Marketing and The Start-up: Putting It All On The Line

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There is no question that successful entrepreneurs put it all on the line when launching a business. They have a lot to worry about: Is my idea good enough to succeed? Will I have enough money? Where do I find the right people? How do I build a sustaining company? What is the best path to get my message out? These potential pitfalls could wreak havoc as an entrepreneur tries to develop a new company, a great product and an innovative culture.

Navigating potential start-up pitfalls demands attention and strong leadership. Entrepreneurial leaders work tirelessly to launch and grow, which may take months and years pursuing funding, research, resources, locations, product development and customer acquisition.

Over the years, as I have had the privilege to work with many successful start-ups, I’ve found the most successful entrepreneurs share a number of similar qualities:

Founders are smart, but they make sure their employees are smarter. Entrepreneurs hire the brightest because they know that without a strong team, the business will not survive. In this “roll up your sleeves” environment, founders tend to check their egos at the door.

They have virtually limitless energy and motivation. These infectious qualities —or lack thereof—can make or break a start-up company. If the leadership team is “all in” and enjoys what they are doing, they influence stakeholders to feel the same.

They are respectful. Entrepreneurs consistently show respect to their employees, strategic partners, customers and to everyone that can and will impact the business. Respect matters because it’s an important demonstration of appreciation and value to the relationships that are critical to the company’s success.

When to Invest in Marketing: The Chicken or the Egg?

As a marketing consultant, I see leaders that possess these unique attributes, which can help improve the impact of our work and ultimately, better support them in their vision of success. However, marketing can be a tough topic for start-ups to address, even for seasoned leaders. While most believe marketing is something they should do, knowing when to commit to a marketing plan and budget may not be so straightforward.

Start-ups have to answer the tough question: Should I use my own funds to invest early in marketing to promote their company or should I wait until I have sales or funding?

In the early stages of a start-up, limited resources are typically focused on developing whatever it is the company will be selling. Since start-ups are rarely fully self-funded, investment to support the development of the business offering is critical. This may translate to the key leadership team focused exclusively on securing funding – doing all of the heavy lifting, without much outside help. So, how does marketing factor in? Marketing can play an important role in helping to meet early objectives, such as securing A Series funding, promoting a product or finding new strategic partnerships. Depending on the type of business, these may include foundational requirements, viral marketing, paid and earned and social media.

Marketing can play an important role in helping to meet early objectives, such as securing A Series funding, promoting a product or finding new strategic partnerships. Depending on the type of business, these may include foundational requirements, viral marketing, as well as paid, earned and social media.

But Before You Make Your Marketing Decision, Keep These Tips in Mind:

  • Be ready. Is your product or service solid? Is it needed? Have you researched the viability of the product and market? Is your story and message clear? Think through these questions and then some.
  • Take baby steps. Start small and scale as you grow.
  • Be consistent. A big push followed by silence will not yield desired results. Plan campaigns that make sense in reaching and nurturing engagement with your audiences.
  • Be patient. Stay the course. Rarely does success happen overnight.
  • Relationships matter and they take time to build. Strengthen relationships with employees, (alpha/beta) customers, analysts, media, investors, partners and your advisory network.

Focus on Core Needs: What Works

When a start-up is bootstrapped there typically isn’t much room for luxuries. However, we often see early stage companies benefiting from investing in select marketing initiatives such as the ones below. Budgets for these assets and activities don’t have to break the bank. Core marketing needs can include:

  • A (really, really good) website. Your website is your calling card. It is the one place where potential investors, employees, customers and partners will go to learn more about you, what your company stands for and your value to them. The website should be engaging, easy to navigate, clean and tell your story effectively.
  • Creating content—lots of content—and then sharing it. It is important to create meaningful content that educates, nurtures or encourages direct engagement. The content can be distributed through social media channels, email marketing, your website, at events, PR/media relations and through other channels that reach your targeted audience. Content really is king when it comes to moving a start-up forward. Question: How do I sell a highly complex product? Answer: Create content that helps describe the product, value of the product, usage of the product, impact to the industry and why the product matters to your customers and their customers. The content should then be reused to reach your audience through various channels.
  • Continually refining your investor/sales presentation. If funding is your objective, this is your central communication asset. Updating in real-time based on feedback, customer validation and business progress is key as there are regular changes in market data, customer insight and product developments. This document can also be leveraged for sales enablement.
  • LinkedIn leadership profiles count. A company website is essential, but prospective investors, customers and partners also want to know about the leadership team. Up-to-date LinkedIn profiles can help them make more informed decisions on whether to work with your organization.
  • Investing in social media. Your social channels and content should be defined based on your target audience (think LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, AngelList). Begin building your network on social media as a means of engagement and relationship building. Be sure to include the right channels based on your company stage, needs and your target audience.
  • Customer Voice. Customers matter and creating a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) at an early stage can provide valuable insight and customer buy-in as you progress as a company.  For more information on how to create a CAB, click here.

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What’s next?  After the foundational activities are complete, there are many other marketing initiatives that can and will help drive your business forward.

Working with start-ups in various capacities is one of my favorite business activities. These companies are what keep us moving forward with innovation and the excitement of achieving the possible. Last, young companies are often able to see the full impact of what I/we do. This is thrilling, inspiring and incredibly gratifying.

If you’d like to learn more about some of the marketing services I touched on above, visit our Services page or reach out to us at info@www.outlookmarketingsrv.com or through social media via our Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn page.

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Author: Christa Carroll, Senior Vice President, Outlook Marketing Services

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