Forget generic press releases. If you want to get your startup noticed by bloggers, media outlets, investors, and customers, you can do it yourself. And usually for a whole heck of a lot less money than hiring a public relations firm.

Startups such as Dollar Shave Club, Appotopia, Grasshopper, and others have been able to generate a tremendous amount of buzz by rolling up their sleeves and following these steps:

1. Define your brand and your message. Coming up with a game-changing idea for a new product is one thing, being able to clearly communicate what makes it totally unique is truly another. Whether it’s naming your startup, creating a tagline, or writing content for your website–defining and articulating your brand is like capturing lightening in a bottle.

Before you start overthinking it, strip your product down to its simplest form–What is it? What does it do? And how will it make someone’s life better? A great example is Dollar Shave Club–the name of their startup immediately defines their business, their tagline “Shave Time. Shave Money.” addresses a common pain point that’s existed as long as marketing itself, and brilliantly simple messaging “A Great Shave for a Few Bucks a Month.” drives their positioning home.

2. Start marketing early and often. A lot of startups want to hold off on sharing too much information or making a big media push until they have an actual finished product in hand. That’s all well and good, but that also means you might end up months behind in the marketing department once you’re ready to make your big splash.

Don’t be afraid to roll the dice. Seek out publicity early–even if you’re still working on your final product. Boston-based startup Apptopia did just that, securing coverage from TechCrunch when they were nowhere near ready to launch. The exposure helped them generate traffic and start attracting customers almost immediately.

3. Create your own PR. Speaking of publicity, you don’t have to run out and hire a fancy public relations firm and spend thousands of dollars trying to get your startup noticed. When it comes to PR, social media has been a total game changer. You don’t have to rely on generic press releases and arbitrary embargoes–in most cases you can try to build relationships with media outlets on your own.

Identify key publications and writers of interest and try to get on their radar–leave a relevant and value-added comment on one of their articles, start following them on Twitter or Google+, and then, when the time is right, look for opportunities to have a conversation about something they’ve written about recently and how it relates to what you’re working on. One of the best examples of creative PR still has to be Grasshopper.com sending 25,000 chocolate covered grasshoppers to 5,000 bloggers, politicians, celebrities, entrepreneurs, CEO’s, journalists, reporters, and TV anchors. Spoiler alert: they got a ton of media attention without using a press release.

4. Showcase your media mentions. Once you’re able to secure some high profile media mentions, as a startup you’ll generally want those to be highly visible on your website. Doing so helps to give your business and your products credibility in the eyes of prospective customers, prospective investors, and other media outlets.

If possible, include their logos at or near the fold on your homepage.

5. Get excited. Nothing helps get others excited about your product, your story, and your startup than your being excited about your product, your story, and your startup. When I think about the best pitches I’ve ever heard, they weren’t canned talking points but personal interactions filled with unmistakable passion and genuine excitement.

When it comes to generating buzz for your startup, there’s really no substitute for putting in a little legwork defining your brand message, building relationships with writers and bloggers at media outlets of interest, personalizing your approach with each contact, and showcasing your successes.

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning. You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnGraham or learn more at www.shawngraham.me.