Simon Ong: how to market your business without spending a penny

Great news for startups, it’s easier than ever to market your business on a shoe-string. You don’t need an advertising budget in the millions, a flashy celebrity and a TV advert during the break of X Factor to sell your product or service. You just need to be creative and have access to an Internet connection. After chatting to Virgin StartUp mentor Simon Alexander Ong, who's also the European Director at the Entrepreneur Institute, at a recent event, we found this was a topic he's super passionate about too, so we thought we’d get his advice on, 'how to market your business without spending a penny.’

"According to the University of Tennessee, 79% of all businesses that are launched will fail. And one of the top reasons behind why, is because of marketing budgets being wasted.

Many start-up entrepreneurs tend to spend significant sums of money on marketing and then find out that their ROI per customer fails to justify the expenditure or they don’t have any money to market in the first place.

So how can you get people to hear about your product or service without spending a penny? Because when this happens, you open the floodgates to having an endless supply of leads to convert into customers.

And this is what successful entrepreneurs do.

Get creative

In today’s society, it’s all about capturing the attention of your audience and potential customers in a world where we are surrounded by choice and attention spans that are shorter than ever.

Richard Branson, for example, is well-known for his publicity stunts, many of which are cost-free. From setting world records to throwing complimentary Virgin America flight tickets to the ground from the top of a Las Vegas casino, Branson has ensured that he and his businesses grab headlines.

If youre willing to make a fool of yourself and make people smile - as long as you do it with a sense of fun - you can get away with it. - Richard Branson

At the Entrepreneur Institute, we believe this is one of the most essential skills that we teach our students. In fact, because it’s essential to not just rely on one or two strategies, we teach 20 cost-free strategies that together, form their marketing highway.

And here are some inspiring examples I want to share with you below of how students and members of the Entrepreneur Institute have successfully done so.

What are your UTPs?

UTPs - Unique Talking Points - is a concept created by one of our members. For Marc Burton, a successful nightlife (co-owner of Chelsea-based nightclub Tonteria) and fashion entrepreneur, a UTP is - in essence - something that is so unique or different that it compels people to tell others or share it.

One UTP is the fact that your tequila is served by a toy train running above your head. This method of delivering drinks to guests has been written about in the US and UK issues of Vanity Fair magazine as well as flooding the social media feeds of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

And then there’s the themed evenings such as TonteMania Monday where wrestlers take their fighting to the dance floor and the practice of naming drinks after their most regular customers.

The idea here is that you want to give your customers a story to tell. There’s just so much more authority that comes across when your customers are the ones raving about how amazing your business is and sharing their positive experiences with friends and family. And it is this that  has led to the club selling out night after night, and also allowed the concept to go global.

Connect with journalists and know what they want


From starting out in his North London garden with a homemade screen crafted from recycled wood and bedsheets, one of our previous students Dominic Davies has gone on to grow Backyard Cinema into one of London’s coolest movie experiences.

And this summer, he has converted the iconic Camden Lock into a cinema with deck chair seating for 200 people, usherettes in retro outfits and partnered with Honest Burger to provide his guests with the exclusive, custom-made Backyard Burger.

What has allowed Dominic to share his concept with the world has been the relationships he has cultivated with those who could held him spread the word about his amazing new cinema experience for film lovers and learning how to provide the media with just what they are looking for.

In its two years since launch, Backyard Cinema has received press coverage by all the leading media outlets covering what’s on in the city, in addition to the likes of Time Out London, The Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard, which has led to every single event selling out over and over again.

How much time are you spending to build relationships and contacts with those working in the media and PR? Have you learnt how to write the perfect press release?

With the right inspiration, a dash of creativity and surrounding yourself with likeminded entrepreneurs, embracing a marketing freeway of diversified strategies will be one of your most essential ingredients in the recipe for becoming a successful entrepreneur."

Want to learn more about how to market your startup? We have a masterclass for that! Marketing 101, more info here