How can I do X on a shoestring budget?

Hands down, the most popular question I’m always asked at conferences and events is, “how do I do X on no budget or a very tiny budget?” (where X is social media, marketing, SEO, etc.)

The answer is simpler than you think. Most of the time, when you pay big money for top talent or the best tools, you are paying for expertise. The talent you hired costs a lot of money (assuming they’re worth it, of course) because they have expertise and experience to get you great quality results in a timely manner. The tools you bought cost a lot of money because developers had to take a set of practices developed by those with expertise and codify them into a working tool that others could use.

Thus, the principle thing that costs you so much money is expertise. So what if you have no budget? The answer is obvious: you then have to develop the expertise yourself. Want to do SEO on a shoestring? Get really good at it. Read all of the gajillions of guides out there, watch Google’s entire video library that they provide, learn to use all of the free tools yourself, do a whole lot of trial and error, and become an SEO practitioner in your own right. Want to learn social media? There’s no shortage of information on that front, either. In fact, for most areas of marketing except paid advertising, the amount of freely available information and tools can feel limitless. Paid advertising information is equally easy and free to come by, but learning it does require money to make your own ads.

It won’t be easy, and it will not be quick at all – expect it to take at least a year of intensive work (at full-time pace, 40 hours a week) to become competent and work through all of the trial and error you’ll need to do. But the end result will be good, and it will cost you very little money (but a whole lot of time).

Of course, about half of the time, that answer is deeply unsatisfactory to people, because what they’re really asking is, how do I do X on no budget but get the same results in the same time as someone who has a big budget? The answer there is equally simple:

Fast Cheap Good

Fast, cheap, and good are impossible when it comes to developing or acquiring legitimate expertise. That’s just the way the world works.


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  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    good explanation.

  • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

    YES! I was put into this position a year ago, needing to build an online business on a “shoestring” budget. And I had to do exactly what you’re saying, Chris. I couldn’t hire anyone. I had to become an expert — or at least knowledgable — in as many things as possible. I read and watched and learned and failed and adjusted. Anything I couldn’t do myself, I did a services swap (design, logo, photography). And after all was said and done, I spent a grand total of $2,500 on my business last year. And while it may have become successful faster had I hired people from the start, I can now sustain it because I learned these valuable lessons.

    You’re right — this can absolutely be done. It takes an insane amount of commitment and focus, but it can be done. Is this how you did it, Chris? Any insight there?