Trying to launch a startup is an exercise in testing your brain's ability to focus. There is an unending stream of tasks and responsibilities, and just when you think you may be ahead, you're buried again.

Lost in this shuffle of typical startup chaos, entrepreneurs often neglect the one thing that could kick-start their business: marketing.

To be more specific, I've seen countless startup founders who are convinced the business will sell itself. I have news for you--it won't. It's absolutely critical for startups to invest time and money in their marketing from a very early stage. If they don't, the best products and most brilliant ideas are unlikely to ever see the light of day.

Time and money are the two necessities to market a startup, and they're often in short supply. However, there are ways to overcome these challenges and get your business in gear.

Don't ignore "Mark"

When I came to Infusionsoft, I joined with two existing partners. They handled everything on the software side and I was tasked with marketing and growing the business.

On one of my first days, I went through our books to get a clear picture of the budget. In the payroll section there was a whopping bootstrapper salary of $2,000 each month set aside for the three of us.

Then there was $5,000 for a guy named Mark, who I apparently had not yet met. Was there another partner these guys didn't tell me about?

After I wondered aloud to my two partners who this well-paid Mark was, they both had a good laugh. "Mark" was the monthly marketing budget.

Herein lies the "money" portion of the time and money equation. These guys were smart enough to pay for marketing just like they paid themselves--better actually. By treating marketing like another person on the payroll, we guaranteed that the money would be spent to grow the business to the best of our abilities.

About 40 percent of monthly sales were reinvested back into marketing, and that's a huge amount of money for any startup to reinvest. But it worked, and I credit my techie co-founders for their commitment to paying "Mark" first, and to paying him well.

The two-hour challenge

Having all the marketing budget in the world is great, but if you don't have the time to dedicate to creating smart campaigns, you won't get very far.

This was a tough lesson for me to learn early on. I felt great that we had a marketing budget set aside, and we were motivated to use it, but how?

The only way to figure that out is to set aside time and focus. As scary as it seemed at the time, we all left our little office and shut the business down for a few hours. No phones or email to distract us from the task at hand. We went to a co-founder's house with the sole intent to take two hours and think about nothing but marketing strategies.

The first time we did this, we all wondered why we waited so long. It was fantastic. The two-hour challenge produced tons of ideas that we could get to work on--and the exciting thing was that every single idea was dedicated to growing our business.

Those few hours opened the door to additional marketing-only meetings, which were scheduled more frequently. The key is to invest that valuable time in activities directly aligned with growing your business.

Early-stage entrepreneurs are continually faced with the dilemma of what to invest in--technology, people, training, an office? The options are endless, but marketing is the investment most often overlooked--and the investment most essential to make.

If you aren't out there marketing your business, you can be assured no one else is, either.

Published on: Oct 28, 2015