8 Low-Cost User Acquisition Strategies That Actually Work


Courtesy of the Female Founders Who’ve Deployed Them Successfully


No matter how incredible your product or service is, there’s no guarantee that potential users and customers will be aware that it exists. For any startup, user acquisition must be a key part of the business plan.

But typical user acquisition strategies may not be the most effective route for a variety of reasons — budget constraints, of course, being a big one. For these eight female founders, the tactics they chose to deploy were more creative and out-of-box. And though they cost far less than running ads on Facebook or Google, they’ve proved to be successful in the early days of their companies and beyond.

Most importantly, though, their advice shows that the intent is just as important as the method. With so much noise to sift through, a company’s values will be the determining factor that rises to the surface — and draws in the right kind of users.


1. Use Word of Mouth

Nora Peterson

CoFounder & CEO of Halo Incubator, a startup accelerator program for early stage women entrepreneurs.

The Strategy: Our most effective user acquisition strategy for attracting early stage women entrepreneurs to join our incubator program has been hands down the word of mouth through our own networks and communities we are part of. Joining an incubator or accelerator program is not only a time but a financial commitment for founders, and it’s extremely important to me that there is mutual trust and value generated. I receive referrals and outbound reach for founders to join Halo through someone they knew that had gone through our program or heard of it through second degree connections on online communities or through our peers. We find the conversion of members through recommendation of others to be in the 40-50% range. 

My Advice: Play the long game with your business model and your relationships. Trust and reputation in your communities can be lost very quickly if you do not work to build, maintain, and grow your professional networks. Give back with your time and resources. Help promote and spread the word about companies you believe in and find creative ways to partner with them. Through partnerships you will gain access to niche and targeted communities of users relevant to your business who will be much more open to engage with you if you have the seal of approval from another reputable company.


2. Drive Traffic With Content 

Victoria Repa

Co-Founder & CEO of BetterMe, an ecosystem of wellness apps consistently ranked in the Top-Grossing Health & Fitness Apps Worldwide. 

The Strategy: We started attracting users even before we had a product at all  —  just with the desire of making something fitness-related in hand, we launched a blog and wrote content for our customers, relying on social media to drive traffic. When our intuition proved to be right, and we had tens of thousands of people reading our guides and tips, ranging from chiseling your perfect abs to incorporating superfoods in your diet, we pulled the trigger and developed the first app. Our audience has been growing continuously since then. Right now we have over 6 million people following our content on social media, mostly Instagram and Facebook, which organically converts to about 20% of our total downloads. 

My Advice: The first, for sure, is to make a product that solves user’s problems. Before launching any product, conduct an in-depth market analysis. At a minimal cost, validate the idea. How I like to talk, fail fast and chip. Analyze, improve, scale. 


3. Host Virtual Summits

Michele Heyward

Founder & CEO of PositiveHire, a tech company which helps experienced Latina, Black and indigenous women STEM professionals find the best fit employer to advance their careers.

My Surprisingly Effective User Acquisition Strategy: By hosting virtual summits twice a year, I’ve been able to acquire at least 300-500 new users from each virtual summit with no ad spend. It’s been successful because I’m focusing on a specific niche with a recurring issue. Black, Latine and indigenous women in STEM want roles in management but very few programs fit their specific needs and address the barriers they encounter.

My Advice: Identify a small segment or niche in your market with a recurring issue. Then focus on finding and presenting the solution(s) via a virtual summit. Start out six months in advance to plan, market, and launch your virtual summit while focusing on tracking metrics, forming partnerships, and building long-term relationships with attendees after the summit. Lastly, keep the tech simple until you create your processes.


4. Swap Digital Marketing for Webinars

Elle Wang

Founder & CEO of Emilia George, designed to shine for all stages of motherhood: during and after pregnancy, at work and at home, with substance and style. 

The Strategy: Emilia George Webinar Series has helped us in user acquisition in a way that I wouldn’t have thought possible with my digital marketing budget. In total transparency, Emilia George has spent $0 in digital marketing since mid-April. I never planned to have webinars as a strategy, but it was something I thought could be great to offer to pregnant women during a global pandemic. Our virtual doula support webinar had over 1,000 registrations and almost 900 actual participants. We had subsequent two webinars, both of which have helped us reach our target audience. It worked so well because maybe there are a lot of people like me who fundamentally don’t believe in digital marketing. It’s a numbers’ game.The bigger one’s digital market budget is, the more potential reach the company will have. I once talked to AdWeek about the unfair pricing structure for small startups like mine. People see through the digital space that is bought up by big spenders and it is really nice to get to know a new brand through something like a webinar that can help each other connect at a personal level instantly. 

My Advice: I would advise other entrepreneurs, as well as myself, is to really spend time to understand your target audience and what speaks to them. I know other mom brands who can easily spend $10,000 just on Facebook and Instagram ads. That’s not me and I personally don’t connect with unfamiliar brands just from sponsored posts. Try to think of something that resonates with your audience beyond the commercial aspects. As the saying goes, follow passion then money will follow.


5. Reach Out via DMs

Vanessa Youshaei

Founder & CEO of Petite Ave, a styling service for women under 5’5”.

The Strategy: When I first started my business, I sent DMs on Instagram to acquire customers, and it worked really well. At first, I was surprised, but then I realized it worked well because it was targeted, personalized, and communicated in a thoughtful way. It was almost a modern day version of a handwritten note. Instead of sending hundreds of messages to random women, I found a few petite bloggers that I really liked and sent messages to their followers. I also addressed each message to a specific person and made sure the general tone was not “salesy.” At the end of the day, sales and customer acquisition are about communicating your message to the right person in the right way, and that’s exactly what I did using an underutilized channel for customer acquisition. 

My Advice: Make sure you understand exactly who your target audience is and only implement this strategy once you have strong content on your Instagram feed.


6. Partner With Like-Minded Companies


Katie Webb

Founder & CEO of Aila, a fitness nutrition brand for the modern active woman.

The Strategy: For Aila, partnering with other like-minded companies that have a similar customer to us, yet may not know about us, has been a good strategy in growing our community and customer base. Since we are a super powder blend focused on energy and being active, we like to partner with companies that focus on products in the recovery and chill space, as well as active fitness brands.

My Advice: Always have something you can offer! It’s important to make sure partnerships are as equally beneficial as possible, and that all parties benefit and grow it into something longer term.It can be challenging to garner partnerships with brands that are much larger than yours on social, but building strategic partnerships with brands slightly larger is a great, low lift strategy for growth than you can repeat monthly.


7. Give Without Expecting Anything in Return

Jes Osrow

Co-Founder & DEIBA Specialist of The Rise Journey, which provides purpose-driven, results-oriented support for growing organizations.

The Strategy: Helping without expecting anything in return has been an incredible way to get clients. I’m active in a number of HR global communities where people post about issues and concerns they’re having in the moment. Commenting, asking clarifying and coaching questions, and offering to hop on a call to talk the issue out further has been a great way to build a network and gain clients. Oftentimes people aren’t ready to commit to work with a consultant, have had a bad previous experience, or aren’t the right decision maker within their organization but they still want to make a difference. By having conversations, talking through ideas, and building a quick-win plan with someone, I’ve been able to turn what I thought was a quick call into a long term partnership. Once someone experiences the depth we dig into on researching the issues, how we complete the work, our partnership during the project duration, the “down in the trenches” attitude, and willingness to get things done right the first time, people want to work with us again.

My Advice: You have to be ready to offer without expecting anything in return. For me, my business partner and I built this attitude into our values — “No Ego”.  We want to change the world for the better through what we do, and this is part of that process.


8. Offer Empathy

Keira Kotler

Founder & CEO of Everviolet, a lingerie and loungewear collection nurturing changes in a woman’s body following treatment for breast cancer and other meaningful life events.

The Strategy: Authentic empathy. As a brand, we meet our customers during times of emotional and physical change and vulnerability. By providing one-on-one email consults and live chat communications via our e-commerce site, we are able to not only increase conversions and provide assistance in the purchase process, we also offer an empathetic ear. Medical communities often form tight bonds due to shared experiences, and our customers know that with Everviolet, they’re getting so much more than comfortable lingerie — they’re becoming part of our supportive family.

My Advice: Be transparent and sincere. In my opinion, one of the worst things a brand can do is use interpersonal outreach and phony communication as a marketing strategy. It’s important for business to be able to deliver on their promises, so be prepared to see through your initiatives with scale. In Everviolet’s case, our customers become our friends, models, spokeswomen, sales force, guests and participants at our events, and we have the platform and framework to sustain and nurture these deeply personal connections.

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  • Originally published September 3, 2020, updated September 12, 2022