Marketing Your Startup Business: A Quick Guide

barrett
Building a new business can be scary. Here are some marketing tips.

Marketing doesn’t have to be as scary as other parts of building a new business

One of my favorite marketing blog posts was written in April 2009 by HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah. He called it Startup Marketing: Tactical Tips From The Trenches. 

“If I were starting a company today,” Dharmesh wrote, “here’s what I would do in the first ten days.”

In that same spirit, here’s a rough outline of steps I’d recommend for businesses just getting started. I hope someone who’s starting a business finds it useful. Credit where credit is due, some of these suggestions are pretty similar to what Dharmesh wrote nearly four years ago.

How to start marketing your new business

1. Pick a name. Choose one that’s simple, short, and for which the URL (the web address) is available. Shoot for .com. Other top-level domains are becoming acceptable, particularly .tv, .ly and .me but they can be more expensive and may not available through leading registrars.

2. Purchase your URL.  Buy from GoDaddy, or any other reputable supplier of domain names. Set up your domain email: yourname@yourwebaddress.com.  I recommend GoDaddy because they’re reasonable and provide excellent support. There are other fine providers, too. But if you have to shop around, and get recommendations, you’re wasting time.

3. Get a logo.  I recommend using a designer and doing it right from the start —if you can afford it. If funds are tight, you can get away with using crowdSPRING, 99Designs or Fiverr to get an inexpensive logo that will tide you over for your first year. Or you can do it yourself if you have the skills. Remember, this is your first year. You don’t need a logo to last forever.

Do yourself a favor and make it simple. Very simple. Elegant, type-only logos are fine for starters. Make sure you get a variety of versions of the basic design—black, white and color—as vector files (.eps) and transparent .png files. Don’t use gradients. Simple is strong.  Make sure it looks good when it is very small as well as very large.

4. Put up a simple website. In the last couple of years, pre-made templates (called “themes”), powered by the WordPress content management system, have come a long, long way. Today you can purchase a beautiful, professional looking theme, that works on mobile devices as well as desktops, and is easy to set up and host through GoDaddy and other services. All you have to do is add content – words and images. Of course, that takes time, but the cost is ridiculously low. And you need just a few pages to start. 

Many WordPress options are free, and you can get a free hosted WordPress site at WordPress.com. If you go with WordPress.com, forward the address they give you to your own domain name, so your web address is “www.YOUR-URL.com” rather than “www.YOUR-URL.wordpress.com”.

If you want or need professional help, find a WordPress specialist. (I know a great one if you need a recommendation.)  There are options besides WordPress, but it’s hard to find one that’s as simple and inexpensive. 

5. Set up social media accounts. Claim your company name on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest and any other social network that’s important in your industry. (You don’t want someone else to claim it!) Add your profile, even if you don’t plan to be active, and leave a note like, “I’m not active on Twitter at this point, but would love to hear from you at (your website.) (Hat tip to the great Andy Crestodina and his SpinSucks blog post.

6. Create an email list. First, always get permission to email people. (Marketers call this  process “opt-in”.) Second, WordPress comes with easy-to-use tools for building your list through your website.  Third, find creative and appropriate ways to add to your list. For instance, put a signup sheet by the register, next to a laminated sample of an actual email newsletter containing a special offer.  Ask people in person, including former or current customers, if you can add them.

7. Set up an email marketing account at Mail Chimp, a marketing email/newsletter provider. The basic plan is free. It’s a great service that lets you make and send professional looking marketing emails and newsletters. You can design them practically any way you want.  Plus, it has a plugin for WordPress that lets people sign up on your WordPress website for your email campaign or newsletter.

8. Start your blog.  Yes, be a blogger. One simple reason: It’s a great way to develop “content” – stuff to fill up your website, so that Google will recognize and list you in search results.

Because you chose a WordPress theme, the blog is already integrated into your existing website. At no charge. It will be automatically set up in a form that helps Google find you.

As Dharmesh wrote, your first blog post can be something like: “How (Your Company Name) Got This Far, And Where We Want To Go.”  Blogs let you show off your knowledge and passion at the same time.

10. Set up Google Alerts. Set up alerts for your name, your company’s name, and the names of your competitors and other influential companies and people in your business. Google Alerts will send you an email when these names get mentioned on the web, so you’ll know when people are talking about you and your competitors.

11. If you have a local business, go to GetListed.org. Enter your information and fill out all the relevant listings, for sites like Google, Bing, Yelp, Yahoo, and several others. This is important for every business with a physical storefront.

Maybe you’re not strictly a local business. If there are specialty websites that offer reviews for your industry,  make sure you “claim” your listing. This may include trade associations, or sites like TripAdvisor.com. Search Google for your established competitors and you may find sites where you should be listed. 

12. Join your local networking organizations.  If your business is local, this is a huge step. Even if you’re not doing business locally, you never know what kind of great folks you’ll meet what relationships will be valuable as you go forward.  Networking takes time, but it’s time well spent.

13. Get business cards printed. There are many inexpensive options, including local printers, your nearby Office Depot, Staples, OfficeMax, VistaPrint.com and the FedEx store. For just a little more that VistaPrint, you might look at Inkd.com. I’ve never used them, but they sure look sharp, don’t they? Use your fancy logo from point 3.

14. Write a simple press release. Use this guide from Lunareclipse.net.  Your objective is not to provide news outlets with an article they can run. It’s to introduce your new business to local publications, or trade publications, and their writers who specialize in your industry.

So make a list of all the publications, broadcast outlets or websites that make sense for your business.

Find out on the web or by a phone call to each media outlet the name of the best person to whom you should address the release. Then send them a nice personal email and introduce yourself as the owner of a new business. Include your release as a word processing document. Provide links to photographs or videos, if you have any.

You can also distribute your press release on a number of free PR websites. Here are a few that I have used, there are many more.

 15. Install analytics on your website. WordPress has its own analytics package, but you really should add Google Analytics for WordPress. It’s a free “plugin,” meaning you can add it with a few clicks, and it gives you lots of interesting information about where your traffic is coming from, which of your pages is most popular, which links people click, how long they visit, how many pages they visit, and so on.

16. Develop compelling strategic messages.  This may be the most important point of all. Work on your company story, your positioning statement, your value proposition and your key benefits. I call these your Marketing Message Starter Kit (see details).
* * *

Now… I bet there’s something you would you add or change. What is it?

 

 

 

 


17 Responses to “Marketing Your Startup Business: A Quick Guide”

  • Dharmesh Shah Says:

    I’m glad you found that original article useful.

    Thanks for pulling together this list of things early-stage businesses should do. It’s good!

    -Dharmesh

  • Erin Feldman Says:

    I hadn’t thought about writing and publishing a news release. What was it you said about cobblers and their children? Now I have something else to add to my never-ending list of projects.
    Erin Feldman recently posted..Work is not a Four-Letter Word

  • Davina K. Brewer Says:

    As one who creates identities to help brand companies, thanks for the ‘get away with’ on the cheapie logo services and the VECTOR file! And for the step-by-step of this. I do so many free coffee consults on this, when people don’t get that in order to do a business card they have to have their contact info which means they already need to secure a URL so they can (should!) have a branded domain email address. You can’t tackle Step 22 if you’re not past Step 3!

    Erin’s right on the cobbler’s kids and their shoes (hello, my website/blog makeover is almost 2-years past due!) so with that in mind I propose the following:

    1. Do your homework.
    2. Consult a Professional.
    3. Don’t try these tricks at home.

    It’s pay or… pay. You’ll pay now and/or later, but you will pay. You’ll pay in time, in growing pains if you DIY all the web, the analytics, the PR and you haven’t done your homework so you do it all wrong. Then pay more to have someone else do it right. Even w/ homework done, it’s A LOT of work. Maybe it’s better to pay to get it right off the bat, spend your valuable time on what YOU do best. Don’t miss understand my little rant. I am all for a small biz to DIY what they can – but don’t think doing it yourself means doing it alone. A little professional advice can go a long way. FWIW.
    Davina K. Brewer recently posted..The Social Contract: Do I have to be uh, Social?

    • barrett Says:

      Davina, I LOVE your rant! It brings up a fantastic topic: Who should be going the DIY route, and who should bring in professional help? I just got back from our weekly #SpoCT – Spokane Coffee Tweetup. Do you know what phrase is ringing in my ear, that I heard no less than 3 times in casual conversation? It was owners of small businesses and nonprofits saying: “There’s no budget for marketing.”

      I can understand people with new or struggling businesses who have to bootstrap everything. This list is meant as a resource for those people.

      But what about people who have the resources, and choose to DIY-it anyways? Or even worse, try to low-ball everything their marketing consultant or agency proposes?

      That’s a topic that needs to be explored, but right now, thinking about people who drive up to coffee meetings in a new Lexus, then want you to do free work — I’m not thinking rationally. FWIW.
      barrett recently posted..From Sales, A Marketing Lesson

      • Davina K. Brewer Says:

        NO budget? Do they have budget for being in business?! ;-)

        Seriously, think I may shoot back that one b/c it’s the biggest crock – are they working for free? Is there no website, no business cards? There is budget, money is going out there door – and a professional consultant would be worth it to advise them on how, when, where to spend it (or NOT to; remember I had one almost nailed for simple web hosting at $150 a month) for the biggest returns. Sigh.

  • Brian D. Meeks (@ExtremelyAvg) Says:

    I really need to do 10. and 13. and have thought about it for a long time. There isn’t any excuse for NOT having set-up Google Alerts, as I already know how to do it, but have never bothered for Extremely Average. The business cards are easy, too. I better get on it.
    Brian D. Meeks (@ExtremelyAvg) recently posted..Late News

    • barrett Says:

      Sometimes the easiest things are also the easiest to put off. So Brian, are you a procrastinator? I love how you’re going to town on that [story, novel, novela, serial] you’ve been posting. ATTN: Anyone who likes a good story, check out Brian’s recent posts. You won’t be sorry.

  • Kate Finley Says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! Your timing is quite perfect for me as I’m starting to do some consulting on the side. I would definitely add that when choosing a name, Google it first to see if it’s too similar to other brands out there. For example, if you Google “kateupdates” (the name of my blog) you see tons of links to Duchess Kate. I’m gradually working my way up the Google rank but my alerts usually contain a link or two regarding the royal family :)
    Kate Finley recently posted..She Believed She Could … So She Did.

    • barrett Says:

      Great tip Kate. Naming a company or product is a big deal, and it can be a lot harder than people think. Depending on how thorough you want to be, you should probably take a look at the US Patent & Trademark Offices “TESS” system: http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=tess&state=4005:78rkzd.1.1

      TESS can show you if someone has already registered your name. To Davina’s point, if at all possible, claiming a name is something that may merit professional help: Lawyers, the guys we love to hate, except when we need them. :)

  • Ralph Says:

    This is an awesome list Barrett.
    One question. If you had to choose one of the above which would think is most critical?

    They are all good but I am sure as an essential list you may consider timing some earlier than later (other than the obvious) assuming this business is primarily on-line based.

    Also, I wonder if many brand logos change significantly over time? It seems to make sense to focus hard on that one to ensure you get it right out of the gate. The public face driving first impression and all.

    Like Erin, a press release is not something I have though through. That and the marketing starter guide are some juicy resources.

    Thanks, this is a great list that adds some serious value.
    Ralph recently posted..What are designers missing when articulating a brand in their spaces?

  • barrett Says:

    Thanks for the nice words Ralph — and for the really hard question!

    I think so much of the answer depends on your business and who you want to serve. For instance, for an online business, I think the name is incredibly important and difficult. You have to have a great website and truly understand how people will interact with it. And you have to have the flexibility and resources to change when you get more data.

    For a wealth advisor, who gets business by referral, the name is almost irrelevant. And the website might be sparse.

    Logos change all the time. Some radically, others iterate and evolve. Look at famous examples like Starbucks, HP, Pepsi. Others remain fairly stable: Nike, Coke. I have a great little client now who is stressing over a logo… It’s for a radio show! I told them not to stress over it.

    Nothing beats knowing your business and your customers. That’s why I’m a sucker for developing your strategic messages (point 16). They give you a strong foundation for figuring out an overall strategy and priority for all the tactics and tasks in my list.

  • Reparatii Spalat Says:

    Before I got a logo that I like I think I had to contact like 7-8 freelancers, has been a pain!

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