Startup growth happens in spurts.
First, growth is slow. It spikes when a useful traction channel is unlocked. It then flattens out again as a channel gets saturated and becomes less effective. Then, you unlock another strategy and you get another spike. Then growth flattens out. Rinse and repeat.

What this means is, your plan must be dynamic. To do that, you want to develop a process that allows you experiment continuously with different customer acquisition channels.

We have outlined a master list of free and low-cost marketing strategies you can use to acquire customers if you are on a shoestring budget:

1. Electronic word of mouth

An excellent growth hack, if you can make it happen. This strategy turns your users into your marketers.

If you make a good product, existing users are your best marketing resources. Segment your users to identify prospective fans and then set out ways you can turn them into advocates for your product.

Offer an incentive for existing users to invite their friends. Referral programmes are a powerful mechanic for viral growth.

People prefer to refer unselfishly rather than selfishly. So a referral scheme that offers the recipient a benefit, as well as the referrer, is more likely to be shared and more likely to convert.

2. Outreach and press-based tactics

Digital marketing may be all the rage now, relationships are still key. If you can build lasting relationships with relevant bloggers and journalists, you may never have to spend a dime on marketing.

If you have more money than time, hire a PR firm. But if you have more time than money, you can do everything a PR company will do for yourself.

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Make it a habit of reaching out to bloggers, influencers, celebrity journalists, and vloggers. Invite them to review your product and collect their reviews and testimonials for your website.

Other ways to engage with influencers and bloggers in your vertical: Write guest posts on their blogs. Offer a particular journalist an exclusive on your story. Help the new journalists look good. Build relationships with owners of popular Facebook pages. Give away your product for free to Youtube reviewers and review bloggers. Leave comments on industry blogs.

3. Content-focused marketing tactics

The absolute best tactic for acquiring new customers as a cash-poor startup is utilizing the power of content marketing.

It’s a little cliché, but content really is king.

Content drives traffic, it’s that simple. People constantly search for how-to guides, articles to answer their questions, and great content to consume. Simply publishing useful content will  drive users to your brand. Find out how to develop a content marketing strategy.

Other ways to pursue content-focused marketing.  Contribute in targeted forums on Nairaland and Radar. Giveaway a free e-book and ask users to sign up to your newsletter to download it. Create a “how-to” guide for something that is typically difficult in your industry.

4.  Email Marketing

Do you know what smart entrepreneurs do with the traffic they receive from inbound marketing content and SEO? They build an email list.

It’s astonishing how underutilized e-mail strategies are. Even if you don’t have a list built up, you can still leverage the power of email marketing by promoting your company in your email signature.

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Outside of direct sales, there is no better business outcome attached to first-time visitors than when they subscribe to receive newsletters and email updates from you. Find out more about email marketing here.

5. Partnerships

Partnerships should be mutually beneficial. Time and time again, people think they will be able to leverage a partnership with a top brand when they’re just starting out.

Ninety-nine times out of hundred, a top brand will not want to partner with a smaller company.

Instead, look for partnerships with companies at a similar size and stage as yours. Better yet, look for smaller companies who will more likely go out of their way to help you.

Doing so will help you cross-sell each other’s products. Also, cross-promote your brands on your email newsletters and social media pages.

6. Community Participation

Forums, events, and community education provide an easy way to reach a large number of people. While some of these tactics are very time-intensive, the return is well worth the input effort.

Meetup with coordinators and ask for speaking gigs at local events. Film these speaking gigs and share videos of your talks on your blog.

7. Search Engine Optimization

SEO is powerful. As long as websites show up when you search a keyword, and people use search engines, there will ALWAYS be ways to get traffic from search.

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Use the Google Keyword tool to identify the high-volume, low-competition keywords in your niche. Create content around those keywords

Focus on getting high-quality inbound links from blogs, forums, and press mentions

The great part about creating practical, useful content is that all of those shares and links will help you start to naturally rank in search engines.

8. Social Media Marketing

There are over a billion people on social media. The greatest value of social media is its ability to engage with a community of potential users and with thought leaders.

Engagement and personal contact are at the heart of social media. The right social media strategies will provide you with an opportunity to interact with customers, thought leaders, and influencers without spending a dime.

Build up your presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Run a free promotion or giveaway if users follow you on social media. Direct message thought leaders, interact with them, congratulate them on their recent press, etc. And generally, connect.

Your customer acquisition plan should evolve as you grow. What works initially might not work later on, and what doesn’t work now might be worth revisiting in the future. So stay lean and stay learning.

Featured image via valetinteractive


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