As an entrepreneur, you master a wide range of skills: You’re resilient, passionate, a leader, and always focused on your company’s success. The vast majority of entrepreneurs also come from a technical background, and the core team they build around them is often comprised of people with similar skills.
This may often lead to the startup’s marketing efforts being kept on the back burner in the initial stages of the company, and later being outsourced. However, marketing is a crucial aspect of a company and should be treated as such from the start. It defines the positioning of your company in the market, your brand, and the packaging of the product you’re selling.
The role of a chief marketing officer has grown dramatically over the past several years as the function of marketing evolved.
Marketing isn’t just about selling the product – it’s about engaging customers and driving growth. Marketers are no longer simply the broadcasters of communications, but rather, they’ve become much more involved in the customer’s journey with the product and the company.
A good CMO needs to be equal parts creative and analytical. They need to think outside the box while having a deep understanding of what’s going on in the market and within the company.
As not all startups can afford to hire a seasoned CMO or even have a marketing budget to begin with. Instead, you as an entrepreneur should know how to grow your startup under a small or even non-existent budget and be your own CMO. Combining your entrepreneurial skills and passion with the right guidance and tools is key to avoiding mistakes and burning a lot of money on ineffective marketing.
During my work with startups and entrepreneurs, I was sometimes amazed at how important decisions like company name, branding, website and the like were made with a seemingly devil-may-care attitude. Entrepreneurs would often latch onto their latest whims and get carried away with them, without considering crucial elements like target audience and fit.
One of the most important things in marketing is planning and strategizing. Instead of diving directly into media buying and testing various channels, think first of your goals. Who your potential clients are, where they are located, and even which devices they are likely to use when visiting your site or trying your product are important pieces of information you need to have. Understanding who you are selling to and what you are selling does not necessarily require a marketing budget.
Here are four things you can do right now to grow your startup without a CMO or budget:
Use existing free resources to spread the word about your startup
There are some high-quality blogs and forums with a large and relevant audience that can be your content distributor and promote your startup.
Popular blogs like Producthunt, Betalist and startupli.st are ones that are being visited often by potential customers, tech industry members (including possible future investors or employees) and reporters. Promoting the launch of your startup in one of these blogs can generate massive traffic to your site and even spark interest in tech reporters who can later on cover your startup in large tech news outlets.
Reach out to bloggers and reporters yourself
Having a small or zero-dollar marketing budget probably means you won’t be able to afford a good PR agency. Don’t be tempted to work with cheap agencies that can’t deliver (for reference, good PR agencies in the US charge somewhere between five and ten thousand per month), but rather do the outreach yourself.
Whenever you are ready to spread the word about your company, prepare a pitch or a press release and send it to reporters who you know cover your field. Like anything in marketing, the best results are the targeted ones. Most media outlets publish their reporters’ emails, and there are some great templates you can use to draft a release.
Before sending, do your homework on what a reporter is interested in. Influential reporters and bloggers receive hundreds of pitches a day, so the major part of your work is to plan and create a great pitch. To make sure it’s appealing and interesting, run it by your friends first to solicit feedback.
Use your personal network
Not all marketing and growth has to do with SEO, conferences and buying media. Your personal network is valuable and can lead to even more valuable second and third degree connections.
Maintaining a strong personal network is important for any entrepreneur, as it can be tapped into from the brainstorming stage – advising with friends on aspects of the product, name, etc. – all the way through to the launch stage and future partnerships.
Use A/B testing methods to increase conversion
A/B testing is something that can really help you grow, without investing a lot of money. By using tools such as Optimizely and Unbounce, you can maximize the potential of users who are already visiting your site. A/B testing can be tricky if not done right, as you don’t want to be overwhelmed by numerous variables.
Simplify the tests, and each time, check one variable or two. You will be surprised how a small change in the color of a button or the size of your header image can boost your conversion rate, sometimes by 20 percent or more.