The Definitive Guide
Welcome to Startup Savant’s guide on how to market a new business. This definitive guide was a collaboration between some of the best marketers we know, who we owe a HUGE thanks to.
That said, this is more of a helpful guide with lots of tools/resource links, than a blueprint because all businesses are as unique as their founders and there’s no one-size-fits-all marketing approach that works. Right? If you think there is, well, then you’ve fallen for one of the most overused marketing myths in history.
Speaking of which, let’s dive in and begin there.
Marketing is an integral part of growing any newly-formed business.
The sooner owners get onboard, the sooner they reap the rewards: more leads, greater brand recognition, product/service awareness, better reputation and more. Here are some common marketing myths to toss in your mental trash bin immediately.
If you want to market using a multi-pronged approach that includes email, direct mail, social media, content marketing, advertising, etc., then this objection is on-point. Most startups and entrepreneurs can’t afford what a huge mistake that is…stretch themselves thin.
Choose 2-3 initiatives (ideally folks, just one!) that you feel confident in evaluating, mapping out a strategy for, and executing. Add new marketing activities only as returns begin to flow in and create margin for experimentation and growth. This allows small businesses to market effectively on modest budgets.
Yes, an excellent salesperson or team is an important part of selling anything. However, sales and marketing have incredible synergy because:
You’ve planned and executed, now your marketing activity is over, right? Wrong.
Pulling the trigger on your marketing plan is a step in the right direction. However, sending the email or tweet then stopping leaves the job half-done.
What business owners must realize is that to be truly effective, they have to analyze the results of their efforts and tweak messaging over time. Pinpoint which content gets the most interaction, then hammer down – meaning optimize, optimize, optimize. Good content, like marketing plans, are living, breathing entities that should evolve.
Companies like Nabisco, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Geico Insurance are all over social media. They’re everywhere because they have huge marketing budgets with a large department dealing only with social media.
So, before you run off and set up Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat accounts and profiles, take a breath. Even if your startup has a small team of people, you can’t effectively be everywhere at once.
Besides, there’s the 20/80 or 80/20 rule to consider. So if you’re on 5 platforms, 1 will be responsible for 80% of your social media ROI. Which one do you think it is? Do you really know?
So experimentation on multiple platforms is a great idea, but once you recognize where most of the engagement is…hammer down! Regardless, developing a social media marketing campaign isn’t easy. There are relationships to build and nurture, and this requires creative content on a regular basis, as well as lots of conversation.
Wrong. Some customers will find you. But, a marketing campaign has to be half-focused on finding prospects where they are and luring them in. Fish don’t jump in a boat because you’ve got worms in a can. You have to bait the hook and put the line in the water.
Set a goal, say, making contact with 50 prospects a day. Why not? Go where they are and engage them; post something of real value that they want or consider using targeted ads in the right spots.
No. This is what’s called “vanity tracking” and it’s quite meaningless – sort of like getting lots of “flirts” on a dating website but never actually getting a date.
You have to use your metrics to determine where visitors are coming from and where they’re bouncing to so that you can understand why you aren’t getting conversions. Something is turning them off. Go find them, start conversations and optimize.
This is dangerous. You may get a burst of initial sales because you’re offering huge discounts and/or freebies, but what happens when the party’s over ?
Your focus has to be on relationships and trust first – getting your brand known as one that cares about people. That’s what a consumer-driven economy is all about. A customer wants to know “who” they’re dealing with not just “what” they’re being asked to purchase.
Marketing has certainly changed, now that most of it is done online and has to compete with a huge deluge of content. No one sane just throws up ads and expects results. The Internet is a place for relationships and brand recognition built over time, not overnight.
Startup entrepreneurs have to develop patience and let those relationships and their reputation develop through sound strategies.
Marketing, and marketing for startups: they sound the same, right? Funny thing is… they’re not. Marketing is activity: “A set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.” (thanks American Marketing Association!).
While marketing for startups is really just one thing – hustling. And that doesn’t make ironing out a startup marketing plan any easier. Here’s 3 tips:
Why create a first year plan when everything you know will change within that time? Startups aren’t the same on day 1 as on day 365. In fact, they’re substantially different by day 30.
As you develop and research, you’ll learn your target audience can be reached in some ways but not others. For example, if your social media plan on day 1 revolves around Instagram then you learn your audience isn’t there, you have to scrap everything.
Shoot for short term quarterly plans. Then, when your marketing plan inevitably has to change, you’re simply refining every 90 days instead of starting over.
No startup should pay more than a small monthly fee for any marketing tool. For example, the Hubspot Jumpstart program offers Hubspot to companies at 90% off the list price for the first year. If your company meets the requirements, this is a great step as the platform allows companies to manage many marketing activities in one place.
Other free or inexpensive tools include:
One of the main things founders forget in their marketing plans is the hustle. Look in the mirror and tell yourself this:
“My startup isn’t going to get its first 100, 500 or 1,000 users solely from digital marketing.”
Founders have to hustle to quickly gain an enthusiastic user base. Hand out flyers; find your potential users at festivals, farmers markets, grocery stores, anywhere. Bring an iPad and have them sign up for your product on the spot. Launching a startup is no easy task and you must be willing to work to succeed.
Another big challenge for startups is deciding how much to invest in marketing when you don’t have a lot of money coming in. Listen, mainstream budget tools and time-tested rules of thumb used by established businesses just don’t work when you’re starting out.
Just because you don’t know exactly when that first or second sale will come is no excuse to simply pull a number out of thin air, cross your fingers and hope for the best. For brand new businesses without a sales history to use as a basis for future forecasting and budgeting a simple way to build that first marketing budget is to use a tactic called the “payout plan”.
Now you have a marketing budget not limited by initial sales. For startup companies with plans for rapid growth, marketing in often the missing link between where they are and where they want to be.
This isn’t revolutionary financing. Companies like Amazon and Monster.com employed this approach in their early days. Awareness was critical to their ability to grow, so long before they had adequate sales, they invested in television advertising.
They spent at a level well-above what a company of their size could afford. The plan succeeded and the sales came. It worked because they figured out what they needed to do to grow and how marketing fit into their overall plan.
This technique will not work for every startup. If awareness isn’t your biggest the issue this approach won’t grow your sales. Consider Pets.com. They thought they would become the Pet-Amazon so to speak, so they bought ads on the Super Bowl. But you might not have ever heard of Pets.com.
Awareness wasn’t their major growth obstacle. When people learned about them they chose not to use the service. There were major holes in their business model, and no amount of advertising could fix that.
There’s risk in this approach. Since you invest based on future sales, it will be several years before you figure out if you were right or wrong. If sales don’t come fast enough you may be out of money before you generate enough revenue.
If you’re trying to fuel rapid growth, it definitely takes money to make money. Just make sure you‘re spending it on something worth growing.
No matter how great your idea is, you need customers in order to survive. In fact, many statistics show that the failure to understand market/product-fit is one of the leading reasons why startups fail.
Near the top of that list you’ll also find inability to sell, along with cash flow issues – both of which can be redeemed if you have the right customers paying you for your product or service.
Acquiring customers isn’t rocket science, but it does take a methodical process as well as nerves of steel to be willing to try, try and try again in the face of defeat. It also means extending your ‘ask’ beyond friends and family. This is where you’ll find customers who really want what you have to offer based on your value proposition. Not because they find you warm and friendly.
Let’s focus on 5 simple steps to acquiring customers:
The key to customer acquisition is doing your research so you have a strong standing of your target market, brand, values, and positioning. Outline all of the answers to the following questions:
Taking a cue card from Stanford’s Design School, complete the following exercise to design a compelling position in the marketplace that separates you from the competition, while 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 the essence of these two sentences to develop compelling headlines for email campaigns, print campaigns, product materials, etc.
Identify the channels/areas/mediums where your potential customers are active. If you sell HR software, there’s a good chance a significant portion of your target audience is active on LinkedIn and online job boards. You could also find them in professional organizations such as the Society of Human Resource Management.
Connecting leads to the obvious mass media locations, such as TV, radio, online streaming, social media, etc. However, these often carry a high price tag and are less likely to lead to conversions that have a good track history. Look for outlets that often go unnoticed (which means they have less competition), such as:
As you connect with your target audience, it’s easy to get overly concerned with conversions, sales, and dollars in the door. After all, you need to pay your bills. Nevertheless, take time to identify long-term strategies that pay off indirectly by providing value to your potential audience.
For example, if you have a company that sells marketing products, introducing yourself to a LinkedIn group by offering a free resource like a marketing planning template download makes you seem less “salesy” and more likely to secure relationships. Giving is the new currency.
The Help Scout Blog is a great example of this as well – they have many provoking ideas and research that further validate the need for great customer service (they sell a customer service software). It’s spot on.
Despite all of the tools, channels, networks, and hubs that we have available to us, people still buy from people. You’ll notice many of the most successful startups place their founders and/or CEO at the forefront of communications (if you’re a customer of Treehouse or Hootsuite for example, you’ll find emails from their CEOs in your inbox).
They want customers to realize that there are people working to make magic happen. Since word of mouth marketing now has a million ways to spread online (and in person), 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.”
Return on investment (ROI) can be hard to measure, especially when you’re a marketer. Marketing professionals tackle this in many different ways, but there are a few things to consider while making these decisions. Here are three universal steps to help you improve ROI.
If you never truly define your strategy, defining success is impossible. What do you want to accomplish, and how? Make sure you have a plan in place so you can prove exactly what you accomplished. If you get sidetracked, refer back to your master plan. While creating it, ask yourself these crucial questions:
“Is your strategy measurable?”
It’s important that your marketing campaign be measurable. Defining a success indicator is the best way to prove any initiative in any field is successful, and marketing’s no different. So, when you’re in the early stages of planning your marketing campaign make sure there’s a measurable goal.
“Has your strategy generated sales?”
Leads, sales, and leads that turned into sales are a clear way to measure the success of your marketing campaign. While revenue isn’t the sole indicator of success, cash flow is the only way a business can thrive.
Sure, this is common sense, but how many businesses have you seen execute flashy marketing campaigns that never generate any sales? Or, owners get distracted by data that looks great but in actuality fails to prove anything at all. Speaking of which…
“Are you reporting on more than vanity metrics?”
We’re often asked about vanity metrics and if they hold value when measuring marketing ROI. The short answer is yes.
Of course the amount of clicks, opens, visits, etc. is important but if they don’t generate sales, or if you can’t prove they’ve generated revenue for the business, then they have little to no value when proving ROI. Raising brand awareness is great! But if your marketing efforts don’t translate to dollars then it’s time to reevaluate your strategy.
This is a difficult one to track and measure. The most important part of tracking awareness of your brand is the data you need to backup your conclusions. However, this does not mean that you should print out your reports from social management tools and Google Analytics and hand them to your boss. Raw data is just that—raw data.
The goal here is to interpret and paint a picture that gives insight into the project. If you’re not comfortable navigating marketing analytics, then check out this article.
One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make is assuming a strategy is going to work before they test, assuming what works for one audience will work for another, etc. The most important step in proving the ROI of your marketing efforts is to prove them over and over again.
Analyze your results after every campaign, monthly for longer campaigns, for every new initiative. Your marketing plan is living and breathing, and should be adjusted based on the success and failure of every new initiative.
Let’s face it, as the owner of a newly formed startup there are a number of tools you can use to market your product or service. Being fiscally responsible during a growth stage is important, and with their help you’ll be able to effectively gain customers and keep those relationships strong!
Sending quality emails to current customers is important, but gaining traction with new clientele can make or break your business.
Mailchimp is an affordable way to send professional emails with easy-to-format templates to catch the eye of your target consumer. If you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers, you can send up to 12,000 emails per month absolutely free. No expiring trial, contract, or credit card required.
Do you need help with…..anything? You can bet that you’ll find an affordable service provider on Fiverr. This site was built with a thrifty mindset and most services cost, you guessed it, $5. Services range from graphic design, to copywriting, audio/video editing, etc.
UpWork has become the largest and most profitable “digital work” or freelancing platform online…by far. The company was created when the two previous big hitters in the emerging industry combined merged into one monolithic platform.
This has it’s ups and downs but continues getting better and more functional over time. You can start an agency for free and hire workers to code, design, writer, VAs, etc., at competitive rates. If you’re outsourcing or plan to, you HAVE to check out UpWork.
If you’re struggling to find a website that’ll help you convert leads into customers, search no more. Leadpages was built from the ground up to give you the easiest page building experience on the web.
Whether you’re marketing webinars, white pages, free reports, software or anything else, this service helps drive consumers to convert. The best part? These pages integrate with your current website, Facebook, WordPress and more.
CRM software is important to any small business or startup, but many platforms are clunky to learn. PipeDrive allows you to manage your sales funnel, relationships and more with an easy to use tool. Plus, there’s a functioning mobile app for when you’re on the go (which is all the time). This service starts at a miniscule $12 per user, per month.
We know that you probably get asked by advisers, investors and your business relationships what the ROI of any marketing efforts that you’re doing are. Well, the free ROI calculator from Marketo can give you some valuable insights. Plus, it’s free.
There’s a positive ROI on free.
Social media management tools are essential for any social media professional or small business owner. Since there are so many of them out there, it may be hard to know which platform will work best for you and your business. Let’s take a look at some of the top social media management tools for this upcoming year.
Buffer has some amazing free features and is extremely easy to use. Depending on your business and how often you plan to schedule posts, you may be able to get away with using the free individual account for the time being.
If that doesn’t work, there are various plans based on the size of your team that are available on the cheap. One great thing about Buffer is that they also give free access to Pablo, which is a simple (but great!) image creator for your social media posts.
When it comes to social media management tools, HootSuite is one of the best and certainly the most popular with over ten million users. The platform offers three different plans to choose from: Free, Pro, and Enterprise.
Just like Buffer, you may be able to use the free plan (at least to get started!), which offers users the ability to manage three different accounts, two campaigns, some analytics and other basic features as well. The Pro plan allows users to manage up to 50 social media profiles, use HootSuite’s advanced message scheduling, enhanced analytics and more.
Sprout Social is a little bit pricier compared to the previous two, but it’s a popular tool used by companies such as Yahoo, Zipcar, Spotify and Fossil. On a tight budget? Sprout Social has a couple of plans that may work for you and your company.
One of our favorite features with Sprout is the smart inbox, which brings all of your messages from every one of your profiles to a single and filterable stream. This feature ensures that you never miss the chance to respond to a client or potential customer.
Most social media management tools have their own link-shortening capabilities. If the one you’re using doesn’t, Bitly is a quick way to shorten those exceedingly long hyperlinks.
Google Analytics is notorious for giving users tons of useful information, sometimes even more than they know what to do with. If you know your way around the platform then the tool is extremely handy, and if not, here’s a guide to help you get started.
Pablo is a social media image creation tool owned by Buffer. Even if you don’t use Buffer’s social media management platform, Pablo is still free to use and it creates quality images in a very short amount of time.
GetResponse is a new player in marketing automation, but it’s created an incredibly easy and affordable user platform. Two of the key features are the cart abandonment and shopping cart integration options which is essential for any eCommerce business.
InfusitonSoft specializes in lead-nurturing and has a ton of testing and tracking features. It’s a bit pricier than some of the others, but it’s statistics reports will help you understand exactly what’s going on in every campaign.
Copy Hackers is one of the prime online destinations on all things related to copywriting. In fact, their course, named the Starter Bundle, which is actually a series of ebooks, is still one of the best resources for budding copywriters.
Those who have completed the course swear by it and claim that it launched their copywriting skills into the stratosphere. Apart from their ebooks, marketers can also find tons of useful and valuable information on copywriting, marketing, and social media. The same goes for their blog section.
If you want to learn about digital marketing, then look no further than Marketing Land. And we do mean learn, because this website features articles with real advice and practical tips you can actually use in your marketing campaigns. In addition to that, they’re also among the first to publish marketing-related news, which practically makes them your ultimate source if you want to keep up with all the latest changes in marketing.
Inbound.org is one of the best places for digital marketers to gather and exchange ideas, network, collaborate, discuss problems, and even find jobs thanks to the always active job board. As such, it’s also a good place to learn, because its members will often discuss specific problems which you might run into as well.
This definitive guide on how to market a business was a collaboration between some of the best marketers we know. Startup Savant wouldn’t be the same without your help and insight!