This is a guest post by Tom Hunt from Virtual Valley Blog and sTitch Leggings.
It’s 4pm on the 22nd of December 2012 and I am cold.
Two of my good friends and I are standing alert on a freezing market stall in the East End of London in an attempt to sell our new brand of male leggings (which were actually just female leggings purchased from eBay with our logo drawn on with a fabric pen).
Our total revenue for the day? £0
Our business was now £200 in the red just 1 week after its conception.
And as we trudged home into the murky London night we definitely considered giving up, but did we? Was that the end of sTitch Leggings just as it began?
Of course not, because we had heard about this thing called the internet and how it had minimized the set up and running costs of an online store.
Regardless of the failure of our market validation, we decided to set up an online store, designed some ACTUAL male leggings and then contacted a factory in China to manufacture them.
In 2 weeks we were back in business.
And then over the next 3 years we bootstrapped every aspect of our eCom business and managed to sneak our way onto BBC1 TV show Dragon’s Den:
And also to be featured in a couple of the UK’s national publications:
Sales grew from 150 units in 2013 to 450 units in 2014 and 800 in 2015.
Though not life changing figures, when you consider the total investment into the business by each of the three founding members was £400 and that we have spent just £300 on paid acquisition over the three years, there is definite growth potential.
In the rest of this post I will outline five of the marketing channels we have used to bootstrap the growth of sTitch Leggings, exactly how we used each channel with no financial investment AND most importantly, how you can do the same.
I will give a quick introduction to marketing strategy and channels and then will detail each channel we have utilised.
When approaching any new business I like to adopt the same three step marketing approach:
- Make something people want
- Deeply understand the person who wants this thing
- Put the thing in front of this person
Now, both 1. and 2. are beyond the scope of this guide but I cannot stress the importance of marketing a product that a subset of people actually want AND deeply understanding the desires and fears of this perfect customer.
Instead, in this guide we will focus on how to put your thing in front of this person WITHOUT spending any money.
For anyone selling physical products online, if you are not using Instagram, you are leaving money on the table.
Furthermore, I’m not sure how long the party is going to last (before IG reduce organic reach just as Facebook has), so if you’re not, create an account now and action the steps I am about to outline.
1. Profile Optimization
We want to maximize the conversion from profile visitors to followers to buyers, to do so, you need to be hitting each item on this checklist:
- Name and Instagram handle aligned for brand consistency
- Communicate clearly what you are selling in description
- Include a hashtag that you use or have created
- Include a small discount code and mention shipping details
- Include a CTA after “/” in link e.g. “/go”
- Link directly to store page or to squeeze page to collect email addresses
- Profile picture that clearly shows your product in action
Here is our profile:
(Note, we are currently using Moonfruit as our eCom solution, which does not allow us to create nice links, so are using bit.ly).
Ok, profile is looking fresh and is ready to roll…
Simple: post twice a day, everyday.
Nathan Chan of Foundr Mag grew their IG profile from 0 to 110k followers through the tactics that we are discussing now and most importantly, posting consistently twice a day EVERYDAY for 5 months.
Here are a few more tips:
- Post User Generated Content (more on this below)
- Keep a consistent aspect in each image
- Use CTA’s in your image descriptions: “Tag A Friend Who Needs To See This!” “Double Tap If You Agree”
- Repost content of other people in your niche (if it fits within your brand) and mention them (this could lead to them mentioning you in the future)
- Post a the maximum of 30 hashtags in the first comment below your description straight after posting (see Outreach section)
- Create a consistent sequence:
If you have different types of content, post them in the same sequence as you can see above on my personal IG profile. I have quote images in one column, adventure images taken by friends in another column and then travel style pictures taken by me in the other column.
Hashtags are the currency of Instagram, so you will be both posting hashtags with your content AND finding content using those same hashtags.
There is no shortcut here – you need to sit down and determine the hashtags that your ideal customers are using (remember step 2. in the Marketing Approach above?).
Iconosquare is a free tool that can help you with research.
Once you have selected the 30 hashtags you will post on your images, pick 1-2 that you believe are the most targeted towards your perfect customer and then twice per day, every day you need to search for images/vidoes on that hashtag, like, follow the creator and leave a real, relevant comment on each image.
This is crucial…
As with any effective marketing channel, it is soon overrun with marketers squeezing every last drop of free value, so depending on the hashtags you select, there may be a lot of “Instagram Bots” leaving irrelevant, copied and pasted comments on images.
Real users are becoming immune to these images so you need to stand out and actually show that you have seen and admire their content with a REAL comment.
Again, consistency is key here. This is a task you must do two twice per day, everyday, if you want your Instagram influence to increase significantly.
Remember, as with every social network, your success on Instagram will be directly proportional to the amount of real, one-on-one connections you make with your perfect customer.
4. User Generated Content
This is, by far, the most effective free Instagram marketing strategy for a number of reasons:
- Saves you time from creating your own content
- Provides awesome social proof for your product
- There is a high likelihood your customers will share the image with their own audience (pre-qualified potential customers)
You can see the amount of “Ambassadors” that we leveraged for the sTitch profile here:
The process for obtaining these “Ambassadors” is simple – once a customer has bought your product just drop them an email/message if you are already connected on social media:
First things first, thanks for purchasing [[product]]. We know you going to love them/it!
A quick note to say that we are currently looking for [[brand]] Ambassadors to feature on our Instagram profile. Here is an example: [[link to existing ambassador image]].
I was wondering whether you would be interested?
If so, just sent an image (or two!) over with you using [[product]] and we will post, whilst mentioning you, of course, which will hopefully bring you some fresh exposure 🙂
Thanks, [[your name]]”
Sending this message as soon after they have purchased will increase your likelihood of success, as this is the time where their affinity for your brand is at its highest.
Once their image is posted, drop them a note to share the link and make sure you include this phrase:
“Feel free to share with your friends!”
That’s it! No hard sell.
You will see drastic growth if you are able to post an “Ambassador” image each day.
At sTitch, we have also noted a significant increase in repurchases from ambassadors, presumably because the experience deepens their connections with our brand.
There are literally thousands of people out that that have the permission to market to an audience that is HUNGRY to buy your product.
You simply have to incentivize these people to advertise for you…
At sTitch, we identified male yoga instructors as the type of influencer we would target initially and reached out to around 50 and offered them a free pair of leggings in exchange for them to post 5 images of themselves in the leggings, along with a specific 10% discount we provided.
We also decided that Instagram was the best platform in which to find these influencers due to its visual nature. Though depending on your product, other channels such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube could be most effective.
When doing your daily search of your specific hashtags, keep a look out for influencers that have a 5-50k following of your perfect customers and drop each one a direct messages offering them your product for free (or at a discount), if they are willing to post 5 images along with a discount code that you provide.
Track EVERYTHING in a Google Sheet, including who you have/haven’t had a reply from, how many pictures they have posted and how many sales they have generated.
This will allow you to monitor your progress and select your influencers more intelligently in the future.
This should provide you with awesome exposure AND some high quality images for posting on your profile as a bonus:
Again, there are hundreds of publications that have audiences of your perfect customers. You just need to be able to incentivize the gatekeepers (editors) to publish your story.
Here is the 7 step formula I used to land the TV and national newspaper spots for sTitch…
- Be Remarkable
In order to get free press, you must be remarkable.
If you make someone splutter and look up at you as the sip their morning coffee as you explain your business or product, you are remarkable. If not, it may not be worth investing time and effort in the following stages of this email.
What if my business is not remarkable?
Fair point, and this is exactly the problem we encountered when planning the launch of a new startup Virtual Valley.
So we decided to DO something remarkable instead of BEING remarkable: we are releasing our goals to exit for $4m in 2 years! This is remarkable and could potentially catch the attention of the reporters we target (while also jumping on the back of the pre-existing trend of startup transparency)
- Piggy Back
There are currently trends in your industry and if you are able to “piggy back,” it will help propel your search for free press (without connections), if you jump on them, at the right time.
For example, for the male leggings, men wearing leggings was already an existing trend that already had popular news stories associated to it, thus proving to the reporter that it is “newsworthy”.
(I have had to put the title of this section in speech marks because apparently, it is not a real word, despite being what some people believe to be the most important skill in business and if not… life.)
When approaching anyone in the world that has something you want (in this case, a potential audience), you need to understand their perspective and incentives in order to increase your chances of being successful: them to take the action that you want them to do.
So what does the reporter want?
- A popular article as measured by page views, comments and shares
- Because it will make them look good in front of their boss
- Because they will be more likely to be promoted
- Because they will get paid more money
- Because they want to be able to put their child through college
Once you truly understand the motives of the reporter, you can speak to these directly in your pitch, significantly increasing your likelihood of getting coverage.
There are certain journalists that will be more motivated to cover your story than others because of a personal interest or because that is their responsibility for their media organization.
Find them by searching “keyword publications” in:
Everything must be in place to make things as EASY as possible for the reporter to report on the story:
- Press release
- Relevant images/video
- Contact details of a spokesperson
Here is the basic structure to follow for your pitch email:
- No less than three sentences but no more than 3 paragraphs
- Start off with the reason why you are contacting them specifically
- Brief outline of your business/product or action and why it is remarkable
- Where they should go for more information (Press site or attachments)
- Thank them and provide your contact details
- Prepare For Launch
Yes, imagine that you spent 10 hours on the above 6 steps, drive an avalanche of relevant traffic to your website all for these potential customers to leave and forget about you?
No! You need to collect a permission asset (email address, follow, like, etc.) from the maximum amount of visitors as possible, in order to build a relationship and follow up with them again the in future.
Follow each of these steps and you should be on your way to articles like this, in no time…
For those of you that would like to go DEEPER into this process, I have just launched a Udemy course that goes through each step with details from the emails/interactions I had as I executed the steps, and shows exactly how you can do the same. Here is a link to the course with a 50% discount just for LGJ readers :).
Here is an awesome article that explains the way you should use Twitter for business.
Instead of hassling strangers to buy your product, you will be more productive if you start to build a community of likeminded individuals.
To do this with the sTitch Twitter account, we followed this process:
- Collect customers social handles during transaction or customer service
- Follow, like, comment and retweet their content
- Introduce followers together
- Tag your ambassadors when you post their content (and encourage to Retweet)
- Research the key hashtags for your perfect customer, use them on every post
- Search the same hashtags daily and follow, like, comment and retweet
- Host a weekly Twitter Chat to engage and add value to your community
- Surprise members of your community with discount codes
- Use Snip.ly to shorten any links to external content (will place a small add back to your site on that peice of content
- Use Viral Content Buzz to find content in your niche to share and also to get other relevant influencers to share your content
The larger your following grows, the more effective each of these actions will be.
We used Crowdfire to help build our following, it is a free tool that enables you to follow/unfollow people efficiently.
Now, admittedly, at sTitch we are not currently using YouTube to its full potential. But we did start off strong…
But were not able to keep up the video per week schedule we started with.
So a word of warning – when you do start to produce video content, make sure it is sustainable over the long term.
However, if you are ready to commit, YouTube can help you find new customers AND help build your online community VERY effectively.
I would focus on producing content that helps your customers solve the obstacles that need to overcome prior to purchasing your product and reaching their desired end result.
And be sure to find other accounts that share your audience and add value to them through liking and commenting. You could then potentially collaborate with them in the future to access their audience more effectively ;).
For sTitch, we used YouTube to share our sense of humor whilst simultaneously showing our following how to style their leggings.
9. Email Marketing
When you are unable to send paid traffic to your site due to lack of funds you need to maximize the results you do get from the limited free traffic you receive.
To do this, you need to obtain permission, to enable to follow up with them again in the future.
At sTitch, we created something called the sTitch Style School, where we taught our potential customers how to style their leggings over a 7 step email autoresponder. At the end they are offered a 10% discount code for a pair of sTitch leggings.
To graduate from the school, each potential customer would be required to send us an image in a pair of leggings (either sTitch or non-sTitch), which would then be shared on our social media channels and put on our website. (See the User Generated Content section above).
We were aware that one potential obstacle that a potential customer could have prior to buying a pair of leggings would be that they were unsure on how to style them, so we are solving this problem with the sTitch Style School.
So you need to consider…
- What is a potential problem that your potential customers will experience on the road to reaching their desired outcome?
And then you can develop a lead magnet to solve this problem, while collecting that all important email address on the way.
In the future, we will test offering a small discount code for all of those that do sign up to the list.
Ok, before you head off to create your Insta/Twitter/YouTube content I need you to take a second to consider strategy…
At sTitch we did not start each of the channels up at the same time. If we did, we would have been unlikely to have been so successful, as each channel takes focussed effort to get it off the ground.
I would urge you to select the one channel that you believe will enable you to reach the largest amount of your perfect customers with the smallest amount of time investment.
Once selected, you will then need to focus on building that channel every day for two months before looking to measure the ROI. If you are experiencing a positive ROI or you see promising signs, you keep working on it.
Once it is working, you can put the channel into maintenance mode or outsource the tasks and begin to start working on the next…
And then, if everything goes to plan, in one year’s time you will have a number of free marketing channels up and running for your online store, that cost you no financial investment!
Now, I need a favor from you…
If you have a friend or someone in your network that is struggling to grow their online store due to lack of investment, use the social icons at the top of this post to send this over to them. Who knows what they could achieve!
And finally, if you have managed to develop any other bootstrapped marketing channels for your online store, please share them in the comments below…
This is a guest post from Tom Hunt. Tom is the Founder of Virtual Valley, a platform that connects Entrepreneurs and Rockstar Virtual Assistants with the mission of giving Entrepreneurs back 1 million hours of their time by 2018. Tom spends MOST of his time helping people like you grow their virtual business on the Virtual Valley Blog and gives free 1 on 1 marketing advice to EVERYONE that signs up here.”