In November 2017, I left my comfortable corporate job to risk it all on my passion: Rizos Curls. Rizos Curls hair care line features quality, natural ingredients and celebrates the beauty of waves, curls, and coils. I spent my life savings creating the perfect formulas with no harsh chemicals. By the time it was ready to launch, I had a marketing budget of $0.
I had to get creative to keep my costs low and my productivity high with my limited budget. Three years later, Rizos Curls is sold in over 450 Target stores nationwide. We have over 500,000 followers across digital platforms and have shipped to over 57 countries. By 2019, we had exceeded $1 million in e-commerce sales. We continue to experience 400% growth year-over-year, all while being 100% self-funded.
I share this to say that if you have identified a problem in the market and have the perfect solution for it, do not let lack of money stop you. You may need to make some sacrifices, but there are ways to grow your business despite a lack of funds.
5 tips to help you grow your e-commerce business on a budget
1. Identify your target demographic
The bigger your target demographic, the more expensive it will be to reach. Don’t be afraid to get specific. Identify who exactly you want to reach, and cater your decisions to serve that consumer. You can’t be everything for everyone, so focus your efforts on your smaller, more attainable niche.
You should understand your target consumer as if they were your best friend. I use an exercise that helps me understand my target demographic. I create a character profile for them as if they are a real person I know. I draw them and list out as much information as I can about them.
What’s their name, gender, age, ethnic background? Where do they live? What’s their favorite color? What motivates them? What businesses do they shop at? What pages do they follow on social media? What do they do for a living? How much money do they make? What do they do for fun? Filling out your character profile is an ongoing practice that can change over time. The more you understand who you are serving, the better job you will do at reaching them.
2. Have a clear brand mission
Rizos Curls’ brand mission is “Curls, Community, Culture.” Everything we do—every piece of content and all our campaigns—falls within one of those three categories. Time is money. Save yourself both by honing and creating a clear strategy for your social content and campaigns.
On social media, for example, I’m not blatantly advertising my products. Instead, I’m teaching my audience about their curls and helping them achieve better results by educating them. Anyone can sell you something, but it’s not every day that a business can teach you something new. Establish yourself as an expert in your industry by sharing what you know with your customers. Your audience will appreciate it and be more likely to not just make a purchase but become loyal customers who advocate for your brand.
In lieu of a large retail launch party, I threw a Rizos Curls Small Business Summit where over 300 small business owners came to learn and grow. I prioritize giving back to my community, so I focus my efforts on equipping local small businesses with tools to help them grow.
When I first started out, I planned many fundraisers supporting causes important to my community. They didn’t cost me anything other than my time. I curated vision board workshops. I hosted reggaeton dance parties where I charged entry fees and donated all proceeds to charity. With all my events, I made sure attendees were required to visit my website to buy or redeem a ticket. I built my community and my business at the same time.
Invest in your community in ways that are meaningful and engaging. Make sure all your campaigns and events incentivize website visits as much as possible. Look for avenues to connect with your audience that will give back and build your brand.
As a Latina founder, culture is deeply intertwined with my brand. I am proud to be at the forefront of a cultural shift in beauty where inclusivity and diversity are celebrated. Through Rizos Curls, we can show the many faces of beauty. I purposely uplift and celebrate the beauty of culture through all of our branding and messaging. Since I deeply understand my target demographic, I know it’s important to them that I take a stand. I am not afraid to speak up on social issues and challenge any outdated business norms.
Your culture and core beliefs can be a powerful way to connect with your audience. Use your messaging to uplift and support your target demographic.
3. Understand your sales goals and budgets before creating your marketing plans
Many small businesses fail as a result of cash flow problems and issues with money management. Don’t let this be you. If you’re a small business on a budget, every penny counts. Make sure you set clear budget requirements and sales goals for each campaign or marketing endeavor. Big companies love to overspend on market share and brand awareness. A small business with a marketing budget of $100 doesn’t have that luxury.
If it doesn’t make you money, it’s not worth it. That super cool “opportunity” to give 1,000 free samples at a fancy award show just cost you 1,000 units of your precious inventory that you probably won’t see a return on any time soon. If you can’t see a feasible ROI, just say no. I organize my campaigns by basing my budgets on measurable revenue and always include a budget and sales goal for each campaign.
4. Incentivize user-generated content
Creating your own content can be very time-consuming and expensive. Whenever possible, involve your customers with user-generated content. When I first launched, I ran a #RizosReina Review Program. We would send anyone, regardless of social media followers, a Rizos Curls travel kit in exchange for a posted review. This was a low-cost way to get content to repost on my page while showcasing real results from followers that most of the time turned into loyal customers.
5. Be lean: test, analyze, optimize
Test different marketing channels to see what works best for your brand. Refer back to your target demographic character profile, then identify where your audience is and go there.
Analyze the performance of your campaigns and efforts. My e-commerce platform provides analytics to help me better understand my customers. In one report, I learned that over 80% of my customers shopped Rizos Curls on their mobile devices. I had my website optimized for desktop usage—a big problem. Using those analytics, I made key changes for optimization.
Identify the KPIs you want to focus on and analyze them. Don’t just look at revenue. Pay attention to as many insights as possible: website conversion rates, number of new versus returning customers, and average order value. See how these numbers change after each campaign.
Optimize your campaigns based on your data and eliminate low-performing marketing. What story is your data telling you? In the example above, my data told me that I needed to optimize my website for mobile. Figure it out and only keep doing what works.
Driving sales on a budget can be a powerful way to build your e-commerce business. Know your customers. Stay on brand. Stick to your sales goals. Incentivize wherever you can. Go lean with analytics. And get creative with your marketing plan. With focus and energy, your best days are ahead of you!
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