Own and operate Words For Hire; PR, Marketing, Communications specialist helping businesses to identity, connect and engage with their target audiences. Efficient, creative, plays well with others.
I use a prequalification questionnaire that covers access to budget (can they afford me); timeline (are they exploring or ready to hire) and more. It is pretty thorough and over the years has allowed me to score prospects. I don't mind those in the exploration phase because you need people in all phases of the sales pipeline to keep a steady flow. However, I do need to know how to invest my time. Even with your best efforts you will not close every deal, so don't be discouraged!
I would not advise outsourcing your lead generation. Over the years I have found that most small business owners started a business believing they would focus on the work or idea that sparked the business. However, your job is to bring in the business. You can always outsource the actual work. This does not mean it never makes sense to hire a salesperson but for your business, at this stage, you should handle this internally. There are a number of ways that you can generate leads from thought leadership to inbound marketing. Happy to help you formulate a plan that you can implement.
There are large, well-established competitors in this space but still room for you to succeed. Does your software specifically meet the needs of your industry or own customer base? You can carve out a niche if it does. Can you integrate it with other industry software? If so, that is another route to go. A long-time former client built a sustainable business on software they purchased and then perfected for their industry, and others have enjoyed similar success, so it is not impossible to do.
That's an easy one, you say "no." While I am sympathetic to cash preservation and bootstrapping in the early days, we have no obligation to provide free or even discounted work to anyone. Startups can develop their own site or if they consider it a priority find a service within their budget to make it work. This is not being mean or selfish but a good steward of your own business. You have to take care of your business too. Every startup believes in their business but truthfully not all make it. It's not fair to offer equity unless independent of the ask you would have invested in the business, for your time and services. Tell them no, and offer to provide a quote when they have the budget and don't feel guilty. We all have a limited supply of funds and time and have to make tough decisions about how to spend them.
I have worked on this with other clients and we had better success asking for referrals early on in the process rather than after or at the end of the process. It also helps to be specific in your ask. Rather than asking to be connected to people, ask if they know companies in (industry) who have (specific problem). Being specific triggers names far better than a general ask which is almost always met with them thinking about it.
I would do a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether to build or buy. If affiliate marketing is part of your core competencies and you need specific customization, then it may be worth the cost to build. If not, there are great programs out there that will allow you to run your affiliate marketing programs.
Identify 3-5 key media outlets/reporters. You can begin to develop relationships with these reporters now on your social channels. Read what they write, comment and share. Don't fake it but genuinely engage. When you are ready to pitch your key media targets, take time to develop a succinct, relevant pitch. As others have noted the story is not about you but what will it mean to the outlet's readers. Don't say you're excited or it's the best product ever, but tell the facts and remember to focus on why the reporter would be interested. Customize each pitch to the reporter. It's fine to follow-up if you don't hear in a week. An extra step that you can take, is send an email intro long before you pitch, introducing yourself, and let them know why you're writing. Ask about stories they are working on and if you can be of help.
Is there an existing market for what you are selling or are you trying to create a market? If there is an existing market then you have to further determine your target market within that broad audience and the best channels to reach them. Is your target audience on Facebook? More importantly is this the place they go to seek out the services you offer? Spending money on likes is not a wise investment. Ads can be incredibly effective, if your audience is there, and you need to be willing to test the content and photo to get the right combination for your final ad. Before you spend money, it is important to really know your potential customers. I am not a fan of giving away services for free because you diminish the value to prospective customers. Rather than giving away a free service you could start a blog or develop a writing tip sheet. This demonstrates your knowledge and gives them something for free that can build the relationship for a sale.
More than 80% of new consultants obtain their first contract through their natural network. Turn to those who know and have worked with you and be specific about the services you offer and the types of clients you serve. There are also a number of ways to network that require little more than sweat equity.
Make sure that you set up your LinkedIn profile with clear and current information including how to contact you.
Make a list of targeted clients and reach out by phone or email. Make sure you follow up.
Find and get involved with a local professional networking group. Choose a group that serves or is your target audience and is active and get involved.
Set up coffee meetings once per week with potential clients.
Team up with those that offer complementary services.
Submit guest posts to blogs that serve your market (provide advice such as how to get an accurate background check or payroll options). This is a great way to establish thought leadership, and gain visibility without being salesy.
Bootstrapping your business is an opportunity to be bold and creative.
Also if you do want a website, don't let cost stand in your way. You can buy and host a domain for very little and build the site yourself on a self-hosted Wordpress platform. You can buy a theme like Genesis and a child theme for the look and feel and be up and running in a week.
You have received good advice but I would also ask what is the goal of your PR efforts? Is it to drive awareness, gain leads, etc? Before beginning your outreach it's important to understand what you want to accomplish. This in turn will help you to craft outreach that matches your goals. You get journalists to write about you by telling them succinctly why they should care. Why would they and by extension their readers care about your story? Go beyond gathering target publications and names to understanding those you are targeting. Get to know them and not only their beat but their preferences. In addition, don't limit your outreach to trying to get journalists to write about you, offer content. Bylined articles are a wonderful way to establish thought leadership.