No-Cost (or Low-Cost) Techniques That Pay Off Big

Last year I was an alternate winner in the First Annual Internet Business Plan Contest, run by Christopher Lydon’s National Public Radio show, “The Connection.” My idea was clever and plausible, but as the producer and I agreed while chatting off the air, the fact that I said I could launch my idea for less than $50,000 went against the premise of the segment.

The winners got to describe their ideas on the air to venture capitalists, who selected the most appealing project for further meetings. The VCs told one hopeful that the half a million dollars she said she needed wasn’t enough to interest them. They perked up when someone more ambitious named six million as his start-up requirement.

In fact, even $50,000 was way more than I would need to start turning a profit from what I had in mind. With less than $500, I could get it off the ground and produce orders. Frugality makes one a laughingstock to investors, but, in real life, creativity and resourcefulness pay off.

In this column, I’ll be addressing those who want to know how to get Internet results on the cheap, who have a hefty budget of time but not very much money. During the last five years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview well over a hundred other resourceful online marketers and discovered certain principles and attitudes underlying what I’m calling the “no-money-down approach.”

Embracing the Unexpected

A lot of the techniques I’ll be discussing yield surprising results rather than predictable, planned-and-charted responses. People who achieve success with creativity rather than with cash enjoy and capitalize on the unexpected.

For instance, last week I sent a letter to the editor at Business 2.0, letting the magazine know I couldn’t find the proper link to cite in a posting in the ClickZ Forum, which I moderate. To my shock, within two hours I received a response from the magazine’s editor in chief. Immediately I wrote back to present my credentials in more depth and ask if I could send him some article ideas. “Absolutely,” came the reply. At that, my chances of writing for the magazine rose sharply. This sort of serendipitous opportunity is the norm for those who master the no-money-down approach.

Fuzzy Focus

Instead of a fixed, definite goal and a narrow business identity (e.g., “I help companies of $5 to $25 million in sales with customer retention strategies”), we tend to have a looser direction and usually have a variety of business activities going on. This makes it much easier to spot and exploit opportunities. From year to year, I have never had the faintest idea what my most lucrative business activity would be, and I’m happy to be primarily a consultant one year and primarily a writer the next and then morph back into a consultant.

Long-Range Commitment to Unquantifiable Results

Many of the methods I’ll be describing work gradually and without dramatic markers that prove success is on the way. People who try something once, see no effect, and conclude it’s not worth their time shouldn’t bother reading my column. Starting a weekly email newsletter, for example, probably won’t pay off for the first few months, and maybe not very much in the first year. Yet as I’ll demonstrate next week, it lays solid groundwork for reliable income once it collects enough loyal subscribers.

Predilection for Fun

John Audette, who runs the discussion list I-Sales, credits it as the engine for the growth of his Multimedia Marketing Group agency, which he established in his basement and eventually sold for eight figures. He didn’t launch I-Sales with that in mind, however, but rather as a labor of love, with some vague idea in the back of his mind that it might give him industry visibility. (As he continues to run the list five years later, it’s obvious that he gets a kick out of the intellectual stimulation and community building it involves.)

So if you want to cultivate a no-money-down approach, stay tuned to this column. Here are a few of the low-cost (or no-cost) results we’ll be talking about in the coming weeks:

  • Capitalizing on the success of highly linked sites for your own purposes

  • Cultivating, in a matter of months, an online fan club that is eager for your products
  • Enjoying the benefit of other sites’ traffic without spending a dime
  • Luring ideal prospects and making sales through irresistible teasers

Whoever said big ideas need big bucks? In the no-money-down approach, it’s all about spending creativity instead of cash.

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