Early Stage Company Marketing Tactics and Strategies
According to the Bureau of Labor Statics, roughly 50% of all businesses fail within their first 4 years.
Early stage is tough. Here’s some in-the-trenches knowledge from today’s contributor, Kris Asleson.
Setting out to build a company from the ground up is often met with cheers of support and admiration.
Everyone loves the underdog story of the entrepreneur who sets out to prove that they truly are the captain of their own soul.
The values associated with entrepreneurship—innovation, perseverance, focus—are all highly esteemed.
At first glance, it’s easy to wonder why somebody would not want to start their own company!
As someone who started an international non-profit at the age of 16 (probably not the best idea by the way, unless you are a trust fund kid—which I wasn’t), I felt this very early on in life.
Everyone I talked to was so supportive of my passion and goals to combat global poverty with innovative, sustainable projects. As I grew older, I noticed a frustrating disconnect between what people say and what they do (surprise!), a gap which I’ve also experienced as I’ve built up a digital marketing agency.
I’ve discovered that cheering for an entrepreneur is not the same as wanting to trade lives with them.
It seems like entrepreneurship then, is a bit like a good boxing match.
It’s fun to watch, and many hold a high level of respect for the conditioning and skill demonstrated by those in the ring. But at the end of the day, very few want to actually be in the ring.
The truth is, getting punched in the face isn’t fun, and neither is dealing with a lot of the challenges faced by entrepreneurs—especially those bootstrapping their ventures or working with limited resources in some other capacity.
Editor’s Note: Here’s a great image that portrays some of the emotional challenges of starting a business (Source: Growmap)
Somehow, I’ve seen a string of failures be sewn together to lead to a small amount of success.
The non-profit I founded enjoys a small but committed donor base as we head into our 13th year of operation. Midas Marketing, my marketing agency, has been growing pretty fast since its inception in 2015.
As both of these ventures were built on blood, sweat and tears, I thought I would share a few of the “in the trenches” tactics I used to help get things out of the atmosphere.
I hope you find some value in these three strategies as you build your business too!
The first strategy I used to build my marketing company involved networking. But not your typical “business networking.” Where most folks are looking to gain rather than give. Rather, it had to do with building networks around other meaningful areas of my life. In my case, I had a lot of opportunities to help my non-profit circle with digital marketing, as I had an extensive network in that area. Let’s take a look at why this strategy is effective.
Part 1: Non-linear Networking
The first strategy I used to build my marketing company involved networking. But not your typical “business networking.” Where most folks are looking to gain rather than give. Rather, it had to do with building networks around other meaningful areas of my life.
In my case, I had a lot of opportunities to help my non-profit circle with digital marketing, as I had an extensive network in that area. Let’s take a look at why this strategy is effective.
Benefitting from the Speed of Trust
Relationships established for purposes outside of your professional scope enjoy a significantly higher level of trust and confidence if and when the conversation does turn towards your business objectives.
When someone knows you as a non-profit volunteer, a basketball rec league player or a dog park friend before they know you as someone who has something to sell, they feel like they know the “real you” before they see you with your sales hat on – and are more likely to trust you when you are indeed wearing that hat.
The Importance of Fast, Easy Closes Early On
When starting a company, you are likely managing your sales force very closely, if you’re not doing all of the sales work yourself.
Because of this, proposals that don’t close are a bit more devastating than later on down the road when you are getting referrals, have greater brand awareness, and have a lead generation system in place.
In order to survive then, you have to capitalize on any opportunity where you are well-positioned entering the negotiation process. To set yourself up for future success, it pays to invest in building meaningful relationships outside of your 9-5 (or 5-9) work day. And who knows, it might even make you a happier, healthier individual as well!
Warning: It Goes Both Ways!
It is worth noting though, that this same strategy can work against you if you struggle to be a decent human being.
If you are viewed as lacking integrity, unable to follow through, or generally incompetent at your work, your non-work circles won’t bail you out just because you are in them.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Building relationships outside of your business is essentially giving “hidden camera” access to folks to see you as you really are.” quote=”Building relationships outside of your business is essentially giving “hidden camera” access to folks to see you as you really are.”]
If you repeatedly flake on your softball league without giving any notice, they likely won’t be confident in your professional reliability—even though it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that work takes a higher priority, and problems communicating with a softball team likely won’t spill over into your work performance.
Building relationships outside of your business is essentially giving “hidden camera” access to folks to see you as you really are. So as cliché as it sounds, you really do need to have an “always be closing” mindset when working in the trenches to start a company.
Part 2: Friends and Family (Done Right!)
Not many people light up at the prospect of bugging their friends and family to help them grow their start up. However, if you truly believe in your business, offer a strong value, and approach this situation with strategy and class, you’d be surprised how receptive and grateful your inner circle will be.
Let’s take a look at three key components to networking among your closest relationships in order to grow your business.
Sometimes it’s more difficult to approach friends and family networking with the same discipline and commitment that we deploy for other prospects.
Why is this?
We are used to putting on our professional game face and setting daily and weekly targets for our sales goals. Our personal relationships, however, are usually developed more organically.
This doesn’t have to the be the case!
In fact, most of us warmly welcome the initiative when a friend or family member initiates an opportunity to share coffee or hit the golf course. As long as you ensure that you’re clear about the purpose of the meeting in an upfront but friendly way, you’ll likely have an opportunity to share — and enjoy time with a loved one.
Consider the following approaches:
Vague example: “Hey John, I was wondering if you’d like to grab coffee sometime next week to catch up?”
Problem: They may feel blindsided if you don’t indicate that there is a specific reason you’d like to meet.
Pushy example: “Hey John, are you able to meet up for coffee next week? I could really use some help making new contacts for this new business I’m starting.”
Problem: This may work for your closest friends. But it makes the meeting all about you, and even friends and family can grow tired of that!
Balanced and honest: “Hey John, I was wondering if you’re free to grab coffee sometime next week? It has been too long, and I’d love to catch up. I was thinking about you, as I’m starting a new roofing company. And I remembered you worked in construction a few years back. I’m in the process of getting things off the ground, and I thought you may have some insights worth sharing. Coffee’s on me!”
Part of a successful outreach effort has to do with being specific about how/why you feel your friend or family member could be helpful to you. This leads us right into our next point.
In marketing, there’s a saying that “the riches are in the niches.” Part of the reason for this has to do with the way our brains are wired to respond to specific, relevant information.
If you have a dialed in game plan for your business, you’re much more likely to get meaningful feedback from your friends and family. Don’t assume that just because of your relationship with this group, you can neglect marketing 101!
Here’s what I mean:
Bad example: “Hey John, I’m starting a marketing company. Do you know any businesses that could use marketing help?”
Good example: “Hey John, I’m starting a marketing company. I want to specialize in helping dentists. Do you know if you currently get emails or see Facebook posts from your dentist?”
The first example is a bit of a shot in the dark. John, unless he is an entrepreneur himself, may struggle to know how to help you in a meaningful way. The second example offers a clear, specific question that John can answer with confidence and help you develop intel about if John’s dentist may be a viable prospect.
Sometimes it feels weird to follow up with friends and family. The awkwardness is due to the more casual nature of the professional relationship. However, your friends and family have busy lives as well, just like your other prospects.
The nature of your follow-up conversations should reflect this more casual relational dynamic. But don’t be afraid to keep your overall follow up frequency and strategy. Treat these the same as you would for any other prospect.
Part 3: MRR
The final point I’d like to make isn’t necessarily a lead generation tactic. But it’s an essential supporting strategy to maximize the value of every new client you land.
Monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is a fantastic foundation from which to build a scalable, thriving business. Revenue is predictable and recurring. Meaning it’s way easier to actually grow your business rather than just trying to stay afloat between projects or sales.
Many think MRR is just some jargon thrown around by SaaS companies. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
Just about every business can formulate an MRR strategy into their business model if they are creative enough. For example, a roofing company may offer quarterly maintenance services, like gutter cleaning, for a small fee each and every quarter.
This isn’t technically MRR, but you get the point: Predictable, consistent revenue after the initial sale.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Just about every business can formulate an MRR strategy into their business model if they are creative enough.” quote=”Just about every business can formulate an MRR strategy into their business model if they are creative enough.”]
Beyond the predictability and recurring nature of MRR, it’s also key to implement to maximize your sales and marketing efforts.
There’s plenty of data out there that indicates how hard it is to acquire a new customer. But how relatively easy it is to turn them into a recurring customer. It can take a lot of work to convince someone to part with their hard-earned cash. However, once they do it the first time — the second, third and fourth times are a lot easier.
This is the main reason why micro-transactions, or significantly discounted products for new customers, have become so successful.
If you are doing all the hard work to acquire a new customer, you are leaving some of the easiest, most profitable revenue on the table if you can’t figure out a way to convert them into some sort of recurring income stream after the initial sale.
Why mention this in an article on start-up lead gen?
Well, momentum is absolutely crucial in the start-up phases of a business. And as we discussed in the paragraphs above, creatively networking your way into profitability is no small task for the lean entrepreneur.
Get this point. Your first few years, you very well may be one or two sales away from succeeding or failing at your business.
Successfully incorporating a recurring revenue model into your business from the very beginning could be the baseline that keeps your business going during a dry spell. The rough periods bound to happen once or twice (or maybe more!). At least until you implement a more formal lead generation system.
Starting a business is often more enjoyed as a spectator sport than through active participation.
However, the rewards are immense if you can break through and get your business off the ground. And remember, there’s no magic bullet to success early on. But incorporating some of these tips will add to your arsenal of early stage marketing tactics.
Best of luck on your journey!