USA Today is nice press if you're trying to raise money, but I don't know any entrepreneurs who read USA Today!
However I do know many who read blogs about startups, and certainly many of the 11k subscribers to my blog; maybe a handful of those are ready and able to spend a few thousands $ on brainstorming.
So the question is: How to get play where founders actually hang out?
1. Target freelancers at places like FreelanceSwitch, CopyBlogger, and 37signals (the latter via The Deck ads). If a consultant spends $1k on ideas which net even 1 new customer, that's worth it; that's the proposition.
2. "Sponsor" one free (or half-price) storming session, but only if you came from a certain blog. Some bloggers (47hats?) would be willing to talk about this offer just because it's an offer.
3. Quality guest posts. Some blogs (mine (A Smart Bear), OnStartups, SmallBizTrends) accept guest posts if they're genuinely good. It's acceptable to push the service simultaneously. For subject matter, pick something that happened while getting this site up that would be interesting and valuable for other entrepreneurs.
4. Participate in forums for startups. Selfishly, the one Dharmesh Shah and I run (Answers.OnStartups.com) but there are others. Some (like ours) you can advertise on, but even without that you can get attention. Example: I get traffic to my blog just by answering questions on Answers, even though I'm a co-host already!
5. Guest post for money. Some blogs (e.g. VentureHacks) let you guest-post for a fee. The posts get lots of views and they help you make it genuinely interesting and valuable. More effort but more trustworthy than pure advertising.
6. Commission for referrals. Some bloggers would be more willing to write about you if they got a commission when someone signed up. For a generous fee (10% of the money posted?) it wouldn't take much for a blogger to make real money with such referrals, and therefore would be incentivised to put up ads in the sidebar (no upfront cost to you), review the site, and just mention the site all the time.
7. Use some of these techniques against the gurus themselves. After all, they've already showed enough interest to join the site; probably they'll want to spread the word anyway, but in combination with some of these other techniques some might turn into your biggest "sales force."
8. Pro-bono, pro-active brainstorms. This could either mean you put up the money yourselves or you just don't offer money. Target people who can't afford it but for which it would be newsworthy to help. Charities are obvious. Another one would be a blogger with decent exposure but who is just starting a new business (maybe Ryan Graves at thedreaminaction.com?). Exchanging press that you're generous and awesome for a brainstorm is great for you. If it's a charity you might be able to get the gurus to do it for nothing; if it's a real startup you might have to foot the bill, but consider it actually a marketing expense.
9. Get sponsorships from startup organizations like Microsoft BizSpark. They (for example) just sponsored 130 people to get a subscription to Bob Walsh's StartupToDo.com. They might e.g. sponsor 1 brainstorm per month for a struggling little startup who cannot afford it. This is great press for you, money you don't have to spend yourself, and this is something other bloggers might also write about. It might not get the word out *quite* as much as the rest, but it's cash-flow.
Jason, thanks, all excellent suggestions. I particularly like #9, because it helps achieve one of the key goals I have for the site, which is to make this kind of expert consulting more accessible to (struggling) entrepreneurs, as well as small and medium sized businesses.
I've done some guest posts in the past, but they were almost all done for my earlier brainstorming site, PeopleStorms.com. Time to dust off the writing cap, I think.
Jason, I have some ideas in mind re. your suggestion #7, i.e. using the Gurus themselves to help promote the site, but am wondering if you have any specific mechanics in mind. Are you thinking it would be more organic, like word of mouth? Or would there be some sort of specific set of resources (widgets or similar) to facilitate it?
Any of the other strategies could be applied to gurus in particular, as opposed to bloggers at large.
Guest posts, asking them to promote at least via Twitter/Facebook but better yet on their blogs.
Badges would be good once it's rolling and there's something to "show off," much like how I have an Answers.OnStartups badge in the margin of my blog. At first, though, there's nothing to show in the badge so that's not really compelling.
Thanks, that makes total sense. I'll have to work on a badge or similar...
I think Jason makes a great point with respect to #7.
With respect to guest posts, I think that could be helpful to drive traffic, but it would be a lot easier to reblog guru posts from their respective blogs as opposed to having them create new content.
Agreed. I was actually thinking of *Edward* creating the guest posts for the *guru*'s blogs, where it would get attention.
Cross-posting is good if allowed, but a lot of people don't like that nowadays because of the SEO penalty. Also it's not clear how just cross-posting helps build awareness of anything...
I like the charity/ pro-bono aspect of this idea (#8).