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Jun 18, 2019

How To Market Your Business Online With No Money

sound waves and money sign

No looks, no following and no talent

When I heard Gary Vaynerchuk says “to succeed we need to have some form of talent” via one of his podcast episodes, my heart sunk. That’s it, I can’t sing, can’t dance, don’t look good on video and no gift of the gab, I’m not that humorous either.

Looks like I’m doomed for failure.

But I’ve nowhere else to go. My business has been my lifeline and my desire and ambition tell me that’s what I want to grow. I need to get the word out, even when no one is willing to listen.

We all have to start from somewhere to promote ourselves even just a little. But, how do you win those guys who are spending tens of thousands of dollars on ads every day, paying countless ghostwriters to churn out blog posts for them, putting out pretty pictures on Instagram every day?

How do you stand out just like those cool dudes and hot babes who get millions of views each video they post, but you get zero views when you say the exact same thing over the same period of time?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but marketing is part art, part science. Over a decade of not doing much marketing and finally rolling up my sleeves into action this year, I figured, as entrepreneurs, it’s something we will have to keep doing and testing, till the day we end the business for good.

Let me share with you what I’ve been doing that worked well for me:

#1 Don’t think about yourself first

Having worked with hundreds of clients in my graphic design business of more than 10 years, the most common frustration I hear from clients is the lack of understanding and empathy towards them.

Though there’s no cookie cutter solution, this doesn’t only apply to the design industry. I would think that as long as you are selling to humans (which is all businesses be it B2C or B2B), this will always be one of the biggest factors that help you acquire, retain or lose clients or customers.

On first glance, this does not bring in immediate sales. But this is a mindset system that if used in every touchpoint with your prospect or customer, will eventually lead to sales piling at your door.

Do background checks

Knowing who to market your business is not enough. Let’s say, just so happened something tells me that I should sell my services to business coaches. This is what I will do if I was to think about myself first: I will approach them by telling them all about what I do, how I can help them by designing awesome graphics for their social media.

Not wanting to look salesy, I add that I’m not selling anything, just letting them know what I do and if they need help they know I’m there for them. Really? I’m not selling anything? That’s not true!

My intention is obviously to sell them my services. Of course, they can see through that. Then a few days later, I find out via one of their posts that they were graphic designers before too.

The lesson here is this, if anyone ever wants to know more about you, there must be some reason for them to do so. In my case, if nobody needs design work, there’s only so many times I can let them know I’m there to help before annoying them.

Earn the attention

Even if you have money to put out ads, your ads have to be relevant in the first place. Before we deserve their attention, we need to know what’s troubling them right now. Know if they are ready to receive information from us or not, if not, just don’t force it to their face.

So how do you know what’s troubling them? By not thinking about yourself first, the next thing you will naturally do is to read all their posts and comments in Facebook Groups or LinkedIn, and questions they ask anywhere else. In the above scenario, before telling the business coach about myself, I could have done this to know her background first before any self-promotion.

Only after you receive information about them, that’s when you think about yourself. Next, ask yourself: Can you give them some answers, provide them with more suggestions and then eventually giving them a free trial based on what they say?

Even without money, empathy wins.

#2 Ask people questions related to them

So you think there’s nothing else you have to give? That’s what I used to think about myself too. After snapping out of this, I’m glad to be left with three good natural resources to bank on:
Time - Though not renewable, I make do with what I’m left with
Energy - In times of inertia, I tell myself every day to get my act together
Skills - I can read and write fairly okay and learn to interpret things better

I realised I had to stop trying to be a mind-reader but to analyse people’s thoughts through their own words. For that to happen, I decided to take the time to ask everyone whom I’m connected with online for their comments on what they do. Here are some questions I asked them:

Questions to ask

How did you come up with such material? - It can be a simple logo or creative video animation, something that you genuinely wonder where the inspiration cam from. People will be very excited to answer such questions.

How does it feel working with so and so designer? - This one proofs difficult for them to answer, but it helped give me insight on what to write in blog posts and how to speak with prospects before moving towards a sale.

You mentioned you hate going to work, what do you do at work every day? - I had a friend who had to read 200 over new emails each day. That’s a serious problem!

Is your boss putting too much on your plate? Why don’t you outsource them for help? - this is a very common issue in the workforce, hence I can come in to fill the gap

Here’s the kicker: I never at any one time ask them what improvement would they like to see in my service. For one simple reason, they wouldn’t know and would respond by forcing an answer out of courtesy.

How do I know? I actually don’t know. I used to ask them that all the time and the answers were always the same, although I’ve already made the improvement. I appreciate that at least they took the time to respond, but their answers always leave me in the dark. That’s not their fault, it’s due to the kind of question I’m asking leading to such response.

Imagine yourself as the recipient

That’s when I changed my approach. Now, every time before I start a conversation with anyone, especially someone I’m about to email or message for the first time, I will imagine myself as the recipient.

Put yourself in your recipient’s shoes and ask: “What is it that will compel me to carry on the conversation?”I receive cold conversations every time myself and the only ones I get curious enough to check them out is when they asked me for my comment on something related to my writing, my life, my family, my kids, my work or my next thing.

If they asked me to comment on something they are doing, that still works so long it’s something I have interests in. In this case, if you do some background checks before starting the conversation, that can help you break more ice than without.

Yes, this is not scalable at all, especially if you aren’t sure if that one person you managed to get hold of is not buying anything from you. But look, if you are like me in the past, no money, no nothing, use your time to place your bets. Don’t compete with anyone else, do with what you have now and use that to let your prospects know you are focusing on them.

#3 Publish tons of content, people are reading

If you are new to this, don’t be too conscious if your content is valuable or not. Why? Don’t you need to create content with awesome quality? The short answer is “yes” and the long answer is also “yes”.

But if anyone is only allowed to publish something only when it’s of quality, then may I ask, what does it mean to be of good quality or bad quality? This answer depends on the responses you gather from your questions as mentioned above.

Value is in the eye of the beholder

One time, I had to create a book cover design for a customer. I did more research than I used to do and took about half a day to complete it. But the feedback on it was really hurting. She told me it looks like a design she could have done herself in less than an hour, unprofessional and cheap. “Please don’t be lazy and spend more time on it. Redesign it,” she said.

Redesign, I did. This time, I learned my lesson to spend less time doing, and more time asking her more questions. Eventually, I redesigned it in just an hour. Strangely, she loved it!

You may not understand how this works, me neither. Though this example is not about content, point is, you will always be your own worst critic if you keep researching what is out there and compare your own work. Realise that you are not buying the work, someone else is. The only way to sell is to do what these people want, not what you think is good for them.

It’s not that you should be lazy and deliver a half-baked bread. What I mean is, some people just prefer half-baked bread while there are some people who love darker toasted ones.

They will come

Back to content, it works the same way. I wanted to publish tons of content since 2014 and finally started in January 2019. Between 2014 to 2018, nobody came to me organically to speak with me about my business. Suddenly in 2019, people want to know more.

Why did I take so long? Simply because I was afraid people will judge and criticise the way I write, so I didn’t publish anything. The internet was already so crowded with what I wanted to say, why would people read what’s on my mind?

If you’ve done steps 1 and 2, you will be sure that people are reading. You will learn what is considered “quality” to the group of people who are about to consume your content. If you have done step 3 (this step), you will have to go back to step 1 to start the process of promoting your content in a way that helps people resonate with your topic.

You will discover how you should write your social media post to introduce what your content is about and explore the online space on who needs your content the most. The cycle continues…

Learn and repeat

This is the easiest part. Seriously, if something works to help marketing your business, just do it again, and again. If you realise, the above steps may work well for your business, it may also work well to help promote your content that’s to be done in step 3.

Since we have to repeat the steps, here they are once again:

#1 Don’t think about yourself first
#2 Ask people questions related to them
#3 Publish tons of content, people are reading

Here’s my final word:

We have to put the word out for our work, our content and about ourselves but don’t always do that in the literal sense.

Once you start imagining yourself as the receiving, your methods will change to suit that recipient. This will help you become more memorable in their eyes even if you think you have no money, no looks, no following and no talent.

You got this.