Startups are always looking for ways to grow. For early-stage startups to be successful, they need as many eyes on them as possible. But what can you do when you don’t have the money for a big marketing team or don’t feel that you’re big enough to consider marketing in general? 

Great public relations (PR) may be the answer. PR can be a powerful way to promote your new business, and there are ways to execute a successful PR campaign without breaking the bank. This guide will give you some practical strategies for using PR to build awareness for your small business startup that won’t require you to hire a big PR firm.

What is PR for startups and why is it important?

PR is the process of communicating and promoting a good story of your brand’s benefits to the public. Not only do you want the public to be aware of your company, but you also want to control how your company name is viewed. Public relations involves giving speeches, writing press releases, organizing events, managing social media, and building business media contacts. It’s all about the image your brand conveys.  

Advertising is known as “paid media” because you buy ad space to feature your new product. PR efforts generate “earned media” because you aim to convince journalists or publications (online or other) to feature your company in an enticing way. Because of this, PR efforts tend to have a higher conversion rate than paid efforts.

It’s also worth mentioning that while PR is a part of marketing, the two aren’t interchangeable. Marketing focuses on directly selling specific products or services. PR focuses on building and improving a company’s reputation. 

For example, a freelance photographer might create marketing material to showcase a single service they provide, like wedding photography. That same photographer might use a press release that tells their business story to use as PR.  

What is the first step of PR for startups and small businesses?

Before you start a small business, you need to write a business plan that maps how your company will operate. Your business plan ensures that your business has the procedures, goals, and finances to be successful. Great PR also requires planning.

PR is about communicating with your audience, so before you start PR, you’ll need to know who your audience is and what you want to say to them. Your PR strategy should answer questions like:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What is your company story?
  • Which positive brand elements do you want to present?  
  • What messages do you want to get across?
  • What avenues will you use for PR? 
  • How often will you reach out to your audience?
  • How will you form connections within your industry?

Remember that quality PR is extremely important for building your brand so you attract and retain loyal customers. In fact, it’s one of the most cost-effective ways for a new startup to start constructing its image. Setting up your PR plan is part of laying down the foundation for your future success.


What are some free or low-cost PR opportunities for startups?

As mentioned, you don’t need a large budget to launch a successful media relations campaign. Even better, more than 90% of people trust earned media compared to only 50% of paid advertising. That’s why you should explore as many free PR opportunities as possible. PR can increase your revenue without increasing your expenses.

1. Contribute to websites and professional blogs

Websites are always looking for ways to increase their content marketing efforts without having to spend more money. If you’re unfamiliar with content marketing, it’s creating consumable information for your target audience in various media forms (think how-to videos, blog posts, and more — you know, content). 

When it comes to your PR strategy, look for websites or bloggers popular among your intended audience. (Tip: Do some Google searches your customers might be using. What bloggers or entrepreneurs who are building their brands online appear in the results?) When you find one, offer to write a guest blog post. Before you make the offer, take some time to study the style of older posts, and develop a topic that you think will interest them.  For example, if you’re a freelance writer, you might write a guest blog post for a site like The Write Life.

In your guest post, you’ll want to mention your name and product in the author’s section and provide a backlink to your site, but you shouldn’t talk about your business in the content unless it’s relevant. If you do, you run the risk of sounding overly promotional. The goal is to write engaging, valuable material that the target audience will enjoy which showcases your expertise. If a business really enjoys your content, they could ask you to contribute regularly.

Even if you’re not an expert when it comes to writing, don’t fret. You can outsource blog writing fairly easily and without spending too much. Sites like Textbroker and Upwork are full of talented writers hungry to write your next blog post. Even if you are a great writer, you might even find it saves time and money to outsource your writing needs.

2. Get on podcasts

Podcasts can be a good way to showcase your knowledge, and speaking passionately about a topic might sound more appealing (and easier) than writing convincing content. However, when just starting, you might not have the audience to make creating your own podcasts worthwhile. One way to improve your reach is by asking to be a guest on other podcasts. 

Research and pitch to popular podcasts in your industry. One of the biggest resources is Apple Podcasts. When you find a podcast that you want to be on, try to find the host’s email address. If there’s no link to the host’s website, you can search for the host on Google. When you email the host, tell them how you heard about them, why you want to be on their podcast, your credentials, and a few topics you’d like to discuss on their show. Remember always to be polite, and tailor your pitch to why your topic would be valuable for the podcast’s audience.

By appearing on podcasts, you build a reputation for being a thought leader in your industry and get the opportunity to attract new audiences to your website. Really popular podcasts get many requests from potential guests, so don’t be discouraged if you get rejected by the first few you pitch. You might even try starting with podcasts that aren’t the most popular but still have a fairly substantial audience base.

3. Use “Help a Reporter Out” (HARO)

HARO is a site that brings experts and reporters together. Reporters are always looking for experts and quotes to bring credibility to their work. By signing up for HARO’s email list, you can get daily requests from journalists writing about your industry who are looking for people to cite. Simply respond to the reporter when you find an article about your own field.

In return for your help, the reporter will typically give you a citation in their article and link back to your website (if they use your quotes). This increases your legitimacy as a professional and gives readers an easy way to learn about your company.

4. Reach out to journalists

Even with HARO, getting quoted by the right publications can be tricky. When your business is just starting, you might have difficulty getting media coverage from big publications, like Forbes or The New York Times. You might have better luck in reaching smaller media outlets. 

It’s possible that some smaller publications are more suited to your target audience. For example, suppose you’re an IT consultant who only works with data analytics. In that case, you’ll find a better audience with a publication that focuses on data rather than one about general IT. 

Whatever journalist you reach out to, you’ll want to make sure you have a solid pitch to get their attention. Your pitch should be appealing but also share relevant information on your background.

5. Prioritize social media posting and ads

It’s no secret that creating an online presence is one of the most important things you can do to make your business successful. Consumers are used to researching and interacting with companies online, and having a great social media presence is crucial for your online reputation.

If you’re not a whiz when it comes to Instagram, you can always outsource social media management. You might try hiring someone from a freelancer site like Fiverr. Freelancers from these types of sites will have ratings that let you know the quality of their work. You can also search them by price to stay within your company’s budget. Big businesses can spend thousands every month on a social media manager, but you probably don’t want to spend more than a few hundred dollars as a startup.

As your business grows, you might eventually decide to invest in paid advertisements. A skilled social media manager can make sure the ads you purchase are effective and help you get the highest return on ad spend (ROAS) possible. Your social media manager will also know which platforms (like Facebook and Twitter) are the best for reaching your audience. They might even reach out to social media influencers who have a following and can promote your business.

6. Partner with other businesses on projects

Partnering with other businesses in your industry is a smart way to increase your outreach. If you can find an online brand with a similar audience to yours through online research but offers a different product or service, both companies can benefit from working together. 

If your partner is more established than your business, working with them will give you access to their wider audience. For example, if you’re part of a software development startup and partner with a larger IT company to create a blog post, it would be featured on both websites. Their audience would then have easy access to your company.

There are also benefits to collaborating with smaller companies. One benefit is that you get to split the cost of creating content. Both companies might share the cost of hiring writers, photographers, developers, or anything else needed to create PR content. You might choose to partner on several types of projects, from writing an e-book to making instructional videos.

To find businesses to partner with, search for companies in your industry. There are also resources like Collaboration Hub that can help you find businesses looking to partner on PR and marketing projects. 

7. Get involved with networking and other local events

You never know when PR opportunities can show up. To take advantage of every chance to promote your brand, you should constantly network. Try to attend social events for your industry and network by passing out business cards, and making personal connections. Join online groups in your field on platforms like LinkedIn. Do whatever you can to make connections in your industry. 

Through your networking, you might find opportunities to share your knowledge. Giving speeches and holding workshops for groups or events can help others see you as a thought leader within your industry, strengthening your brand reputation. 

Effective networking isn’t easy. Building lasting, profitable relationships in your industry takes time, effort, and strategy. But don’t let that discourage you. If you keep putting yourself and your business out there, you’ll eventually make quality business connections.


More Resources for PR for Small Businesses

PR is extremely important for your small businesses, especially when you’re trying to get it off the ground. It helps you establish your brand and deliver strategic communication to your audience. Simple PR can be a dynamic way to promote your brand when you don’t have the money to hire a large marketing team or PR agency. 

You can have the best business model in the world, but if no one knows about your company, it won’t grow. You should always be perfecting your messaging, building relationships in your industry, and striving to reach new audiences, even if (especially if!) you’re in the early phases of building your small business. Building a successful brand with PR can be a long and grueling process, but if you stick with it, you’ll see great things happen for your business.

There are so many things to keep track of when you run a small business that you might want extra help. ZenBusiness has great resources for things like incorporating, staying in compliance, and a host of other needs you might have in reaching your business goals. Let us help you with the paperwork so you can focus on your business.

FAQs About PR for Startups

  1. How much should startups spend on PR and marketing?

    Bigger companies can spend thousands of dollars monthly on PR professionals and marketers, but several inexpensive and free options can meet startup needs (without large budgets). Basically, every business has to work within its budget.

    Businesses with huge marketing budgets might spend money on banner ads or search engine optimization (SEO). In contrast, startups with smaller budgets might contribute blog posts for free press coverage and publicity.

  2. Can startups be successful without PR?

    PR is extremely important. It’s how you communicate with your audience to shape your reputation. While a business might have a great product launch and become successful without PR, it won’t reach its full potential without it.

  3. Does PR drive business?

    PR drives business. It’s all about reaching out to targeted audiences to increase brand awareness. As your audience grows, so will the number of potential customers you have.

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