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

Categories Articles, Wordpress

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Catalin is the founder of Mostash – a social marketing boutique – and he’s always happy to share his passion for graphic design & social media.

  • Very well written :)

  • I love that the main message you get from this is: If you want to be successful be ready to work really really hard. It seems simple, but it’s so good to hear first hand what you can accomplish with a years worth of sleep deprivation :)

  • Nice tips for the rest of us. I believe that they are relevant even if you are not in the design niche. And like Brad said, hard work is a must.

  • That was an easy read! thanks inspired mag.

    I agree with Brad, patience and hard work are repeated through out the article.

    I particularly like the mention of the “relevant comments on blogs”. Compared to efforts put into online social applications, comments on blog posts are thin.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.
    Go go Capies!

  • I have to agree with Brad. Far too many people are looking for a way to skirt the system thinking that hard work is for chumps. In the real World, you have to pay your dues, put in the long hours and even then the expected reward isn’t always given. Well said. Very well said.

  • Love the dedication that was made to launch the Obox themes, I was checking out these secret videos really good idea to keep people coming back and get interested in what you are about to launch.

    Keep up the good work

  • This is so motivational! Great way to start my morning. Thank you!!

  • You have got really great points there.
    I like the concept of ‘gaining trust from being real’. I think that is the main thing that made obox brothers this successful.

    Way to go Obox.. :)

  • Thanks for these great tips! Your genuineness will aid in your success for sure!

  • Great direction-my favorite part was making the deadlines almost impossible to meet. That works well.

  • Man, well said! I liked that you pointed out that success is the result of hard work. Loved it! Thanks!

  • Fair play the internet loves David Perel & co, great read dudes. Get’s me thinking for sure.

  • One other thing that is very useful, but requires some time, is to start a blog. Our design firm, C McConnell Design, started a blog recently called Freelance Review and saw our traffic increase by over 900%. Pretty cool. It’s a lot of work thought. We made a post about it which you might find interesting here:

  • Great post. Some of them, i am using it, others is a must-try method as well! Thanks alot for sharing

  • Thanks for experience!

  • Very practical and sound advice. Your list of SM properties is on target. In fact I am hearing of more people joining Posterous and Tumblr rather than a traditional blog platform because they are dead simple and look nice.

    I am looking for info on how to structure a contest. Purpose is to generate awareness (or even links or Twitter followers). Prize would be the offering of a paid service for free. Any resources that you have seen?

  • So basically, HUSTLE!

  • Thanks for being real: it takes time, it takes effort, and it takes significant input of quality content to get noticed and build a following.

    One thing I enjoyed: “little tit bits.” I presume you mean “tidbits.”


  • Hi Everyone,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read the article. The stuff that you say about Obox is incredibly humbling :)

    What you are all saying is 100% correct, hard work and dedication is what get’s you places.

    However, there is one thing that I didn’t mention and it is called ‘patience’. If you don’t have patience then the enthusiasm will eventually be replaced by despondency. So make sure that what you are doing is something you truly, madly, deeply believe in ;)

    @John K – You are spot on there, I think my SA accent filtered into the article :D

  • @everybody Thx for the awesome comments and thanks David for taking some time from building fantastic themes and give us some insights :D

  • Great advice here, I like the warning at the start.

    A big part of being in the right place at the right time is being in as many places as often as you can.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Amy

    The hard part is, figuring where to post what content. You don’t just want to cross-link between all your social networks. That’s why I’ve been hesitant to use Facebook for freelance/business, because they are networks of friends and people I know in real life, and I don’t want to come off as spammy. I should probably set up a fan page, but I don’t know how I’d ask “friends” to become “fans”… ahh the fine line.

  • Matt

    My version of success is working 4 hours a day, not 18… If you are working 18 hours a day you damn well better be successful because that is a huge investment.

  • I really like this post. I followed the vlog for awhile. Really great to see you guys are working hard and getting the rewards for your hard effort.

  • @Amy – Don’t ask your friends to become fans of the page. Ask your blog readers, twitter followers etc. to do so. I draw a line between friends and biz on Facebook.

    @Matt – If you love what you are doing then technically it’s not really work. I could say that everyday at Obox is a holiday because I love what I do.

    @Phil – Thanks man!

  • Nice to see you guys doing well. Popped over to the video blog now and again and it’s great to see that turn into something more for you. Great job, and an excellent post.

  • Very well written and a sort of humility in this post (don’t ask me why, I just find) Ahah. Nice experience.

  • Paula

    Thank you very much for this post! it helped me with what we are trying to achieve now with our company!

  • Nice story! Good luck!

  • I think this article is smart and well planned. I also think there is a huge difference between acting hard and acting smart. The truly successful ones do it by acting smart. Don’t kid yourself either, the internet is here because the creators wanted to act smart. Acting smart means getting more out results with less work, the definition of productivity.

    Keep that in mind with everything you do.

  • Obox guys,
    You guys have been an awesome story to watch. You spoke of some great points, especially the comments on the posts. I try to comment so “the writer knows I am reading”. I am not saying I am the king of the hill but, he/she is then relating to their readers and then the other readers see that and again, you just “left a business card”. Thanks for the post and I am anxious to see what you guys crank out next.

  • This is a very good article that actually shows stone cold proof of what so many people talk about, ie. that social media can help you create a viable business that costs no money, only time and effort.

    I’m going to re-read this and write something about it–with a link back of course! Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  • I love this theme by the way. Very nice looking and functional.

  • well,you are late for me, my friend but anyway it is still useful for freshers and this all are amazing tips I wish I could have this post few years back

  • I agree on your view on working hard and persist. But in this perspective the calculation of 8$ per month spent in marketing is, to me, not realistic. You say the only cost is time. Time is the most valuable resource you and everyone of us have and needs to be quantified. You need to think of how much work on your products you could have done in that time (i.e. designing 2 new themes or whatever), and understand if you could actually be “losing” money by only marketing for the products you now have or potentially marketing less but for more products. Just my opinion. I agree on your views on target platforms, I like your stuff. only thought that point needed a different perspective! Keep up the good work guys!

  • @Palmamod – Part of creating a product is the marketing. The time that I spend marketing is done at the same time that I design themes etc. That is the beauty of the tools we use today. It takes 1 second to reply to someone on Tweetdeck while still working on a design.

    It’s all about spreading the focus. To me the marketing is just as important as the product. Pumping out 100 themes won’t matter if no one knows about them.

  • David, thanks for getting back. As I said, I do agree with what you said in your post and your reply confirms the fact that we share this view. I was only pointing out that time has a cost and that should be considered. It seems that in your case we’re talking about time well spent, although it’s not always the case!

  • What a great post! I started up 2 years ago and had lots of ideas about how to get traction quickly. But earning a living overtook me and I didn’t do any of them. It was a struggle. Well done on ‘doing it right’.

    I’d add that I found this article via delicious ‘most popular’. Social bookmarking could maybe be on your list too?

  • I’m an Branding & Interactive Design consultant. I’ve recently rebranded myself with the idea of “Making Your Story Come Alive.” This has my mind flooding with ideas about how to communicate the idea. Thank you so much for the article.

  • Well written article!

    Great advice! I agree what you said that Rome wasn’t built in a day, this apply to Social Media as well. It will take some time and effort to see the results.

    Thanks one again for your valuable information and I look forward to your next article!

  • Maybe it’s a good idea to try getting into some more niche-specific social networks like Behance (

    Another tip I like is: ‘be a human, not a company’. For example, take Twitter. If you profile yourself as a company, you only post links to new blogposts. If you profile yourself as a human, you post Twitpics of you and your wife having a beer outside, you start conversations with replies, you retweet other people. It sure takes more time, but it’s better in the end.

  • It was quite inspiring reading. I would call it even exceptional and useful because in the last months I see bloggers repeating themselves and posting like in factory style.

    To get back to the topic, there is said: “faith can even change lines on our hands”. And that’s true.

  • Ya this article is agreat inspiration to me bookmarked this page

  • I am in this situation right now so thank you for the tips! I have been doing what you said for only a few days and it seems to be working…then I came across this article which confirms it (glad to hear I am doing something right). The thing that i have learned the most so far…who is going to hear you if you have nothing to say? Get involved and socialize!

  • What’s really awesome is that big business, for the most part, really has no idea how to leverage social media without giving up control. This leaves an excellent window of opportunity for agile small businesses to skyrocket through this medium.

  • I enjoyed this. It was nothing new, but very well written and with great enthusiasm. Thanks!

  • We are going to start selling some plugins for another application. Right now majority of the vendors don’t look very credible; we are shooting videos of our developers and team as well as how the plugins work. I think that is going to help buyers be more comfortable with us then the competition.

  • really good suggestions. thanks :)

  • If you work 15 – 18 hours a day and your web designs look great, the success will always come.

  • Stuart

    Brilliant post, thanks

  • How could I not leave a comment after reading that. Great advice and It has changed the way I will be interacting online. Thanks

  • Congrats guys! Your message of hard work and patience is so true. It seems that most people think they can jump online and make an overnight fortune! While I’m sure it happens on occasion, it doesn’t happen that way for most of us. If you want a new career in the Internet Marketing Arena be prepared to set some obtainable goals, work hard and express some creativity.

    Well done!

  • Suhail

    u guys truly are “Tribe builders”

  • fantastic! We’ve been doing very similar things for the past few months and know we’re on the right track.

    So many broadcasters but not much quality or worthwhile info. Building up a relevant social media strategy is key. Just because you can have a free Facebook page doesn’t’ mean you should have one, unless as you say, there is a relevant reason for it. Perfect.

  • Great interview for those who wish to start web design company with little or no money. The successful of Obox design inspired me that we certainly have chance of getting sucess in the online business.

  • 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.”

    This is so revealing. Many thanks for this insightful article.

  • You know what, I’m in a band and 90% of this applies to that too!

    Great ideas and I totally agree that SMM is NOT a golden ticket, but is a huge help if done correctly.

  • Great post mate, totally agree..

  • Very refreshing to see someone give a realistic overview on Social Media. A lot people think that simply by creating a twitter account their SM work is done and the clients will roll in.
    I think it also shows you can really do well online when you have the right plan and the focus to follow it through day in day out.

  • Lofty interview on behalf of folks who hope for to start a tangled web design company with not very or else rebuff money. The booming of Obox design inspired me with the aim of we certainly retain ability of getting sucess in the sphere of the online topic.

  • Thanks so much for a great post!

    I’ve been freelancing from home for the last 12 years (along side working an office job for another company).

    Recently, I’ve decided to make a go of making my freelance a full-time business. I live in a small town here in California (Santa Maria on the Central Coast). The biggest hurdle I’m trying to overcome is how to find clients when I don’t live in a big city.

    Thanks again for this great and relevant post!

  • I have always liked those 2 guys and loved their simple tutorials on hand drawn websites.

    I started freelancing about a year ago and it’s a rough business but I believe if you keep at it like David Peril, you can be successful.

  • Nice information, many thanks to the author.

  • Totally agree. The same goes for How To Successfully Launch a Web App Startup with Social Media and almost No Budget. Hard work & long nights. Can’t even remember when I got some proper sleep lately. When we tend to go to bed here in Europe our aussie users are getting up and vice versa – but that’s part of the deal right! But we can take it because we love what we do.

  • Great article, very well written and so inspiring. But the thing that crossed my mind while reading the first part and the first tip “Hype” was this:
    Sure, it’s great to post new content every day and hype is a very effective way of getting to sell the product in the end. And if you have a fanbase to start with, it will grow and flourish as time passes by and as long as you keep creating new and interesting content. But how do you get that fanbase?
    Let’s say I want to start a new webdesign business but nobody knows me (apart from my friends that is but as you said – friends and biz are two different things). Nobody knows my site/blog/vlog/twitter account, etc.. I could post videos all day long, if nobody knows about it, nobody will watch it, nothing will get spread etc.

    For me it’s always the same: Got a lot of money? Easy to make even more money. Got a lot of fans and a good and widespread reputation? Easy to get even more of it.
    Maybe replace “easy” with “easier” but you guys know what I mean.

    Apart from that: Still very inspiring, I especially like the hard work and post relevant post part. Good Good Good :-)

  • This is a great post, you guys are doing all the right stuff, kudos!

  • Good article. I personally got it done with Its cheap and fast!

  • A good basic and simple advice for me, nice. I’ll try it. Thank you.

  • Decision makers in new businesses need to recognise the importance of internet marketing as part of their overall marketing strategy.

  • Agree with the concept of sowing seeds first to reap benefits later. We got friends all through our life like this. We met people, talked to them, understood each other and probably later became friends. Getting a new client is no less than this friend building process.

  • Definitely applies to me, but keeping every post and contribution to the desired standard is tough when you’re adding posts all over, every day. That’s the hardest part in my mind, consistently writing interesting content rather than spam.

  • These are really nice tips for freelancers and startup owners in the design niche, and i agree with the key to a successful Social Media marketing campaign is that it takes time and effort.

  • Blood, sweat and tears. Love it. I like the teaser idea. That’s the interesting piece I need to look into more. The rest I’ve heard, but all good stuff.

  • I think you make some really good points. What I do wonder if whether you did an ROI on the $8 marketing spend and calculated what you actually spend in hours over the year.


    A cost benefit analysis of this approach vs outsource by employing a strategist for an upfront planning phase, a community manager for x hours a week and implementing a well thought out SEO campaign.

    Spend that extra time producing marketing materials and cold calling a range of targeted businesses and conducting some face to face networking techniques.

    Employ the services of a lead generation partner who is paid to provide quality leads to your business. You then need to follow these up with a quality offering.

    I think your approach has been unique and no doubt provided great learnings. If your time was not otherwise consumed servicing your clients I would say two thumbs up, but this approach will not suit all start ups who may be more delivery focused.

  • Great article, and I agree. You have plenty of good tips that I can pass along to my clients. Thanks a bunch!

  • This is worth reading article, great points, experience, very good :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Social media has always been the best way to gain clients as a freelancer, as well as getting the word out on the best services. It allows you to compete against the big companies without having to have their budget. :)

  • Really THX for this post, we are trying to launch or buisness, and the most difficult part is everytime communication . And we are French so….more difficult to meet interesting people ..

    THX a lot !

  • Wow thanks for this post, really useful tips!

  • awesome, just awesome, thanks.

  • Its very nice article and i appreciate you for such nice info.

  • Good post, it still amazes me that people ask for website / fb page / twitter account to launch at the same time – but haven’t given the time to think about what they want to achieve with them. I come across clients that think social media is a magic wand that will direct traffic to their website – but completely miss the point and fail to dedicate enough time to make it truly work.

    Traditional marketing techniques work in the social media sphere – it’s just more difficult to analyse the ROI.

    Ideally i’d like our clients to contact us 8 or more months before wanting a website, that would give some time to build up interest using the social tools and make for a happier website launch.

  • A really great article. I always advise to my clients to embrace the Social Media themselves ideally the business owner. It does take time to build and you need to set aside time per day to complete it.

  • Thanks for the article. It’s true that it’s easier to launch a successful project if you already have a large base of supporters, and I’ve seen this happen for many people.