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How to decide where to spend your first $50 on marketing

Written by Nicole Kohler on July 6, 2016 Blog, Marketing.

If you build it, will they come? Not without marketing they won’t.

New online stores often face the same dilemma: they desperately need marketing to increase awareness of their products or services, but have a tight budget with which to do so. Some form of marketing is necessary for even the newest of stores, but finding the right balance between “effective” and “cost-effective” can be tricky.

If you’re building or have built your store with WooCommerce and are aiming to start marketing on a budget, we’re here to help. Here’s how you can decide which marketing activity to invest in first — and how to spend just $50 to get started.

How it’s possible to market on a budget

You have lots of things to invest your time and money in when you start a new store, from your theme and extensions to necessary fees like shipping and packaging. You probably recognize the importance of marketing, but aren’t sure how to do it without blowing your limited budget out of the water.

Luckily, the increased availability of free or inexpensive tools and resources have made it easier than ever for store owners to do online marketing without impacting the budget they’ve already set for the rest of their store’s needs.

Deciding how to spend your money on marketing is a little easier when all the tools available are low-cost.
Deciding how to spend your money on marketing is a little easier when all the tools available are low-cost.

By combining the right free or low-cost tool with a single primary marketing goal (at least to start with), you’ll be able to avoid spending an immense amount of money or time on your efforts while still growing your store’s online presence.

Let’s have a look at the steps you should take to decide where to properly spend your first $50.

First step: consider your most immediate needs, and set goals around them

To get started with your cost-effective marketing plan, the first thing you should do is consider what your most immediate need or goal is.

For some stores, this need will be easy to define: more traffic, because you don’t yet have any. However, for stores that aren’t as new or might have already had a surge of traffic, defining this could take a little more time and consideration.

You may want to do something like:

  • Increase the number of qualified visitors (e.g. visitors who have an interest in your exact products or services)
  • Boost your ranking or visibility on search engines
  • Attract shoppers from new, unexplored sources
  • Increase the number of repeat purchases from current customers
  • Increase the amount of money spent on purchases (a higher average order value)

Even if all of these things sound desirable to you, the best thing you can do at this stage is pick one goal that you’d like to focus on first. This will be the goal you put your effort and money (however limited) behind right now.

As your store grows and your profit increases, you may find that you have more resources (time, staff, money, etc.) to put behind marketing. It’s at that point that you can consider taking on multiple marketing goals. But for now, pick what’s most important to you and focus on it.

Look for marketing methods that will help you directly achieve this goal

Now that you’ve identified the goal you’re focusing on, it’s time to pair it up with activities that will support it.

If you haven’t done any marketing before, you’ll probably need to do a little research to learn what methods are available for you to use. There are often quite a few ways that you can increase traffic to your store, boost spending, and so on, but not all of them will be viable or cost-effective.

Since most of you will be aiming to attract new visitors, here are a few resources you can get started with:

A quick online search will turn up plenty of articles and advice on the specific topic you’re looking for, however (and you’re welcome to ask us for advice or links in the topics, since our team has quite a few favorite blogs and posts to share!).

Identify free or low-cost tools to help you get started

As mentioned, there are now plenty of inexpensive, if not free, tools, resources, and marketing methods at your fingertips that will help you accomplish your primary goal, no matter what it might be. Once you’ve identified what your goal is and how you can achieve it via marketing, you can look for tools to help you as means to that end.

You wont need to spend much -- if anything -- to get the tools you need to achieve your goal.
You won’t need to spend much — if anything — to get the tools you need to achieve your goal.

Let’s use an example here that many of you will be able to relate to: increasing your store’s traffic by ranking higher in search engines. If you’ve done your due diligence and performed some research, you probably know that this means you’ll be dabbling in search engine optimization (aka SEO).

A quick search for free or low-cost SEO tools will turn up plenty of resources for you, and all designed to help with entirely different aspects of optimization. A few examples:

  • PageSpeed Insights — Google’s free tool for measuring your store’s speed and suggesting improvements — the faster your site loads, the better chance you have at ranking well (and making visitors happy!)
  • Keywordtool.io — A free keyword suggestion tool that will give you similar popular or highly-searched phrases to consider adding to your store based on a central one; ex. if you enter “socks,” the tool might suggest also adding the keywords “socks for women” or “knee socks” to your store to appear in searches for those phrases, too
  • W3C Broken Link Checker — Find broken links on your store that might be causing errors or driving potential customers away
  • Open Site Explorer — See who’s linking to your competitors, and how you might be able to get those links for yourself, too (because more links = better rankings); free with some limitations, and a paid plan is available
  • Moz Local — If you have a local business (e.g. with a physical presence), this tool will show you how locally searching customers see you, and recommend actions/improvements

Since many of these tools are free, the only investment you’ll need to make is your time. Additionally, many marketing tools (SEO-related and otherwise) have free trials that you can use for one month and cancel before the end of the period, either to avoid a charge or for a refund.

As you can see, it might initially sound a little difficult to only spend $50 on what you need to improve your traffic, email, online presence, relationship with customers, and so on… but if you pick the right tools, you might struggle to spend that much. Better yet, you might not have to spend anything at all.

If you outgrow your first solution, you can always scale up

Something to keep in mind, of course: as time goes on, you can always scale up your tools or their plans, as well as the approach you take to meeting your goal. 

When you first start out, free tools will probably be enough, and you might be trying a bit of everything that sounds promising. But if you later find that link building is a highly effective way for you to increase your store’s relevancy and popularity in search, simply because of the niche you’re in, and Open Site Explorer’s free plan is too limiting for you, there’s no harm in paying for it, or focusing more on those links and less on keywords.

The most important thing is to do what is best for you, your store, and your customers. No two stores are the same, and one may find it necessary to scale a specific activity up to a new level rapidly while another is just getting started. That’s fine, and it’s perfectly normal — just remember to keep focused on what matters.

Track your progress and achieve a goal before moving on to a new activity (or expanding your budget)

So far, you’ve:

  • Decided what you need to do, marketing-wise
  • Decided on a single, achievable goal
  • Done the research to find free or low-cost tools you can use to meet that goal

Now it’s time to put your plan in action. And once it’s in action, make sure you keep a close eye on it, even if you’re not spending any money.

If you forget about your new marketing activity, neglect it, or let your spending get out of control (or all three!), there could be disastrous effects for your store. So you should aim to set up some kind of review process for what you’re doing, and plan to check in regularly on the results before making any changes or moving on to a new marketing method.

Track your results to ensure you are prepared to act -- whether that means scaling up or moving on.
Track your results to ensure you are prepared to act — whether that means scaling up or moving on.

For example, if you’re optimizing your site for search, you might check in on your rankings weekly. Or if your goal was to increase spending by repeat customers, you might look at the results of your email marketing campaigns a week after you send each one.

Routine reviews will not only keep you informed, they’ll also keep you invested. You’ll be eagerly awaiting the day you achieve your goal — and once you do, you’ll be ready to move on, or perhaps scale up your budget to get even better results.

Scaling up vs. adding on

When should you scale up a marketing activity, and when should you add on a new one? It all comes down to whether or not you’ve hit a ceiling.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with your budget. If you can afford to spend $75 one month on a new tool instead of the $50 you usually spend, give it a try. Or if you want to try doubling your AdWords spend for a week to see if it increases your paid traffic immensely, go for it. Just remember to check those results!

It’s always possible for you to hit a “ceiling” with some marketing activities. After all, once you hit #1 on a Google search, you might feel as if there’s nowhere else for you to go with SEO, other than continued maintenance. Once you see a slowdown in results, or your ROI stops looking as huge as it once did, that signals that it’s time for you to add on another marketing activity.

Finally, don’t feel obligated to spend more money just because you feel like you should. Paid advertising might have enormous ROI, but it’s not for everyone. You can do email marketing, social media, and plenty of other things for free (money-wise, that is — you still need to spend the time on them). Only add on what suits your customers, your store, and your budget — not to mention the time you have available to manage it.

Make every dollar you spend go further with smart marketing decisions

Although a few potential customers might find your store on their own, you’ll undoubtedly have better results with marketing than without. But the money required to hire an agency or try more advanced tools just isn’t there for many new store owners.

Luckily, there are a few ways you can make each and every dollar go further. By defining a single goal at a time and seeking out free or low-cost tools to support it, you can do your own marketing and reach more customers — and all without investing time and money you don’t have.

Have any questions about spending your first $50 on marketing your store? Or any suggestions of your own to offer for store owners just starting out with marketing to potential customers? The comments are open and we’d love to hear from you.

Looking for low-cost, effective ways to market your store to customers? Check out our selection of marketing extensions for WooCommerce, from email integrations to social media solutions and much more.

24 Responses

  1. Intaj Mondal
    July 7, 2016 at 9:03 am #

    The best part I loved marketing methods.
    Thank you Nicole for this excellent post.

  2. riwaj Ghimire
    July 8, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

    You have explained a cool method. I will be implementing this on my new digital ecommerce project. Thanks nikol for super cool ideas.

  3. Jakob Boman
    July 8, 2016 at 7:20 pm #

    Thanks for making marketing seem so easy. I’m doing a couple of ecommerce projects at the moment and my chances of success has just increased.

    • Nicole Kohler
      July 8, 2016 at 9:32 pm #

      So glad to hear that Jakob. 🙂

  4. Nasif
    July 9, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    Impressive marketing ideas and got the benefit right away (Y)

    • Nicole Kohler
      July 10, 2016 at 3:22 am #

      So glad you enjoyed Nasif. Let us know if any questions come to mind.

  5. Hafiz
    July 10, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

    You know what,I haven’t any idea about how to spend that money before read this article.Very cool idea I have ever read.Definitely I am going to apply these methods on my new eCommerce site.Thanks dude for sharing your great innovative ideas,

  6. Syed Rezwanul Haque
    July 12, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    Thanks Nicole for this awesome article.

    I was stuck with Scaling up vs. adding on. This portion makes me understand what I was looking for. Certainly I am going to scale up with the right marketing activity. I always played with couple of marketing activities and can’t keep track.

    Thanks again.

  7. Miles
    July 14, 2016 at 6:20 am #

    Making and being willing to spend that $50 is the hard part! You have to remember that if you invest money, you’re potentially throwing it away. It doesn’t always lead to a positive ROI.

    • Nicole Kohler
      July 14, 2016 at 10:12 am #

      SUCH a good point to bring up Miles. ROI is also extremely tricky to measure when it comes to things like social media, content marketing, and other activities where your gains might not be a) as direct (sales caused by multiple sources) or b) very difficult to measure (increased brand affinity, increased likelihood to make a purchase).

      If you’ve done a good job of picking the right activity, you should be more confident that investing that $50 (or more) will result in SOME positive ROI, but it might not be extremely direct, obvious, or even present within a few weeks or months of the activity. So the outlook you have shouldn’t be that you’re throwing it away, but that you’re making an investment that is perhaps not as easy to quantify as, say, PPC ads, SEO, etc.

      Does that make sense? Thanks for bringing this up.

      • Curtis
        July 14, 2016 at 5:22 pm #

        Over time you can add metrics to this.
        Just add values to your social metrics. Add values to metrics that don’t lead to direct sales. Let’s say you know your shares have more value than your likes because they reach a larger audience and generate more clicks. You add values to your shares and likes, so maybe every FB like is $.25 and each share is $1.00. This way you can benchmark your campaigns against each other.
        Campaign 1 – Cost $50, 100 new fb likes, 40 new shares.
        Campaign 2 – Cost $50, 40 new bf likes, 70 new shares.

        ROI of campaign 1 is ((100*.25)+(40*1))-50=$15
        ROI of campaign 2 is ((40*.25)+(70*1))-50=$30

        So now you know Campaign 2 was twice as effective as Campaign 1, even if it didn’t lead to direct sales during the time period you were measuring.

        I always say to clients who won’t add numbers to these values, would you be willing to buy an email list? They almost always say yes. I then ask how much they would be willing to pay per email. Same goes for social metrics. How much would you be willing to pay for every like and share then? Usually, we can find a number then to use in our reporting.

        Hope this was helpful.

        • Nicole Kohler
          July 15, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

          SO GOOD! Thank you Curtis 🙂 Hope this comes in handy for our readers (I bet it will).

      • Diane
        July 14, 2016 at 5:48 pm #

        The key is to invest as little as you realistically can get away with as an experiment – whether that takes $50, $100 or less. You can sometimes get by on $10 with some marketing channels, so long as you get enough volume to accurately measure ROI.

        Risk as little budget as possible before committing, so long as it’s measurable.

        • Nicole Kohler
          July 15, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

          You can sometimes get by on $10 with some marketing channels, so long as you get enough volume to accurately measure ROI. Risk as little budget as possible before committing, so long as it’s measurable.

          I want to print this and put it on a poster in my office.

  8. William Nettmann
    July 14, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

    The biggest takeaway from your post for me is the importance of reviewing results continuously. I have always had the “if you can’t measure it, don’t do it” attitude but just being able to measure it isn’t enough – you need to actually do the measuring!

    “If you forget about your new marketing activity, neglect it, or let your spending get out of control (or all three!), there could be disastrous effects for your store” is a good kick in the pants for me.

    • Nicole Kohler
      July 15, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

      Thanks for your comment William, good to know what you took away from this. 🙂

      That comment actually comes from some personal experience in a previous role as an eCommerce manager, I had all three happen to me and there were some tough lessons to learn. I wouldn’t say we had any disasters on our hands (the virtues of working for a large company, there) BUT it cemented in my mind the importance of tracking, staying sharp, measuring, all that. It’s why I’ve become so vigilant on reviewing things, even if I’m not the person to do it.

      And that’s another point: if you’re not data-centric or numbers make your head swim (totally me!), that is ABSOLUTELY FINE. But someone’s got to be looking at the results and giving you feedback that alters your course, then, if not you. Maybe it’s another team member, maybe it’s a coworker, all those things are OK, as long as they happen 🙂

      Thanks for letting me ramble a bit about this, haha!

  9. Fertile Frog
    July 15, 2016 at 12:00 am #

    Moz Local is certainly a key favourite of ours team, for local citations it’s a dream to work with.

    The worst place to spend your $50 would be on a random list of Fiverr gigs. To a newbie this could seem so inviting, however the quality of those type of gigs are mostly shockingly poor. Better concentrating on providing quality content marketing in my opinion.

    • Nicole Kohler
      July 15, 2016 at 11:23 am #

      Good point there 🙂 Sometimes you can find a gem among those gigs but it can be tough.

      Love that quality content made your to-do list, it’s a favorite of mine personally! Perhaps obviously.

  10. Kelli
    July 15, 2016 at 8:33 am #

    Thank you for this article Nicole, as a new business owner starting out, the marketing side of things has been a little daunting! Your article has given me a fresh perspective on where to start 🙂

    • Nicole Kohler
      July 15, 2016 at 11:55 am #

      Kelli, that’s such a good thing to hear! 🙂 I remember how daunting marketing was for me even having the support of other people at my back, I know it’s even tougher as a business owner.

      If you have any thoughts on what else we can do to support you as a WooCommerce customer, or topics you’d like us to write about/help you with, please just let us know.

  11. George Katsoudas
    July 26, 2016 at 2:58 am #

    I agree with your thoughts Nicole some good points above and all very valid. I wanted to add some points happy for your thoughts, what about structuring the sub pages of your site into content areas of your main business areas accompanied with summary pages. Also finally it may also be helpful to evaluate the value of 1 product sale Vs marketing spend. For example, if one product sale is $500 why not spend more than $50 at a time. Anyways good points above.

    Cheers
    George

  12. Mizanur Rahaman Mizan
    July 28, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    This is a huge gift for someone who is starting any store online and struggling with marketing policy with a limited budget. I like the idea of focusing one thing at a time to get the good result. I have printed out this article and tagged it on my sticky note board. Also bookmarked so that I can check the next step, again and again, to keep me focus. I easily get distracted by Shiny object Syndrome. Last but not least, Thank you, Nicole, for such a motivating article for someone like me.

    • Nicole Kohler
      July 29, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

      That’s awesome Mizanur, good thinking to keep the article close by so you can refer to it. And you’re most welcome, I’m so glad we could help you out with your marketing 🙂

  13. David
    July 28, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

    Marketing can be inexpensive when starting out. My wife ran s Facebook campaign and was very affordable. Best of all, we can watch the traffic appear in real time, on a map on our Google webmaster account.

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