90% of startups fail – many of them in the first year. This means that knowing how to market yourself effectively, and cost-effectively, is critical.
Failure here could quickly be your downfall. If you’re not spreading the word, who’s going to buy from you?
And if no one’s buying from you, where’s your revenue coming from?
Okay, so let’s backtrack a second: revenue and cash flow are paramount to all businesses at all times – I’m not denying that – but they’re especially important in year one. A couple of bad months could break you – particularly if you’re a bootstrapped startup.
This means it’s key that your marketing plan isn’t just geared around building brand awareness and long-term growth: you need to make space for investing in channels that are proven to drive immediate revenue.
There are no hard-and-fast rules that dictate what these channels should be. Every business is different and what works for them, and what they can afford, will vary.
Many companies will decide it makes sense to get someone in charge of direct sales.
If you have an email list, even a small one, it’s probably wise to exploit it. When Matt Ackerson founded Petovera in 2010, email marketing landed him his very first client, and later on, his biggest client.
In its first year, Petovera turned over $100,000.
By the end of its first year, analytics software company Baremetrics was turning over $25,000 a month, an achievement it credited in large part to a partnership with a much bigger player in the field: Buffer.
One of GrooveHQ’s earliest methods of customer acquisition involved attending local Meetups.
Finding channels that are going to get you those critical first customers and the resulting revenue should play a big part in your year-one marketing strategy.
Let’s take a look at what else you should be doing, and link you to some pretty awesome resources that will talk you through each step in more detail.
Identifying and Understanding Your Audience
Before you can do anything else, you need to know who you’re marketing to – it’s the only way you’ll be able to target them effectively.
If you’ve done your market research, you should have a pretty solid idea of your target audience – however, you can, and should, do much more to ensure you truly understand your audience and what makes them tick.
Building a crystal-clear picture of your typical customer is key to devising a strategy that works. This is an article I wrote last year that lists 150 questions you should ask when building buyer personas.
This post gives more detail into the whats and whys of building a buyer persona, and how to find the information you need.
When getting to know our audience, we need to forget what we think: it’s our audience’s opinions that matter. Ryan explains why this is and shows us the tools we’ll need to discover this information.
Learn to use Google Analytics in order to understand how your audience is engaging with you and how you should adjust your strategy in line with this.
The best-performing marketers set tangible, achievable goals for themselves and their campaigns. They do this because goals help them (and their team) focus their efforts, understand what they’re trying to achieve, and measure their results.
In your first year, the goalposts might be changing regularly. This means you’ll probably want monitor your progress and adjust goals accordingly at close intervals.
Set the bar too low, and your team might not be pushed to do their very best. Set the bar too high, and failure to achieve goals can damage morale. Getting the balance just right is key to maximizing results.
While your goals should of course be “smart,” SMART is actually an acronym for:
SMART describes exactly what your goals should be comprised of. The template above will make setting goals that meet the SMART criteria easy.
Your marketing goals are intrinsically tied to the goals your business is striving to achieve, but setting goals isn’t as simple as saying “We want to grow our business and make more money.” That part is obvious. This article shows how to tie the specific goals of your business in with the targets you set for your marketing campaigns.
Performing Keyword Research
Keyword research ensures you target the right keywords on the right pages of your site.
It also plays a key (pun not intended) role in understanding your market. It should be a priority in every startup’s marketing plan.
Many marketers’ go-to keyword research tool is Google’s own Keyword Planner. That’s fine – Keyword Planner’s a great tool – but it’s only really useful for identifying generic, head terms (and terms that are very closely tied to your original search).
There are many more layers to a good keyword strategy. The articles below will help you dig deeper, discover how your audience thinks, and uncover the questions they’re really asking.
Spanning seven chapters, Backlinko’s definitive guide to keyword research will take you through the basics, show you how to use keyword tools including Keyword Planner (and how to understand its limitations), help you identify long-tail keywords, and demonstrate the importance of commercial intent and keyword competition.
This 19-step checklist for performing keyword research includes some unusual and interesting ways of finding relevant search terms.
How you might execute a keyword research strategy can differ according to industry and what you hope to learn. In this guide, Shopify looks at keyword research specifically from the point of view of an Ecommerce site.
This article takes a look at 9 tools, at various price points, which can help you execute keyword research for SEO.
Driving Organic Traffic
Organic traffic is free, and once you have it, it tends to remain pretty steady. It’s also damn important. Unfortunately, getting your site into a position where it will receive a good amount of organic traffic isn’t easy. It usually involves a heavy-handed combination of technical fixes, on-page optimization, and an off-page strategy designed to drive links.
It also takes time.
SEO doesn’t reach completion in a week, a month, or a year. It’s an ongoing process that really should continue for as long as you want traffic to come to your site.
Moz’s epic “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” has been read more than 3 million times. It’s no mystery why: it’s awesome. It’s also updated regularly, which, in an industry that changes shape as fast as SEO, is really important. Read it. Bookmark it. Read it again in 6 months.
This case study shows how one guy took a website from 0 to 100,000 visitors a month, in one year, without spending a single dollar on advertising.
If your site isn’t technically sound, you could be losing a lot of traffic – sometimes on account of an issue that’s quick and easy to fix – that is, if you can spot it. This Moz article runs through how to identify 10 common technical SEO issues and what you should be doing about them.
Another guide from Moz, this one looks specifically at how to identify links that could harm you (one of the quickest and potentially most devastating causes of traffic loss).
The explosion of the internet has changed PR practically beyond recognition.
Today, digital PR is just as, if not more important than, offline PR. Executed correctly, it can be a significant driver of links and traffic – it’s not just about press coverage and brand visibility anymore.
However, what marketers need to remember is that while PR can be a great way to build your brand and supplement your SEO strategy, it doesn’t tend to be a direct driver of sales.
While that might be discouraging to the C-Suite, good marketers should know this doesn’t mean PR is not worth investing in. There are many things that make consumers buy, one of which is knowing and trusting a brand. PR can, and should, play an important part in this.
This is a pretty comprehensive introduction to tackling PR yourself, from understanding what PR entails, to key ground rules you should adhere to and what’s actually involved in getting the press to cover you.
This massive list of 140 PR tools can help support and supplement your efforts.
Content helps build brand awareness and links. If you want to improve your performance online, you need to be investing in a content strategy.
Optimized content can rank in the search results and drive qualified traffic to your site. Shareable content can be promoted and drive links. Conversion content can target visitors at every stage of the sales funnel and turn a potential customer into a real-life, revenue-driving customer.
In short: content helps your site grow. Without it, you risk your website stagnating.
Best of all, a content strategy doesn’t have to cost the world. The little guys can, and do compete.
Before you do anything else, you should probably come to grips with what content marketing actually is. This article from the Content Marketing Institute has got you covered.
Once you understand what content marketing entails, here’s everything else you could need to know (give or take), thanks to the very brilliant Heidi Cohen.
Here’s a free content marketing course for B2B marketers, consisting of 19 lectures and 37 minutes of video.
As demonstrated here, creating content consistently and frequently has been shown to garner better results:
This article from CMI will help you implement a content creation and publishing strategy you can stick to.
Nobody has unlimited time or resources to invest in content marketing, and the limits imposed on startups are likely to be particularly strict. This is why it’s important to use tools that help you use your time more efficiently.
Social media allows you to engage with your audience and begin turning customers into brand advocates. It can also help drive traffic to your site.
Perhaps most importantly of all, your customers expect you to be using it.
It’s imperative that startups get their foot in the door of, at a minimum, one or two social media channels as quickly as possible. Not only will it play a part in how consumers respond to your brand, but also there’s no point in ˜waiting to begin building an audience – the sooner, the better.
Here’s another seriously awesome guide from those same wonderful people at Moz who brought us “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO.” This time, you’ll learn about the value social media offers, best practices you should follow, how to measure success, and which channels you should be using.
44 Social Media Tools Recommended By the Pros
Social media pros recommend their favorite tools for streamlining and enhancing their efforts.
Links to 132 case studies of social media done right, and social media done wrong. Read them, learn from them, and don’t make the same mistakes yourself!
Paid social lets you leverage social platforms to drive traffic to your site and boost the visibility of your content. This free whitepaper promises to tell you everything you need to know to get started.
Chapter Six of Quicksprout’s “Complete Guide to Building Your Blog Audience” focuses on using paid social media to get more eyes and ears on your content.
Despite what some people may believe, email still matters.
“While email is a comparatively old, un-sexy technology compared to social media, the rallying cries of “Email is dead!” are simply inaccurate and undoubtedly hurting the bottom line of those businesses who listen.
Email marketing provides the most direct line of communication for turning leads into sales, which is why the savviest entrepreneurs have no intention of giving it up any time soon.” – Help Scout
In fact, data from email analytics company Litmus showed email offers a better ROI than PPC and banner ads, and a higher conversion rate than organic search and social combined.
Of course, when it comes to email marketing, many startup marketers are faced with a pretty significant barrier:
Not actually having an email list.
This means building one should be a core component of any startup marketer’s first year strategy.
When I was starting out, I built my email list primarily by giving away eBooks (in other words, through content marketing). Later, I began to use SumoMe’s List Builder tool.
I’m now collecting around 2500 new emails a month across SujanPatel.com, Narrow.io, and ContentMarketer.io. The great thing about this is that if or when I launch my next tool, I have a huge list of people I can tell about it.
The lesson there is that if this isn’t your first startup, you can kick-start your email marketing by leveraging the email list from a previous venture.
This is a comprehensive strategy for taking your email list from absolutely nothing to at least something, in just 48 hours.
Getting those first few emails always feels the hardest. Once you’re over that hurdle, here’s 25 tactics you can use to keep it growing.
Here’s an introduction to email marketing written specifically for startups, with a focus on how to learn what works.
As the name suggests, here are 49 email marketing tips specifically for beginners, focusing on five key areas:
- Getting started
- Subject line
- Sending your email
- Managing subscribers
You wouldn’t send the same email to your best friend and your grandparents, so why would you put your entire email list into the same box? This article will talk you through eight different ways to divide your email list so you’re sending the right messages to the right people.
It’s been proven to work very well.
This article is a firsthand account of the ups, downs, and lessons learned from using email marketing to build a blog and a business.
Relationship marketing is about building long-term relationships with your customers. It’s a more sustainable way of looking at building a customer base, rather than focusing all your efforts on securing that next sale.
In fact, it’s how I grew my audience for Content Marketer to 4500 users in just 18 months.
“There is a way to sell that is rewarding, positive and even enjoyable.
It’s called relationship marketing and it’s a message Dale Carnegie started delivering over 80 years ago.
When you first establish a relationship with prospects, it becomes easier to sell to them.” – Neil Patel
The goal of relationship marketing is to get your customers to want to stick around and keep buying from you. The consequences of this are:
- A higher customer LTV (life-time-value)
- More referrals and free word-of-mouth marketing
If your focus in the first year is to get as many customers as possible, stop, sit back, and take another look at what you’re doing. Chances are it will pay dividends to focus on retaining and keeping a smaller group of customers happy, instead.
This is a great guide to understanding your customers and being able to assess a situation and respond to it sensitively, which can make or break your relationship marketing strategy.
The best salespeople know that their ability to close a sale rests on their ability to forge a connection with the person they’re selling to. This article details what those salespeople can teach us about relationships in marketing.
Jamil Velgi of Easy Automated Sales talks us through what relationship marketing is, why it’s so popular, how it can be used to reach new and current customers, and its intrinsic link to customer service.
Implementing a Framework for Growth
The overriding goal of every marketing strategy is growth. However… you can actually boost the effectiveness of your marketing by implementing a framework designed specifically to drive it (growth, that is).
Growth is one of my favorite areas. I love implementing strategies to grow my own businesses, and even more, I love helping other companies to grow theirs.
Since growth is my “thing,” I’m going to format this section a little differently than the rest of the post. I’m going to talk a bit about my experience with each strategy, then provide you with a great resource you can visit if you want to find out more.
For anyone that’s not familiar with guest blogging, the premise is simple: instead of writing an article for your own site, you write it for someone else’s – and ideally not any site, but a relevant site with a big audience.
When I first began guest blogging I used Buzzsumo to find the best blogs in my industry. Then I just started approaching them.
Before long, not only was I getting some great visibility and driving lots of relevant referral traffic to my site, but people actually started approaching me to ask if I would write for them.
You can also reverse this strategy and ask people to guest post for you. This works really well because most of the time, your guest poster will promote their post, meaning your site, to their audience.
Get an influential person to write for you, and this strategy could send you tons of traffic and get you in front of a new and relevant audience.
It also means you get free content, and who’s going to complain about that?
More info: How to Start Guest Blogging
I’m a huge fan of Slack and have spent a lot of time there – especially in the early days of my career. I’ve joined 15 groups and try to contribute to most of them. It’s played a huge part in building my brand and securing customers.
You can do the same by finding relevant online communities and actually taking the time to be helpful and to build relationships with other members.
Blog commenting as a marketing strategy suffers from a pretty shoddy reputation, and understandably so. It gets abused. A lot. Even in a day and age where most people are adding the “rel=”nofollow”” attribute to their blog links.
However, I’ve found it to be infinitely valuable in driving traffic, leads, and ultimately sales, especially for my tool, Content Marketer.
I did this by finding relevant articles with an active comments section and actually taking the time to contribute to the conversation.
You can read more about how this panned out in the link below.
Okay, so I have a little confession: I’ve made this term up. This strategy is something I just decided to do one day and found that it works. I don’t know if anyone else does it, and as far as I know, it doesn’t have a name.
So here goes: I present you with “reverse marketing.”
Every day I get 20 to 30 emails from people asking me to write about their startup. That rarely works on me. I don’t write posts about startups, but I will try out your tool and might mention it in a post if I like it and it fits.
Since I’m not going to write about them, I flip the situation around. I email them back and pitch them my startup instead.
Does this work?
Around 32% of the people I reply to visit Content Marketer, and every day between 5 and 7 of them will sign up.
I think it’s so effective because these people are performing outreach, which makes them Content Marketer’s perfect target audience.
If your company offers something that people who cold email you might benefit from, I encourage you to try this strategy yourself (but don’t forget to come back here and let me know how it went!)
MVP stands for “minimum viable product,” which in short means a product that has the minimum amount of features needed to make it viable for sale, while allowing for its continued development.
Eric Ries described it as:
“That version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
MVP marketing played a fundamental part in the growth of my businesses. In the beginning, I was too busy with a full time job to focus on developing the perfect product, so instead I worried about the big stuff: creating a product which was useful enough that people would pay for it now, but that possessed the potential to be seriously awesome in the future.
I think this is a great hack for businesses that are worried about getting everything just right before launch. In my experience, that’s usually a mistake. If you have a product that’s good enough to start making money without damaging your reputation, then just get it out there and start generating some damn revenue!
Influencer marketing is huge right now. There are a couple of key reasons I can see for this:
- It allows brands to instantly tap into a new and engaged audience via someone that audience trusts and will listen to.
- We have more influencers who are more influential than ever before. They’re today’s celebrities, but unlike the celebrities of yesteryear, they tend to be easier to engage with and more receptive to pitches from brands.
I’ve been big on influencer marketing for a while. My initial strategy involved making a list of all the badass up-and-coming bloggers and marketers out there. Note the “up-and-coming” bit. I think this was key to my success. I thought if I targeted people early on in their careers it would be easier to get them on board with my thought-process.
Once I had a list of people I’d like to work with, I got on the phone and actually talked to them. I’d then invite them to these dinners I used to host, where I’d get a handful of awesome people together to eat, drink, and chat.
My focus first and foremost was on helping the people I spoke to. If that led to big things for me, then great. If not, then it really didn’t matter – I’d forged valuable connections with some fantastic people, learned some stuff, and had a pretty awesome time doing it.
Of course you don’t have to go to the length of hosting dinners in order to execute an influencer marketing strategy. If you can get an influencer excited about your brand, and you’re able to cough up a fee for their time, all it should take is a short email exchange to put something pretty great into action.
More info: The Definitive Guide to Influencer Targeting
What do you think about marketing a startup in year one? Are there any strategies you believe companies definitely should or shouldn’t invest in? Feel free to share your thoughts using the comments below.