How to market your startup without spending anything: a guide for beginners

According to Y Combinator, an American seed accelerator for startups, on average, the success rate of startups is as low as 0.4%. Such staggering data is indeed scary, which renders all the more important to market your idea effectively.

However, marketing in general is a revenue-guzzling activity; more so if you are a startup or new in business.

So below, we have listed some marketing ideas that don’t eye your pocket or at worst, are extremely easy on it!

1. Social Media

Without a doubt, the best way to market your business is through effective content in different social media platforms. Be it Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest or any other social media platform, good content is always liked and shared. This increases your audience and potential customer base.

It is great if you can create original content which sometimes, may get viral. Nothing beats the importance of viral content in branding your business to a wide audience.

But remember, you need to be consistent and regular in your social media activities. Try to have at least one post in your chosen social media platforms.


If you find it not practical to create original content every time, you may like to share content on general information or updates about your industry.

Of all social media platforms, Twitter has gained much prominence. With clever and consistent strategy, Twitter can be a great way to brand your business and drive sales. Create a Twitter account for your startup and tweet relevant information related to your business, at least once daily. In fact, it is better if you can tweet every two-three hours.

Remember, your tweets should not be only about sales; there should be generic interesting tit-bits about your industry as well. Retweet important tweets. Actively reply to your tweets and engage with people.

Apart from the free marketing, you may try the paid ads options available in different social media platforms. But first we suggest, be effectively active through the free mode.

2. Blogging

In today’s digital world, content is king. And in that context, an effective way to promote your business is by having a blog.

Post relevant and innovative topics regularly in your blog. Update it with the latest industry news.

Try to make your blog a complete media hub. Have audio and video files, podcasts, webcasts and if feasible, webinars as well.


If any content goes viral, you will reach a huge online audience. In general, interesting videos go viral easily.

But remember, such innovative content can go waste if you don’t promote it effectively through social media. So promote your blog posts through different social media platforms.

Through your blog, engage with your readers actively and develop a community. This helps immensely in branding your business.

An interesting offshoot of blogging is that it improves the SEO of your website. Since your blog is linked to your website, more people coming to your blog effectively means more traffic to your website.

Essentially, blog can build trust for your business and position you as an industry expert. The more you can demonstrate your expertise and knowledge about your business domain, the more will people try your product or service.

3. Guest Blogging

In simple words, guest blogging is about link building. Or in other words, bringing traffic from different websites to your site.

However, according to a recent post by Matt Cutts from Google Webspam team, guest blogging is no longer valuable to drive traffic. The reason is that Google has found the practice spamming.

But remember, if your content is original and you choose good websites, guest blogging can still be used to drive quality traffic to your site. The practice is still used by many businesses.


Do research sites that are related to your business and have high traffic as well. Offer to guest blog for them.

Join guest blogging communities like MyBlogGuest to interact with other bloggers in your industry, find more useful guest blogging opportunities and in general, get information and updates about your industry.

4. Question-and-Answer Websites and Internet Marketing Forums

There is a worldwide community online who interacts with each other in different question-and-answer sites (Yahoo! Answers,, Askville,, Answerbag, All Experts, etc) and marketing forums. The Internet is full of marketing forums of every conceivable business or product.

We suggest you do a Google search and research question-and-answer sites and forums that have most of your target audience.


In question-and-answer sites, answer questions related to your business and industry and post your own doubts as well. While in marketing forums, join the threads or create your own thread.

Be regular in the sites and forums and interact actively. You should try to become a reliable source of industry information and create a good list of followers, both in the question-and-answer sites and marketing forums.

5. Post Ads in Free Sites

There are many websites which allows you to post ads for free like Craigslist,,, Gumtree, etc.

Explore such websites for your business.


6. Host High-Profile Interviews, Live Chats or Twitter Parties

Can you manage an interview with a prominent personality in your industry? If yes, then you can have it in your blog. Traffic for such searches is high; so it can be a good way to bring users’ notice to your business.


Decide on an interesting topic related to your business or industry and start a Twitter party. Or, you can have  a live chat discussion where users can consult with experts.

Either way, the whole idea is to engage the audience with each other, while at the same time build trust for your brand.

7. Free Offers, Discounts and Coupons

It is always a good business strategy to give free trials or ‘try before you buy’ offers, discounts or coupons to your audience. So if feasible with your business plan, then do it for a limited period.


In the process, you will collect the contact details of many potential buyers. Even if the users’ opt out of your product or service after the discounts or free trials, you can pitch them later.

8. Press Media Exposure

Do press releases and try to find some space in the media. Nothing is more relevant for effective branding than a good press for your product or service.


9. Contests and Local Events

Try to associate with local events where you can display your product or service and generate public buzz.

Alternatively, you can hold different contests, both offline and online, and offer the winners discounts or coupons to use your product or service.


Either way, the motive is to bring the audience closer to your business.

10. Customer Feedback Loop

Essentially, customer feedback loop refers to the gathering of feedback from different sections of the targeted audience through various means, and then using the information to better the products/services offered.

Providing excellent customer service is an excellent marketing strategy to spread news about your business by word-of-mouth and customer testimonials.


Interact with customers at every opportunity in your website. Have interactive chat and on-site survey feedback on select pages like category or sale.  Promptly respond to any user who has interacted with you.

On-site survey feedback, for both fresh leads and existing customers, should contain only relevant questions and should not take more than 2 minutes to complete.

Don’t shy away from negative feedback. It is even more important to interact with such aggrieved customers. If feasible, try to compensate them.

If customers don’t participate in your on-site survey feedback, proactively encourage them to give you their reviews or testimonials for your products or services. This will help you to plug the loopholes in your business, if any, and enhance the customer experience.

Note, according to a report by McKinsey, 20-50% of all purchasing decisions are driven by testimonials.

So select some of the positive feedback and include them in your testimonials page. Try to include photos of the customers who gave you the positive feedback. You may add a couple of bad reviews as well. This will add to the credibility of the good testimonials.


For a startup with limited resources, it is a challenge to work on your business and marketing simultaneously. We suggest you use some or all the ideas mentioned above to popularise your business effectively.

Do you think there are more ways to market a startup? Let’s start a discussion!

First published: YourStory, Oct 2014


What You Can Learn From Yahoo’s Fall? 5 Lessons To Implement in Your StartUp

On July 25 early morning, Forbes headlined the Yahoo deal as ‘saddest $5 billion deal In tech history’. This is heartbreaking indeed. Throughout our childhood in the 90s, Yahoo was the king of the Net. In fact, when Yahoo went public in 1996, its shares soared by 154% in a single day and in just three years, its founders were worth $8 billion each. The company had a dream run until Google came along.

Is there something that we can learn as startups from this classic fall-from-grace story? We have looked at the discussions and perspectives around the topic and come up with the following analysis. Read on.

Know Your Customer


Yahoo began its journey in 1994 as ‘Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web’ – a directory page created by two Stanford University students where they listed websites that they found useful. In US then, dial-up internet connection was gaining popularity and people wanted a one-stop destination where they can access different facilities. Yahoo was at the right place at the right time. It became a portal and became extremely popular as it rode the dot com bubble.

By turn of the century the advantage of portal slowly dwindled. The world was more focused on social and search. And more and more people were turning to smartphones.

However, Yahoo essentially remained just that – a portal where millions of people come everyday to do almost everything from searching to emailing, checking news to weather, playing games to chatting. All these activities were not particularly popular with the smartphone audience. But in spite of these obvious signs, Yahoo hang on with the concept and tried to add capabilities within it.

For startups, this is a good learning – know your customers well. It is important to analyse the interests, demographics and other metrics of our target audience, and formulate strategies and services accordingly.

Keep Your Best Team Together


According to a Forbes article, at one time Yahoo had the best brains in Silicon Valley. But as the company gradually lost its importance, its best engineers started moving out to its competitors.

Yahoo, however, did not seem serious enough to keep its talent density intact. In fact, it filled in the gap with mediocre engineers. One of the ex-managers of Yahoo famously confessed to a magazine that given a choice, he would like to fire at least 80% of the engineers at Yahoo.

This is a good learning for all companies – more so for startups. A good team will see your company through all times – good and bad. The key is to identify the key stakeholders and focus on maintaining the talent density.

Focus on Your Core Product or Service


Remember the time when Google appeared as a search option on the Yahoo portal? Google has long come out from the shadows and have eclipsed Yahoo completely in search. Facebook has taken over the excitement that we once experienced with the many Yahoo chat rooms. Apps in smartphones have weaned us away from the web. In short, Yahoo does not seem to have any specific focus – when compared to such companies. To be brutally frank, even the home page looks cluttered and out of focus.

The learning is an eyeopener for startups. Understand where your key strength lies and give special focus to that product or service line. It is better to be specialist in one field and offer unique experiences to customers than to be a ‘Jack of all trades but master of none’.

Be Clear about Your Revenue Model


Critics feel that Yahoo lacked foresight and did not have unambiguous focus on revenue channels and generation.

In the late 90s, Yahoo could clearly see that the internet was fast expanding and its methodology of manually curating and indexing websites on its portal no longer holds good. But it did not really make an intense effort to come up with a technology to automate the process. In fact, when the young founders of Google approached it then for investment, it outright disapproved.

Later however, Yahoo understood its mistake and invited Google to put up its search bar on its portal. Ironically, this helped Google much more than it did to Yahoo – it positioned Google as a better option in search technology. In 2002, Yahoo offered to acquire Google for $5 billion – but this time, Google said no.

Yahoo was aware that it does not have social media clout. So in 2006, it offered to buy Facebook for $1 billion and Mark Zuckerberg was almost ready. But then, Yahoo’s stock value faltered and it renegotiated the deal to $850 million. Zuckerberg didn’t like it and walked away.

The worst part is, Yahoo could not make the best use of Overture – its pay-per-click program. Interestingly, AdWords is based on it and today has become the biggest source of revenue for Google.

And what is even more heart breaking is that Yahoo missed to capitalise on the millions of early leads of an entire generation that came (and still do) to its portal.

When Marissa Mayer took over as CEO, she understood the importance of mobile experience for users. But may be, her efforts were too little too late. Critics point out that Yahoo did not have enough mobile experts and it was spread out on too many apps.

In short, essentially, with the rise of Google in search and Facebook in social, and with no clear presence in web or mobile, the potential of Yahoo to generate revenue was gradually going downhill.

This analysis is a clear learning for startups. From the beginning, we should have definite understanding of our revenue model and how we plan to go about it.

Set Clear Work Culture


Yahoo always had an employee-friendly culture where people were happy, relaxed and had the freedom to pursue their passions. This is good, but the culture should also push employees to move fast, innovate and create real impact to the company.

When Marissa Mayer became the CEO, she tried to do away with the work-from-home option which was abused universally. She also tried to bring in strict appraisal system where an employee would fall in different buckets like ‘exceeds expectations’, ‘meets expectations’ or ‘below expectations’. Did her initiatives bear fruit – the jury is still out.

Look at the irony. The technology Hadoop was nurtured at Yahoo, but other companies are generating billions of dollars around it now. There were other ideas which received many awards at conferences – however, most were not implemented. So here is the question – were the stakeholders not active or fast enough in the company to translate those ideas into business?

This is a wakeup call for startups. It is very important to set up an office culture where employee-friendliness and, strict goals and work expectations go hand in hand. The culture and values should be clearly mentioned in the company’s page – something that Google has done effectively and Yahoo has not.


Of course, all is not lost for Yahoo. It stills hold non-core patents and stakes at Alibaba and Yahoo Japan. It is worth only $36 billion now – a mighty 75% fall from what it was in 2000, and definitely less than the $50 billion that Microsoft once offered to acquire it. But in its Greek tragedy, there are many gems of wisdom that startups need to take note of.