If you have a startup, acquiring quality traffic and users are critical for your company’s success, in this guide I’m going to walk through 5 practical ways to market a startup.
Every startup is unique, therefore this list isn’t a prescription to follow. Instead it is a set of guidelines that will help build a sustained user base. Also, since the majority of startups operate with limited budgets, each of these marketing mechanisms are free.
First and foremost I want to say that I’m not a marketer. In fact, marketing is probably my least favorite component of launching a company. With that being said, through the years I’ve been able to work with a great set of startups that have been VERY good at building website traffic and user bases. And these recommendations comprise the top marketing practices that I personally witnessed and have the most powerful impact.
Building an Email List
We live in the world of Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat. However, having a targeted email list is still one of the most vital marketing tools a startup can have. Last week I attended the Udemy Live conference in San Francisco. During the marketing workshops I heard a panel talk from Dr. David Seemuth. Seemuth has a startup that made over $50,000 in its first weekend after launching. During the discussion he credited the success of the company’s launch to having an email list of over 7000 users.
Seemuth wasn’t alone in touting the importance of email lists. It seemed like all each speaker could talk about was that the key to marketing was building up an email list. By the end of the sessions the importance of email started to settle in.
Building up an email list of quality users that are interested in your startup is challenging, but doable. I personally manage the devCamp email list and have been working to increase it prior to our public launch. I use tools such as MailChimp and OptinCat to help make it straightforward for users to sign up.
There are no tricks to building up an email list. So don’t get frustrated when you don’t get immediate results. Typically it takes months for a email list to start gaining traction. The key is to provide quality content to subscribers and to also make it easy for users to sign up.
Since this is a list of practical ways to market a startup, I can’t think of anything more practical than blog writing. Writing blog posts accomplishes a number of key marketing requirements. Such as:
- Search engine optimization. Each blog post you write provides an opportunity for users to find your website via Google or Bing.
- Expert positioning. Having a well written blog can position you as an expert in your industry. One of my favorite blogs is from thoughtbot. Thoughtbot is a premier software development consulting firm, with offices located throughout the world. If you look at their blog you’ll see that they do an incredible job in providing high quality content to developers. This type of content positions the company as an expert in their field.
- Focused brand message. Sometimes it can be hard to tell what a startup does. However a blog makes it possible to focus your company’s message via high quality content.
Typically your blog should focus on relevant topics for your potential users, it shouldn’t be giant advertisement for your startup. An example would be: if you have a local directory business, your blog posts could provide lists of popular restaurants in cities throughout the country.
In referencing the importance of building an email list, your blog will most likely be the most effective method of getting users to sign up for your list.
For tools to use, the most popular blogging platform in the world is WordPress. You can setup a WordPress blog in a few minutes and it also provides great tools for SEO and email list signup forms. The CronDose.com website is a WordPress blog and makes it easy to publish these daily posts.
If you’ve never done public relations it may seem a bit intimidating and expensive. However the PR world has changed dramatically over the past decade and it’s become more approachable. Old school public relations included tasks such as writing and distributing press releases, pitching journalists, etc. However those days are long over.
PR can be as easy as simply emailing reporters with a story idea on your topic or messaging a blogger on Twitter. Some of the keys to a successful PR campaign are:
- Make it easy on the writer. Writers I’ve spoken with have said that they’re incredibly busy each day and the easier someone makes life for them, the higher the probability will be that the story will be picked up.
- Keep it casual. Reporters hearing phrases such as “Game Changing”, “The best”, etc. will be instantly turned off. Instead you could email something like “Our startup just launched a service XYZ that helps ABC type users”, and then provide a set of bullet points of what your startup does and who’s using it.
I also utilize the “Help A Reporter Out” (HARO) service to connect with reporters and bloggers that are looking for interviews and expert commentary. This service alone has helped me get features in dozens of publications, including CIO magazine and ReadWriteWeb.
There are millions of guides explaining how to properly use social media to market your startups. I won’t try to replicate all of that knowledge here. Some of the keys I’ve found the most beneficial for social media marketing are:
Twitter and Instagram are my favorite social media outlets. In order to stay consistent I put together a marketing calendar where I plan my posts out in advance. This helps me to spend my time focused on creating quality content, instead of stressing over what I’m going to post each day. It’s pretty common to see startups get excited about social media, post 100 items in a week and then fall off the face of the earth. Like any other marketing mechanism, slow and steady wins the race.
Use a platform you enjoy
I have a limited number of social media outlets that I use. When I was deciding on what platforms to focus on I decided that I would only use the apps that I had fun with. Instagram is my favorite social media app, so even though it’s not the best fit for marketing a coding bootcamp I’ve had good success with it because I love using it each day.
Social media makes it all too easy to get distracted. Just like with your blog, make sure that you stay on message and provide quality content. This can become more complicated if your personal accounts are also your business accounts (like some of mine are). So make sure you put together a plan on how you can stay focused with your content strategy. Having a marketing calendar can help tremendously with this.
99.9% of my followers and interactions on social media are amazing. However, with the web’s anonymity I still run into trolls. Early on these types of interactions would bother me quite a bit. However then I decided I wasn’t going to let them waste my time. So now if I see an troll commenting on YouTube I’ll simply block them and move on with my life. Please note, this doesn’t mean block anyone that disagrees with you. I have a number of advanced courses where the initial solutions I provided could have been improved. Based on comments and messages I received, I took that feedback and republished the content and I think it’s better than ever now.
Depending on your startup’s industry, you would be wise to connect with a community related to what you do. The community can be online, such as in a Facebook Group, however I’d also recommend that you connect with individuals in person. Having email lists, Instagram followers, and things like that are great. However there are benefits to real world relationships that can’t be beat.
If your industry is related to coding, there is a very good chance that there are likeminded individuals in your area that you can meet up with. I personally am involved in several Ruby groups here in Scottsdale, Arizona and meet a few times each month. The meetings are great because they typically revolve around a tutorial on a specific programming topic. The last meeting I went to had a great presentation on how to integrate the EmberJS framework with a Rails application.
In addition to learning new techniques, these types of meetups also provide a way to connect with other individuals in your sector. You can share what your startup does and you may also meet people that would be a good fit for working for your company.
I hope that these 5 practical ways to market a startup will give you a good framework for marketing your company. I’ve included links to a few of the services that I discussed in the post so you can check them out.