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This Inexpensive Marketing Plan Can Lead to More Traffic, More Leads and Higher Customer Retention

Are you up against competition that has deep pockets and can outspend you using traditional advertising methods?

Does it seem like a losing battle to go head-to-head with them to get new prospects?

Particularly for startup companies, using traditional advertising and marketing methods can get expensive…especially if you’re up against an established company with more money than you.

This is why you need to use marketing channels that will bring you the attention and customers you need without breaking your bank. Fortunately you have an entire group of channels that you can use…

Thanks to inbound marketing.

This diagram explains all the techniques behind inbound marketing:

inbound marketing free traffic

Traditional outbound marketing can end up being a poor investment. You have to rely on channels like cold-calling, paid branding and print advertising.

All of those channels can get really expensive really fast.

Inbound marketing, on other hand, will help you capture attention, generate leads, convert customers and keep those customers…all at a lower cost to you than your competition.

So, if you need help getting more traffic, more leads and retaining customers, then let’s look at a few steps you need to take to get there.

Step #1 – Ignore Sales And Focus On Marketing

Before you accuse me of losing my mind, let me explain. While hiring a killer sales team is very important, it’s much better to create a marketing strategy that feeds that team qualified, warm leads…instead of cold, and possibly dead leads.

This way your sales team doesn’t spend their time chasing down un-qualified prospects and following up on bad leads.

Instead, your efforts should be focused on building a marketing team with excellent marketing skills. For example:

  • Hire brilliant marketers – Look for talented men and women who have a reputation for building a huge fan base, generating qualified leads and using the tools that are involved in inbound marketing (SEO, social media and content marketing) to bring brand exposure. It’s also better to find those who have worked with a startup company before.
  • Focus on tightly targeted markets – Understand your audience, break them down into relevant segments and then create tailor-made campaigns for each segment. This narrow approach will also raise your conversion rates.
  • Close qualified leads –What does a qualified sales lead look like? It comes down to the answer of these three questions:
    • Do they have the authority to buy?
    • Do they have the budget to buy?
    • When do they plan on buying?

You want your sales team to avoid leads that are NINAs—no influence, no authority. You want to just send them mostly A leads (is ready to buy in 3 months or less), some B leads (is ready to buy in three to twelve months). The C leads marketing can keep.

This process should make the sales team’s job seem like they are shooting fish in a barrel.

Step #2. Focus On Multiple Inbound Channels

The key behind an effective inbound marketing strategy is to create and deliver valuable content. This strategy gives you a lot of different channels to use.

Here is a template that you can use for your own inbound marketing strategy:

  • Blog – Your team should focus on publishing quality content two to five times a week. By quality I mean it is search-engine friendly, highly-researched and compelling.
  • Engage in comment marketing – Someone on your team should focus on visiting sites within your industry to interact with bloggers and readers in the comment section. Commenting is a great SEO strategy too, but more importantly it will bring you attention, help build you up as an authority and prepare you to write guest blog posts.
  • Publish guest blog posts – Guest blogging is one of the fastest ways to grow your subscriber base. Fortunately, because of the high demand for content many blogs are looking for guest writers.
  • Produce online video – Video can help improve your search rankings, raise the amount of time people stay on your page and even boost conversion rates on your landings pages.
  • Interact in the social bookmarking world – While this isn’t one of the most popular ways to generate leads, it is definitely one you shouldn’t ignore. In fact, certain industries include heavy users of social bookmarks sites like or Readability.
  • Establish authority on Q+A sitesQuora has really established itself as a place for professional exchange of ideas. Search for questions related to your industry, leave thoughtful answers and interact with other contributors. This process will help build your credibility.
  • Design brilliant infographics – Some companies like Wordstream use a heavy dose of infographics to generate traffic and back links to their sites. But making a great infographic is not easy. A bad infographic can set you back, so get this one right., a one-stop shop for infographic creation, also has this inbound marketing technique nailed.
  • Build a social media audience on the big four – Focus your audience-building efforts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+. If your target audience is on Pinterest or Tumblr, then use those sites as well. Keep in mind—don’t spread yourself too thin. Pick two or three that you can maximize your exposure.
  • Implement a solid startup SEO plan – If you run a startup, then you are in an excellent position to take advantage of everything that SEO has to offer. Cool thing is if you are doing all the things above…you are halfway into a great SEO plan. Now you just need to cover some other basics like on-page optimization.

All of the efforts behind a good inbound marketing plan won’t cost you a dime except for the sweat equity you invest. This means you can compete with bigger competition that is better funded.

For each of the inbound marketing efforts above you’ll want to break them down into steps. To show you how to do that we’ll breakdown one of these techniques into detailed steps. And we’ll choose a social media strategy where there is little competition so you can take advantage of this strategy now.

Step #3. Dominate LinkedIn Groups

While the big three social media sites get all the attention, LinkedIn is quietly becoming a powerhouse. With over 150 million users, you have a lot of opportunity to generate some serious attention.

The specific strategy I want to focus on is with Groups. Contribute and engage with LinkedIn Groups with this quick 5-step strategy and you’ll generate some high-quality leads.

  • Find the best Group to join – LinkedIn has lots of groups that are divided into categories. Find three to five small groups that most accurately represent your target demographic. The reason you want to join small groups is there will be less competition and easier opportunity to get attention.
  • Target popular discussions – You’ll waste your time if you simply try to join every discussion. Instead, search for the most popular discussions—these will have the most visibility. These discussions usually involve hot button issues, and attract a lot of members. You’ll find these discussions on the top of the group discussion page. Read the post, review some of the comments and jump in!
  • Start a new discussion – Before you start your own discussion, make sure you spend some time in other discussions. Get a feel for the culture of the group and find out what is important to them.
  • Follow up – It’s not easy keeping track of discussions, so you’ll have to be proactively visit your groups and monitor the discussions—especially the ones you started.
  • Start a Group – This is a perfect way to establish your authority. But you have to be strategic here. Make this group center on your brand and how your message is different than the competition. Brands That Defy Gravity is a great example of a group that stands out in a crowded market.

Let’s look closely at another strategy.

Step #4. Never Attend A Trade Show Again

If your industry has a lot of trade shows, you may be tempted to attend a few. Why not? Trade shows are a great place to meet new people, build relationships and build your brand.

But trade shows can be very expensive.

From buying the ticket to the show (which can cost upward of a thousand dollars), to flying to and from the show, buying food and spending money on a room…you could easily drop ten thousand dollars a year.

There is a more effective—and cheaper—way to leverage the power of trade shows.

Most conferences are online in some way, so you don’t actually have to go or even pay. In fact a lot of these conferences share so much content during the show that you can tweet about it as if you are actually there, using the conference related hashtags, of course.

Here’s what you could do also:

  • Blog about the main points of each speaker – During an event you can check the website and pull down the points that he is sharing. Then publish a blog post as soon as possible and promote it on your social site. This will engage you with those who are actually at the conference!
  • Summarize the conference – The day after the event create a blog post or white paper about the conference. Include points from each speaker and even offer take away lessons that you learned. This is effective because you were building a captive audience while you were tweeting and blogging during the event.

“Attending” conferences and trade shows via the internet will probably give you more insight than those who are actually attending since you’ll have a 30,000 foot view. Make sure you are engaging both attendees and speakers at these events, and notifying them when you share content.


Inbound marketing is truly a gift to startups who are strapped for cash. Depending upon how big your team is, you will all probably end up working like a slave to get it all done…but it will be worth the effort.

Dozens of companies like Mashable and SEOmoz got tremendous exposure for their companies from their tireless inbound marketing efforts.

What other inbound marketing techniques have you used?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

  1. Great article, Neil.

    I actually use the very same approach with our own LinkedIn marketing efforts–focusing on groups by engaging in discussions, etc.

    I thought the idea of never attending a trade show was interesting. My company services a variety of industries and many of them have trade shows. We’re under a lot of pressure to attend and exhibit, but it is expensive. I like the idea of covering one from a distance, but when you compare that to actually getting leads dropped on your booth’s table, does it really work?

  2. Great advice Neil.

    I’d suggest an alternative to #4 – sometimes trade shows can work out really well, but not with the usual approach.

    Instead of attending your industry trade shows, consider attending the trade events of your customers. I’d agree that expensive trade shows are mostly a waste of money, but sometimes industry events can be great for business.

    Back when I was doing freelance web development I had great success attending networking events for local small-medium businesses. I was guaranteed to be in a room full of potential customers!

    Obviously you’re right that #1 – #3 are much more valuable because they’re long lasting (a well SEO’d blog post is the gift that keeps giving!), but I think that if you approach them smartly industry events can be a great source of B2B sales.

    • Great suggestion Peter. I’m an entrepreneur myself and attended a 3 day conference for entrepreneurs last year. Since my background is in web development, everybody kept on asking me if I could make a website for them. I ended up just giving them the business cards of other web developers I met at there (since I’m focusing all my efforts now on launching an iPhone app for email leads)

  3. Kelvin Claveria Jul 27, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Hi Neil. Really great post. This is probably one of the most complete and jargon-free blog posts I’ve seen about Inbound Marketing. Thanks for sharing your insights!

    For step #2, I was wondering how you feel about PR. Not the traditional PR methods, but the more digital ones. In my view (and I might be biased because I work for a PR firm currently), blogger relations could help increase awareness of your brand and also help gain inbound links for your websites.

    Thanks again for the great blog post! I’m bookmarketing this one.

    • Hi Kelvin:

      I’m interested in your Blog PR suggetion too. I’m launching an app that’s related to networking and email marketing, and I’ve been compiling a list of blogs I’d like to build relationships with.

  4. Robert Hacala Jul 27, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Great post Neil. I agree with all your points, but I agree more with Peter’s comment regarding trade shows. As a freelance designer, I wouldn’t think of renting a booth at a trade show, but I have attended more than a few just as a visitor, and it’s brought me some great clients.

    • I agree with you Robert, especially if its an event that really lets you connect with others. I went to one last year where it was just entrepreneurs, and people were referring work and meeting prospects like crazy.

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I have been trying some of them lately and it really works.

  6. A well run business can get large traffic without having to pay a thing! Great article thanks.

  7. Very good article. The ideas presented are a great way of generating traffic for companies that do not have a massive marketing budget.

  8. This is a great article, as a independent recording artist, it’s sometimes difficult to compete with the larger companies. These steps I will certainly follow. Thanks

  9. Great tips – been getting into linkedin a lot lately after ignoring it for many years. It’s a force to be reckoned with now.

  10. Great article. I think many people just don’t realize that there are so many ways to “get the word out” as opposed to having the best product in the world. As an audio engineer/web guy, I knew that compared to a decade ago, the amount of marketing resources have increased dramatically, but people still fail to utilize more than 1 or 2 marketing avenues.

  11. Hassan Bukhari Aug 09, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Great Tips. Trade Show are expensive but still we cant look after them its one of the best source of increasing your business.

  12. Mike Gingerich Aug 14, 2012 at 5:59 am

    Great outline. I know our team is not strong in Comment Marketing so this was a great “kick” to help us re-think and re-evaluate some strategies. I think I’d add to “flush out” the Social Media “Big 4” strategy a bit more that Facebook pages can be a great inbound channel. Our work is with custom tabs and building engagement on Pages with our TabSite app. Interactive and engaging tabs working with tweets, Google Plus Pages, and web/blog can drive good traffic to tabs for engagement and lead capture.

  13. Joseph Caldwell Sep 10, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    Great article! As a small company with a smaller marketing budget it is extremely difficult to compete in an industry that is highly competitive. I love the points about blogging but also being involved with others. Keep writing great articles like this one.

  14. Nice outline…I want to add a few points regarding this topic.
    Step 1> You always begin your marketing efforts with taking a look at your target market.
    Step 2 > Once you have 3- 5 forums you think are good for your target market, set up an account and create a signature with a link to the page you want to market. A good page to point to is your squeeze page.
    Step 3> Start by introducing yourself in the forum and then start answering some posts. Your number one goal in the forums is to be helpful to the other members. If you do this then the other members will be much more inclined to click on your signature link. If you post useless comments or advertisements you signature link will be ignored.

  15. Neil,

    Great post and really helpful. I would like to second a few earlier comments about PR and how you see that fit in. On one hand LinkedIn groups and blog is one way of looking at PR but what about external media etc.

    If done correctly – can be an excellent way to get your name out there to decision makers.

  16. Mitesh Sanghvi Apr 09, 2016 at 2:13 am

    The right use of Inbound channels and the social media channels can be a solution, and it does work in most of the situations, but the implementation still requires right knowledge, right employees, and a right path. Reason? Internet marketing is not a job for everyone. Hard fact!


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