No Marketing Budget? 3 Proven Strategies for Direct Selling For cash-strapped startups, spending big bucks on marketing isn't a possibility. Instead, here's how to drum up customers directly.

By Michael Costigan

entrepreneur daily

For all of the young entrepreneurs out there who dream of seeing their product or service on billboards and TV spots, first thing's first: You need customers before you can even consider spending a cent on marketing.

For this reason, startups often reel in new business by way of direct selling. After all, you have to get people using your service before marketing it can be fully effective. Plus, a big component of marketing is bragging about who your client base already is.

So how do you do this? Here are three proven ways to get your products or services into the hands of people who you know will benefit from them:

1. Send emails from real people.
Email marketing can be an incredible tool for your direct-sales needs but it can also be a major waste of time. First, here's what you shouldn't do: Email selling is not about using an automated email marketing program and sleazy HTML emails. It's also not about long sales pitches with affiliate URLS. And it's certainly not about the "Spray and Pray' method of SPAM marketing.

Related: How We Made $10,000 Using These 5 Content Marketing Tricks

So here's what you should do: Direct selling via email should be done by a team of real people. They can of course use services like Amazon's Simple Email Service, Mail Merge or software to aid in the sending of high volumes of emails.

But under no circumstances should there be traces of spam characteristics. For example, emails should be a couple of sentences at most. They should also be personalized, in plain text and ask for a brief chat with the recipient.

Too many sellers make the mistake of asking a potential customer to "marry them" on the first interaction, however. You must build rapport; you must show that you're looking to deliver value to their lives and/or business. And as far as finding contact information goes, lose certain lists. If you're selling your services to other professionals or businesses you can find almost all of your potential customers using LinkedIn, Jigsaw and Zoominfo.

2. Host webinars to boost interactivity and cull feedback.
Lots of folks are experimenting with live webinars. Akin to infomercials or live cooking demonstrations, this platform is similarly demonstrative. But note that today's services for webinar creation like ClickWebinar and Cisco's Webex allow for ever more audience participation, as well as provide tools for engaging viewers throughout the presentation.

Related: Want to Really Network? Stop Using Social Networks

This is a way to get your message in front of thousands of potential customers, all while making them come to your platform. This is also a great way to get real-time feedback about your services and watch engagement scores fluctuate as the presentation is delivered, knowing you can analyze them later. It's more personal than email, but doesn't put pressure on an individual to interact with you.

3. Give your product away.
For startups especially, it's much easier to sell a free evaluation period for a service than it is to seal the deal on a long-term contract. Give your customers access to your service free of charge and utilize the opportunity to solicit their feedback. By crowd-sourcing ideas for your product or service from people already using it, you can make bolder bets that when they do begin to pay you can iterate on making the service even better.

People like non-commitment based services, and so should you. What you miss in conversions, you'll make up in volume. If you're a web service, offer a free trial. If you're a coach, give complimentary coaching sessions and so on.

Related: Think Like Zuck: The Secrets to Facebook's Success

No one gets paid right out of the gate. You've got to let people help you improve your product or your craft and only once you've got real sales can you consider marketing.

What's your best low-cost sales/marketing tip? Let us know in the comments section.

A youth motivational speaker, Michael Costigan is one of the nation's youngest CEOs who was recently named 'Young Business Leader of the Year' by the National Financial Educators Council.

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