All startups are as unique as their founders-- there’s no one-size-fits-all marketing approach. However, there are definitely some things every business owner should be aware of before they jump into their marketing journey.
With the help of some of the best marketers we know, we've developed this 6-step guide to help you start marketing your business the right way! We'll give you some solid tips and tools for your marketing plan, budget, and customer acquisition, and eliminate some common marketing myths. Speaking of which, let’s start there!
Part 1: Ignoring Common Myths
Marketing is integral to growing your new business, and the sooner you get onboard, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards: more leads, greater brand recognition, product/service awareness, better reputation and more. If you’re still skeptical, it’s probably because of one of these marketing myths—it’s time to toss these in your mental trash bin!
MYTH #1: “I CAN’T AFFORD MARKETING!”
Sure, marketing can be super expensive if you’re implementing a multi-pronged approach using email, social media, content marketing, direct mail and online advertising—but this is the wrong way to go about marketing your new business anyway. Most startups that try this simply can’t afford it and end up stretching themselves way too thin.
What’s the right way, you ask? Choose 1-3 initiatives (ideally just one!) that you feel confident about strategizing for and executing. Add new marketing activities only as returns start flowing in, and create margin for experimentation and growth. This way you’ll be able to market effectively on a modest budget!
MYTH #2: “MY SALES TEAM ROCKS, SO MARKETING ISN’T NEEDED.”
Yes, an excellent salesperson or sales team is an important part of selling anything. But even if you have the best of the best, you’d still benefit from marketing because sales and marketing have incredible synergy. Why?
- Marketing helps salespeople optimize their time: The right marketing activities will warm up your leads. By the time a lead reaches your sales team, they’ll already be familiar with your product or service!
- Marketers are adept with crafting important documents: Salespeople are excellent at pitching, presenting, and closing business. But most of the time, their strengths don’t lie in making sell-sheets or marketing plans. A marketer can be of great support in this arena.
MYTH #3: “EMAIL SENT, MY JOB’S DONE!”
Pulling the trigger on your marketing plan is a step in the right direction, but if you think your marketing activity ends at execution, you’re wrong.
For your marketing to be truly effective, you have to analyze the results of your efforts and make adjustments to your approach over time. Pinpoint which content gets the most interaction, then hammer down: optimize, optimize, optimize. Good content, just like a good marketing plan, has to be able to evolve.
Part 2: Creating a Marketing Plan
Marketing a startup requires very different planning than marketing an established business. You’ll need to move more quickly and have more financial restraint. Here are 3 tips for ironing out your startup marketing plan:
TIP #1: PLAN SHORT TERM
Startups aren’t the same on day 1 as they are on day 365—in fact, they’re substantially different by day 30. Why create a plan for your first year when everything you know is going to change next month?
Shoot for short-term quarterly plans. That way when your marketing plan inevitably has to change, you’re simply refining every 90 days instead of starting from scratch.
TIP #2: IT CAN BE DONE CHEAPLY
There are plenty of cheap reliable services out there. You shouldn’t be paying any more than a small monthly fee for your marketing tools, especially during your startup phase.
The Hubspot Jumpstart program offers Hubspot to companies at 90% off the list price for the first year. If your company meets the requirements, it’s a great service to take advantage of.
Other inexpensive (or free) marketing tools include:
- MailChimp: a popular email tool that’s great for starter marketing-automation. The service is free but you can upgrade for a small fee.
- Buffer: a great social media scheduling and monitoring application. Standard version is free, upgraded edition costs a small monthly fee.
- Google Keyword Planner: free, and an excellent way for startups to do keyword research for their SEO strategies.
- HotJar: allows startups to view heat maps of their websites to optimize them for conversion. They also have a pretty neat live-surveying tool.
- GoDaddy: a reliable tool for building a beautiful business website.
- SumoMe: allows companies to generate those annoyingly effective website pop-ups that prompt visitors to head down various marketing channels.
This list only scratches the surface. Check out Part 6 of this guide for more ideas!
TIP #3: DON’T FORGET TO HUSTLE
This is one of the most common things new business owners forget. You have to hustle to establish an enthusiastic user-base.
Hand out flyers. Seek out potential users at festivals, farmer’s markets, grocery stores—anywhere you think they’ll be. Bring an iPad so that people can sign up for your service on the spot. There’s no time to waste here!
Part 3: Set a Marketing Budget
Deciding how much to invest in marketing is a major challenge for startups. You don’t have a whole lot of money coming in, and mainstream budget tools and rules-of-thumb don’t apply when you’re just starting out.
If you don’t have a sales history to use as a basis for future forecasting, a “payout plan” is a fairly simple tactic for building your first marketing budget. However, it's not right for everyone. Let's take a look at this 3-step approach and determine whether or not it's right for your startup!
The 3-Step Payout Plan
- Step 1: Project what your sales volume will be three years from now.
- Step 2: Build your marketing budget around where you expect your company to be at that point.
- Step 3: Work closely with an accountant to find out if you can carry forward your expenses to match up with future sales. This will reduce your tax burden once your sales finally arrive!
For startups with plans for rapid growth, marketing is often the missing link between where they are and where they want to be. If you use this payout plan, you won’t be limited by your initial sales. However, you also won’t find out for several years whether you were right or wrong about your initial projection. Regardless of how strategic you make your approach, there’s still a bit of rolling the dice involved here.
Many successful companies, including Amazon and Monster.com, employed payout plans in their early days. They knew they needed to raise brand awareness, so they spent at a level well-above what they could afford. Their plans succeeded and the sales rolled in.
Why did this work? Because they knew what they needed to do to grow, and how marketing fit into their overall plan. This technique will not work for every startup, however—if awareness isn’t your biggest the issue, marketing like crazy isn’t going to grow your sales.
Take the company Pets.com, for example. They bought ad-time during the Super Bowl, hoping to generate tons of sales. But you’ve probably never used or even heard of Pets.com. Why? Because awareness wasn’t their major growth obstacle. There were major holes in their business model, and no amount of advertising could fix that.
This Approach is Ideal If...
- Lack of awareness among your target audience is the primary obstacle to your growth.
- You’ve addressed the capacity issues you’ll face if your growth accelerates rapidly.
- You’re able to secure funding to pre-pay for additional marketing in advance of sales.
- You’re committed despite the fact that your income statement won’t look attractive for the first few years.
Part 4: Customer Acquisition
Cash flow issues and inability to sell are among the most common reasons why startups fail. Luckily, both of these issues can be redeemed if you have the right customers paying for your product or service.
Acquiring customers requires a methodical process and a willingness to try, try and try again in the face of defeat. Sure, it’s not always fun, but your business needs customers in order to survive! Here are five ways to improve customer acquisition:
The key to customer acquisition is doing your research and deepening your understanding of your target market, brand, values, and positioning. Start by making sure you can answer all of the following questions:
- Who’s your target market, specifically?
- Where does your target market go for information?
- What are their pain points?
- Who are the competitors in your space/industry?
- What are the industry trends?
Design a Compelling Message
Taking a cue card from Stanford’s Design School, complete the following exercise: design a compelling message about your position in the marketplace based on your company’s value and uniqueness. Make sure you’re speaking directly to your target audience!
Sentence 1 - Value to Customer
“For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity), the (product/service name) is a (product/service category) that (statement of benefit).”
Sentence 2 – Uniqueness
“Unlike (primary competitive alternative), our product (statement of primary differentiation).”
Use this basic format to develop compelling headlines for your email campaigns, print campaigns, product materials, etc.
Connect with Your Audience
Identify the channels where your targets are active—and be there. For instance, if you sell HR software, there’s a good chance that your target audience is active on LinkedIn, online job boards, or professional organizations like the Society of Human Resource Management.
Obvious mass media locations like TV and radio often carry a high price tag and are less likely to lead to conversions. Look for lower-cost outlets that still meet your audience where they’re at, like:
- Industry blogs.
- LinkedIn groups.
- Professional associations.
- Networking groups.
- Online learning communities like Skillshare.
- Partner/fusion marketing with another company’s email list.
- Startups that offer a service that augments (but doesn’t compete with) yours.
When you’re connecting with your target audience, it’s easy to get overly concerned with conversions and sales—after all, you need to pay the bills. Nevertheless, it’s important to identify long-term strategies that pay off indirectly by providing value to your audience.
Help Scout Blog, a customer service software company, has mastered this mutually beneficial marketing approach. They provide their audience with tons of thought-provoking research and content that validates the need for great customer service. Just goes to show, giving is the new currency!
Build Your Network
Don’t get so caught up in the tools, channels, networks and hubs that we have access to that you forget: people still buy from people. This is why many successful startups place their founders and/or CEO at the forefront of communications. They want their customers to realize that human beings are working to make magic happen.
Since word of mouth marketing now has a million avenues, your founding team needs to put strategic effort into building your network. This could include an influential board of directors, strategic alliances with like-minded organizations, community groups, mentors, and more. Never underestimate the power of the right referral source!
Part 5: Understanding ROI
When it comes to marketing, return on investment (ROI) can be hard to measure. However, it’s still worth making efforts to maximize it! Here are three pretty universal ways to improve your ROI:
ESTABLISH A STRATEGY FIRST
Make sure you have a plan in place so you can see exactly what you’ve accomplished. What do you want to achieve and how? If you never define your strategy, you’ll never be able to define success.
While creating your master plan, ask yourself these crucial questions:
“Is your strategy measurable?”
It’s important that your marketing strategy is measurable. When you’re in the early stages of planning your campaign, make sure you have success indicators and measurable goals in place.
“Has your strategy generated sales?”
While revenue isn’t the sole indicator of success, cash flow is necessary for a business to thrive. Too many business owners execute flashy marketing campaigns that never generate any sales!
“Are you reporting on more than vanity metrics?”
Raising brand awareness is great—but if you’re trying to use your number of post likes as proof of ROI with no other evidence to back it up, think again. Don’t get distracted by data that looks great but fails to actually prove anything. If your marketing efforts don’t translate to dollars then it’s time to reevaluate your strategy.
CONSIDER BRAND AWARENESS
The most important part of tracking brand awareness is having data to back up your conclusions. However, this doesn’t mean you should print out reports from social management tools and hand them to your boss. The goal is to interpret the data in a way that gives productive insight into the project.
DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS
The most common mistake marketers make is assuming a strategy will work before they test it on their audience. Not every strategy works on everyone!
Analyze your results after every campaign. Adjust your marketing plan based on the success or failure of every new initiative. Prove the ROI of your marketing efforts over and over again!
Part 6: Best Marketing Resources
Taking advantage of online marketing tools is a fiscally responsible way to expand your customer base during your growth stage. Let’s take a look at what we consider to be some of the best services out there.
Mailchimp makes it easy to create professional emails. Their easy-to-format templates are free to use if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers. You can send up to 12,000 emails per month—no expiring trial, contract, or credit card required. This is a great way to catch the eye of your target customer and gain traction with new clientele!
Fiverr is a digital service site that was built with a thrifty mindset. Most services only cost $5, and they range from copywriting to graphic design to video editing. If you need any work done, you’ll be able to find an affordable service provider on Fiverr!
UpWork has become the largest and most profitable online freelancing platform by far. The company was created when the two heavy hitters in the emerging industry joined forces to create one monolithic platform.
You can start an agency for free and hire workers to code, design, write, and do anything else you need at very competitive rates. If you’re planning on outsourcing anytime in the near future, definitely check out UpWork.
If you’re struggling to convert leads into sales, Leadpages is a great service to consider. Whether you’re marketing webinars, white pages, free reports, software or anything else, this service helps drive consumers to convert. Plus, it can integrate with Facebook, WordPress, or your current website.
PipeDrive is a user-friendly CRM software that allows you to manage your sales funnel, customer relationships and more. Plus, there’s a functioning PipeDrive mobile app for when you’re on the go! This service starts at $12 per month.
Marketo ROI Calculator
Marketo’s ROI calculator can give you some valuable insights for when your investors ask you about the ROI of your marketing efforts. Plus, it’s free!
Buffer is an extremely user-friendly social media management tool. Depending on how often you plan to schedule posts, you may be able to get away with using the free individual account. Otherwise, there are various affordable plans based on the size of your team.
One great thing about using Buffer is that you’ll get free access to Pablo, a simple but high-quality image creator for your social media posts.
With over ten million users, HootSuite is one of the most popular tools out there. Just like Buffer, their free plan might be enough for you. It allows you to manage three different accounts and two campaigns, and provides some analytics and other basic features as well.
If you want to get a little more serious, their Pro plan enables users to manage up to 50 social media profiles, and gives access to their advanced message scheduling and enhanced analytics.
Sprout Social is a popular tool used by companies such as Yahoo, Zipcar and Spotify. It’s a bit pricier than the previous two services, but if you’re on a tight budget, they still have a couple of plans that may work for you.
One of our favorite of Sprout’s features is the smart inbox. It brings all the messages from every one of your profiles to a single filterable stream to ensure that you never miss the chance to respond to a client or prospect.
Most social media management tools have their own link-shortening capabilities, but if yours doesn’t, Bitly is a great tool to use. No one likes the look of those exceedingly long hyperlinks!
Google Analytics offers TONS of useful information—sometimes even more than people know what to do with. It’s an extremely handy tool, but you need to know your way around the platform. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a guide to help you get started.
Pablo is a quick, high-quality image creation tool available through Buffer. Even if you don’t use Buffer’s social media management platform, Pablo is free to use.
GetResponse is a fairly new player in the marketing automation game, but it has an incredibly easy and affordable user platform. Two of its key features are the cart abandonment and integration options, which are essential for any eCommerce business.
Keap specializes in lead-nurturing and has a ton of testing and tracking features. It’s a bit pricier than some comparable services, but its detailed reports will help you understand exactly what’s going on with each of your campaigns.
Copy Hackers is one of the prime online destinations for all things related to copywriting. In fact, their ebook course “The Starter Bundle” is still one of the best resources for budding copywriters. Marketers can find tons of valuable information on copywriting, blogging, and social media marketing on Copy Hackers!
If you want to learn about digital marketing, look no further than Marketing Land. This website features some amazing articles with practical tips for your marketing campaigns. They’re also among the first to publish marketing-related news, which basically makes them your ultimate source for keeping up with the latest changes in the marketing world.
Inbound.org is one of the best places for digital marketers to exchange ideas, network, collaborate, and even find jobs (thanks to their job board). It’s also a great place to learn, since its members often discuss problems you might run into as well!
Meet The Authors
This definitive guide on how to market a business was a collaboration by some of the best marketers we know. Startup Savant wouldn’t be the same without their help and insight!