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10 Ways to Bootstrap your Event Marketing

By Cathy Key

Only a small percentage of events have abundant marketing budgets. In most cases, event planners find themselves working with limited budgets and marketing is often one of the first line items to get slashed. Without marketing there are no sales and without sales there is no money. That’s why many planners find themselves doing their marketing on a shoestring budget.

In this article we look at what you can do to kickstart your event marketing with limited resources.

10 Ways

Bootstrapping is the ability to get yourself into action using only your existing (usually limited) resources. Here are ten ways you can bootstrap your event marketing and get your event off the ground without breaking the bank.

1. Get Organized

You can’t afford not to take your marketing seriously. All too often cash-poor organizers get themselves lost in the details of planning the program, organizing the venue and managing the logistics. All of those things are important but if you don’t have an audience you don’t have an event.

The less money you have to spend on your event marketing the more important it is to get organized. You need to make up for your lack of funds with a good plan and creativity. The sooner you do this the better. In fact, your marketing plan should be one of the first things you think about.

2. Think Big

When you are concerned about budget this tends to limit your creativity and imagination regarding your event. Your inclination will be to play it safe, feel worried, concerned and constrained. While it is important to protect your bottom line this can also suffocate good ideas.

What would you be doing to market your event if money were no object? Do some brainstorming with your team. The chances are that many of your big ideas don’t actually require big budgets. For those ideas that do require money, the next place to look is sponsorship.

I organized a charity event where we had the big idea that we would advertise on the back of buses. However, we were operating on zero budget and couldn’t afford the $3000 price tag to pay for the advertising. Rather than give up on the idea, we found a cash sponsor who wanted to be associated with the event and we made sure they were also featured on all our advertising, including the buses.

Event sponsors want marketing and coverage. If you partner with the right organization it’s a win-win as you both get in front of a larger audience.

3. Create a Team

You cannot market your event on your own. You need to create a team that includes writers, designers, technical experts, web designers, social media and PR. You have a problem when you are bootstrapping because the chances are you don’t have any money to pay all these people. So where will you find a team of willing volunteers?

Look for up-and-coming individuals and companies who are in the process of making a name for themselves and may be willing to sponsor the event. You may need to talk with a lot of people and make some bold requests. Money is not the only way to reward people. Acknowledgement, publicity and networking are great motivators.

Another possibility is to hire a communication team on a commission basis. Offer them a proceed of the ticket sales as their reward.

4. Build an Awesome Website

There really are no excuses for not having an awesome website. There are lots of resources available that allow you to build a professional website on a tiny budget.

WordPress is one of the cheapest and most convenient ways to build your site and you can create a fabulous website using an event-specific templates.

It is also essential that you take the time to do your Search Engine Optimization and install Google Analytics. These two elements cost next to nothing and are critical if you are going to be found online and track the success of your marketing.

5. Create a Star Attraction

One great speaker or performer can be enough to provide your event with star-power. It may be worth splurging a significant portion of your budget to get that one person or one act that everyone wants to see. However, make sure that if you do this you use all your other tools to market them up a storm.

6. Use Social Media

Social media is one of the most cost effective ways of getting the word out to a large audience. Using social media you can reach not just your entire audience, but the audience of your audience.

Social media isn’t free (it takes time) but if you pull together a social media team then it is a powerful marketing engine. Download the Social Media ebook to find out how to create a team, leverage your champions and create effective social media strategies.

7. Use Guest Writers

The heart of any good marketing campaign is providing great content. Hiring writers can be expensive and it is quite an investment of time for any one person.

A bootstrap tactic is to get guest writers and post their content. You can go to speakers, exhibitors, performers and sponsors and ask them to submit posts and updates for the websites. Most people will be delighted at this opportunity for self-promotion.

8. Create a Story

If you can get your event into the news you have the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people for free. Newspapers, TV and radio are constantly hunting for interesting stories, so to leverage the power of the media you need to make your event newsworthy.

Most media outlets are not going to be interested in your line-up of speakers, unless you have a well know celebrity on your program. This means you will have to make them interesting. A human interest story is the most effective way of capturing media attention. A human interest story with a good picture attached is even better.

9. Organize your Database

Targeted e-mails are one the most effective ways of reaching your audience. If you are not already building a database, you need to start now, your database is the foundation for all your marketing.

If you haven’t done so already, get your database organized and hooked up to an e-mail marketing system. The goal is to make it really easy to send out email blasts to groups of people and track their responses. While there are some big fancy solutions out there which are awesome, there are also some cheap and cheerful options that will only cost you a few dollars a month.

10. Be Enthusiastic

The biggest marketing asset you have is you and your team. If you are excited and enthusiastic about your event then other people will be too. Your job is to inspire the people around you, let them know why this event is important and what you are out to accomplish. The more you can reach through and share with people from your heart the more compelling you will be.

In Conclusion

All of these bootstrap tactics rely on three fundamental assumptions: (1) You have valuable content; (2) there is an audience for the content; and (3) your tickets are affordable for that audience. While it would be nice to have a fat marketing budget, if you have this foundation in place bootstrapping will allow you to get the event off the ground and money flowing in.

about the author

Cathy Key
Dr Cathy Key has been working in the event technology industry since 2002. During this time she worked side-by-side with meeting planners and built her own successful conference software platform. She is now an independent consultant and writer for Online Registration Review.
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  • This is an excellent read, Cathy! Thanks for sharing these great tips!

  • 11. CraigsList. It can help much too.

  • You cannot over-emphasise getting started sooner rather than later as: (i) without a budget, outreach efforts can take longer than you imagine; and (ii) you get more time to receive feedback and fold that into your event.