If you build it…, you need to do a lot before they come…
So far so good. You have got a problem to solve and a solution to solve it. You know who has that problem and who at their organization will buy it. You have an estimate on an initial price. You know the size of your team. You incorporate. You get the MVP ready for launch. Everything is ready. Exciting times!
With all that, the next step is letting the world know your company exists and, more specifically, getting your target customers to know your product exists and can solve their problem.
How will my customers know my company exists? How will they know the benefits of my product?
To start with, you will likely turn to the members of your team, who should have some experience in your market and with that experience a list of potential customers to call upon. It is far easier to sell to people who know you than to strangers, so do not hesitate to use your contacts as potential customers (a.k.a. “sales leads”) and ask them for additional leads.
However, that will go only so far. At some point, ideally before the product launches, you need to worry about informing the target market of your product’s existence and create a plan of action to reach your target audience. The goal of this effort is to put awareness of your brand and your product in the minds of potential customers, ideally before your salespeople call them, to increase the likelihood that they buy your product.
Marketing is an enormous, complex subject, covered by thousands of books and taught to MBAs over multiple semesters. This is not something you will learn in a few pages. Instead, unless you have experience doing the marketing for a startup, this is an area where you should consider hiring someone with that experience. Depending on your product, this could be a salesperson who is also adept at marketing, or it may be a marketing specialist. In addition, even with the specialist, you will likely need some outsourced assistance for things such as logo design, website design, and public relations.
You will find a plethora of marketing consulting firms who are more than happy to work on your “brand,” your “positioning,” your “messaging,” etc. But to start, you are likely better off spending more money to hire one person to do your marketing, rather than outsource the work to consultants. As a startup, much of the marketing effort involves experimenting to discover what works (and what doesn’t). Having an employee doing the experiments is almost always faster, better, and less expensive.
One decision you need to make early on is the name of the company. You may have a name picked out now. However, you will need to ensure both that the name you have chosen can be trademarked and that the dot com domain name is available (or a reasonable alternative). You can lookup trademarks online at the US PTO web site (www.uspto.gov/trademarks/). You can check domain names at the official InterNIC Whois registry (www.internic.net/whois.html).
In addition, I highly suggest you type your favorite names into Google (or your country’s favorite search engine) and look closely at the results. Your brand will be associated with the websites that are on that search result page. Your brand will be competing for attention with those results. And if there are too many results and your brand is not sufficiently popular, no matter how much time you spend trying, your website will never show up on that first result page, which is as good as not having a website.
What is a great name for my company?
Plus, in the age of the Internet, there is no excuse for not looking like a professional, well-funded company. Web sites such as 99designs (www.99designs.com) allow you to create a polished logo and printed materials at a minimal cost. For a few dollars per month, web hosting services will let you set up a WordPress website, which you can customize with a professionally designed template at a minimal cost.
The Web has made it far easier for a startup to build awareness globally, but for many businesses, most of the sales and marketing still take place face to face. At a minimum you should print business cards, flyers, and other branded paper-based marketing materials.
Online sites (such as VistaPrint.com here in the U.S.) can quickly and easily print all these marketing materials and ship them directly to your home or office. These sites can also print pens, mugs, hats, and T-shirts with your logo, which do still work to build awareness.
Next, you need to be able to tell people about your company. For startups, we call this the “elevator pitch”. It got this name from the hypothetical situation where you walk into an elevator only to find a potential customer, potential funder, or potential recruit, and you have less than one minute to share your idea.
More commonly, this elevator pitch is your answer when people ask you, “What are you doing?” It is the sentence you use when introducing yourself and your company to a group. It is a line you will repeat hundreds of times in the first years of your business.
Crafting a good, pithy elevator pitch can be difficult. Do not expect a great elevator pitch within the first hour or the first week or the first month. Instead, take an hour to create a few variations, then try out different versions, paying attention to which work best. Then iterate and revise until you have one that flows.
Bird Watch—[Elevator pitch]: Bird Watch measures and tracks wildlife out in the wild, using a low-cost, low-power radio to capture a variety of sensor data, automatically… twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.
Concrete Battery—[Elevator pitch]: Concrete Battery turns the non-continuous electricity production of wind and solar installations into a continuous, on-demand supply.
Close to Home—[Elevator pitch]: Close to Home is an online marketplace for post-disaster homes, providing survivors of tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, etc. with options for remaining in their community during the rebuilding process.
Ensibuuko—[Elevator pitch]: Ensibuuko brings mobile-based financial services to the rural farmers of East Africa through their existing accounts at savings and credit cooperatives.
Congratulations! When you have completed your elevator pitch, you are now (slightly) experienced in marketing!
See The Next Step: A guide to startup sales and marketing for more advice and details
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin
The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki