Chapter 5

“If You Had $500 to Spend on Marketing, What Would You Do?”

$500 marketing budget

The catch-22 of starting any business is that you generally need money to make money. Ideally, you have some cash to invest upfront in building a beautiful and user-friendly store, creating quality visuals, and marketing to the right audience at the right time.

While having a few thousand can help streamline and maximize your time and effort, it’s not always possible.

The great thing about dropshipping is that it’s 100% possible to find success on a small budget. Many of our Dropshipping Masters have done this themselves.

We asked: “If you had $500 to spend on marketing, what would you do?”

Here’s how they answered.

Create and promote engaging content

Yuliya Chernykhovskaya and Mike Pavlou have expertise in branding and building loyal audiences. So in addition to Facebook ads for products, they’d direct audiences to more organic content.

Yuliya Chernykhovskaya content marketing

Yuliya Chernykhovskaya says,

“I would spend most of it on Facebook ads. But a quarter to half of that money, I would spend on creating content marketing and running ads to that.

So not just running ads to products, but actually content that engages our audience, that warms them up and familiarizes them with our brand. And then run product ads to that already warmed-up audience because they trust us, so the conversions become a lot cheaper.”

Digging a bit further, Yuliya and Mike told us about how blog posts and organic Facebook content like memes and jokes helped them build their loyal audience.

They created this content around the general theme of their store. Once they secured the interest and trust of their audience, they were able to successfully sell their products.

Yuliya Chernykhovskaya continues, 

“For us, it’s actually worked to not be very winning-products-focused. It’s worked to be really brand-focused, really people-focused. To create content that people love, and then say, ‘Hey, by the way, these are our products and they just so happen to be dropshipped.’

With the style of business we’ve created, we could do dropshipping, private label, manufacturing our own product. It doesn’t really matter because we lead with the brand, not just the product. So I think that definitely gives the business more value and longevity.”

Master bonus: Wanna hear more from Yuliya and Mike? Check out this video where they recommend 5 huge potential products for dropshipping and how they would brand them for a niche store. 

Make everyday people your product photography models

If you’re familiar with dropshipping, you probably know the potential perils of using supplier photos and videos instead of your own. You might have a stellar product, but unappealing, boring, or even straight-up ugly visuals.

While taking your own photos and videos is an ideal solution, getting your hands on professional models and high-quality cameras and props can swiftly break your marketing budget.

Tim Vangsness has a crafty solution: he uses friends or family as models, or he strolls into the city center and finds his own models in everyday people. And in today’s world of user-generated content, it’s not critical to spend thousands on a photo shoot – you can even take winning product photos with your smartphone.

Here’s Tim’s advice on using this tactic with a leggings dropshipping store.

Tim Vangsness startup budget

Tim Vangsness says,

“I would go into the city and find some people who are willing to try the leggings on and give me a review in person. I’d also take photos with them. I can give a free sample and encourage them to tag us in a photo of them wearing the leggings. If they’ve got any decent followers, I might be able to sales through their promotion.

And if I’m filming the whole event, I can get video footage of them. So in my ads, not only can I run photos of people wearing the leggings, but I can also run videos.

I think you’ll find that if you just go talk to people, they’ll be more than willing to just try stuff out. Especially if they get to keep a sample at the end.”

Use free traffic sources and build as you go

Tim goes on to explain that once you’ve got these photos, you can use them to generate free traffic in addition to paid traffic like Facebook ads.

Once you have that traffic, you can take a closer look at how things are performing, which will give you a better idea of what your next step should be.

Tim Vangsness continues,

“My first approach would be using the photos and videos I recorded of people trying my leggings on. I’d share those on social media and using free sources of traffic to get people onto my website to see how they convert.

Some people enjoy using different platforms like Quora, Reddit, or Imgur. Whatever platform you have experience with, trying to use that to get access to free traffic is important.

If I can get any form of positive conversion, then that’s awesome. If not, then I’m going to try to think why not. It may be because there’s something wrong with the website, or it may be because something isn’t working well with my marketing.”

Master bonus: Tim Vangsness actually gave us a full interview on the $500 marketing question. Read the interview here.

Start with small margins for incremental gains

Scott Hilse found his success selling a relatively inexpensive item – an iPhone case that he paid around $3 for, then sold for $10 plus $2.95 shipping.

When we asked him what he’d do with a $500 marketing budget, his answer was more strategic: he went straight to pricing and margins.

He recommends cheap items with small margins to start, then building momentum over time as you build customer trust and your Facebook pixel gathers more data.

Scott hillse dropship


Scott Hilse says,

“If you’re looking for a niche market, I would sell the cheapest product you can. Keep the price and shipping low. Make it so you’re at least making a little money, but as you’re doing this, you’re seasoning your Facebook pixel and building that email list.

So even if you only spend $500, you’ll still get your money’s worth with that data, because if you set your website up right and it looks trustworthy, people will order from you for the right price. Maybe you’re not making too much up-front, but in the long run, it’s still going to be a lot.”

Master bonus: For more on choosing winning products from Scott, peep this video.

Take a cheaper “grassroots” marketing approach

While Facebook ads are one of the most popular ways for dropshippers to score sales, there are lots of other ways you can manage with a lower marketing budget. These typically involve “grassroots” tactics like manually reaching out to people online and in the real world.

grassroots marketing dropshipAlbert Liu says,

“Use manual outreach to influencers on Instagram to try to get some cheap traffic to your site. Ask friends and family, anyone you know. Post it on Facebook groups. It’s a low cost way of getting potential buyers on your website.

And before you do all of this, make sure you have the Facebook pixel installed. Any person who goes onto your site will add additional data for you to use on the Facebook platform later on.”

Albert goes on to explain how he and Jacky initially spent thousands, but that’s by no means the only way. Especially if you can get crafty in your approach.

Albert Liu continues,

“Essentially, we spent $4,000 to buy data via Facebook ads. But it’s possible to lower the cost of that $4,000 down to $500 through creative methods, which can help you find the winner and saturate your Facebook pixel pretty quickly.”

Pro tip: Learn how to set up your Facebook pixel here.

Some people say that it’s just not possible to have a successful dropshipping store without a lofty marketing budget. But as you can see, some of our Dropshipping Masters disagree!

Now that you know how to find success on a budget, let’s take a look at the darker side: the biggest mistakes our Masters have made (and how you can avoid them yourself).

Next Chapter

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