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From the Trenches

Marketing Your Startup: Do it Yourself or Done for You?

Mike Sweeney | June 9, 2010

A few days back I heard from a colleague I hadn’t heard from in at least six months. He falls into the serial entrepreneur category, with both the battle scars and medals to show for it. His story is not unlike those of other successful entrepreneurs – sold his company, made some money, got antsy, came up with a new idea, loves it, ready to provide initial funding, build the prototype, and (due to his track record) knows he can get VC money if and when he needs it.

While he is not a marketer by title or trade, he’s very good at it.  He understands that for certain types of businesses, marketing drives the entire business model.  It’s the lever that determines whether you acquire 500 customers or 5000 customers, or whether you sell the company for $1 mill or $10 mill.

He’s come to me before to help with marketing strategy and execution, and in general to do a BS test on his business ideas.  Here he was again, ready to build a marketing machine and asking me for help.

In this case, we’re talking about a startup that – even with a marketing expert on board – recognizes the need to bring in outside help.  We work with a few clients that fall into this category as well.  They acknowledged the holes in their founding team, and were prepared to hand off the entire marketing function.

In stark contrast to that, we run into plenty of startups that read articles like Startup Marketing: Tactical Tips from the Trenches, or even our very own Startup Marketing: 10 Things to Do in Your First 90 Days, and decide to build and execute a marketing strategy on their own.

So that raises the key question: DIY or DFY?

Assuming you possess the cash to even consider the option of DIY vs. DFY, here are some characteristics that may make doing it yourself the right choice:

Someone on your founding team has a well-rounded marketing background.

There’s a reason I use the phrase “well-rounded” here.  Teaching yourself SEO does not make you a marketer; it makes you adequate in one (very important) marketing tactic.  Only someone that has experience in dealing with marketing strategy and management can efficiently handle the flurry of marketing activity that goes in during the first 6 – 12 months of the average startup.

Someone on your founding team has the time to dedicate to marketing.

This one is obvious.  If your CEO is the marketing expert, but she is spending the majority of her time wooing VCs, marketing will falter.

Someone on your founding team has a passion for marketing.

Another obvious one.  Especially in a startup, and especially when you’re counting on one person to plan and lead marketing, that person better bring the passion.

Someone on your founding team has access to resources to execute an organized plan.

Often times, developing the right marketing strategy and processes is half the battle.  If your founding team has access to human resources that can take a plan and execute on the cheap (but with a high level of quality), go for it.

Your company is relying on buzz and word-of-mouth to grow, as opposed to a comprehensive marketing and customer acquisition strategy.

More marketing tactics typically translates into needing more marketing help.  That being said, if you remove some of the more resource-intensive marketing tactics and you decide to focus purely on buzz-building and word-of-mouth, you may be able to get away (for now) with doing it all yourself.

We’ll be discussing this and more at Search for Startups during DC Digital Capital Week.  Please join us for the session.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear from startup founders or startup advisors – what scenarios demand outsourced marketing help, and what scenarios demand that the founding team handle marketing in-house?

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About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.