If you're busy jamming on your startup, then you know that even the thought of marketing beforehand is the most daunting thing you don't want to think about. But, it should be one of the most important items on your prelaunch to-do list.
Building an audience before you even have a product is critical. You're going to need to tap people to test what you're building, and it can't be Aunt Mary and Uncle George. You're going to have to answer the question every potential investor asks: "How many people are using the product today?" (Tip: Almost no one anymore invests in companies that don't have customers.)
Companies have proven that you can build an audience with prelaunch marketing. This is how Gmail started, isn't it?
So what should you be thinking about when you're in the throes of building a company and a product?
1. Gather all your peeps.
Get your contact list together. Download your contacts from Outlook and Gmail, and anyone you've spoken to in the past five years. Get your data into a customer relationship management system like Zoho, Insightly, Salesforce or any of a myriad of great tools out there. Then go through it; merge, purge, and really cultivate your list. Make notes of who might be an "influencer" or who might be a "press contact." You'll need those when you launch. Go as far as to input a LinkedIn profile so that you can get a quick view on who someone is.
2. Get a webpage with a sign-up form.
This is going to be a way to capture people who are interested in a behind-the-scenes look at your company. It's also their ticket to be the first in line to get free access to your product.
Monitor your sign-ups on a daily basis. Set up the webpage so that you get an email every time someone signs up, so you can send the person a follow-up thank-you. Most CRM packages offer free sign-up forms for you to place on your website. Wufoo is also great if you need a quick sign-up form and webpage to host it.
3. Start a blog.
Content is your prelaunch friend. Why? Because you can start to build solid search engine optimization for your keywords. The secret is to offer quality informational content daily.
Not sure what to write about? You can offer sneak peeks at the progress you're making, industry news, how-tos, fun quips...you get the idea. A startup called Dasheroo is doing a great job at posting daily and giving weekly progress reports. These posts add some color about the trials and tribulations the team is uncovering as it gets closer to launch, and make readers feel more involved.
When you publish a new piece of content, immediately post it to the social-media networks that you've already set up for your new startup, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest (if applicable).
Integrate the WordPress blog comments with Facebook comments so you can have one set of comments for both posts. Social Media Examiner tells you how to do it.
4. Get active on Facebook.
Invite your friends to "like" your new startup page that you're posting all of your daily content to. Like your competitors, influencers, and any press outlets that you want to eventually cover your launch. Pin a post to the top of the page asking fans to add themselves to the early-access list. Launch a Facebook "like my page" campaign to boost likes so you'll get some engagement. Boost a few posts a week for as little as $5 to get the word out.
5. Don't forget Twitter.
Follow the competition, any press related to your industry, influencers, and consultants. (Make a separate "press" and "influencer" Twitter list for later launch.) Retweet or favorite their tweets so they make note of your new startup. When you post the content from your daily blog, make sure you're including images. Tweet about your weekly progress, and tweet reminders about being added to the early-access list.
6. Leverage LinkedIn.
Send LinkedIn InMails to your connections and invite them to your early-access sign-up form. Tell your connections what's been going on with you and your new startup. Don't forget to post your blog content daily to your LinkedIn blog. Take that amazing content you're creating and post to appropriate LinkedIn Groups as well.
7. Start your email marketing.
Take all of your contacts you have in your CRM and send an email inviting them to be on the early-access list. Tell them what's been going on with you and your new startup, and make it as personal as possible.
Send a weekly email to all of those leads that signed up to get on the early-access list. Include your weekly progress blog, but only half of it--send them to the blog for the other half! You want to make these people feel like they're a part of your new startup.
Feel free to use my email marketing company, VerticalResponse. When I say "feel free," it's because it's free--for life--if you've got less than 1,000 contacts.
8. List your biz.
It's important to get backlinks to your site, and not just any backlinks--you need great ones. One way to do this is to get your business listed in directories. DMOZ, Yahoo Directory, and The Best of the Web are a few of them. If you've got a tech startup and you've got a "beta" product, get your site listed on Betalist. I've known sites that get hundreds of people signing up for beta, and it's not bogus!
9. Track everything.
Finally, make sure you're gathering data on what's going on. Use Google Analytics to track your webpage and blog sessions (or visits). Analyze where your traffic is coming from and what are the most popular forms of content or topics, and then do more of those.
Track your engagement rates on each post for LinkedIn and Facebook to see what's driving more clicks, shares, and likes. Check your email marketing metrics as your list grows. See who is opening and clicking and who isn't, then send a nonresponder campaign to try and hook them in the second time around.
Launching a startup sure isn't easy, and there's a lot of work to do. I know because I've been there. But getting ahead on your marketing, so you're not starting from zero when you launch, will be a key to your success.