Lead generation: the final Blueprint for SME without a budget

Lead generation: the final Blueprint for SME without a budget

If you are an entrepreneur launching a startup or starting a small business, building a lead generation strategy is probably your biggest focus at the moment, along, obviously, with the billion other things you need to take care of!

When starting a business, let’s face it, you have no budget. Sure, “if it works, I’ll pay for it” is a great way to look at things, but how do you know that it works in the first place? That’s why, the more organic (as in, almost “free”) actions you can take to grow your company, the better it would be to sustain your growth. Everyone sort of dreams of building this amazing product, putting it out there, running some Facebook Ads, and watch their numbers grow while they’re enjoying a nice cocktail in their mansion.

But it doesn’t work like that, right? If not, you wouldn’t be reading this article right now.

In this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive, BS-free guide on how to develop a lead generation strategy without a budget.

Before we start, we appreciate that every industry is special, every company is different, and that you’re also unique. There’s no silver bullet. There’s no “this one email template from Hubspot will get you 15 meetings/week”.

Growing a business is an organic process of testing and trying new things, tracking and analyzing the return, to double down on what works.

Ready? Set. Sell!


Before you start

All about your prospects

Definition of your Buyer Persona

Before explaining what leads are and the strategies to generate them, let’s define your Buyer Persona.

You have to imagine all the possible characteristics that define your Buyer Persona. Take into account socio-demographic data and behavioral data: 

  • Where are they located? 

  • Which industry do they work in? 

  • What’s the typical size of their firm? 

  • What’s their job title? 

  • Which technology do they use?

  • Is there any specific trigger that should warrant a conversation between you two? (example they just hired someone, they raised capital, they got acquired, they launched a new product)

  • And most importantly, why should they care about you and what you have to offer?(Breaking news, they don’t care about you, all they care about is themselves!)

Them caring about something means there’s probably an underlying problem that you could fix for them, quick example:

You: Recruiting services. Your client is typically a 30-employee firm which just raised seed money. They’re growing very fast and have scalability issues. Hiring people past your direct network is tough. You bring your Recruiting expertise to the table.

Customer Persona Prospect

Customer journey

Once you have identified your buyer persona, think of your Customer Journey

It’s your  customer’s purchase process. What happens between the moment someone identifies a need to the moment that person actually takes action?

By detailing all these steps you identify contact points. 

Ask yourself these questions: Where do your prospects typically hangout? Where do they look for information? What’s really attractive to them (also known as “triggers”)? Who influences them?

This tool will help you know better your customer and to identify channels on which you can make marketing and sales efforts without a budget. So, put yourself in the shoes of your Persona and imagine all that he or she would think, do, and feel.

Here are some example of channels where you can reach your Buyer Persona:

  • LinkedIn

  • Facebook / Facebook groups

  • Slack groups

  • Quora

  • Twitter

  • Newsletters / emails

  • Whatsapp groups

  • Reddit

  • Niche Communities (IndieHackers, HackerNews)

  • Youtube

  • TikTok

  • Blogs

Use the diagram in the picture below as a basis for creating your own Customer Journey!

Customer Journey diagram

Sales process: turning prospects into clients

Once you have identified your Buyer Persona, their behavior, and the key channels to contact them, you can work on your Sales Process. 

Your Sales Process includes all the steps that occur between the first contact you make with your prospect until you close the sale. Typically, you must follow these steps to close a sale: Lead generation, Prospect Qualification, Proposal, Negotiation, and Closing the Deal. 

Lead Generation

Lead Generation is the first step in your sales process. So yes, it’s crucial, it’s pretty much what makes or break companies these days. Finding people with similar interests and distribution is where the party’s at. 

What’s a Lead? It’s a person who has manifested some interest in your product or service. Whether they have visited your website, replied to one of your emails, downloaded a whitepaper or left their contact info to learn more about your company. 

There are three types of leads:

  1. Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL): people who have engaged with your marketing efforts. On paper, they look like they fit the bill, but only on paper.

  2. Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): you actually talked to them and validated the need and interest.

  3. Product Qualified Lead (PQL): people who have used your product in a free trial and could be ready to start paying. 

I hate to say it, but at this point, yes, it’s a number’s game: the more leads you can generate, the healthier your growth.

According to CSO insights, companies that have built a lead generation strategy have a 9.3% higher sales quota completion rate.

So let’s recap:

  • Define who you need to talk to
  • Understand what their buying process is
  • Drive them to you


Lead Generation Ideas

Now that you have a clear understanding of your Buyer Persona, your Sales Process, and the relevance of developing a Lead Generation Strategy, you can start thinking about ideas to get more leads. 

We will provide you with a list of 15 suggestions that will help you increase your leads without any budget. And of course, you don't have to launch everything at once! Just take a look at them, choose those that best suit your business, take action, look at results, A/B testing everything you do and double down on what works!

1. Cold Email

I know, I know, cold email has a bad rep. You’ve probably “tried cold emailing a few people but it didn’t work for you”. It may seem daunting because you have no prior relationship with them, you kind of feel spammy or intrusive. 


However, when done right, cold emailing your prospects is extremely powerful! Some of the biggest companies owe their success to a well-implemented cold-email strategy. Why? Because it’s repeatable, it scales, it’s cheap and it’s the best way to talk to your ideal people, long before they fill out a form on your website. 

Surely, to be successful you don't have to simply write the first thing that comes to mind. You have to follow a full methodology for writing a compelling cold email. But don’t worry about it! We have analyzed 64,562 cold emails sent over the last 2 years, and we have the best tips for you in this article.

2. Cold Messaging 

Similar to Cold Email, a Cold Message is a message that you send to a potential customer without any prior contact on LinkedIn, Twitter and, sometimes, Facebook.

Let’s face it though, LinkedIn has become this giant pool of automated and brainless sales pitches. How annoying is it when someone adds you on LinkedIn and hits you with a 50-liner about how awesome they are?

But there are ways to make it work. Be personal, don’t pitch, engage in a conversation, talk about them, talk about their problem, mention something you’ve seen online that they authored. Try to create a relationship with them!

3. Write a Blog Post

Writing a blog post is one of the most effective strategies to drive organic traffic to your website. To make your content relevant, choose topics related to your business to write about. 

But be careful, your article could very well be sitting on your website without anyone reading it. Like us with MakeSales, we probably rank on page 37 for the keywords that are interesting to us. (But, we are on our way!)

To be successful and rank on Google, you have to follow the SEO rules. The main SEO directive is to write useful content for your readers. Duh.. 

There is a lot to learn about SEO, we highly recommend you to dig into the subject to create high-quality content. You could start learning about it with this beginner’s guide created by Moz.


4. Downloadable and free guides/ toolkits/ playbooks/ templates

If you started a company, I bet that you are an expert on a determined topic! Share your knowledge and get leads! Creating a downloadable and free guide, toolkit, playbook or template is an amazing way to grab the attention of your potential customers and get their contact info. 

Simply, ask for people's email addresses so they can check out your piece of content. This way, you will be able to get the contact of a potential customer who is interested in your content, and most likely,  in your company too.


5. Video

Yes, I know,  I know... The idea of putting yourself in front of a camera and recording yourself talking can be a little intimidating! But if you want your company to succeed, sometimes, you have to push your boundaries and get out of your comfort zone.

Creating videos is not only a good strategy to generate new leads, but also is a powerful way to build trust around your brand. 

By seeing the face behind your company, your prospects will feel more confident and intrigued by your value proposal. The goal is to be perceived as a human being who can help and not just a machine with a form to fill.. 

Also, you don’t have to be an expert in editing to make an interesting video. Just try to make it dynamic and short! 

There are lots of topics you can tackle on your videos: explain a subject you are an expert on, promote your product/service by explaining how they work, or even, present yourself and your team to create a deeper bond.

Also, we recommend you to add a call to action button at the end of your videos, inviting your prospects to visit your website or to suggest them to look at another video in your channel!


6. Online courses and tutorials

The search for online courses grew dramatically during 2020 due to the COVID-19 confinement policies and economic crisis.


Living in a situation where uncertainty is the only rule, people (including, surely, your prospects) are more and more concerned about their career and their professional growth. They are investing their money and their time in developing new skills to stand out in their jobs or to find new professional opportunities. They are continuously looking for brand new educational content like online courses and free tutorials. 

Now, is the best time to ride the tide and turn the “new normal” into an opportunity to boost your business. Use your expertise to create educational content and get more leads!

7. Webinar

Zoom fatigue, anyone? Beware! Launching a Webinar could be a wonderful opportunity to foster more demand for your business, but be conscious about your people. No one likes to hear someone talk for an hour.


People want actionable insights, quick takeaways, they want to be entertained.

Choose an educational subject that you master, obviously it must be related to your business, and invite your potential customers to join your webinar. But remember, it’s not about your business, it’s about their problem and how you can give a lot of value/substance about these problems. 

This is a great opportunity for you to interact with your prospects and validate your business idea and your products or services. You can gain a better understanding of your potential customers by listening to their ideas, doubts, and way of reasoning. 

8. Join a community  

Online and private communities like Slack and Facebook groups are having a tremendous impact on the business world. They are excellent channels to discover new leads, meet new and engaged people, and promote your services or products organically. This really sounds like magic, right? Well, it’s kind of that!


Being a member of a private community offers you 3 main benefits:

  • First of all, you get access to a niche market, where you will meet passionate people who are open to hearing from you and your company. 

  • Secondly, you could not only find a potential customer but also a potential partner for your business. 

  • Thirdly, you can get unique insights and recommendations from your target audience to improve your products and services.

Just remember that communities are made up of people, not companies. Don't pitch, don’t try to sell your products or services! Approach members as who you really are: a person looking for help. This will definitely help you build stronger relationships.

9. Online forum participation (Quora and Reddit)

Online forums, like Quora and Reddit, can be a spectacular channel for driving traffic to your website and getting more leads. Using these communities will help you connect with people who are engaged and interested in a topic related to your value proposition.

However, to get good results, you have to do it right. You must use a friendly approach when participating in these communities. Consider that members are not looking for products to buy but for recommendations, answers, and learnings. 

To get the most out of these forums, find questions related to your business. Try to find questions with a lot of views but with very few answers and reply to them in the best possible way. 

Remember that, in these forums, people can vote either up or down and the answers with the most positive votes are better ranked. So, be helpful and provide valuable and authentic information to give a complete answer. And, of course, you can add the link to your website! However, do it in a subtle way, only add your link if it can help people to solve their doubts and if it enhances your answer.

10. Community Management on Social Media

Without any doubt, social media has revolutionized the business world and our social behavior. 

Let’s prove this by doing a quick exercise: Try to guess how much time you spend a day on social media. Now, look at your phone's daily battery report to discover the actual time. In most cases, the answer to this question may be shocking! People tend to think they spend less time on social networks than they really do. 


According to Statista, in 2020, internet users worldwide spent an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes a day on social media. It would be a waste to lose this opportunity to get new leads! 

Having a social media presence is a must for your company! So, even if you don’t like them or you don't get them, your prospects and clients do! So, do not hesitate and use social media to create awareness and trust around your brand.


Remember that each social network has its own audience. Check the demographics and the type of content for each platform and choose the ones that better line up with your company. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter are great sites for developing a social media presence to generate new leads. 

When managing your social media networks, remember to optimize your profile by providing contact information and adding call-to-action buttons. Post relevant and creative content and encourage people to interact with you.

11. Flywheel (partnerships)

Union makes force! Running a business is not an easy task. It can be satisfying and frustrating at the same time. It requires a lot of patience and dedication. So, why not find an ally to make it easier? 

Finding a company to partner with is another good way to find new leads. This strategy will help you cut your advertising and marketing costs, give you access to new markets and audiences, increase your business’s credibility and get new knowledge. Along, with the moral support, you get from having an ally!

Look for a related and complementary company, that has a similar size and that is in a similar stage as your business, and create a joint plan to boost your reach and generate new leads. Advertise in common, recommend each other to your respective clients, share your communication channels and your database. 

You can look for a business partner in online communities. Also, some companies have partnership programs on their websites to which you can apply!

12. Launch a Podcast

We are entering the podcast era! In the last years, podcasts have won the battle and have banished the old radio shows! I bet you listen to a podcast, or at least you may know someone who does it and who has persuaded you to do so. 


The survivors of this new era would be the companies that jump at this opportunity at the right time. Just remember the case of Netflix and Blockbuster to encourage yourself! 

So, choose a podcast platform, find a relevant topic, find an experienced guest, and talk about the subject with a fun and dynamic twist. 

13. Customer referrals

People talk a lot!  Yet, they tend to talk more about a negative experience rather than a positive one. So, you have to encourage them to talk about your business. Obviously, in a positive way!

Motivate your clients to talk about your services and products to their friends by creating a customer referral program: offer discounts and free products by each person they refer that becomes a customer.

Word-of-mouth-marketing (W-O-M) is one of the best ways to get your company known. People always trust their relatives and friends more than traditional advertising, no matter how compelling it can be. So, we truly recommend you create a W-O-M strategy that really encourages your clients to speak. 

14. Product trials

Everyone loves free stuff! That’s a fact. 


Whether you have a service or a product, offer free product trials or free samples. This will help you get more qualified leads and, therefore, more customers.

Also, by launching free trials, you can measure the utility and the perceived value that your potential customers find in your product or service. Listen carefully to their thoughts, comments, and user experiences to improve your product and your business.

15. Review Sites

Ironically, on this occasion, your competitors can be your best allies! 

Another easy way to find new leads is to look at your competitors' reviews on websites like G2, Featured Customers, Capterra, or even Google reviews. 

Look at the comments of your competitors and find those with a negative review or from people who are not 100% satisfied with their services. To contact these users, you can use LinkedIn or other Social Media and find them by writing their name, company, and position. Also, in some cases, the review websites allow you to ask for the user's contact information. 

This way, you can not only find qualified leads that are available and ready to pay for your services or products, but you can also improve your business by finding aspects that customers value.


Lead Nurturing without a budget

We are nearing the end! I hope the previous ideas have helped you to determine some new strategies to generate leads for your business.

However, you must be aware that generating a million new leads would not guarantee that those leads become customers. Unfortunately, nothing in business happens by magic, as you may have already realized… And to achieve any result, it is necessary to work. 

So, once you have launched your lead generation strategies, you have to implement a Lead Nurturing Strategy to convert those leads into customers. 

If you look for lead nurturing strategies on Google, most of the results would talk about automation tools and software, since they allow you to execute tasks in a much more effective way. And they are right! Automation could become your best friend in terms of lead nurturing. We even have an amazing software to offer you: MakeSales.io!

However, what happens if you do not have a budget to invest in lead nurturing? Don’t put it aside or for later! This mistake could cost you dearly! You should contact and follow up with your identifiable leads as quickly as possible before they lose interest or run with your competition. 

Do not wait until you can automate this process. Save space in your schedule and follow up! We highly recommend you create a lead database for tracking your follow up process. Remember to regularly send follow up emails, messages, and even do some phone calls to attract and engage your leads.


Now you are ready to implement your own Lead Generation Strategy!


We wish you a happy sale!