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TECHNOLOGY

Start-up Marketing: An Essential Road Map
 

How to spread the word when you're new to an industry, don't have a big budget, and have few people to help you do it.

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If you're like many start-up founders I know, you’re on a limited budget, have limited manpower, and you're working in an industry that's new to you. On top of it all, now you must spread the word about the promising little company you're building.

To do it right, you’ll need to set the right goals, make smart assumptions, work backwards, and hopefully create something that will spread on its own. Oh, and you’ll need a good product, too.

Nervous? Don’t be. Here's a basic road map to follow, which you should tweak for your own purposes:

1. Choose a niche market.

Let’s say Los Angeles. Or a smaller group within your target audience... or both. Choosing a specific niche helps you fully understand the pain points of your target customer and market directly to them. And, marketing to a smaller group is also much cheaper. Remember, the wider the net you cast, the more expensive it will be. Focus and perfect with a smaller group first, and expand when you’re ready.

2. Set a goal.

Working backwards from a goal is Marketing 101. Your goal could be financial, like the amount of revenue you’ll need to self-fund the business. Or, your goal could be based on the number of users or customers. This will vary widely based on your company and its product, but is very important to set.

3. Set a budget.

Now that you know your goal, you need to set a marketing budget to reach it. Don’t have a budget? It’s still possible to reach your goal without a budget, but it will likely require a lot of your time. Setting a budget is a critical step. The last thing you want to do is run out of money before hitting your goal—that's often the end of the road.

4. Assume a conversion rate.

If you reached out to 100 potential customers, how many will actually convert into paying customers? One? Five? Ten? Make a smart assumption, and don’t be too ambitious. If you can, conduct a small focus group by asking people what they would do. The more people you survey, the more accurate your assumption will be.

5. Brainstorm ideas.

Ah, the fun part! Your goal now is to figure out the best ways to reach your potential customer. Creative ideas are welcome here, as this step isn’t easy. Come up with as many as you can. Where do your potential customers congregate? Think of ways and places you can reach your audience with the highest ratio of potential customers to those that won’t care. This can be both online and offline. Think blogs, trade shows, Facebook, meet-ups, etc.

6.Test and execute.

Let’s say your start-up is an online pet supply store. Instead of carrying a variety of products and marketing to everyone who owns a pet, you followed step one and decided to sell dog beds to dog owners in New York. You set a goal to sell 100 dog beds and use those profits to expand. You set a marketing budget of $5,000 to accomplish your goal. You made a safe assumption that out of 100 potential customers, only one will purchase, a 1% conversion rate.

So, now you know that in order to sell 100 dog beds, you’ll need to market to 10,000 dog owners in New York.

You've come up with a list of ideas of how to reach 10,000 dog owners in NY for $5,000. Great!

For the next steps, allocate a small piece of your budget to test your most viable ideas. It’s always a good idea to try each marketing campaign with a small amount before you spend your entire budget. If the response and conversion rate is equal to or better than you assumed, go all in.

7. Give users a compelling way to spread the word.

Word-of-mouth marketing can be huge for a start-up. You’re able to interact with your target customers on a more personal level than big companies. Social media has made this easier, along with blogging, email newsletters, and other means of marketing. Take advantage of the tactics that will work best for your brand and entice users to share content and invite friends through incentives, contests, and engagement.

8. Make it exclusive.

People like being a part of something new and exclusive. Limit your invites to the right early adopters that will become advocates of your brand and help you improve your product along the way.

9. Target the influencers.

Identify thought leaders in your niche and regularly interact with these people whenever possible. Your goal is to get them to try and like your product, so they can spread it to their large networks. Twitter is a great tool for creating lists of folks you want to follow, but other tools like Google+ can be valuable too.

Don’t forget bloggers and journalists. Search for writers in your niche and reach out to them individually either though email or social media.

Marketing your start-up is all about adapting. So take the steps above and adjust them for your product. Just make sure you have the right tools and goals in place to measure against. Some of things you try will fail. Just remember, learning from your mistakes and changing your strategy will be a key factor in your success.

Last updated: Mar 28, 2012

ILYA POZIN is the founder of Open Me, a social greeting card company. He founded his first company, Ciplex, a digital marketing and creative agency catering to small businesses and startups, at age 17.
@ilyaNeverSleeps




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