I talk to hundreds of entrepreneurs each year, most of whom are seeking assistance in getting their business started or growing. Drawing from that experience, I’ve created three rules of marketing that everyone can follow.
Rule 1: Look Established
With the existence of WordPress, 99designs, Mailchimp, and other free or low-cost design services, there is no reason that your company should not look like a polished, professional, and established organization.
Your website should look like it was designed by a designer, complete with logo, branding, tag line, and description of your product/service.
Your business cards, newsletters, and any attachments you send should all look professional.
If you are at an event, your signage should be professionally printed, and any paper handouts professionally designed and printed on high-quality paper.
Act professional, look professional, and people will treat you as a professional.
Speak in the present tense, not future tense. If you have started your business planning process, then you are running your company. If you are working on your prototype, then you are in development.
Too often, entrepreneurs talk about what “will be included” or what services “will be offered” or use phrases like “when we start selling.” These leaps into the future too often have the opposite effect from what the entrepreneur expects.
They speak in the future tense to be truthful about the state of their business and/or product. They believe being truthful will help them earn trust when talking to potential team members, advisors, clients, and investors. The actual truth is that all the talk of the future makes their ideas seem immature, undeveloped, and not ready for further consideration.
To avoid this issue, speak in the present tense.
Do not, however, lose the truth. Do not go all the way to the past tense. If your product is under development, you can say it is “in development,” but do not say it “is developed.”
If you are working on your business plan then say you “are launching” your company, but hold back saying you “have launched” until you have incorporated, set up your website, and are out talking to potential customers. “Launched” is a nebulous term, generally meaning that you are truly in business, not just kicking around an idea.
Keep in mind that future tense is still useful, but limit it to when you are talking about your financial forecasts and your plans for the next six months and next few years (a.k.a. your product “roadmap”).
Most entrepreneurs expect to raise money from investors as part of starting their company. But only a tiny percentage receive any such investments.
The companies that do raise money either: (a) are started by entrepreneurs who have raised money before; or (b) have “traction,” i.e., customers at least using if not paying for the product; or (c) are growing madly and do not need the money, anyway.
The companies that are passed over by investors: (d) are unproven ideas; or (e) asking for unrealistic investment amounts or terms; or (f) have some previous investment that has been all spent without much to show for it.
Of all these choices, the best to be is (c): not in need of investors.
This is true if you are raising money. It’s also true if you are trying to add members to your team. True again for closing sales.
So, how do you act funded, even if you are not funded? Start with Rule #1, and spend the tiny amount of money needed to look established. Add in Rule #2, making your words sound like your company exists and is making progress.
On top of that, show up at networking events, conferences, and anywhere else where you will be seen by the right people. When talking with investors, potential recruits, and potential customers, remember that they have no idea how many customers you already have, nor how much money is in your company’s bank account. Don’t lie, but neither start talking about “just getting started” or “landing your first customer” or anything else that sounds like you are just getting started and still looking to land your first customer.
Most investors do not invest in raw ideas. They see plenty of those and dismiss them, searching for startups with some proof of success. By acting funded, you’ll get more attention from investors.
Once you are talking with investors, answer their questions truthfully. If at that point they discover you’ve yet to even build the product or find a paying customer, they are unlikely to just walk away from the conversation.