This Autumn, businesses are facing a whole set of new challenges. Costs of operating & manufacturing have increased, new team members are harder to find and consumer buying behaviour has become more cautious. If ever there was a time to learn how to grow a business on a lean budget - it's now.
Economic trading conditions have changed and as a result, Tech Nation asked me to write this article to help steer startups to growth on a limited budget.
Learning how to drive growth through visibility on a small budget has been a major thread throughout my career. Startup brands need to be smart with their available spend and my support has focused on unlocking ways to do this.
In fact, I’ve learned many of my lessons through creating the successful growth of my own consultancy business - particularly during an economic downturn!
Cost effective growth is achieved through 3 main areas and in these priorities.
Identify and switch on all low cost earned and owned opportunities through PR and content marketing, optimised with organic SEO.
Curate and own a unique brand voice for in demand industry insights & expertise
Activate carefully monitored paid strategies to support where necessary
A case study to illustrate growth without spend
Running my own business in a competitive agency marketplace in the ‘naughties’ taught me some rapid tips and tactics to optimise growth with little or no spend.
I called our business growth plan a ‘fame campaign’. It was a successful tactic I applied to the launch of tech innovation hub, Plexal and secured new customers and a PR Week award as a result!
So what is a fame campaign?
Simply put it’s a communications strategy that is focused, creative and relevant - with a little bit of the unexpected thrown in! Creating a fame campaign is essentially about market disruption. Looking at your sector conventions and upturning them, creating sector surprise and ultimately, newsworthiness.
With my own youth marketing & communications agency, we decided to play in the same space as the brands we wanted to work for. An example of this was our ‘A.P.E tour’. Public research recognised that school sports were too limited, letting down many teenagers, reducing active participation and contributing to a growth in obesity.
We approached a number of brands (we wanted to work with) and asked them to sponsor our A.P.E tour (standing for alternative PE) bringing non conventional sports to school PE lessons including skateboarding and BMX riding. The tour attracted incredible TV and print coverage - leading to excited kids, happy client sponsors and creating growth opportunities for us to work with Red Bull, Casio and Nike.
When standard behaviour changes, perhaps one of the most overlooked areas to focus on is brand standout through creativity. And this applies across B2B and B2C. According to Linkedin, B2B audiences exposed to both acquisition focused lead gen ads blended with creative brand ads are six times more likely to convert.
An advertising report in 2021 from the European Association of Communicators revealed that 44% of the most successful recessionary ads engaged a freshly relevant empathetic and emotional approach with their customers.
But if all advertisers are embarking on this engagement route, creativity needs to kick in. Putting a spotlight on real people (business workers and customers) through rich and creative filmic content is one way to deliver uniquely personalised messaging that can be cut many ways and shared across multiple platforms.
And remember, videos don’t just sit as a top-of-the-funnel format. They can and should be a key part of your revenue generation strategy. For instance, include clickable CTA buttons or help B2B viewers move down the sales funnel with opportunities to find out more through a report or demo request.
3 tips to help founders drive and accelerate growth on a limited budget
1. A bold brand
Many fast accelerating tech businesses tend to overlook brand identity as a quick afterthought. It’s a mistake I see repeated way too often.. As a result, so many startup tech businesses look homogenised using safe, conventional colours (light blue is a favourite!) and uninspiring logos that have little depth or meaning.
And yet if curated with consideration in advance of launch, a strong brand can unlock a myriad of low cost opportunities. Bold brands help businesses stand out in a competitive marketplace, provide even greater back story opportunities and enable both customer and influencer intrigue - creating a desire to find out more. Evidence also shows that strong brand identities also help all other marketing strategies succeed including paid and earned.
2. Disrupt convention
Business launch moments are a great opportunity to get creative - helping to drive news coverage that doesn’t cost a dime! Sometimes tech founders read ‘creativity’ as ‘gimmicky’. This is definitely not the same thing.
By way of example, launching Plexal created an opportunity to attract some high profile guests - but a standard ribbon cutting exercise was never going to make the news. Putting London Mayor Sadiq Khan on an electric scooter (designed by one of our members) riding around Plexal certainly did make the news. Admittedly it was not easy but we secured incredible news and TV coverage as a result - helping the Plexal arrival story travel far and wide and securing 600% uplift in member enquiries.
In the words of one PR expert, “While PR has always been a channel for brand-building, when dipped in creativity, it catches fire. For savvy marketers looking to make their (now-reduced) budgets work harder, creative PR offers a solution that resonates with consumers and aligns with your bottom line”.
3. Find your unique voice
How to maintain momentum post launch without spending a fortune? Find a unique business voice that builds authority. A recent successful strategy for a martech business client relied almost entirely on their unique and insightful reports.
Written by the founder and supported by invited industry spokespersons, the reports created PR coverage, high authority backlinks, guest blogs, speaker opportunities and a stream of podcast and webinar invitations. They have been the single most successful growth tactic for this business and cost very little.
4. Content is king
The above example is testament to the power of content marketing through sharing expertise. Optimising your website with content supported by organic SEO are surefire ways to create business visibility and authority without a paid advertising budget.
According to Entrepreneur magazine “To strengthen your on-page SEO, make sure that all of your content is relevant, informative and well written. To maintain relevance, your content must provide answers to your audience's search queries”. Read more here about
5. Partners - not paid
With a proliferation of paid and boosted digital opportunities from the likes of Google, Metaverse and Linkedin, it’s difficult to know where to place any allocated spend. And certainly testing some of these platforms should form part of your marketing strategy. But building your profile through reputation and partnership could minimise these costs. Read more here about great content marketing. https://www.prospectsociety.com/post/how-to-write-a-business-blog
Partnerships are an excellent way to reach audiences you wouldn’t otherwise be able to connect at early growth stage. Find like-minded business partners where you can buddy on ambitions, help share each other’s content and reach each other’s customers. These partnerships are free and powerful but can take time to build. Expect 6 - 12 months to research, negotiate and activate powerful partnerships.
My ultimate tip for cost effective marketing is to lean into earned and owned tactics. Being clear about your customers is an intrinsic part of your success here because understanding what story and solution you want to present customers will help your business cut through and connect more directly.
If the process of creative thinking causes fear and panic - run a series of short brainstorms or workshop with creative PR and marketing specialists. Or just check us out - here to help!