Advice for Staff Member Assigned to Content Marketing for a Startup with Zero Budget

“how can we gain followers and promote our business, from scratch, without paying for clicks and likes?”

Here, only slightly edited to remove specific business details, is an email I sent today to the member of the team assigned to social media and content, in a local recruitment business startup I’m working with.

Hopefully some of these ideas may be a useful reference for many startups facing the same shoestring challenge and assigning staff who haven’t got formal “content marketing” experience.


“…how to get more audience and be more likeable… without an advertising budget…”

Quite a big question, if not THE central question for any startup!

Frankly speaking no business can expect to market effectively for free. Luckily we have a good starting team so we can see what can be achieved by putting “time” in place of “money” so to speak.

Rather than any instafix I can contribute some food for thought…

Different Audiences, Different Interests

Firstly, in our content marketing we should be trying to figure out what our target audience are interested in, and provide a mixture of lite/curated content (filler) plus longer-to-produce valuable content of our own (protein).

In our case, for the candidate-focused marketing we have two distinct audiences: firstly the people already based in {location}, and secondly people currently based elsewhere but considering work in {location}. Prospective interns are a subset of the latter. So we have at least two themes of content that we need to curate and create for the different audiences.

Producing interesting and ultimately “valuable” content is in a real sense a key component of the free service we provide for job candidates. So first of all we should integrate our information that is directly useful for candidates with our marketing. In other words, producing good informative web pages, brochures, FAQs, is the core and starting point of our online marketing. As we get more familiar with candidates’ concerns and information needs via contact with actual people, we keep revisiting and expanding the information.

Apart from this core content, we should consider what wider interest topics there are that will keep people listening to us. A suggestion would be to collaborate in our existing team to create a shared topics mind map for the two different audiences so we know our main headings.

Bear in Mind USP

Secondly, in our marketing we should keep focused on what our USP and unique advantages are. Right now (in my opinion) this is all about a focus on {location}. That’s what makes this business distinct (so far) from many other competing recruitment and job board businesses. Our unique advantage is that we are based in this city, so you have feet on the ground… local view. That’s hard to compete with for someone in a different part of the country. Connecting this point with the above point, our strong points of interesting content should be in large part about the local area and share new information that is more specific and fresh than other general content floating around out there.

Human Stories

Thirdly, the more personal the stuff on the social media is, the better. Actual stories from people similar to our target job candidates (their own blog posts, or interviews with people) are highly valuable because as online readers we are very sensitive to what is authentic.

We can derive all sorts of inferences about working in this location or a certain industry from someone’s anecdotal account, rather than having a corporate marketing voice preaching generalizations at us.

Along these lines, if we are collecting candidate signups (resume submissions), many professionals would be willing to do a “featured expert” type of blog post and tell a bit of their story in exchange for the self promotion. This could be developed as a mainstay of the content marketing and follow a very standard format while still producing unique and interesting content each time.

An extension of this would be to feature interviews with local companies’ HR managers or general managers who are hiring in our industries and elicit some of the issues they have. Pretty useful for both sides to improve understanding.

Good Content Alone Won’t Produce Traffic

Fourth, it is very hard to build up an audience just by publishing interesting content. “Build it and they will come” does not work online. You need to create connections back to our channels by popping up in more trafficed places, i.e. other more popular forums and social pages.

Obviously this is easier said than done because you can’t just barge in and be self promotional, but being active in other people’s social media and comments sections should be a considerable part of the time taken on content marketing each day.

We can think of ways to exploit local advertising and classified sites as well, an obvious point being promote our social media at the same time as we advertise jobs.

Partner with Local Businesses

Fifth, we are not alone in this issue. Most small businesses face the challenge of not having enough of an audience and not enough fresh and interesting content. So it makes sense to link up and help each other out. There are lots of closely related businesses which, with a bit of systematic coaxing, could be persuaded to give interesting content (more interviews..) to us to publish in exchange for the publicity, or vice versa publish our own new content to their audiences.

We need to find “closely related” businesses which are not actually competing in the recruiting area, so it would be things of use to our target candidates such as […..]. Building our content themes mind map will suggest more ideas.

The key for approaching a lot of these businesses is that they are not active or savvy about online marketing and so you can talk up the value of being “Featured” to our “extensive but targeted industry audience” etc etc and they might view it as a benefit… free advertising. Meanwhile we get accumulating credit from demonstrably being connected with genuine local businesses. After connections are established you have the chance to ask for the favour the other way round.

Collaborate with Creative Individuals

Sixth: above I mentioned offline type businesses who might be coaxed into providing interesting content for us in exchange for the branding. They may be marketing their business elsewhere but you have to do a bit of work with them to create something usable for our online channels. On the other hand you will also find lots of private people who are actively creating interesting content that is highly valuable and ready for online consumption but lack any kind of distribution mechanism or efforts.

For example: writers; photographers; artists; hikers and cyclists; charities and eco projects; consultants and lecturers; musicians and performers; academics and researchers; scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs. In {location}, you will find lots of these people, and they will usually be very flattered to be asked for content to share with our networks. In some case the relation to our core recruitment / job / work in {location} themes will be tenuous, but that’s the editorial job of prioritization and sense of consistency of tone in what you select.

Editorial Approach

As you can see from the above my concept of content marketing is very editorial and journalistic. Far from it being a matter of creating all our own content in isolation, then going out there trying to spread it around… we do it the other way round, connect with lots of people, gather content from them (and collaborate creatively with them) and then that forms a virtually limitless source of stuff that is authentic and engaging… and yes, we get to call it “our” “original” content … and because it engages people, exposes them to the brand, warms them up for our sprinkling of promotional messages… it all ultimately has good commercial value.

The long-term and indirect and unmeasurable nature of content marketing is a major turn-off for most businesses, but if we are not paying for gaining an audience via advertising, then we have to get good at this laborious but creative alternative route…

Thanks for reading this Digital Marketing Strategy advice by +GeorgeBaily

Disseminating GeorgeThought™, Enlightening The Vast Hordes Of The Benighted

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store