Marketing is the lifeblood of any business. Without marketing, your business won’t be able to make money. It is the only function that generates money in any business. That said, marketing can be an expensive endeavor. Just look at how big businesses throw tens of millions into marketing campaigns and you’ll know how important it is. But what if you don’t have a huge budget for marketing? What if you don’t have any budget for marketing? In this article, I’ll share the secret behind Zero-Dollar Marketing.

Talking to many small business owners and entrepreneurs, I realized there is a huge misconception of what marketing is and what it actually does.

Many of them think that marketing equals advertising–whether traditional or digital. But that’s not true. Advertising is under the umbrella of marketing. But there are other forms of marketing too.

Marketing is basically everything your business does to build awareness, an audience, and get more customers.

That means referrals, word-of-mouth, content, social media, networking… All of these are marketing.

And if you noticed, many of these are free and don’t require money to do.

It takes nothing to ask a successful customer to refer people they know.

However, there is a cost involved that is not in terms of money. That’s why it’s not entirely free.

If you have no budget, you need 2 things: Time + Effort.

The Real Cost of Marketing

Many people think that marketing is magic. They do X, they get Y.

In the last article, I wrote about how marketing isn’t that straightforward. That most of it is about testing and no marketer can truly predict or guarantee results.

That’s not to say marketing is just shooting in the dark. There is a process, a system, to do things. And most of the time, if you follow the process, you can more or less get results.

Once in a while, by stroke of luck, you may get incredible results. 10 times ROAS, 13 times ROAS.

But what business owners don’t understand is that outliers are not the rule. They think marketing is a machine that you pull a lever and “results” pop out like clockwork.

That’s why most of them don’t succeed. Because the moment their marketing doesn’t work as expected, they cut it.

And that’s the problem.

They aren’t willing to let enough time go by for the seeds to grow. They expect overnight growth, which rarely is the case.

The Story of the Bamboo Tree

Talk to any successful self-made person and they will all say the same thing. Success takes time and patience.

You need time to build your roots and nutrient system before you see any signs above the soil.

Here’s the story (I ctrl+c’d this from another website):

Like any plant, growth of the Chinese Bamboo Tree requires nurturing – water, fertile soil, sunshine. In its first year, we see no visible signs of activity. In the second year, again, no growth above the soil. The third, the fourth, still nothing. Our patience is tested and we begin to wonder if our efforts (caring, water, etc.) will ever be rewarded.

And finally in the fifth year – behold, a miracle! We experience growth. And what growth it is! The Chinese Bamboo Tree grows 80 feet in just six weeks!

And that’s the case for almost everyone. Of course the time it takes differs.

Some people sprout faster. Others take a longer time.

But to use industry benchmarks and statistics, instead of looking at your business as its own unique plant that needs nurturing and time is the reason why most people give up too fast.

Every business is unique. In the sense that your business model, your location, your era, your network is all unique.

A good business owner focuses on business development and outsources other functions if possible (marketing, administrative, HR, bookkeeping, management).

Again, Time and Effort is the Inevitable Key to Success

It doesn’t matter if you have no budget for marketing, or if you have a million dollars.

Just because you give a plant more water doesn’t mean it will grow faster. Success is the result of consistent effort over time.

One cup of water every day for 30 days will help a plant grow. 30 cups of water in one day will kill it.

In business, that means you should only put in as much money and resources into marketing as your systems will allow.

And before that you need to do the groundwork. That means putting in time and effort to build an audience and a community.

The days of the roaming salesman is over. We are in the internet age.

Long ago, salesmen could travel from town to town to sell their wares. They stayed in a town for a few months, capture the “low hanging fruit” then moved on.

But with the Internet, this strategy doesn’t work. Instead, you need to stay around and build a community.

People need to KNOW, LIKE, and TRUST you before they will buy from you.

And not just buying your products or service, but buy into your story, your persona, and your ideas.

Build An Audience Not A List

If you are a new business, don’t worry about budgeting money for paid advertising. If you have some money to advertise, great.

But focus more on building your audience. I don’t just mean Instagram followers or YouTube subscribers.

I mean an active and engaging community. People who talk to each other. Who have a group identity.

And when you keep showing up for them, putting out good work, and building a relationship with them…

They will become your true fans.

And true fans will follow you to the ends of the earth. They will spread the gospel of your brand to other people.

The Tough Part

The hard part is the start. Getting from zero to your first hundred audience is tough.

Especially when putting out content that no one appreciates. Sometimes you will question if you’re doing the right thing.

But while the data of each individual post is important for you to learn what works and what doesn’t, look at the big picture.

It’s about having the content there. It’s about showing people that you’ve been doing this for the last 3 years and you’ll be doing it for the next 30 years to come.

You’re not going anywhere. Without that post or content NOW, you won’t have that 3 years worth of content.

Remember, TIME + EFFORT (consistency). You have to show up every day and put out something even if you don’t see the results.

Because building a business is momentum. It’s about laying the building blocks that will result in your castle.

Sometimes, once in a while, one of those posts you put out will go viral. Great! But first you need to keep putting out good quality work, consistently in order for that one to hit.

One Brick At A Time

And that’s the “secret” to marketing your business with zero budget.

Look , everyone will try to sell you the dream that marketing is easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

They will try to sell you systems, funnels, Facebook Ads… whatever it is. Throwing out big numbers to flex.

And it’s difficult to accept that even they started out putting in time and effort, building the foundation. That’s the part we don’t see.

Instead we see where they are now, and we buy into the idea that we can go from 0-100 overnight.

Instead, read the biographies of truly successful people. Talk to mentors. And I promise you, everyone will say that the secret is there’s no secret.

It’s all hard work, showing up every single day even when there’s no obvious return, and giving it enough time.

The easy part is doing the work, the hard part is showing up every single day.