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(Editor’s note: Serial entrepreneur Scott Olson is president of MindLink Marketing. He contributed this column to VentureBeat.)

In a startup, there is no more precious commodity than capital. It’s hard to come by and easily burned – and marketing budgets can quickly become one of the biggest line items.shoestrong

It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

There are more cost effective and free marketing tools than ever, letting companies get a lot more marketing bang for their buck. Here are some ways to accomplish three of your most critical marketing tasks without breaking the bank.

Create a killer website – For companies just getting started, it’s important to balance the desire to have a professional web presence with the costs associated with bringing in a professional developer. By using a trio of low cost tools, though, you can save thousands of dollars.

If a blog is part of your roadmap, consider creating your initial website using WordPress. This tool (along with Blogger) is one of the most well-known blog-creation destinations online. It’s flexible and has a wide user-monitored support system. Personally, I love the flexibility to use or modify pre-existing design templates and add pages as needed.

As you address your initial logo and graphic design needs, crowdSpring is worth a look. Logo projects can start as low as $200 and the site guarantees at least 25 results. For my own logo and business cards I paid $400 and received over 80 logo submissions. You may eventually refine and update your graphic look and feel, but this is a great way to get started.

Google Analytics, which tracks and analyzes your web traffic, is a must for any start-up. This free service is very powerful and integrates directly with WordPress for statistics and analysis. It’s essential in understanding what drives your web traffic and the effectiveness of any Pay-Per Click marketing.

Connect to your audience – Hiring a PR agency can be a large expense for start-ups – often too large, since you’re still putting together a proven marketing message. Still, this doesn’t eliminate the need to begin connecting and communicating with your ideal audience.

Social media has changed the game here. A strong content strategy (i.e. white papers, webinars, regular blogging) is a good start. From there, build relationships and conversations with online influencers.  Engage them for interaction on your content. Make sure that all of your Website’s pages have calls to action and places where your customers can connect to you (and you can capture their lead information).

Put out regular press releases for search purposes and general pickup. I would recommend PRLog for putting out free releases for the purpose of search (it goes to Google immediately). If you want broader pickup by the news services, there’s PR Newswire or PR Web.  Both have press release distribution starting less than $200 for a single release. (PR Web is a little less expensive and starts at $80.)

Generate leads – Once you’ve got product in hand, your marketing focus immediately turns to lead generation. It’s important not only to generate early revenue, but also to provide important feedback into the product development process. Unfortunately, it can also significantly drain marketing funds.

One of the biggest money pits is the trade show. You can easily spend $100,000 or more exhibiting at a single show. For a select few mature businesses this is a sound investment (due to the quality of the contacts and effectiveness of face-to-face conversations). For most startups, though, it’s wasted money.

You’re better off simply attending the event and employing selected networking and pre-show telemarketing to set up meetings with key companies who will be in attendance. Attend the sessions and blog and tweet about them. You will be surprised at how many people you can connect to through the simple act of reporting and giving your own perspective on a show.

As your marketing database begins to build, use a newsletter to stay in touch – linking to any content you create. (It’s a surprisingly effective drip-marketing tool.) Fill the newsletter with plenty of calls to action, but keep it as informative and crisp as possible. Think like an editor, not a marketer: What’s valuable and interesting to your audience?

Marketing on a budget is more attainable than ever for a capital concerned startup. As your product matures and your company grows, you’ll eventually upgrade your marketing systems as appropriate to include sophisticated CRM, e-mail marketing and more powerful campaign analytics. In the meantime, it’s possible – even easy – to stay lean and preserve your capital.

Photo by House Of Sims via Flickr

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