Effective Marketing on a Shoestring Budget: Part ONE

A lot of the marketing principles that I teach in my books and on this blog were learned PRE-internet.

That’s not to say these principles aren’t up-to-date. They’re principles,  not techniques… and therefore don’t have a shelf life.

I’m interested… as I’m sure YOU are… in social media, SEO, tweeting about like a twit and all 😉 Great tools and techniques for getting your message to the right people.

But..! What underlies each of these techniques and tools are timeless axioms that worked waaay back… still work now… and are sure to work in the future when the Next New Big Thing comes along.

It’s not what you use to communicate your marketing message, it’s how you use it.

They’re principles,  not techniques… and therefore don’t have a shelf life.

So in this first installment of a series on Effective Marketing on a Shoestring Budget, I’ll briefly take you back to the Shoestring Story and my days as a 19-year-old small business owner of a lawn care company.

“Marketing” Should Really Be Called “Finding”

In the late eighties as a teenager I was pulling down about $30 an hour as a small business person. I wanted to make more than that, more often, but was running into a wall.

The only limits on my income, it seemed, were the number of people I could serve. Makes sense, right?maginfying glass

And the number of people I could serve was limited by the number of folks I could convince of the need for my service. Check, gotcha so far.

The most effective way to sell my services was one-to-one;  if I were standing on the doorstep of an interested customer and handed her a flyer, a few questions and answers later we’d be booking an appointment.

I would score a job that’d pay $30-$100 for 15 minutes to an hour’s worth of work. Not shabby, BUT..!

..where to find these interested customers? THAT was the obstacle.

Profiling: It’s Not Just For Terrorists Any More

So really my first foray into marketing as opposed to sales happened when I was 19. I was a decent salesperson. But selling “ice to eskimos” is not the way to go… you want to be standing in front of a “qualified prospect” or might as well save your breath.

Some folks didn’t give two hoots about their lawn’s appearance; obviously they weren’t prospects. We could usually tell that from the general condition of a neighborhood: if everyone’s lawn looked like hell, maybe they NEEDED our services… but didn’t WANT ’em.

So, phooey. Next street.

In “nicer” neighborhoods we found that some folks did care about their lawns, but didn’t have money to pay us. They were busy working two jobs to make ends meet.

Another category of peeps cared about their lawns, and could pay us… but wouldn’t because they had plenty of time and took too much pride in doing it themselves. Damn retirees! 😉

But there was a golden intersection that happened every so often where we would find the ideal customer. Folks that cared about their lawns, didn’t have the time (or inclination) to do it themselves, and had the cash.

So my friend Eric and I developed a “customer profile”…the first and most important step that YOU need to take as a marketer. We needed to know EXACTLY who to talk to in order to save time, money, and printing costs.

Target Marketing... Narrow the Focus for Best Results

Wisdom from Venn. Clickez-vous to embiggen.

Here was the conundrum: there was no real way to tell where these people lived.

Laser Targeting vs. Shotgun Approach to Marketing: Why Choose ONE?

I’d like to say I was a teen marketing genius and that the next thing happened on purpose. It didn’t; I totally happened on it by chance. But now I call it the Shotgun/Laser Approach and I use it or some variation all the time.

See, I just plain got tired of walking up and down streets handing out flyers. Sure, if we happened to find a really good neighborhood with lots of our kind of customer, the flyers would work GREAT. But most of the time we were wasting time and paper.

So I placed a newspaper ad in the Thrifty Nickel. The Thrifty Nickel (now called American Classifieds) is a classified ads-only local rag that reaches about 120,000 people in Colorado Springs. It was cheap, had a lot of reach… but obviously the message is diluted because you’ve got about five thousand other ads in the same paper competing with yours.

Our results were lackluster: only three calls. At least it was cheap. Kinda.shotgun approach

Then I noticed something friggin’ WONDERFUL.

Out of the three calls, TWO were from people on the same STREET. And the other one was pretty nearby.

We had found the vein of gold!

While my partner was aerating a lawn, I walked up and down the street knocking on doors. I could truthfully say, “Hi I’m Kurt Frankenberg with The Lawn Connection. We’re taking care of your neighbor’s lawn–” I gesture toward my partner as he rounds a corner, waving. “–and I wondered if you know the benefits of aeration for a healthy, disease-resistant lawn?”

Bingo. SEVEN jobs scored in about half an hour.

Shotgun/Laser One-Two PUNCH

See what I mean about marketing PRINCIPLES versus techniques?  If you don’t, read on:

THE LASER: In sales, nothing substitutes for making a one-to-one connection. Even now. You can read body language, ask direct and personal questions, answer your prospect’s objections and concerns, close the deal with a handshake. Trouble is, you can only focus the laser one place at a time. You may have the BEST presentation but if you’re not speaking with a qualified prospect all is for naught.

THE SHOTGUN: Back then in my pre-internet days I found that it cheap per thousand to get low-grade exposure with the Thrifty Nickel. It was NOT a quality source of dozens of qualified leads… but it was a quality source of market intelligence.

Maybe the return on investment with the scattered, “Shotgun” approach didn’t seem to pay off… oh, but it DID. It’s just important to remember we’re using the right tool for the right job.

The Thrifty Nickel wasn’t giving us huge amounts of business for the money invested, but it did tell us where to fish.  By analyzing what we found out by using a shotgun, we figgered out where it was most profitable to focus the laser.

Modern Shotgun/Laser Examples

Remember that Shotgun/Laser is a principle, not a fashionable new technique. A principle never goes out of style, but changes with the times. Here are some recent examples of the Shotgun/Laser principle:

Local Business

A customer calls a local biz after searching Google. Shotgun.

The intel: “How did you find out about us?”


“Do you remember what you typed in?”mobile screen ad

“Uh, Monument mobile screen repair”.

“Why did you call us?

“You were the first result that had the phone number on screen.”

Check. Don’t change that part of the free listing… keep phone number in the copy. Laser.


If Ana were a cartoon character, this is what she'd look like. CLICK the pic to download the book yer lookin' at!

If Ana were a cartoon character, this is what she’d look like. CLICK the pic to go to her site…

Ana Hoffman (the “Queen of Traffic”) tweets about free traffic-generating techniquesShotgun.

The skinny: Something Ana (@AnaTrafficCafe if yer interested) says resonates with a fellow twitterer.

Will he be a customer? A mentor? “Mentee?” None/all/some of the above? Who can know until Ana personally responds to a comment and…

…BZZZZAP! A true fan is made, one that follows, reads, learns, appreciates, comments, retweets. You go, Ana. Laser.


A blogger writes for people, not robots. He puts out the best ideas about marketing and business-building on a shoestring. These ideas come from his personal experience and the best of what he sees from earnestly digging through the web. He posts and posts without any regard to SEO for its own sake. Shotgun.

While checking through stats for his site, he sees what the Google gods did in fact shine upon him. Hm. A search for “Effective Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” Landed here… how about that.

Sounds like a great title for a whole series of posts, videos, slideshares. If one Stepper found Shoestring101 that way, why not make it easier to do again? Laser, baby!


How About You, Dear Reader?

 rock my socks offHave YOU experienced any instances of the Shotgun/Laser Principle in your own journey? I’ll bet if you think about it, you have. Think of a time when you began with a wide-scatter focus and then narrowed it down… and WON a customer, a friend, a treasured relationship. Refined an already-good idea. Care to share? It’d just knock my socks off if you would!

Keep Stepping,


Thanks for reading Effective Marketing on a Shoestring, Part ONE. Get more insights into growing your business while spending the least amount (and sometimes NO) money in…

==> Effective Marketing on a Shoestring: Part TWO

==> Effective Marketing on a Shoestring: Part THREE

==> Effective Marketing on a Shoestring Budget: The World Domination from ZERO Strategy

For other posts on the subject of starting your own business on a Shoestring, check out:

==> We MADE It! Results of Our30 Day, $1,000 Challenge

==> Case Study: Five Steps to Five Figures

==> My Take on Noah Kagan’s 24 Hour Challenge: Sumo Jerky

That's me, grabbing two points for a head kick at a recent tournament in Alamosa, CO

That’s me, grabbing two points for a head kick. I’m the one that’s smiling 🙂

Kurt Frankenberg has promoted his martial arts studio and other service businesses with a zero ad budget for years. He  blogs about and advises new business owners  how to start without gambling savings, taking out loans, or partnering with folks that may not share your vision. Shoestring101 is located in Colorado Springs, CO. To reach Kurt, use Twitter handle @shoestring101 or call  +1 719 360 9559.


  1. Regina says:

    Lol LOVE the Venn Diagram! I was laughing before I even started reading the article. And you’re absolutely right, there is a big difference between principles and techniques, and it seems to me like the principles you lay out will keep working regardless of the techniques that are constantly evolving.

    As someone who is starting a business in a rather small niche market, I’m running into the “finding” problem too. Most people who see my work in person will admire my products, comment on how much they like and want one, but still wont buy them for one reason or another. Usually the reason is that they can’t afford the $40-70 for it.

    I was blaming the economy and getting a little discouraged at this point. But maybe the problem is simply that I’m showing my work to the wrong people! I’m looking forward to using the principles I’ve found on your site to bump up sales. =)

    • kurtf


      What do you sell? I do a LOT of consulting with budding entrepreneurs and chances are I’ve run across a product or promotion that would work for you.
      The main thing, you are right… you HAVE to show your work to people that want what you have to offer and have the money to pay for it.

      If you have a local biz, check out these 7 Hacks To Land on the First Page of Google. If you have a product, maybe look at This Post or This Other One on How To Create Value in your product.

      I’d also be happy to consult with you. It’s $1.01 (not a joke!) to start, then $101


      my advice makes you a grand of profit or more.

      😉 Whether you consult with me or not it’s good to know there’s another entrepreneur out there fighting the marketing dragons.
      Keep Stepping,
      kurtf recently posted…Inside the $2 Startup: Making a Real Business on a Shoestring In Two HoursMy Profile

      • Regina says:

        Um, heck YEAH I’d love a consult! Honestly, I’ve started several businesses over the last 10 years and am frustrated to say none of them have resulted in a income that could come even close to supporting me. A big part of it is lack of motivation, and personal circumstances that would come up and get in the way. But I could definitely use some advise. Right now I am making crowns and jewelry and trying to sell them online on Etsy. I’ve only sold a few so far, even though so many people seem to really love them. I thought sales would go up as Halloween approaches but no such luck so far. Then again maybe my problem is that I’m relying too much on luck.

  2. Finding your ideal client is an exceptionally important component to marketing and business success in general. I love the example you’ve given, and how it typifies the narrow, but deep instead of the wide, and shallow approach. I’m a true believer of targeting your audience with laser focus. Thanks for sharing thsi with us Kurt.
    Gary Hyman (Social Media Strategy) recently posted…How to PLAN and SCHEDULE a Google Plus Hangout On Air the Easy WayMy Profile

    • kurtf

      Thanks Gary! Yes, the principle I’ve named Shotgun/Laser is known by many other names and practiced by great marketers everywhere. To me, “Shotgun” is the general “let’s throw out a big net and see what we drag in” and “Laser” is more about finding out what bait lures exactly the kind of fish we want.

      “Shotgun” is shouting out to a crowd, “Raise your hand if you want a free widget” and “Laser” is sending marketing messages to all your free widget holders on how to use their widget, get the most out of their widget, and where to find the best widget upgrades 😉

      Sounds like we’re on the same page Gary. If you liked Part ONE, c’mon back! I think you’ll really dig Effective Marketing on a Shoestring Budget Parts TWO and THREE.

      Just followed you on Twitter and I’m intrigued about How to PLAN and SCHEDULE a Google Plus Hangout On Air the Easy Way. Talk soon.

      Keep Stepping,

      kurtf recently posted…HOW do your Comments Create Value?My Profile

  3. Hi Kurt,

    What an interesting read! I have been in network marketing for a number of years before I really went into the ‘marketing’ side of the equation. What you have shared makes total sense. Marketing is more effective when it is targeted.
    I agree that this “Shotgun/Laser Marketing” is a brilliant principle. Thank you for sharing! You get me thinking…..

    I look forward to reading your other posts in this series.

    Viola Tam – The Business Mum
    Viola Tam recently posted…Stay-at-Home Mums – U for U-TurnMy Profile

    • kurtf

      Thanks Viola!

      “Getting you thinking” is EXACTLY the aim of this blog. SHARING your thoughts… as you have done here… takes it a “Shoestring Step” further. Looking forward to bouncing ideas back and forth with you and others in the small (and not so small) biz community and coming up with something better than either of us had before.

      Thanks for visiting, come again!

      Keep Stepping,

      kurtf recently posted…Effective Marketing on a Shoestring Budget Part TWOMy Profile

  4. You are right, Kurt – this was awesome; your market research finding was priceless.

    Of course, I am flattered whenever you mention me and yes, I did now include you in my marketing skinny; thanks for letting me know about this gem!
    Ana Hoffman recently posted…Google In-Depth Articles: How to Rank for Them In Google Search ResultsMy Profile

    • kurtf

      Thanks Ana. ‘Tis true; the Queen of Traffic is an honored guest in this realm.

      ANYone looking over these posts should drop what they are doing, run over to your page, and read your latest, greatest EPIC SH!T post…

      Promote Your Blog: 10 Steps to Ultimate Blog Promotion [My Personal Cheat Sheet].

      Here’s that link for anyone interested:

      Thanks for featuring me in the Weekly Marketing Skinny Ana… a great digest that smart marketers find themselves reading once a week at least.

      Keep Stepping,


      • Iain

        I actually found this post via Ana. 😛

        Super job. I really like the way you write. It’s extremely easy to follow.

        Also, love you examples of laser vs shotgun.

        I think Ana responded to a comment and that’s how we started developing a friendship. Laser ?
        Iain recently posted…Niche Website update: dropped rankings analysisMy Profile

        • kurtf


          Ana is truly a connector of both ideas and people. She lasered us both it looks like 😉

          Thank you very much for the ‘easy to follow’ comment. My uncle, a university professor, told me it’s the educator’s job NOT to get lost in the sound of his own voice. The teacher’s job is to make it simple for those attending to learn and grow. It’s my hope that both newbies and savvy marketers take something away from the page for their time invested.

          Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on Shotgun/Laser. Perhaps OUR friendship begins here..? 🙂

          Keep Stepping,

          kurtf recently posted…Effective Marketing on a Shoestring Budget Part TWOMy Profile


  1. […] A lot of the marketing principles that I teach in my books and on this blog were learned PRE-internet. That's not to say these principles aren't up-to-date. They're principles, not techniques… a…  […]

  2. […] 1) The Three Most Important Words in marketing; 2) The Master Key to Creating Value; 3) An advanced “local marketing” example of the Shotgun/Laser Principle I revealed in Effective Marketing on a Shoestring Budget, Part ONE. […]

  3. […] Effective Marketing on a Shoestring Budget: Part ONE – Kurt Frankenberg at shoestring101.com […]

  4. […] the Shotgun/Laser principle from the first post in this series? Demographics are kind of the Shotgun approach… shoot in the general direction of what you […]

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