This time on Inspired Talks we invited David Perel from Obox Signature Series to give some insights and tips for the creative community. Warning: lots of useful advice for freelancers and startup owners in the design niche.

HOW TO: Successfully Launch a Web Design Startup with Social Media and No Budget

Recently we launched a theme company called the Obox Signature Series. After two months in a ‘saturated’ market it’s become profitable. The reason we believe it became successful so ‘quickly’ is because of the power of Social Media.

Our total marketing budget at Obox Design is about $100 a month. Usually at the end of the month we have $92 left. The only thing we have spent money on so far is a subscription to PeaShoot App… which we barely use.

So how is this possible?

The real cost is time.

In order to understand the process we need to wind the clock back to October 2008. One thing many people don’t realize is that Social Media is not a magic trick, like any marketing campaign it takes time. So even though we were successful from month two of launch it has taken months to build up to that point.

HOW TO: Successfully Launch a Web Design Startup with Social Media and No Budget

Very briefly, 10 months ago we launched a video blog, the vlog became quite successful within our target market and luckily some of the honchos of the design space used to watch it as well. Through a huge amount of effort and time we began to get a reasonably big viewership.

Because our viewers always saw who we were, and weren’t just reading a blog post which had been edited 1000 times, we got their trust from being real. It was through this process of vlogging everyday and interacting with every single commenter that we managed to build a big enough following of people who trust us and believe in our brand.

It took 10 months of pumping out content every single day, interacting on Twitter, Facebook and email in order to give us a base on which we could launch an online product.

The key to a successful Social Media marketing campaign is that it takes time and effort.

Expect to work long hours. Expect to shift your time zone. Expect to answer every single email. Expect to get shot down by people on Twitter.

Here are three marketing tips / ideas which we used in order to get growth, interaction and eventually, sales. None of these tips are miracles over night. They all take time and perseverance.

HOW TO: Successfully Launch a Web Design Startup with Social Media and No Budget

Build hype

People think that SM is about being completely honest and transparent. As true as that may be, you still need to remember the fundamentals of marketing. All we are doing is shifting tried and trusted methods onto a different medium.

Some things are best kept secret for as long as possible. Car makers build hype by hiding their test cars under ugly clothing, as the car gets closer to launch the Manufacturers start to show more and more of the car. This feeds the potential customers with little tit bits of what’s to come.

Through this slow process the hype of the revealing is built up. In the offline world this can cost huge money. In the online world it costs effort.

Two campaigns that we created were all done using a cellphone camera, a deadline and a secret. In both instances the secret was a theme. Also in both instances the deadline was almost impossible to achieve. What we did was post daily diary entries of the progress we had been making.

For each passing day we gave viewers the sneakiest of previews of what was to come.

HOW TO: Successfully Launch a Web Design Startup with Social Media and No Budget

By the time the launch date arrived people were begging for full previews and were incredibly willing to participate, via RT’s, blog posts etc.

You don’t need to have a video camera to do this, it can be through a blog post as well with blurry screenshots and feature lists which grow by the day.

Make sure that you have a good product / idea that you want to launch. Set a tight deadline which you can showcase to your viewers (for example, we were posting videos at 3 in the morning…). Give people just enough to let them get a taste of what’s to come. Nothing more.

HOW TO: Successfully Launch a Web Design Startup with Social Media and No Budget

Leave relevant comments on blogs

This is not a small thing. I believe it is one of the most under valued forms of marketing online.

To give you an idea, along with selling themes online, our core business is boutique web design and development.

Our biggest client project came from me leaving a relevant comment on Best Web Gallery. The client liked what he read, clicked through to our site and gave us a call. The whole process from phone call to contract was 1hr.

Become a professional at what you do, then visit sites which talk about your profession and leave relevant (RELEVANT) comments on every single one of their posts. The conversion rate won’t be high but it’s all about planting a seed (or in our case, we call it leaving a business card) wherever you go.

Eventually someone is going to bite, and you will benefit.

We have also received business via interaction on Facebook and Twitter (in fact our 2nd biggest project came from a tweet). So just make sure you have a consistent presence on all the relevant networks.

HOW TO: Successfully Launch a Web Design Startup with Social Media and No Budget

Have a presence on all the big social networks

Blogging WordPress, Tumblr, Posterous
Sharing Flickr, Facebook
Interacting Twitter, Facebook

I see those as the major players right now, they house almost all of Social Media’s target market at the moment.

I suggest you have a presense on each one. If not, then make sure that you are really present on two or three of them, namely Twitter and Facebook. If you don’t have your own blog then try your best to guest blog.

Find ways to link to each network in a relevant way so that you create a natural path for those who visit your site.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

All three of these methods have generated huge results for us at Obox. Yes it involved 15 to 18 hr days but if you are willing to put in the hours and focus on what’s important then you will see results.

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