It’s natural to want everything to be “just so” before you start trying to attract customers to your product or service. But if you wait for everything to be perfect, it could be years before you’re ready to launch… in the meantime you’ve missed all those opportunities to connect with your community and get valuable input from customers. When it comes to your marketing strategy, it’s never too soon!
Over the years, I have worked with lots of startups and small businesses; even more so now that I’m based here in Dublin and also as my involvement with the New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Programme website is turning me into something of a startup nerd 😉
When should early-stage startups start thinking about their online presence?
I’ve had countless conversations about startup marketing with both advisers and entrepreneurs, and I’ve noticed that there’s a tendency to see marketing as a phase that should only be tackled once the business has a finished product or service and has started to make sales. In other words: once everything is up and running.
We’re not ready…
You can see why this is tempting. If you had the option of showing people your work in progress, or the beautiful finished product you imagine in your head, it’s easy to guess which you would choose. So, often months and months go by while a new business perfects and tweaks its product without making any attempt to reach out to customers.
There are several reasons why this happens:
- Because startups are often strapped for cash and think that marketing early on is an unnecessary expense.
- Because there is a reasonable expectation that the startup will pivot at some point during early-stage and they don’t want to spend money on the “wrong” marketing.
- Because the startup believes that without a finished product there is “nothing” to market.
Unsurprisingly, I totally disagree with this approach.
Anyone who works with startups will tell you that validating your business idea is the most crucial part of starting a company. This is the process of identifying a need (also known as “pain”), solving that need, testing the solution, pivoting if necessary and defining your revenue model. Part of this process will involve you talking to potential customers, to make sure that you understand what their pain really is and test your assumptions about the solution they require.
And any good marketer will tell you that people buy from people, and that telling your story is the key to building your brand.
Marketing is validation
If great marketing is about anything, it’s about stories and people. So why not harness marketing tools, skills and techniques to help you build and validate your business? If you’ve thought about the marketing side of things from the very beginning, not only will it become a seamless, effortless part of how your business operates, but it will cost you less in the long-term and may even save you money.
Marketers can help with your early-stage startup in so many ways. Here are just a few:
- They can conduct market research and get valuable feedback from potential clients that will help you make crucial decisions about what you are making.
- They can help you to talk about your product in a way that everyone can understand, which is a great asset when you’re looking for investment. They can also test different marketing messages to establish what works with your target market.
- They can save you time by starting early so that there’s no hiatus between delivery of your finished product and your marketing efforts kicking in. This is particularly true with inbound marketing, which needs time to gain momentum.
- They can start generating the content that will kickstart your website and social media accounts by telling the story of your startup. They can also start reaching out for user-generated content, allowing you to tap into other people’s networks early.
Build your community
There’s another, powerful reason why marketing a startup early on is a good idea, and that’s community… when you involve people in the building of your product, they feel invested in it and their buy-in rate and engagement are higher. By onboarding people at the beginning of your journey, they feel a special connection to your business and are often your most dedicated ambassadors (we’re back to the “people buy from people” thing).
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson talk about this “behind the scenes” approach in their book, Rework:
Give people a backstage pass and show them how your business works. Imagine that someone wanted to make a reality show about your business. What would they share? Now stop waiting for someone else and do it yourself…
Letting people behind the curtains changes your relationship with them. They’ll feel a bond with you and see you as human beings instead of a faceless company. They’ll see the sweat and effort that goes into what you sell. They’ll develop a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for what you do.
A strong community will be an invaluable resource for your business. Yes, they’ll help you to grow your customer base, but they’ll also give you the kind of insights and feedback you can’t get from a focus group or website survey and they’ll definitely tell you if you ever lose your way.
Having a marketing strategy from day one doesn’t mean having a marketing strategy that’s cast in stone. It also doesn’t have to mean spending huge sums of money while you’re also trying to fund product development. But it should be something you think about sooner rather than later, and there are lots of things you can do that don’t have to cost the earth but can make all the difference.
In fact, by making an early start on marketing, you’ll have a better sense of your positioning and branding and so avoid making costly mistakes (unnecessary product features, the wrong packaging design, etc.). If done well, you’ll have a strategy that adapts with the business and grows over time to fit your needs.