Founders, do you want a free way to drive users to your product or service? Here at DQventures we've been doing "free marketing" since the beginning. It's now driving a daily increase in social media followers of 1%, and steady growth in organic traffic to our website.
Before they have the luxury of a marketing budget, every startup needs to get some early users. Invariably the only way to do that is by hustling. Here's how we got started ourselves, and how we help our portfolio companies to go from zero to one.
The most valuable marketing asset almost every founder has is their own person network. Family, friends, former clients and colleagues, and social media contacts. It costs nothing to contact these people, and if you're building a business in an area you know well, it's likely you know the perfect people to help you validate your idea.
Even if you don't already know the right people, there are all manner of accessible groups and online communities where you can find them. Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, community-based applications like Guild. Reach out to people and tell them what you're doing. Ask for feedback. As long as you don't try to sell to them, you may be surprised how many people will be willing to connect and speak with you.
Even outside of existing communities it's relatively easy to find potential customers. As long as you've defined your target audience and their "job-to-be-done" (i.e. the problem you're going to help them solve), you can start writing to them. Don't sell your product, talk about the problem and the benefits of solving it.
You can do the following by:
- Making cold calls
- Sending personalised connection requests on LinkedIn
- Sending personalised InMails on Linkedin
- Using tools like ZoomInfo or Hunter to find people's email addresses and write them a personalised email.
- Make a list of your ideal business customers and make a plan for how to approach the right people there.
Create a CRM
Each time you contact someone, make a note in your CRM, so you know whom you've spoken with, what you said, and when. There are loads of great CRM tools out there, like Salesforce, Hubspot and Pipedrive. Alternatively try FreshSales or ZohoCRM, if you want something cheaper. But you don't need to pay for this. The simplest form of CRM is a list or a spreadsheet. We've used Airtable extensively for this - there's an extensive free tier and plenty of templates. This can get you quite a long way.
Community and content marketing
DQventures starts companies with experienced professionals who have a killer idea. Once you get beyond relationships and networking, that's a difficult segment to market to. What's needed is awareness.
Seeing as DQ doesn't target any particular sectors or industries, our goal is to build awareness about what we do among senior professionals, particularly (for now) within our preferred markets of Australia, Southeast Asia, and the UK. The channel we've chosen for this is LinkedIn because:
- It's the professional network.
- It rewards good content.
- It's a logical place to build trust and community.
- It's not restricted to a specific location.
- It's primarily English speaking (like us).
Over the last 5 months, we've focused our efforts on LinkedIn-based content marketing. The results so far have been a) a ~1% daily increase in social media followers; and b) steadily growing website traffic.
Here's how we've done it...
Content marketing on LinkedIn
Here's how to build a community on LinkedIn, while also driving organic traffic to your website, in 7 easy steps:
- First, make sure you've nailed down your target audience. Who are you trying to reach, and what problem are they interested in solving? This problem should sit at the heart of everything you write. Sure, write around the topic (you don't want to be repetitive or predictable), but make sure that whatever you write somehow helps your target audience to solve their problem.
- Find people on LinkedIn who talk about this problem. It's likely that your target audience may already be following them too. Follow their posts, and look for opportunities to add comments, or to engage in other ways. Ultimately you want this person to follow you back, and to engage with your content, as you are doing with theirs.
- Where appropriate, write thoughtful comments on their posts. Take your time, be bold and truthful, and try to add as much value as you can. You want this person, and their audience, to feel you are someone who has an interesting perspective and is worth paying attention to.
- Hopefully people will check out your profile and start following you simply as a result of these comments, but it's not a big deal if they don't. Here's where you can take it up a notch. Over time, you'll notice that some of your comments will itself get likes and replies. This shows that whatever you wrote struck a chord. This is clearly a topic worth exploring...
- When this happens, the next step is to copy/paste that comment and expand it into its own LinkedIn post. If the people who engaged with your comment already follow you, there's a good chance they will engage with your post too. You can even improve your chances by tagging the people who liked your comment, and/or the author of the post you commented on. (If you do this, please make sure you do so in the comments beneath your post. Do not tag them in the post itself. Tagging someone in a post means they receive the same notifications as you. This can be annoying, especially for people with a large following.)
- Here's where a bit more of the magic happens. Good long-form content can work well in social media posts, but its lifespan is short. To get more content out of your post, simply turn it into a blog post on your website (as I am doing here!). You may want to expand it to 500-600 words, but it's not essential. You could just copy and paste. Personally, I like to write a little more, and I try to make the article interesting by including photographs from one of the following stock image libraries (all of which are free): Unsplash/pexels/pixabay.com.
- Although it may not be a problem, Google doesn't like "duplicate content" (identical content that appears on two different web pages). It may penalise your blog article if it thinks you've copied and pasted it from another source. To make sure this doesn't happen, once the blog article is published, I go back to the original LinkedIn post, click "edit", and enter the link to the article at the bottom of the post. This shows Google that both pages are linked, and should give my blog post authority. Important: don't do this as soon as you publish your LinkedIn post. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the LinkedIn algorithm will penalise posts that a) have been edited, and b) include links to third-party sites. For maximum impact, wait until the post's engagement has died down before making any changes.
This LinkedIn strategy should enable you to:
- Identify topics your audience cares about.
- Write posts and blog articles with proven appeal.
- Give posts long-lasting value.
- Drive traffic to your blog.
- Avoid penalties from Google for "duplicate content".
- Avoid penalties from social media sites for posts that include links and edits.
Why the sharks?
On our LinkedIn journey we discovered this excellent post by Sam Browne on how to make your LinkedIn posts more engaging. If you've read this far, it's possible you're considering giving this a try. If so, why not try following Sam's advice too, as we did below...
– All shark illustrations by Dmitry Abramov.