Let me be clear from the get-go--there are no rules for building successful startups. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either wrong or lying.
There is no rule book to follow that will guarantee the success of your startup. There are, however, many things you should avoid. If you do not avoid these mistakes, as a startup adviser I find that your chance of success decreases substantially. That said, here are three mistakes that are all too common among founders that you should avoid at all costs.
1. Waiting until you have your finished product to start your marketing activity
This is such an important point and one that I find myself repeating to entrepreneurs I meet on a daily basis. Saying, "I don't have a product yet. How could I do marketing?" uses the same logic as, "The train hasn't left the station. How can I get on it?"
If you wait till you have a fully baked product to start marketing, you have missed the train. By the time you are ready for people to use your product, you should have been building that audience for months.
Now, I know what you're thinking. "I should market my product when it's not even ready and give my competitors a head start?"
No one said anything about marketing your product, but there are many marketing activities you can do without even discussing your product. For example, does Red Bull market the drink or are they focused on building the brand, which in turn sells drinks?
You can do the same. Make use of content marketing, social media, and even some PR, but not about the product itself. You can build up some initial hype that something big is coming without disclosing what it is. The point is, start marketing as early as you can, and do not, by any means, wait till the product is ready.
2. Confusing marketing with self-promotion and glorified sales
Curious what the difference between sales and marketing is? I mean, both of them need to sell the product at the end of the day, so what is the difference? In one word? The difference between sales and marketing is subtlety. If you're doing marketing well, then the other side won't even know they are being marketed to.
The common mistake is that so many people view marketing as just glorified sales. They think that writing blog posts about how amazing they are or press releases about how they're revolutionizing their industry is how you do marketing. That could not be farther from the truth.
In fact, while promoting yourself or your company is about the worst thing you can do, promoting others is the best. Interview people in your space, which helps establish a relationship with that person, drives you targeted traffic when that person shares the article, and elevates your brand when people reading the interview associate you with that person who is a thought leader in the space.
Don't promote yourself. Promote others.
3. Expecting short-term results, and when they don't happen, stopping the marketing efforts
This is a really big pet peeve of mine. I meet startup owners on a daily basis, and oftentimes we focus our meeting on marketing of all kinds. In many cases over the years, the founder has come back to me a few months later saying that my ideas didn't work.
"Tell me what you did exactly and let's figure out what didn't work," I'll ask.
"I published two blog posts and nothing happened," they'll say.
See, that's the problem. People want results but don't want to put in the work. Marketing takes time, and the fact that your two blog posts didn't generate sales is totally irrelevant. In fact, if two blog posts would generate sales, I'd ask about this sorcery.
Marketing requires patience and it also requires consistency. The more you put in, the more you'll get out. It's as simple as that.