8 min read
Jun 2, 2021

Marketing Your Startup on a Limited Budget

Every startup needs marketing, but not every startup has a deep budget. Good news: In this article you’ll learn how to market your startup on a limited budget.

Andrew ConradSr Content Writer

Imagine how easy marketing your startup would be with an unlimited budget.

Blimps, Super Bowl commercials, A-list celebrities name dropping your brand on social media...all of it would be within your reach. Plus, your company’s Q score would soar.

It’s a nice dream, but unfortunately, it’s completely detached from reality.

As a startup, you must stretch your investment dollars as far as they’ll go, and your marketing budget is probably closer to zero than to the millions of dollars it costs to buy a prime-time TV spot.

But that doesn’t change the fact that you still need to market your startup. Even if you do everything else right, without marketing, your growth will likely stagnate.

The reality is that every startup has a budget, which can sometimes be limited. And if you spend excessively on every marketing and martech tool out there, you risk jeopardizing your growth by burning out resources.

It’s not hopeless. In this article we’ll look at marketing software for startups on a limited budget and give you tips on how to utilize each marketing tool.

1. Stick to the essentials to keep your budget manageable

Based on our recent survey of more than 200 startup leaders (methodology below), the most effective marketing technology tools for startups include A/B testing, web analytics, customer relationship management, multi-touch attribution, social media marketing, content marketing, and mobile marketing tools.

What makes these tools so essential for startups, specifically?

Our respondents said that these martech tools enable improved customer engagement, precise audience targeting, and more effective campaigns. In other words, these martech tools help them stimulate growth, gain market share, attain profitability, and ultimately ensure survival. Those objectives are primary business goals of the startup leaders we surveyed.

As a startup, what are your top three business goals at this time?

All of the martech tools listed above may overwhelm your budget, so let’s take a deep dive into just the first three tools from our survey and see why startup leaders choose them:

  • A/B testing is used for improving conversions and customer engagement

  • Web analytics allows startups to learn more about visitor behavior

  • CRM tracks and cultivates customer relationships

Here’s a fictional example of how these tools can work together to stimulate growth:

Barbara runs a startup that helps other businesses recruit influencers for influencer marketing campaigns. She uses A/B testing to determine the optimal design for an upcoming social media marketing campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Next, she uses web analytics to determine exactly how her target audience is interacting with her landing page and develops a marketing strategy to increase traffic and brand awareness. Finally, she uses her CRM to keep track of existing customers and help create personalized marketing efforts, which can be optimized with A/B testing.

And how do you build this stack if your startup is on a limited budget? Focus on a solid CRM tool for tracking all of your customer relationships and a marketing automation tool that includes A/B testing and web analytics, and you’ll be well on your way to having customer acquisition and optimization covered.

Looking for a solid marketing automation platform that includes A/B testing and web analytics and won’t destroy your budget? Our Category Leaders for Marketing Automation features 15 of the best platforms on the market based on ease of use, value for money, likelihood to recommend, customer support, and functionality backed by authentic user reviews.

GetApp’s Category Leaders for Marketing Automation

GetApp’s Category Leaders for Marketing Automation (Source)

2. Find a martech budget that can accommodate your startup’s growth

When you’re trying to find out how much you can and should spend on your marketing technology, consider how much your peers spend each year and use this information to determine a range that is feasible for your budget while still dynamic enough to drive growth.

For starters, it’s important to note that—according to our survey—55% of startup and small business leaders say that their martech budget has increased over the past year, while only 6% say they’ve decreased their budget. The remaining 38% reported that their martech budget hasn’t changed in that time.

As for timing for software adoption, most of the startup leaders we surveyed (61%) said that they adopted marketing software immediately or within the first month of launching. Only 3% waited until after their first year to adopt marketing software.

More than half of the startup leaders we surveyed said that they spend somewhere between 21% and 35% of their overall marketing budget on marketing technology, and almost a quarter (23%) of the companies we surveyed spend between $1,000 and $5,000 on marketing technology each month.

Those numbers might sound high, especially if you’re stretching your budget just to keep the lights on and the coffee pots full. But remember that your marketing technology should be driving your growth and ultimately keeping your startup afloat. Based on our survey, the majority of startup leaders who invest in marketing technology (58%) agree that their martech stack fully meets their business objectives.

Bonus tip: Consider low budget marketing tactics that aren’t directly related to technology. Encourage word-of-mouth marketing at conferences and networking events or contribute to guest posts on industry blogs. Creativity and hard work on a solid martech foundation can go a long way on a limited marketing budget.

3. Use free tools if possible, but know the real cost of free

Free marketing technology tools have their pros and cons, but they do exist.

The main pro of free business software tools is that they’re free and can fit into any budget. Other pros of free marketing software include the ability to try out a system indefinitely while getting a feel for the interface, and the ability to try out multiple systems simultaneously without blowing the budget. The cons can include limited user seats, a stripped down feature set, a limit on monthly capacity, and—in the case of open source tools—a lack of hosting service and technical support.

Pros and cons of free marketing software

Despite the cons, some startups may still make a good use case for free software. For example, many small businesses choose to use Google Drive for basic file storage. Startups might also want to use a free video hosting service like YouTube to post product demos, for example, as a budget-friendly marketing tactic.

Here’s how the pros and cons might play out between two hypothetical startup companies:

Startup A uses free email marketing software. They’re limited to only one administrative user, cap out at 1,000 emails sent per month, and are locked out of advanced features like automation and 24/7 phone support. But they can walk away at any time and try a different tool having spent only their time.

Startup B uses paid email marketing software. They can send unlimited emails per month, use advanced features, and even have a dedicated customer success representative, but they spend $100 per user per month and pay for an entire year in advance to secure a 20% discount.

Wondering what your options are for free marketing automation software?

Among our Category Leaders for Marketing Automation, 7 of the 15 products offer a free version (not just a free limited-time trial) with limited features.

  • Omnisend

  • Sendinblue

  • EngageBay

  • BenchmarkONE

  • HubSpot Marketing Hub

  • Mailchimp

  • MailerLite

7 best free marketing automation software

Startups that are looking to market on a limited budget can test out these free tools (with the understanding that they may need to expand into a paid tier to increase the effectiveness of the tool), then either move onto a different option or consider expanding into a paid tier as needed. Some very small startups with limited needs might even be able to get by with these free tools for their first year or more.


GetApp’s 2021 Marketing Technology Survey was conducted February 18-25, 2021 among 238 respondents to learn more about the use of marketing technology tools by startups. Respondents were screened for leadership positions at startups in healthcare, IT services, marketing/CRM, retail/eCommerce, software/web development, or AI/ML.

GetApp’s marketing technology stack effectiveness question included all of the following choices (listed here in order of effectiveness according to weighted scores): A/B or multivariate testing, web analytics, customer relationship management (CRM), multi-touch attribution, social media marketing, content marketing platform, mobile marketing platform, website builder tools, customer data platform (CDP), search marketing (SEO/SEM), personalization platform, consent and preference management, marketing automation software, survey/customer experience platform, content management system (CMS). multichannel marketing platform, email marketing platform, online video advertising, employee advocacy tools.

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