore some simple marketing strategies you can use to get your product out there for next to nothing, with input from entrepreneurs:
Tim Rundle-Wood (Twoodle Co)
Stefan Allesch-Taylor CBE (Department of Coffee and Social Affairs)
Simon Alexander Ong
Start something on your own terms
According to Twoodle Co founder Tim, having a niche really helps small businesses start and scale online. He explains:
"One of the best pieces of advice about starting, is to have a niche. General products that appeal to everyone seem like a good idea but those markets are so flooded."
Tim recommends creating a really specific ideal customer persona that includes a name, job titles and habits when you start trying to promote your business. He uses aspirational personas that reflect a small part of his customer base, but that the rest of his target customers aspire to.
Entrepreneur Stefan Allesch-Taylor CBE started Department of Coffee and Social Affairs on a bootstrap budget and claims it was the fastest growing coffee business in the UK. He believes it's important for small businesses to be disruptive to stand out from their bigger competitors.
"If you don't believe you're doing something better, you're diminishing your chance of success. Brands are powerful things and you'll be up against some of the most powerful brands in the world."
It helps to remember that big isn't always better from a consumer standpoint. If there were 500 Department of Coffee shops in the UK, for example, it would be regarded as a chain and viewed differently. Stefan explains:
"As an overall business plan, growing for the sake of growing isn't always the best way. You have to listen to your consumer. Our customers recognise that speciality coffee has to be speciality coffee, so commoditising what we do would be a terrible mistake."
Play to people's emotions
People buy based on emotion and then justify it logically afterwards, according to life coach and motivational speaker Simon Alexander Ong. He advises bootstrapping founders to be creative and find a connection with customers through their content.
London-based EL&N Café has done this by creating a space that gets people talking online. Its café is covered from floor to ceiling in faux flowers and has become an Instagram hotspot, with people queuing to have their selfies taken.
This human connection has helped to build a 740,000-strong following on Instagram. Most importantly, it's cost the company next to nothing.
Make seven points of contact
Marketing experts believe it takes around seven points of contact with a customer before they decide to buy. But don't confuse this with seven follow-ups – it's seven different media.
These media could include:
Don't underestimate offline communications either. Consider how you can reach your customers in the real world through events, so that you build trust over time.
It's possible for bootstrapped businesses to use lots of these channels for free. Think about where your customers will interact with your business and pick what you're going to focus on.
Tim at Twoodle Co started off with organic promotion, then played around with Facebook adverts. He targeted ideal customers with a very simple strapline about the problem he was addressing, aiming to get them to like his Facebook page.
He then retargeted them with an offer, testing whether giving money off, offering two-for-one deals or another strategy worked best.
Get customers to generate your content or you
User-generated content is not only budget-friendly, but it also shows a real and human side to your product or service.
Simon Ong puts it this way:
"For someone to buy your product or use your service, it comes down to three things. They have to know you, like you and trust you."
Customer reviews are a form of user-generated content that build trust. They're also free and help improve your ranking on Google. Reviews have become an important factor in customers' buying decisions, so build relationships with your customers and ask them to leave reviews on your social media pages, website or Google business profile.
Remember your partnerships and networks are powerful
For example, Simon Ong set up an online career summit with other recognised business speakers, reaching a significantly wider audience than running it alone.
Tim Rundle-Wood advises you to think about who in your personal network may be able to help too.
"Use everybody that you know. friends, family, friends of friends. There's always someone or somebody that can do the thing you can't do. Pull in every favour. Say 'yes' to everything even if you don't know you can do it."
Invest back into the business
Tim at Twoodle Co used what he calls the "pinwheel" approach to scale his business, buying the most products he could afford, selling them and then reinvesting the money to buy more.
"Let's say I want to start a business making candles. I buy 10 and sell them and that allows me to buy 30. I sell those 30 and get 90. Ninety becomes 180... it's about reinvesting every penny back into the business.
"You have to be really clever with your investments. You're buying more of what's selling and dropping what isn't. You create a business based on best sellers."
Tim launched Twoodle Co with "just a few hundred quid" by buying small quantities of products and selling them on Etsy. Your costs fall as the business grows because ordering in bulk tends to save money and some costs, such as your website hosting, won't change as sales increase.
"To begin with, product costs tend to be quite high, so the profit isn't as much. As you get bigger and buy in bigger amounts, your profit gets bigger and the pinwheel gets quicker."
Tim worked on the business as a side hustle before going full-time. He explains:
"It took about three years to get things to a stage where I could walk away from my full-time job. I could no longer manage both. I got to the stage where I had to have a conversation with my husband and say 'I physically can't do both'. It's good to get to that stage but you have to know yourself well enough."
Access support to start your business
Visit the StartUp UK hub for resources that give you the education and inspiration to get started on your entrepreneurial journey.