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Here at the Founder Institute, we know what it's like to market a startup on budget. The following is a guest post from Travis Levell, Founder of Project Pivotal where he goes over an effective strategy that will make it seem like you've got $5K to invest in marketing. Enjoy!

Every day thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs have new startup ideas. They spend their time researching their industry and trying to pull resources together to bring their idea into reality.

Few entrepreneurs make it to the point where they are actually ready to begin marketing their idea. For those who do make it this far, it is a totally different battle than the one you’ve been fighting up until now. It’s finally time to start sharing your idea with the whole world - and that’s scary.

I know your pain. I’ve been there before. And it sucks. That’s why I’ve devoted my time to discovering and creating startup marketing strategies. This is 1 of my 3 favorite strategies that I’m sharing with you today. It will allow you to take a $100 budget, and stretch it to be as effective as if you’d had $5K or more.

$100 Doesn’t Get You Much These Days, Does it?

For most marketing strategies these days $100 won’t get you far. Especially in a competitive market.

In fact, if you want to have a successful ad campaign, you often need to have $500 to throw away to see what kind of audiences respond to what kind of ads.

I discovered this recently when I hired a Facebook ads coach to help me get better results. You’ve got to do a lot of testing upfront in order to find successful ads. This can get really expensive, really fast.

$100 won’t get you far in this instance. 4 leads, maybe.

Approaching this issue traditionally with a limited budget won’t do you any good. You need to get a smarter strategy if you want to get ahead faster.

Luckily, I’ve done lots of research and testing on this issue, and I’m sharing my smarter strategy with you.

If you want to be successful at this, you need to understand a couple of concepts. The first one is understanding the importance of making your product go viral to amplify all of your marketing efforts.

Forcing Virality: The Way to Make Your Dollars Stretch

No matter what your product is, going viral will help you grow faster. For some products, like apps, it will be a little easier. You have plenty of options to build in functionality that will make it easy and rewarding for your users to share your product.

For example, I’ll admit I’ve been playing lots of Angry Birds lately (don’t ask me why). In the game, they have bonuses that you can collect, but the only way you can unlock them is by sharing them with a friend. Now that’s some smart viral thinking! A reward for both parties involved, and an easy way for the user to participate.

Go viral like angry birds

This viral reward structure can be implemented into almost any app. By sharing, you can give the user more unlocked functionality, a discount on an in app purchase, access to a secret page, or whatever other reward you can think up.

But for other non app products, like B2B companies or hardware companies, you might have to do a little more strategizing. One of my favorite techniques in this instance is to conduct a viral giveaway. In this case study by Michael Karp, he shows how one company managed to gain 3200 subscribers in just one week by conducting a viral giveaway.

That’s 3200 targeted people that are highly interested in your product in just one week. Now that’s some quick traction.

No matter what you decide to do, having some type of viral campaign built into your website or product will allow your $100 to get far more results than it ever could before.

Once you have some viral aspects built in, it’s time to kickstart your inbound marketing by spending your $100 in the most effective way possible. To do that, you need to understand something about paid ads.

What is the key to paid ads?

Most new entrepreneurs lose money on paid ads because they aren’t familiar with “ad audience fit."

The Key Is Advertisement, Audience Fit

When you take out an ad anywhere, you’re choosing which audience you’re showing it to. Even in the days before the internet, if you purchased ad space in a newspaper or magazine, the only way it would perform well is if it was relevant to the audience that’s reading it. You wouldn’t want to put an ad about hairspray in a men’s fitness magazine. It probably wouldn’t perform too well.

But now that we have the internet, it’s not a huge surprise that the principle stays the same. It’s just a little more complicated with all of the data and advertising options available to us now.

You have to discover an advertisement that your target audience is very interested in. This will lead to more clicks, conversions, and results for your business - for cheaper!

Once you pick your audience, you must make an advertisement that resonates with them, which will result in a successful campaign.

So you could say that having a highly targeted audience, that you know is interested in your subject, is the key to successful paid ads.

But I have some bad news.

This creates a problem for you.

There are countless different audiences, keywords, and interests that you could target on a variety of different ad platforms, and you never know which ones are going to bring you the best results until you have $500-$1K to properly test.

So is it time for you to hang your head and go home?

Not yet.

Here’s why:

The Secret to Creating an Audience that Responds 400% more to your ads

Instead of finding an audience out there, what if I told you that you could create an audience where 100% of them are highly interested in your product?

Now that sounds like a plan! And surprisingly, if you do this, $100 could get you some solid results.

The way to do that is by using retargeting.

What is Retargeting?

Retargeting is a form of advertising where you install a tracking code on your website. This allows you to target anyone who visits your website with ads on the biggest advertising networks including:

  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • Google Display Network

This means that your ads will only show to people that have visited your site, but your targeting can get as specific as people who have visited a specific page on your site.

What does this result in?

According to research revealed by Giselle Abramovich on, conventional ads average 0.07% click through rates (CTR’s) while retargeted ads average a 0.7% CTR. That’s 10X better!

To get results like this (or better) you’ll want to build an extremely specific retargeting audience from visitors to your site that have viewed a specific page.

Creating Your Perfect, Targeted Audience

The best way to create an audience that you KNOW will be interested in your product will be to use some smart content marketing. Before you turn tail and run because you don’t want to write content, hear me out:

Content marketing is a big scary monster that scares the crap out of many entrepreneurs. But it’s not that hard. At all. I showed you how to do everything in my post “How to Get Blog Traffic: 13 Steps to Thousands of Readers."

To create a successful ad campaign with $100, you will need to write a piece of content that, if a user clicks on it, immediately indicates that they’d be interested in your product.

For example, if I have a SaaS product that is a customer support solution, I may choose to write a post titled “10 Problems that need to be fixed in Customer Support Today” or “How to get more from your customer support team in 2016."

Anyone that clicks on articles with these titles is clearly interested in the customer support space, and we can use their click on the article as a way to prequalify them as a hot prospect.

Now when they read your article, they will begin to become familiar with your brand.  This makes it so that the next time they visit your site, they are extremely likely to remember that they have been there before, and it establishes trust in your brand. In fact, once the visitor does click on your retargeted ad they are 70% more likely to convert on your website. Double win!

Creating an Ad that performs 10X better for Your New Audience

Now that your relationship building sequence has started with your potential customer/user, it’s time to serve them your first retargeting ad. As I mentioned, statistics show that once you reach this point, your ad will perform on average 10X better than a conventional ad. In other words, in a conventional advertising campaign you could spend roughly $1000 to get the same amount of clicks on your ad.

If we focus on just one platform, let’s say Facebook, you can retarget visitors with a newsfeed ad template. (Click here to download the template)

Here’s a real ad that I’ve used that has performed well for lead generation:

Serving Your Ad to Your New Audience

Now in order to make sure that you ad reaches your highly targeted audience, you will need to login to your ad interface and ensure that your ad is ONLY serving visitors of your targeted article.

There are ways to do this on any of the ad platforms that allow retargeting, but let’s continue our example of focusing on Facebook’s platform.


As you can see in their ads manager, you have the ability to only target people who have visited specific web pages in a selected time frame (as long as you have their retargeting pixel on your site, which I show you how to install here.)

Prioritize On-Site Conversions

When I first started diving into paid ads, I found quickly that there are very simple things that can be done on your site that can have a huge increase in conversions. The difference between a 25%-35% conversion rate and a 50% conversion rate can be as small as taking 10 minutes to add an exit popup.

You think I’m kidding?

Just by adding this exit popup on one of my landing pages, I took my conversions from 30% to 55%. That means that you’ll get 83% better results for your money just by making some simple conversion tweaks.

By making some other tweaks to your site, like I explain in my guide found here, you can easily double to triple your conversion rates, which is going to make your ads 2-3 times more effective.

Increase Your Viral Coefficient

Once you have a flow of clicks and conversions coming in, you’ll want to make the most out of those and increase the volume. To do this, you must focus on creating a stronger strategy that makes it  easy for your existing users/customers to share your product.

To recap:

  • For Apps - You will want to build some viral features into the fabric of your app

  • Non App Products - Attempt something like a viral giveaway or giving an incentive/discount if a user shares your product

See how your first users have reacted to your viral features and try to make optimizations.


If you execute this strategy all the way through, you will have a solid growth engine in place for your startup.

Once this engine is working, it will justify you committing more money and effort to make it grow faster.

A system like this hands you what investors are constantly looking for: data. But even if you don’t have access to investors, you can find a way to make back an equal or greater amount of cash from this growth strategy, you can continue investing your revenue back into the process to scale.


After all, once you discover a strategy like this, it’s pretty easy to understand why most startups fail at marketing, while some grow quickly and sustainably. The ones that manage to grow effectively are using marketing strategies that are 10-20X better than what most are doing. This means that they’ll easily be able to accomplish in 1-2 years what most startups wouldn’t be able to accomplish in 10-20.

To help you reach that point, I’ve put together a bonus guide for this post that includes:

  • My other 2 favorite startup growth strategies for startups today

  • The ad templates that I’ve used to create profitable ad campaigns

  • Video training on how to setup retargeting on your website in 5 minutes

  • Access to future marketing and growth guides just like this one

Click here to get access to it, for free

Now get out there and start killing it with this strategy!

Learn more from Travis Levell by following him on Twitter or at his blog Project Pivotal.

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