Startup culture is all the rage these days. We're flooded with modern day rags-to-riches stories of Everyday Joes who become massively successful entrepreneurs with their million dollar idea.

What we don't hear are the stories of the startups out there that fail (which is more than half of them, mind you).

And you definitely don't often hear about all of the other startups out there which are doing alright, but only thanks to a ton of non-stop hard work and some professional-level penny pinching.

If you're feeling like your startup business has plateaued, where you're still doing a bunch of work but you aren't seeing any new growth- or worse, you're seeing your business slowly losing money- it's probably time to re-examine your marketing strategy.

Here are five ways that a lot of startups mishandle marketing and end up costing themselves money, time, and potential customers.

1. You're afraid of change...

The world is constantly changing, and your business needs to change with it. If you don't, you run the risk of becoming outdated, forgotten, or just plain ignored.

With all of the information and advertising out there that's battling for your customer's attention, if you aren't willing to work for that attention it can easily be grabbed away by someone else.

...or you're changing too much.

Customers can get bored with a brand, but they can also get completely lost when a brand changes too much too fast. That's not to say that a brand can't change and evolve over time to keep up with the latest trends or in response to their customer's changing interests.

However, a lot of businesses get way too trigger happy when it comes to changing things, and they'll go through a million different names, brand colors, logos, website designs, or brand traits. You don't want to lose people by losing all brand recognition entirely.

tl;dr: find the balance between changing things too much or not enough

2. You tried to do too much too fast.

Another big mistake people tend to make is investing way too much time and money into their marketing early on. It makes sense, you have your product and you want to find customers so you invest a bunch in marketing and you'll get a lot out of it, right? Not always.

If you don't know your audience, any marketing strategy you try is basically a gamble that it will find its way to the right people.

Maybe you put all of your money into banner ads on Facebook when it turns out that the kind of customer you want barely looks at Facebook. Your time and money would be better spent figuring out what your audience wants by testing in small batches rather than charging blindly into an expensive marketing campaign.

tl;dr: don't gamble on marketing strategies if you don't have a plan first

3. You're talking at your customers, not with them.

People don't like being told what to do or how to feel. You can avoid turning off customers by altering your business' messaging to be more inclusive, positive, and conversational.

Too often, businesses come off as cold or alienating with their language instead of engaging their audience. If you can get your customers to have a conversation with you, your brand will become more attractive overall.

Your marketing isn't just a place to sell your product, but it's a place to sell your brand's values. This opens up the possibilities to create more interesting, curated content that will get customers to talk to you. Try telling a story in your content to be more approachable, engaging, and aspirational.

tl;dr: changing the tone of your copy can re-engage customers

4. You're ignoring the numbers.

You have so many analytic tools to choose from, you might as well use them. There are a ton of tools to choose from, and whichever ones you find work for you, they're going to help you better understand what's working and what is a waste of money.

Another piece of this is once you have the numbers you actually have to listen to them. It's easy to get really tied to a specific campaign (or image, phrase, color, anything that comes with marketing your business), and it might be a really great idea. But if it isn't working it just isn't working.

Knowing when it's time to move on from an idea is a skill in and of itself, and analytics can help you hone that skill.

tl;dr: pulling analytics might feel like pulling teeth sometimes but they can help you save so much time and money

5. You're too focused on social media.

Social media can lead to great exposure. It can also feel like you're just shouting into a void and never getting a response back. A lot of startups put all their time into social media and completely forget about all of the old tried and true methods.

Sending out mailers might not sound like the sexiest marketing campaign, but there's definitely still a benefit to physical media and the word of mouth advertising it can lead to.

Another risk you run when you only focus on online marketing, you could be forgetting the local audience that's right in front of you. Even if you don't have a brick and mortar shop, there are a lot of people out there who value shopping locally and supporting local business. You might be distracted by trying to grab the attention of the entire globe while there's a community of local people you're ignoring.

tl;dr: use a variety of marketing strategies, even old school ones


You can't get rich off of a startup that's wasting all of its money on marketing that isn't even working. That can be an extremely slippery slope that, unfortunately, a lot of small businesses fall into.

Hopefully if you avoid making the same marketing mistakes a lot of other companies make, you can not only save money on marketing but actually improve your overall strategy and brand.

What tips do you have to help businesses save money on marketing?