Marketing Your Startup On a Zero Budget

By Prateek Panda May 15, 2019

Effective marketing is always a challenge but if you are a small early stage startup, marketing becomes a little more difficult due to the lack of a decent budget. In most cases, including our, there was absolutely no budget. Marketing, and especially digital marketing, isn’t always about big budgets or stressing over CPCs and CPMs. As a startup whether you are in the early stage or just want to be frugal, there are various marketing techniques you can use that can be run on almost a zero budget. 

In this post, I’ll share some of the strategies that we employe at Appknox, a mobile application security company that I founded in 2014. Up until the first three years of our business, we has marketing work on a zero budget.

Here’s what you can do to gain some momentum: 

SEO focused Content Marketing

Needless to say there are millions of websites on the Internet, all competing for space and attention. I am sure you’ve done a fair amount of research about your space and in almost every case, there are some incumbents who are drawing all the attention. How do you take on these incumbents head on with little to no budget. 

One of the first things I would suggest doing is content marketing with a focus on search engine optimization. There are numerous strategies and guidelines written by SEO experts around the world. One of the techniques I particularly love and employed at Appknox was Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Technique. When you create a content plan or roadmap using this technique, you plan your first cornerstone content. This is your masterpiece, something you can write 10,000+ words on and still have more to write. Every other related piece of content points to this masterpiece and helps complete it. This will help you get all the SEO juice going in the right direction. It will also help you plan a lot of related content at once. 

Make sure you perform extensive keyword research to determine the top keywords for your business that you should create content for. I like using UberSuggest and Keywords Everywhere. There are many similar tools and you could find what works best for you.

If executed well, content can help draw thousands of relevant eyeballs every month to your website. We still employ these tactics and continue to see more than 20% growth in organic traffic each month. 

One thing to remember is always value “Quality over Quantity.” If you are short on bandwidth or do not have the dedicated resources yet, you should rather focus on doing less but definitely creating the best content for the particular topic. I suggest founders and early marketers to write the content themselves even if they might not be the best writers. You can always find a freelance copyeditor to refine things for you.

Now that you have created awesome content, do not forget to promote it. Else, no one will find it. There are numerous ways you can do this – social media, cross posting on other blogs, repurposing the content for other platforms like Quora, etc.

Email is still alive and kicking

Emails are one of the cheapest and fastest ways of marketing in the digital space. It gives you tremendous opportunity to define your audience well, create custom messaging, be non-intrusive and, to top it all off, it is cheap. If you’ve done this before, you would also know that email open rates are disappointingly low, with even lower Click Through Rates and conversion rates. But the ability to personalize your pitch can go to a great extent in winning your early customers irrespective of whether you are B2B or B2C.

At Appknox, all of our early customers were through highly crafted, personalized email campaigns. None of these were a hard sell. Once we had a list of contacts we spent a lot of time segmenting them based on size, industry, etc. Each segment then had a highly personalized campaign. The key thing to remember though is not to push for a hard sell. Try understanding the problem of your potential customer, make them aware about how they can make their lives easier. If done the right way, enough of them will write back to you.

Referral Marketing

Irrespective of whether you are running a product company or a services business, if you have ensured a great experience for your customers, they will be one of your best channels for new customer acquisition. As is popularly said within the community, it’s better to have a hundred people who love you than thousands who sort of just like you. 

If you have customers that love you, feel free to ask them for a referral. More often than not, they will be happy to refer peers from other similar companies. Each happy customer is a walking advertisement for your service/product. If you empower them and build the relationship well, they will help you get many more users for you to delight further.


I simply can’t emphasize enough about this. I come from a PR/Journalism background as I used to run a digital media company before. I have had hundreds of startups pitch me each month for a cover story. Based on my experience with the pitches that came in, I kind of figured what works and what doesn’t. When I was running Appknox, I used this experience to pitch to journalists and saw a significant success rate. 

According to me, every journalist loves a good story. But nobody wants to listen to someone self-bloat. It’s important for you to spend enough time to understand which are the best publications for you to be on. Then find journalists who write specifically about your space. Spend some time interacting with their posts online and slowly build some visibility. Eventually, reach out to them and mention how you can contribute great first-hand insights to the space that they frequently write about. This might sound old-school but it works.

Network Network Network

This is one thing we did religiously at Appknox in our early days. If you are based in a city with a vibrant startup ecosystem, then please leverage it well. Else, be open to traveling to startup events where you can network with folks similar to you and also those who are further ahead in the startup journey. These connects will come handy when you are dealing with a particular situation and need help from someone who has “been there, done that.”

Even today, I’m involved in the community, I am constantly networking. I get invited to events as a guest speaker and I try my best to be in as many as possible, as long as they are relevant. These events are also great opportunities to network with VCs, journalists, and of course, explore business opportunities.

To sum it up, I would say that there are numerous ways to market your business even if you don’t have a budget to do that. But, it’s important to have realistic expectations. Keep measuring growth and success and double down on channels that you find are showing progress. None of the channels will suddenly open a flood of leads but if executed well, it will help you propel your initial growth and some of the channels can continue to grow into a dependable lead source. Additionally, once you are ready to invest in marketing, whether it be growing the team or in terms of budgets, a lot of this experience and data will help you make better decisions.

About the Author

Prateek Panda is the Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Appknox. Previously he was the Founder of TheTechPanda, one of India’s leading startup publications. Prateek is one the leading B2B SaaS marketing experts. He is known for his experiments with new age marketing and often likes to share his learnings with the community.