Marketing Without a Marketing Budget

There are certainly many different kinds of events. A few are driven by agencies or companies and they spend a part of their budget for the event on marketing for the event to advertise in magazines, websites and blogs, social media and so on. Often their reason for running an event is not necessarily to earn money with it or do good for their/a community, but to either get the name of their agency, company or product out – maybe also establishing a community around their product – or simply to hire people. So in some way their whole event is actually being used as a marketing tool.

Other events are driven by associations who don’t need to make any profit of the event either, but if they make profit, they can use it for future events. Those events often are organised by a team of people from the industry they work in and each person in this team has a certain role, like taking care of speakers, getting partners/sponsors on board or use media and social media to establish cooperations to make the event more known.

Another category of events are those, where a single person or a very small team of people decided to run an event. They have to make profit to keep the event alive and to make a living. Often those events have nearly no budget for any advertising activities. The money is used for extras at the event (drinks, give-aways, food etc.) and for the core ingredients of an event (hotel, speaker travel, venue, tech etc.).

But what are the options for those events who don’t have any marketing budget allocated? In this article, I am trying to work out a few things you can do even with a small or no budget and I hope it helps a few people to get creative for their events.

Social Media and Newsletter

First choice might be using your social media channels. Use your Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels to get the word out about the event and don’t be afraid to ask those who follow your stuff to re-post what you announce. It always is a thin line between asking for this favour and overdoing it and getting on your follower’s nerves. But it always amazes me, that people haven’t heard about certain things, I announced, if I meet them at other events for example. I then ask myself, if I didn’t do enough announcements, or if people nowadays use other methods to keep up to date than those I use. A good mix of using your social media opportunities and a regular newsletter, though, should cover a lot already and reach those, who are interested in your stuff.

A question that I ask myself here is, if people really want to get beyond tellerrand information only, or if they like me to also spice this up with a few other bits and pieces about web and design. When I evaluate the clicks in the newsletters for example, it seems like I can just safe the time I use to write other things in the newsletter, as people really click on beyond tellerrand related things way more than on any non-bt-related content.

The things mentioned above, on the other hand, do not help to find and speak to new people. These options only help to speak and announce stuff to people who already know your show and you. The question here is, if you hit a certain limit of people at a point and how you then are able to reach more people to subscribe to your newsletter or follow your channels.

Find Media Partners for your Event

When it comes to the question about how to find a new audience, to let people who don’t know about your event already, I love to work with media partners. Media partners can and should be a mixed group of partners from various fields of business. Don’t only speak to those, who have a similar audience to you. Speak to design magazines, if you do a developer event, as there is always a crossover and vice versa. Try to get a few blogs into the boat with people writing about your event before and/or after the event. Maybe get someone who has a nice YouTube channel to interview you or the speakers. Print magazines might have a completely different audience than you as well, so use this medium as well and don’t think print is dead, as it definitely is not. Podcasts can be a good way to reach other people as well … and so on. Be creative. And in the end, every free ticket you give to your media partners might be a good invested money in the end. But track what they do in return for you either and evaluate, if it was worth your investment as well – both parties should benefit.

Make it easy for them to speak and write about your event. Have texts, photos and your logo ready to send it to them, as it always is way easier for them to simply take your text, maybe adjust some bits and publish it, than to write a completely new text with information about what you do and when you do it.

Make sure you also give something back. Speak to them and try to find out, what they think, they could get out of this partnership. Don’t assume, that everybody simply publishes something about you and your event, when they don’t get something back in return. If it is a print magazine, maybe they want to reach out to your audience to find new subscribers. Ask them for example, to send a few copies of their magazines and information how to subscribe plus a possible discount for your attendees. That could be a win for the magazine as well as a nice incentive for your attendees. In return they might add you to their their magazine’s event calendar. Or maybe even do an article about your event. So maybe offer a ticket for your event, if someone wants to attend the event to write about it.

But again: most importantly, listen to them and find out, what they could benefit from. If they liked the turnout, they might be interested in coming back and the best thing would be a long-term relationship with your media partners.

Ask “your” Community to do the Marketing

Finally everybody who runs an event with a small group or as one man band, benefits from a happy and satisfied and loyal audience. If they are happy, remind them – for example when you wrap-up your event – that they can help getting the word out. If they liked it, they could tell other people about the event.

Let me give you a few examples out of many, where friends of mine used their community in a really good way to support their products.

Kai Brach and Offscreen

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Rebranding Diary of Offscreen

The first person is Kai Brach, who runs the Offscreen Magazine. When he started to redesign his website and magazine, he started something, which he called “Offscreen Rebranding Diary”. He asked the reading community to support his break to redesign frontend and backend of the magazine, plus the magazine itself. He made sure that those, who participate, had a real benefit from it and did not hide, that this would pay for the time he was working on the new website. He wrote a weekly email, nicely summarising what he achieved over the last week and what the roadmap for the next steps were.

In just 11 hours he reached the goal he set with $12,000 and was able to set a stretch goal of $18,000 that was hit as well in only 4 days.

He made transparent where the money he collected went, to those who paid towards the rebranding and stated:

Please know that every dollar raised will go towards building the best possible experience for our readers. The exact distribution of the funds raised will be made public to backers via email.

I myself was excited to get his emails every week and follow the process of what was happening. It creates some kind of feeling that you are part of the process and help getting this launched.

Bastian Allgeier and Kirby

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Kirby Next – be part of the developing process of Kirby 3

Bastian Allgeier runs Kirby, a file-based CMS, that I use a lot. Up until the beginning of 2017 he was not running Kirby as his full-time business, but also worked on projects for clients. He then decided to fully focus on Kirby before launching Version 3 of the CMS, not knowing where this adventure would lead to. He recently has written a short summary about what happened since he deiced to do this beginning of 2017.

Before he started to work on Version 3 of Kirby, he thought about how he could make this something, where the time he and his team were working on the new version would be financed. He started something called “Kirby Next” and did not know how inspiring and encouraging the suggestions and feedback would be, he would get in the follow-up.

Similar to Kai’s approach he was very transparent about that he needs financial support to start working on a new version with the time, that a new version would need if you fully focus on it. He also defined what people will get for the specified packages. Since the launch of Kirby Next, he and his team started a Slack channel used for feedback and the conversation of this and he regularly releases updates about how far they got with Kirby 3. Every Friday Bastian is doing a live stream, showing what he worked on. A fantastic way of engaging with those who will use Kirby after it is launched and a fantastic way of getting feature suggestions and feedback.

Brad Frost and the Atomic Design Book

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Atomic Design Book by Brad Frost

Beginning of 2015 Brad Frost announced that he is going to publish a book about his Atomic Design approach. Instead of publishing it with a well-known publisher and using their channels to sell the book, he decided to publish the book on his own and take pre-orders to finance the time working on the book. He did not funding packages like Kai or Bastian, but asked for money upfront. He also also was very open about the process of the book with all advantages and disadvantages this has. Amongst other things in a post he recently published about his experience with publishing the book the way he did, he states:

It justifies promotion over a longer period of time […]

So instead of constantly reminding people, that you are writing a book on Twitter, Facebook or whatever channels you use, he had a real reason for writing about it, mentioning new chapters being ready for example.

Next to earning money with preorders, it had another huge benefit taking preorders. Brad says:

Within a week and without writing any real text, I generated over 400 ebook preorders, which certainly helped confirm my hunch that this book was worth writing.

That means, that activities like Kai’s, Bastian’s and Brad’s are also a prove of interest in what they are about to do. I encourage you to read Brad’s experience doing it the way he did it, as it contains a lot of practical advise, next to personal experience.

What is important, if I want to use my Community or Followers as marketing tool?

Transparency is important if you ask for money upfront. It can quickly turn against you and feel cheeky, if you are not clear about what the money is used for. You can decide to fully go public with those figures, but at least people who paid should know what you use the money for.

Also be sure that the things you announce to do are things you can manage to do. There is nothing worse than loosing loyal people like those who are willing to pay money or invest time for things like this and then being disappointed, because they don’t get the email updates, the video messages or whatever you set as reward for taking part.

In general I’d say, don’t disappoint you loyal followers. No matter if we speak about money, asking for their personal opinion or asking for help spreading the word about something. Always give them something back. No matter if it is a product, like in the examples above, or honour in the way, that you clearly show that you appreciate their help. This could be a blog post, a mention from stage or in your podcast … be creative and I am sure people will appreciate it.

Surely I could keep writing about this as there are many, many ways of engaging your community and use other ways of making marketing without having budget for it. And I would totally love the idea of starting discussions about it. If you have good ideas in addition to what I wrote above, please write me or join our Slack channels for conversations. I am happy and excited to discuss and share your thoughts on this.