How to Decide Where to Spend Your First $50 on Marketing

Originally Published on By Nicole Kohler

If you build it, will they come? Not without marketing they won’t.

New online stores often face the same dilemma: they desperately need marketing to increase awareness of their products or services, but have a tight budget with which to do so. Some form of marketing is necessary for even the newest of stores, but finding the right balance between “effective” and “cost-effective” can be tricky.

If you’re building or have built your store with WooCommerce and are aiming to start marketing on a budget, we’re here to help. Here’s how you can decide which marketing activity to invest in first — and how to spend just $50 to get started.

Marketing is possible on a tight budget

You have lots of things to invest your time and money in when you start a new store, from your theme and extensions to necessary fees like shipping and packaging. You probably recognize the importance of marketing, but aren’t sure how to do it without blowing your limited budget out of the water.

Luckily, the increased availability of free or inexpensive tools and resources have made it easier than ever for store owners to do online marketing without impacting the budget they’ve already set for the rest of their store’s needs.

Deciding how to spend your money on marketing is a little easier when all the tools available are low-cost.

By combining the right free or low-cost tool with a single primary marketing goal (at least to start with), you’ll be able to avoid spending an immense amount of money or time on your efforts while still growing your store’s online presence.

Let’s have a look at the steps you should take to decide where to properly spend your first $50.

Consider your most immediate needs, and set goals around them

To get started with your cost-effective marketing plan, the first thing you should do is consider what your most immediate need or goal is.

For some stores, this need will be easy to define: more traffic, because you don’t yet have any. However, for stores that aren’t as new or might have already had a surge of traffic, defining this could take a little more time and consideration.

You may want to do something like:

  • Increase the number of qualified visitors (e.g. visitors who have an interest in your exact products or services)
  • Boost your ranking or visibility on search engines
  • Attract shoppers from new, unexplored sources
  • Increase the number of repeat purchases from current customers
  • Increase the amount of money spent on purchases (a higher average order value)

Even if all of these things sound desirable to you, the best thing you can do at this stage is pick one goal that you’d like to focus on first. This will be the goal you put your effort and money (however limited) behind right now.

As your store grows and your profit increases, you may find that you have more resources (time, staff, money, etc.) to put behind marketing. It’s at that point that you can consider taking on multiple marketing goals. But for now, pick what’s most important to you and focus on it.

Look for marketing methods that will help you directly achieve this goal

Now that you’ve identified the goal you’re focusing on, it’s time to pair it up with activities that will support it.

If you haven’t done any marketing before, you’ll probably need to do a little research to learn what methods are available for you to use. There are often quite a few ways that you can increase traffic to your store, boost spending, and so on, but not all of them will be viable or cost-effective.

Since most of you will be aiming to attract new visitors, here are a few resources you can get started with:

  • The store owner’s practical guide to being search engine friendly
  • 4 creative ways to attract more visitors
  • How to identify, attract, and keep your ideal customer
  • Choosing the best way to scale your store’s traffic

A quick online search will turn up plenty of articles and advice on the specific topic you’re looking for, however (and you’re welcome to ask us for advice or links in the topics, since our team has quite a few favorite blogs and posts to share!).
Identify free or low-cost tools to help you get started

As mentioned, there are now plenty of inexpensive, if not free, tools, resources, and marketing methods at your fingertips that will help you accomplish your primary goal, no matter what it might be. Once you’ve identified what your goal is and how you can achieve it via marketing, you can look for tools to help you as means to that end.

You won’t need to spend much — if anything — to get the tools you need to achieve your goal.

Let’s use an example here that many of you will be able to relate to: increasing your store’s traffic by ranking higher in search engines. If you’ve done your due diligence and performed some research, you probably know that this means you’ll be dabbling in search engine optimization (aka SEO).

A quick search for free or low-cost SEO tools will turn up plenty of resources for you, and all designed to help with entirely different aspects of optimization. A few examples:

PageSpeed Insights — Google’s free tool for measuring your store’s speed and suggesting improvements — the faster your site loads, the better chance you have at ranking well (and making visitors happy!) — A free keyword suggestion tool that will give you similar popular or highly-searched phrases to consider adding to your store based on a central one; ex. if you enter “socks,” the tool might suggest also adding the keywords “socks for women” or “knee socks” to your store to appear in searches for those phrases, too
W3C Broken Link Checker — Find broken links on your store that might be causing errors or driving potential customers away
Open Site Explorer — See who’s linking to your competitors, and how you might be able to get those links for yourself, too (because more links = better rankings); free with some limitations, and a paid plan is available
Moz Local — If you have a local business (e.g. with a physical presence), this tool will show you how locally searching customers see you, and recommend actions/improvements

Since many of these tools are free, the only investment you’ll need to make is your time. Additionally, many marketing tools (SEO-related and otherwise) have free trials that you can use for one month and cancel before the end of the period, either to avoid a charge or for a refund.

As you can see, it might initially sound a little difficult to only spend $50 on what you need to improve your traffic, email, online presence, relationship with customers, and so on… but if you pick the right tools, you might struggle to spend that much. Better yet, you might not have to spend anything at all.

If you outgrow your first solution, you can always scale up

Something to keep in mind, of course: as time goes on, you can always scale up your tools or their plans, as well as the approach you take to meeting your goal.

When you first start out, free tools will probably be enough, and you might be trying a bit of everything that sounds promising. But if you later find that link building is a highly effective way for you to increase your store’s relevancy and popularity in search, simply because of the niche you’re in, and Open Site Explorer’s free plan is too limiting for you, there’s no harm in paying for it, or focusing more on those links and less on keywords.

The most important thing is to do what is best for you, your store, and your customers. No two stores are the same, and one may find it necessary to scale a specific activity up to a new level rapidly while another is just getting started. That’s fine, and it’s perfectly normal — just remember to keep focused on what matters.
Track your progress and achieve a goal before moving on to a new activity (or expanding your budget)

So far, you’ve:

  • Decided what you need to do, marketing-wise
  • Decided on a single, achievable goal
  • Done the research to find free or low-cost tools you can use to meet that goal

Now it’s time to put your plan in action. And once it’s in action, make sure you keep a close eye on it, even if you’re not spending any money.

If you forget about your new marketing activity, neglect it, or let your spending get out of control (or all three!), there could be disastrous effects for your store. So you should aim to set up some kind of review process for what you’re doing, and plan to check in regularly on the results before making any changes or moving on to a new marketing method.

For example, if you’re optimizing your site for search, you might check in on your rankings weekly. Or if your goal was to increase spending by repeat customers, you might look at the results of your email marketing campaigns a week after you send each one.

Routine reviews will not only keep you informed, they’ll also keep you invested. You’ll be eagerly awaiting the day you achieve your goal — and once you do, you’ll be ready to move on, or perhaps scale up your budget to get even better results.

Scaling up versus adding on

When should you scale up a marketing activity, and when should you add on a new one? It all comes down to whether or not you’ve hit a ceiling.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with your budget. If you can afford to spend $75 one month on a new tool instead of the $50 you usually spend, give it a try. Or if you want to try doubling your AdWords spend for a week to see if it increases your paid traffic immensely, go for it. Just remember to check those results!

It’s always possible for you to hit a “ceiling” with some marketing activities. After all, once you hit #1 on a Google search, you might feel as if there’s nowhere else for you to go with SEO, other than continued maintenance. Once you see a slowdown in results, or your ROI stops looking as huge as it once did, that signals that it’s time for you to add on another marketing activity.

Finally, don’t feel obligated to spend more money just because you feel like you should. Paid advertising might have enormous ROI, but it’s not for everyone. You can do email marketing, social media, and plenty of other things for free (money-wise, that is — you still need to spend the time on them). Only add on what suits your customers, your store, and your budget — not to mention the time you have available to manage it.

Make every dollar you spend go further with smart marketing decisions

Although a few potential customers might find your store on their own, you’ll undoubtedly have better results with marketing than without. But the money required to hire an agency or try more advanced tools just isn’t there for many new store owners.

Luckily, there are a few ways you can make each and every dollar go further. By defining a single goal at a time and seeking out free or low-cost tools to support it, you can do your own marketing and reach more customers — and all without investing time and money you don’t have.

Have any questions about spending your first $50 on marketing your store? Or any suggestions of your own to offer for store owners just starting out with marketing to potential customers? The comments are open and we’d love to hear from you.

Looking for low-cost, effective ways to market your store to customers? Check out our selection of marketing extensions for WooCommerce, from email integrations to social media solutions and much more.