Scott McLaughlin
Oct 4, 2018 · 4 min read

Thinking Small in StartUp Marketing

I can’t tell you how much wasted , time , money and effort I’ve made in my last 15 years in StartUp Marketing.

But first, before I get to that I want to talk about this StartUp definition and how I think it may in and of itself be a disservice to productive marketing effort.

Are you a StartUp or a small business? According to the definitions you are both, but the term “StartUp” brings this false idealism to it that makes us feel bigger than we are and this in and of itself can make us lose our tiny little marketing minds.

If you’re a small business you have to make every last dollar count, there’s no time or budget for indulgent brand plans, you need to write business and you need to do it faster than your cash burn rate.

When we call ourselves StartUps externally, in my mind what we are talking to is our lofty ambitions for future growth. This is a very useful external positioning but the minute it starts to drive deluded and indulgent marketing practices, is the minute this definition starts to eat into our rather minimal reserves and crushes us before we get started.

I’ve personally done this countless times, agonised over brand names, logos , brand voice, social strategies, web design, at a time when I frankly didn’t have the budget to be caught up in all of these things. Many times this has just resulted in far too much pressure on cash flow and far too little return on spend. The phrase “No, not yet” is a useful reference here.

When you think of marketing in a StartUp I think it’s useful to think of what the end goal of all activity is:

  • Will a brand name increase the likelihood of people doing business with you, and if so by how much?
  • Will testimonials get you in the door more often, and if so by how much?
  • Will blogging drive new leads to your business, and if so, what type and how many ?
  • Will speaking engagements drive the right inquiries and if so how many ?

The take away here is to :

A. Be super clear and super realistic about your acquisition goals by quarter and

B. Be super tough in analyzing the likelihood that ANY activity will contribute positively to these goals.

This might sound rather boring and perhaps overly pragmatic but:

  • If your objective is to build momentum for your product by getting as many users or customers as you can, focus solely on that.
  • If your objective is to generate two new clients a quarter, then do that.
  • If your objective is to convert 20% of trialists to paying customers each quarter, then do that.

Stick to the goal, and design your effort to be strictly focused on that goal.

Once you have a clear end is in mind, do your homework.

Explore the best way to get to the goal, look at what others are doing, call other businesses and ask them whats working. Yes!, call them and ask.

Be wary of formulaic approaches designed to provide an “easy way” to generate customers. I think I’ve got at least 12 Facebook friends following Thought Leader models and to be honest it sometimes makes me throw up in my mouth a bit. Why, because in most cases this persona feels forced, unnatural and unauthentic. Just because you admire Gary Vaynerchuk, does not mean its a smart move to try and BE Gary Vaynerchuk. Just because your can, doesn’t mean you should. Please stay focussed on your target market and what will land with them.

Don’t take the soft option, if something feels hard to do, then you are probably on the right track. There is no easy formula to making money, its grind, and grit and perseverance, Gary V would agree with that too.

Lastly, be generous with the right people.

If there’s one thing that has worked for me time and time again, its to be generous with the right people.

Have a clear picture of your ideal client and be of service to them. You started this thing because you thought you had something unique to offer, so figure out who will value it and give those people an obligation free experience of what it is you can do differently or better. Please don’t labour the PowerPoints with huge claims and buzz words, meet people, the right people and find a way you can help them and then build on that service, and please, be selective.

People will never experience what you can do unless you are doing it, so get out there, find the right people to talk to, spend the time learning how they see the world and what keeps them up at night and find a way that you can be of service. I promise you, if you do this time and time again, customers fall out of the process and even those who don’t move forward become grateful advocates. Remember, once you’ve delivered this service, try and ensure that you don’t pitch, just deliver and let the delivery be the pitch. Leave them with your generosity , knowing how to contact you and keep moving. (I could write a whole book on how to do this well, because I’ve made the mistakes. The biggest error I’ve made is not being selective enough with my generosity)

So Marketing in a “start-up” or small business, my key three key points:

  • Remember you are a small business with a limited capacity
  • Stay hyper focused on the goal
  • Be generous with the right people and keep doing it.

I hope you find this helpful.

Scott McLaughlin

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