So you got yourself involved with a startup company. It may have happened by circumstance or by choice. You’re either a founder or one of the first employees. You either envision your concept as a potential single to be flipped in 3-4 years, or a grand slam that will allow you to socialize with the likes of Brin, Bezos and Cuban.
Awesome. We all love a good startup story.
Unless you’ve got an inherently viral concept on your hands (and by the way, keep in mind that there have only been about 5 inherently viral products introduced over the past 5-7 years), you’re going to need to put a significant emphasis on marketing. I wrote an earlier post about the necessity of bringing marketing expertise to your internal/external team, but this post isn’t designed to belabor that point.
You’re going to need to do certain things during your first 90 days to survive and show some traction from a marketing standpoint. Why 90 days? It’s simple. Business plans are great for fundraising and for attracting senior-level employees, but executing on a 5-10 year grand vision usually happens in pieces. I happen to believe that this execution is best broken down into 90-day pieces.
One caveat before we get into the list. All of the items below are tactics. Tactics that do not flow from a broader strategy usually fail at some point. Build a sound marketing strategy – identify goals, build your messaging, pinpoint target audiences – before you start getting tactical.
Here are the 10 marketing items every startup should consider executing within the first 90 days of operation:
1. Build a clean, easy to navigate website.
I know. Quite an “outside the box” statement. All I can say is that people still miss on this first step, and miss in an embarrassing way. Remember this – depending on which web genius you listen to, you have between 3-10 seconds just to convince a visitor to move further on your site.
And if you’re a startup that doesn’t think you need a web site at all, I wish you luck. No need to read further.
2. Create a blog, post quality content, and learn how to market it.
You’re still reading this post because you find the content interesting and the site doesn’t look half bad. You’re here because you found the content via a search engine, another website, or perhaps a social media property like Twitter or LinkedIn.
If your website is your brochure (and hopefully it doesn’t look like one), then your blog is your platform to express your ideas and distribute some of your marketing content.
3. Spend the time to do the basic SEO work, or have someone do it for you.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), generally speaking, rarely will impact your business in the short-term. That being said, if anyone tells you that SEO is dead and you shouldn’t worry about it, toss them out the window like the guy in the Bud Light commercial. Even the most basic SEO work, if done appropriately, will pay significant dividends eventually.
4. Do some public relations, or at a bare minimum issue a press release surrounding your launch.
Not every startup can afford to spend thousands of dollars a month on retaining a public relations agency, but that’s not an excuse to ignore public relations. You can get a high quality press release written, distributed and pitched for as little as $1,500 – $2,000, even less if you do some of it yourself.
Is there a good reason NOT to announce your business? Afraid of a poor first impression on the media and consumers of your product? If so, you may be facing a product problem or a problem with other elements in your marketing mix.
5. Get involved in social media.
Notice that I didn’t say to rush out, join all 10,000 social media properties and start posting. As always, with social media, my advice is to join, listen, learn, then post. Most startups join and post. They don’t even acknowledge the listen and learn part. Startups are typically in a rush to show some traction, and unfortunately some investors judge traction based on Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and LinkedIn connections. That’s just silly, almost as silly as the valuations those investors placed on the revenue-less companies of dot-com boom times.
6. Make your first customers raving fans, and squeeze everything you can out of them.
Those who have launched startups know that you rely on your immediate network for feedback and funding during the first stages of operation. Provide exceptional service to those customers, solicit as much feedback as possible, and then use those customers in press releases, case studies, testimonials, videos, etc. Of course, I would recommend asking for permission from those customers first.
7. Send an email newsletter on a monthly basis if possible.
If you’re executing on some of the items above and below, you’ll have plenty of content for a basic email newsletter that updates customers, prospects, investors, media, friends and family on the company’s progress.
Much like public relations, is there a good reason NOT to send a quality email newsletter to 500-2,000 people that have some level of interest in your business?
8. Install web analytics. Monitor it. Don’t obsess over it.
Web analytics packages are a lot of fun. That may sound geeky, but once you’ve actually logged in and viewed all the cool stuff that is trackable on your website, you don’t know.
Go ahead and get web analytics installed on your website. Tie it into pay-per-click advertising if you’re doing any of that. Look at the results once a day or once a week, whatever makes you feel comfortable. Just don’t get too caught up in why your site attracts more visitors from Idaho than Florida until you have enough data to make reasonable judgments.
9. Start considering distribution partners.
This is easier said than done. Unless you are pursuing the most unique target market in the history of the world, there are likely other companies that have already climbed that mountain and can claim thousands of customers in your target market. You need to start conversations with these types early, as partnership deals rarely happen quickly.
This should start during the 90-day period, but likely won’t show results during those 90 days. That being said, imagine the marketing cost savings of reaching a partner’s existing 2,000 customers vs. attempting to acquire those 2,000 customers through traditional marketing means.
10. Get organized and actually create your 90-day marketing plan.
Especially in a startup, whoever is responsible for marketing ought to also be one of the more organized people in your organization. You likely don’t have a lot of marketing dollars to spend, and therefore you need to be extremely efficient with the tactics you execute. Disorganized people typically aren’t very efficient.