Between tight budgets, lean workforces, and fierce competition, your startup does not have time to stumble or money to waste on scaling your marketing. There is very little room for error as you gain your footing in the marketplace.
But even with your limited time and resources, you still have one thing going for you: a golden opportunity to make a great first impression. In your early days, a top-notch marketing presence can help you make a monumental splash that catapults your startup to success.
However, on the other side of the coin, poor marketing can do a real number on your brand. You need to be strategic when building your internal team and external footprint.
If you want to stay top of mind with consumers — and for the right reasons — avoid the following mistakes:
- Scaling your team prematurely. According to one study, 70 percent of startups scale prematurely, a practice that can lead to failure. You may be eager to grow, but do not force the issue until you are ready. Only after you create a solid structure throughout the rest of your company should you invest in human capital.Before scaling your marketing team, develop a hiring plan based on business milestones and metrics, such as users and revenue growth. Weigh your staffing needs against current workloads. Balance the need for expansion with the reality of cash flow. The last thing you want to do is overhire.
As you add staff, keep in mind that new hires need a month or so to get up to speed. Then it will take another few months for you to see their contributions adding value to the business — which is the main reason to hire in advance of demand. For those in real need of marketing expertise, another option is the stopgap known as a fractional CMO.
- Trading off talent. When looking for CMOs, startups set their sights on high-priced executive talent. After all, you get what you pay for. But brains are not always synonymous with brawn. The most decorated candidates may lack the ability to execute on lean budgets with minimal staff.One of our startup clients hired a CMO who had deep industry experience, but without a large staff, huge budget, and agency support, he found himself lost surrounded by a skeleton team of junior resources. He could not shoulder the tactical requirements of building a marketing department from the ground up.
This is not to say you should hire junior talent. Enthusiasm rarely makes up for the lack of strategic know-how. Instead, look for someone with a breadth of experience and has led initiatives at both startups and Fortune 500 companies. You need strong business acumen to align an entire organization with business plans and marketing strategies based on research and solid financial modeling.
- Embracing too many marketing tools. Just because you have the tools in the toolbox does not mean you need to use them all at once. Start small. Focus on the one or two channels that drive the majority of your sales. Then, once you have a handle on them, add an additional channel or two, and keep analyzing the results before doubling down on the tools that resonate best with your target audience.If a particular channel is not doing much to move the needle, you either need to rethink how to use it or shelve it altogether.
- Underutilizing data. In the early days, most of your decisions will be no more than gut feelings — or they will be based on past experience. You may not have enough data to analyze at this stage of the game, and that is fine. But over time, do not get in the habit of relying on instinct. You will eventually amass enough information to make data-driven decisions.Awhile back, we were working with a company that had fired its digital agency on a gut feeling that SEO was underperforming. After looking at the data, however, we made the case to rehire the agency and retool the affiliate strategy. Within three months, all the ground lost in SEO was regained and customer acquisition tripled.
As companies grow, decisions become more complex and require a new level of insight to provide strategic direction. For long-term success, commit to understanding and using analytics to uncover insights as soon as data is available. Getting to know your customers prevents you from expending precious resources on something no one wants.
- Losing sight of your mission. Maintaining clarity of purpose and mission is challenging when you start growing your team and ramping up your marketing efforts. But great businesses always stay true to who they were before the success, regardless of internal or external conditions.When onboarding staff members, stress what makes your brand unique. Share your vision, mission, and purpose for the company. Let them participate in your passion, and they will return the favor with their own. As you grow, if your core offerings change to meet customer demands, the team will remain focused on your brand’s overarching mission.
- Failing to let go. Chances are, you will be in the thick of every decision as you launch. But if all goes well, your business will grow. And the bigger the team, the more you will need to trust those around you. Develop great leaders, empower them to act, and get out of their way before you become the bottleneck — or burn yourself out.As an example, we recently had to dial down a client’s PR efforts because its CEO felt the need to provide his unique perspective on the market but did not have the time. As a result, the brand missed out on some great opportunities.
Choose one or two areas of the business where your input will make the greatest impact, and let go of the rest.
Once it is time to hit the gas pedal on your marketing, take a thoughtful approach to scaling your team and your output. Hire a leader with a diverse (and proven) track record, ramp up your use of data and analytics, and gradually adopt new channels and techniques as you master the ones you are already using.
Then, get out of the way! Let your team work its magic while you devote your personal expertise elsewhere.