The past decade has seen a significant rise in startup ecosystems on a global level. From the U.S. to Israel to France, Brazil and India, the number of startups worldwide has exponentially increased. But the number of VCs? Not so much. Nowadays, fewer and fewer startups are obtaining venture capital funding, and bootstrapping is becoming far more common.
Interestingly enough, founders tend to have mixed feelings about bootstrapping their startup because of concerns about growth. With the costs of maintenance, subscriptions and other basic expenses, is it even possible to bootstrap a startup to millions of users?
Absolutely. There’s a method to working strategically with what you have, and it requires patience, resourcefulness and accountability.
The greatest advantage to bootstrapping your startup is maintaining control. When you bootstrap, you only answer to yourself. Your team can freely do as internally agreed upon in terms of creative direction. There will be no more jumping through hoops. You’ll be free from having to approve ideas through VCs, who sometimes place parameters on how you run your business based on their own interests.
If you manage a team that syncs well with one another, bootstrapping your company, though not without its challenges, will be relatively seamless. Creative ideas, product updates, and marketing and advertising campaigns can all be executed quickly and without interference. You pick the direction of your startup -- and it’s up to you to decide which direction will be most effective in making your company known to the masses.
Here are some ideas for steering your startup in the right direction when it comes to greater visibility and brand awareness.
Tap into the power of community.
Let your community know what both you and your company have to offer. Think about ways you can collaborate with key players relevant to your industry. For example, if your service provides mentorship or counseling, you might want to consider collaborating with a local or online school, training center or shelter. If your app revolves around messaging and team communication, consider hosting a seminar for project managers, or apply for speaking engagements in one of the many events held in shared workspaces. If your website caters to the gaming community, see what creative plans your business can work out with the local video game store, or host a webinar featuring a known gaming personality.
Leverage social platforms and engagement strategies.
Just as it’s important to harness the power of community, it’s also important to tap into free social media platforms and content strategies when it comes to bootstrapping your startup. Social media and content go hand-in-hand, and require time, dedication and consistency.
While bootstrapping is never easy, there are plenty of bootstrapped startups that have successfully driven impressions because of a strategic social media and content strategy. One example is DIY community Hometalk, which used live and viral branded videos to organically amass more than 900 followers on Pinterest in less than five years.
The platform’s blog and podcast have also helped draw brand awareness and visibility, allowing it to scale as a company.
The lesson from this is that social media platforms, particularly those most relevant to your industry, as well as compelling content, are essential for drawing your customers to you. But what, exactly, makes for a good content and social media strategy?
There are several factors here, but the main idea is to keep your posts engaging. The most effective posts combine useful content with a fun and engaging presentation -- which is precisely why marketing through YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest works so well.
In addition to marketing through social media platforms, you should also increase engagement on your own site. One way to do this is to incorporate interactive content into your web pages using platforms like Apester. By embedding relevant polls, quizzes and digital stories into your articles, you engage readers on your site, giving them a sense of participation as they scroll through the content. When you draw readers to your posts, you rally the community around your brand, establishing your brand’s credibility in the industry.
All of this is essential to helping a bootstrapped startup grow. When you don’t have external funding, drawing public and industry attention online is the best way to put your brand’s name out in the open.
Prioritize customer retention.
We are currently living in “The Age of the Customer,” as defined by Forrester Research. This means that customers are gaining more and more importance in driving your business decisions -- and that's why it's especially important for companies to get to know their customers thoroughly.
The best way to get to know your customers, and to grow your startup as a result, is to use data analytics to your advantage. Before you even start to analyze the data, it’s paramount to understand that the content people consume is related to their buying habits. What users hear, read and view online can help companies predict each customer’s next transaction.
Still, you shouldn’t just use big data to focus on winning the next transaction; even more importantly, you should use it to maximize customer retention. After all, gaining a loyal customer base is essential for bootstrapped startups looking to scale their business. “Big data analytics has granted us a better understanding of our customers and this is a valuable tool we should learn to use wisely,” says Ami Gal, co-founder and CEO of SQream. “This means that instead of tapping into big data just to trigger the next purchase, we should make good use of it for increasing customer loyalty.”
Aim for relatable content.
There are other important elements to factor in when it comes to a creating good content for bootstrapped startups, including SEO, hosting services and the topics most worth covering. With all of these elements, the most essential strategy is to focus on your target customers and create content that would naturally interest them. After all, not all types of content work for everyone, and you want to make sure you’re selling to the right people.
For example, if your app caters to young teenagers, you might not engage them through white papers, but you will win their loyalty through catchy infographics, relatable images or short blog posts. By directly addressing each customer’s needs, you can pique their interest in additional products or services.
As you develop your content strategy, you should also prioritize customer retention. When providing your users with any content format, it’s important to show them the long-term value that your content -- and your company -- can bring. When thinking of blog topics that relate to real problems and needs, don’t jump straight into discussing the benefits of your company’s product. Again, think about your customers’ interests and pain points.
For example, if you’re a business that provides web hosting services to ecommerce companies, don’t just write about website optimization. Branch out and talk about the latest trends and technologies in ecommerce, or provide advice on how ecommerce companies can conduct better research or analyze data before proceeding with an initiative. These are the types of posts that would be more compelling to your customers. Not only will these posts help establish your credibility much sooner, they’ll also keep your customers interested in your content and enthusiastic about your product.
Being a bootstrapped startup is a blessing in disguise, and establishing an online community driven by good content, thorough knowledge of your customers and a reliable customer engagement strategy, is an important part of independently achieving a strong presence in your industry. Once you have a firm grasp on your goals and the strategies you need to achieve them, you’ll develop a user base that will continue to grow each step of the way.