Ryan Holiday: How to market your start-up business on a small budget

One big fat stumbling block on the road to creating a successful business is getting it known. It’s a problem many entrepreneurs aim to solve by using a Virgin StartUp Loan to pay for extra marketing. With that in mind, we asked marketing genius and bestselling author, Ryan Holiday, exactly how he would spend the average Virgin StartUp loan amount of £5,000.

Incase you don’t know Ryan,  he’s the Director of Marketing at clothing brand, American Apparel. His marketing campaigns have been used as case studies by Twitter, Youtube and Google and his first book, Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator was a Wall Street Journal bestseller. (His latest book, The Obstacle Is The Way, is on sale now.)

Ryan Holiday's top three tips for getting the biggest return on a £5,000 marketing budget.

1.    Invest wisely

The first thing I would do is probably not spend it on Facebook or Google advertising, which is what most people do. They think, "ok, I've got this idea and I have to advertise it to find if there’s a market for it.” In fact an amount of money like £5,000 is so small compared to those who are dominating your space on Facebook or Google that your brand would get lost among the noise.

It’s the equivalent of going to Vegas with £5,000 and hoping to flip it over and over again until you get a million. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen but the odds are on the casino wining – not you.

Instead I would recommend you spend that money getting in front of the right people or building your website or product, maybe you can bring on a freelancer to help you with something that you have been unable to do yourself.

The best marketing decision you can make is on improving your product. When I tell people that, they're like, "oh yeah, yeah, yeah, it's as good as it can ever possibly be" and it's not. If any outsider looks at your business they’ll quickly speak up saying, "here's a problem, here's a problem and here's another a problem."

That money should be giving you a little bit of a lifeline to continue to a point where you are either able to get to a launch, or maybe you're in a cash flow positive from day one and you can start to explore your options for growth.

Alternatively, you can get yourself to a point where you can go after bigger fish who can give you more money to do whatever advertising or marketing that you need.

2.    Focus on creating a minimum viable product

Secondly, I’d recommend you get your business to a Minimum Viable Product stage, instead of trying to start with the perfect final product. This means you can keep testing and changing your offer to get it right.

Take writing a book. An author thinks, "I've got a good idea and it's obviously a great idea for a book, now I'm going to go write it. And now that I'm done, after I've

spent a year of my life and all my money writing this thing, I'm going to show it to people” – and no one is interested. You don’t want to be in that situation.

If you do that it means you’ve just front-loaded all of the risk before you've got any feedback from the market or from people who might know more than you.

If you only have £5,000, put up an online landing page and send it on Facebook to your friends and see if you get any response. See if anyone will respond to this idea and measure that response.  How long do they take to respond? Is it positive or negative?

Also, if I’m going to fail, I want to fail fast and move on. We need to ask ourselves, “what is the smallest public facing idea or component of your idea that you can put out there, that you can then get real feedback from a certain crowd.

It’s an evolving process and as you get better and more successful, intuition starts to come into play because you've got a track record and experience in business. To give you an idea, when writing a book I knew that it was going to work because I'd written blog posts that were successful, so I knew that I didn’t need to test titles. For my first book I tested probably about 25 titles, multiple cover illustrations, everything.

A lot of people think that a book cover, the title and topic are creative decisions and then marketing, promotion and sales come after and of course they don't, they're all linked.

You can really set yourself up for failure by not thinking about that.

3.    Persevere Intelligently

A lot of people wrongly confuse the Internet with a matriarchal society where the good stuff naturally gets an audience and that can accidentally be true, but there is also many great businesses and people languishing in online obscurity.

You work way too hard on whatever it is that you are doing to allow that to happen. But people do and then they think that they can throw money at the problem and they forget how much work and will is involved in these things.

I quote Edison in my new book where he discusses his genius. What happens is that there is the flash of inspiration and then difficulties arise. That's how it works with entrepreneurs, right?

So the person who gets past that does great things. Someone like Edison who understood the basic technology of what was involved in developing a reliable light bulb but his obstacle was  a matter of finding what filament would operate inside a light bulb that would make it practical.

He ended up testing 6,000 different filaments before he found the right one.  I quote Nikola Tesla, Edison’s rival, who said that if Edison was ever asked to find a needle in a haystack he would just go through each straw one by one until he found it. And when you think about it – given their understanding of technology – how else would you find it? Thrash around and hope you get lucky? That doesn’t sound like much of a strategy either.

Edison had perseverance which is ultimately required to transcend these obstacles or problems. If you're starting a new business with £5,000 it's not going to be easy - there are going to be difficulties and problems.

From day one, you’re almost running out of money and so you have to understand that and be aware of that going in. You can’t afford to think, " Sir Richard Branson gave me £5,000 so I'm going to be set for life."  You're still on your own, it's not going to be easy, but if you push through it you're going to find yourself in the place where everyone else wants to be who wasn’t able to make it.

To win a free copy of Ryan's latest book, The Obstacle Is The Way, tweet your top marketing tip to @VirginStartUp. The best tip wins!