The Way We Work
March 26, 2012 by Julia Camenisch

You have a business name, an awesome product and a branded e-mail account. Now what? It would be nice if the clients would just come knocking, but that is highly unlikely! Instead of waiting around, get out there and start doing some self-promotion. Here are eight free ways to promote your startup and drive business to your door:

  • Profile your ideal customer. Before you conduct any PR outreach, first figure out exactly who your customer is. Knowing what type of customer you need to reach makes all the difference in your promotional efforts. It might be app developers, young moms or shoelace manufacturers. The point is, know your target. Then you can effectively aim.
  • Focus your website. There are customers who are looking for your services via search engines, so pull out the welcome mat. And these days, that mat looks an awful lot like good website design. You can pull in new prospects by optimizing every page of your site for search engines. You can then keep those prospects by clearly communicating your business’s services on every landing page and by persuasively answering the question on their minds: “Why should I hire you?”
  • Be present in social media. You might be able to maintain an identity on all of the social media outlets; then again, you might not. But wherever you choose to establish a presence, be there. According to a webcam eyetracking study by Mashable, Facebook users spend the most time looking at a brand’s wall versus any other element on the page. A takeaway from this study is that being active on your social media account allows you to engage customers better. Being engaged also allows you to stay on top of buzz about your product, encouraging the good reviews and dealing with the negative feedback.
  • Start talking it up. Post about your new business on any and every venue you respectably can. And while you want to avoid sounding desperate for customers, there is nothing wrong in asking for advice. In fact, that is a great way to both improve your offering and to get your name out. So engage potential customers by asking for feedback. More people are likely to check you out when there is no sales pressure involved. And if they are excited about what they see, they are likely to share it with others.
  • Find the interested. Got a tech product or new app? Then search out those early adopters who are always looking for the latest and greatest. Some sites that can help you reach them include Betali.st, Startupli.st, and inspiredBeta. Design a landing page just for this audience and offer a beta test experience. Then see if those users will do a write-up for you. And if they refuse, find out why and try to fix the problem.
  • Make personal connections with brand advocates. Start looking for those who are talking about your area of expertise or are thought leaders in your product’s space. Then get to know them. If possible, meet them offline, but if that is not an option, strike up a conversation online. The goal is to build a relationship with those who are tweeting, writing, blogging and otherwise spreading the word about products like yours.
  • Offer a referral incentive. Just because people like your business does not guarantee they will actively tell their friends about you...unless you give them a good reason to do so. Provide that reason by offering some type of reward or discount for referrals. Be creative in the reward offered and tailor it to your customers’ needs. For example, Dropbox offers extra storage space for those who refer new customers, and Omaha Steakhouse ran a campaign where they threw in 10 extra burgers for each customer who referred a friend.
  • Make a video or infographic worth sharing. While not necessarily easy (especially if you have no budget!), investing time and creative juices into a fun and innovative visual can be a great marketing strategy. People enjoy sharing funny, interesting and/or offbeat items, so with a bit of skill (and luck), a viral production can really get your name out there. Check out this past post on infographics and this post on web videos for more info.

Know of any other free PR resources or promotion tips? Share them below in the comments section!


Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to oDesk a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.

  • http://www.phoenary.com Nathan

    Hi Julia,
    I'm doing some research on where to promote a social collaboration platform that we developed which is still on beta (www.phoenary.com) and I came across your article. Still very useful today, if I may say so. I have tried Betali.st, Startupli.st, and so far there have been some good results. inspiredBeta doesn't work though. I would also suggest erlibird and sitepoint, people usually gave honest reviews and feedback about my site which helped us in this crucial startup phase.

  • http://www.trendjam.com Pete Wilson

    Still a useful article - will use some of your ideas to promote our new startup http://www.trendjam.com

    Thank you.

    Pete

  • http://gravatar.com/avekir avekir

    Article great, but no one read that startups websites :( I have sumbited my startup but want to submit here:

    http://apexter.com - must have for freelancers!

  • http://www.launchingnext.com/ Alex

    Another great service to "Find the interested" is by using our website, Launching Next: http://www.launchingnext.com/

    Submitting startups is free, and we post submissions after about a day.

  • http://talkic.com talkic.com

    This is great and much appreciated! We're in public beta for http://talkic.com (a social network where contributing to topics benefits causes) and looking to get our approach to social good out there.

  • http://www.yumterest.com Yumterest

    Your article is spot on. Getting visibility for a new site seems almost impossible. We have been looking for ways to promote our newly launched site, Yumterest.

    Yumterest is a place to discover and share all things yummy. It is a great site to share yummy recipes, yummy foods, yummy places and many more. You can call it

    • Julia

      Well, I definitely don't think promoting a new site is impossible...but it IS a lot of work. Best of luck to you on your new venture!

      • http://www.TRELFAS.com Scott

        I've been trying promote my on line shop http://www.trelfas.com
        I've had some good feed back from friends about the look of my website and I'm getting a few visitors but yet no sales. I've got some promocodes to try add encourage people to buy. Can anyone suggest any other ways of converting visitors into sales? Or is it just a case of trying to get as many people as possible through the door?

        • Julia Camenisch

          @Scott - probably what you need to do now is start having a conversation with visitors. Are they interested in what you're selling? Is the site laid out in such a way that they can easily find what they want? Find out what hinders them from purchasing. Do some UX testing.

          Another important conversation to have is with your target audience. Seek out potential customers through channels such as Twitter to see what they're talking about, and chime in when you have something helpful to add. Run a blog with info that is useful to your target group. Recruit bloggers by giving them free products to review. There's a lot you can do, but it's a painstaking process. Best of luck to you!

  • Asad Rehman

    The idea to promote one self is not a bad one,if we guys are on the ODesk and we have the skills to help others and earn at the same time. Why not promote our business who knows when the right opportunity comes your way.

  • katherine

    Offer a referral incentive... wondering how you track referrals and how you use odesk contractors to build facebook fans

    • Julia

      @Katherine - Well, there are a couple of ways you could track referrals. One, you could offer some sort of unique code to be redeemed by the referred customer that is linked back to the referring customer. Or you could simply ask new clients if they were referred by someone. As to using oDesk contractors to build FB fans...what specifically do you mean? As in hiring them? Or in connecting with other oDesk contractors through FB?