Ask the founder of any startup company and they can likely relate to the feeling of jumping out of an airplane and assembling their parachute on the way down. It takes a whole lot of guts, grit and faith that you’ll figure it all out before you hit the ground. And while they probably had a general idea of how a parachute works, don’t think for a minute that they had an instruction manual or how-to video.
As the founder of LimeLight Marketing, I’ve lived this exhilarating ride of a startup for the past year as my team and I have worked diligently and without rest to open our own parachute. In my previous 15 years working in corporate America, every job has come with it’s own set of challenges. But the pressure of growing a startup that has yet to be proven is the most challenging, exhausting, scary, and motivating thing I’ve ever done professionally.
No matter how much progress we make, every now and then I still feel that drop in my stomach – that fear that that we might hit the ground without a parachute, when in reality we are still 20,000 feet in the sky with plenty of wind under our wings. I suppose that feeling is what fuels the intensity and determination that enables success. (I’ve been told by experienced entrepreneurs that the feeling never totally goes away.)
At LimeLight Marketing, we work with entrepreneurs every day who are doing this same thing – taking the leap of faith to turn their dream into a reality. We also work with many successful entrepreneurs who were once startups and have grown their small seed of hope into mid to large size successful businesses. While their budgets, number of employees, and size of physical operations are different between these two groups, their passion, commitment and determination are quite consistent.
From my own personal experience as a startup as well as my experience working with startup clients and proven entrepreneurs, I have found that we all face similar challenges. I want to talk about 3 of the most common challenges startups have when it comes to marketing and offer some ideas and advice that can help as you are assembling your parachute.
Marketing Challenge #1: Limited Marketing Budget
There’s nothing like stating the obvious, right? But there’s no way around it because it’s real. Despite the fact that I had put hours and hours into building a detailed business plan to forecast monthly expenses when I started the agency, those first few months when that plan became a reality and expenses began rolling in faster than revenue, it gave me a whole new reason to come to work every day. It was no longer about maintaining a desired standard of living, or enjoying a profession that I loved. It was a feeling of sheer survival.
In these early days it’s often hard for entrepreneurs to justify investing in marketing. Yet lack of marketing = lack of people knowing about your new product or service, which = lack of revenue. So it’s the chicken and egg dilemma. Do you wait for revenue to come in to justify marketing spend or do you invest in marketing as a growth driver for your startup? For more on this topic, read our blog titled Is Your Marketing Budget An Expense or An Investment?
I believe that you must consider marketing an investment. That doesn’t mean you have to go overboard. It means you have to be extremely insightful about how and where you market. More on that in a minute.
Luckily, startups and businesses in general have a big advantage over businesses of the past, with access to free online resources at our fingertips. If you don’t know how to do something related to marketing, odds are Google can help you find information online to get started. In fact, we’ve created free marketing downloads to help business owners like you.
If you don’t have time to dig in and learn the ropes yourself (after all you are starting a new business), I recommend that you get laser focused on your target market. Then hire a marketing agency to take on specific tasks which can be an affordable alternative to hiring someone full time and it will give you access to a wide range of talents – from writers, to graphic designers, to social media specialists.
Marketing Challenge #2: So Many Marketing Options
The rise in popularity of digital and content marketing has filled the marketing landscape with a plethora of digital marketing options in addition to traditional channels. Social media, SEO, SEM, blogs, PPC, retargeting – it’s easy to see how any startup business owner could be a bit overwhelmed and confused.
How do you begin to know where to invest the limited budget that you have? Which tactics will be most effective in reaching your highest priority goals? How will you know if your marketing is even working?
My advice: First, clearly define your buyer personas. (That is – who are the people that you most want to purchase your product/service?) Here’s a clue – it can’t be anyone or everyone! Sure, you may SELL your product to anyone who wants to buy it, but you should MARKET your product to your ideal buyers. To do that, you need an intimate understanding of who they are, where they are, and what problem they have that you can solve. Use our Beginner’s Guide To Creating Buyer Personas to guide you in this process.
Second, through that process, gain insight to where your target audience is and where they hang out. Once you know who you are targeting and where they are, you can narrow your marketing options. For example, if you are a B2B software company, you may chose to develop a LinkedIn strategy before you try Facebook. If you are selling Medicare insurance to elderly, you probably don’t need to race onto Twitter.
If you decide to go the route of hiring a marketing agency, they can help you develop personas and determine the best marketing channels to reach your specific goals.
Marketing Challenge #3: Maintaining Focus
Your marketing strategy isn’t complete once you’ve put a plan in action. Quite the contrary…especially for a startup business. You have so much to learn about your target audience- how they want to engage with your brand, product or service. Even the best marketing strategies can fail if neglected, and most will need adjusted as you learn what’s working and what’s not.
At LimeLight Marketing, we have learned that we must treat ourselves like a client when it comes to our marketing. If we don’t, our own marketing gets pushed to the back burner and just doesn’t happen. To my earlier analogy about jumping out of the airplane, neglecting our own marketing isn’t going to open our parachute. For us, this means that we assign a monthly budget, a set number of hours and a project manager to our own marketing efforts. We invest in the proper tools for automation and tracking, and we meet regularly to review, analyze, and adjust.
My advice: Find someone who is accountable for your marketing efforts. As the owner, you are ultimately responsible, but if that’s not where you choose to focus your time, then appoint someone on your team who will make this a priority, or hire a marketing agency to lead this while you focus on what you do best. If you go internal, make sure this person has the training and tools needed to be successful. Use tools such as Buffer or Hootsuite to save time on automating your social media postings. More advanced tools like HubSpot (which we personally use at LimeLight) can provide an all-in-one marketing solution to automate your inbound marketing campaigns, manage your sales pipeline and offer you a CRM. Automating can save you time and reduce stress.
The Conclusion for Marketing Startups
For those with the tenacity, determination and support to jump from the airplane and build your dream by way of a startup, don’t sell yourself short by missing the boat in marketing your new product or service. You’ve created something special – now tell people about it. Be laser focused in who you market to and where they are at. Monitor results and adjust quickly, to understand what’s working and what’s not. Focus on who you hire – it’s important to attract and retain your employees because after all, they are your best company assets. You will face challenges, and it will be exhausting at times, but learn from those who’ve gone before you, seek help from experts in areas that you hold tight to the determination and faith that brought you to where you are!