Five lessons for marketing your cash-strapped, early-stage startup

Marketing your startup is hard. You’re likely working with a limited budget (if any at all), no name recognition, and an early-stage product that isn’t nearly complete — but is functional enough that you’re ready to roll it out for users.

I’ve noticed that for a lot of first-time founders, the hardest part about marketing is just figuring out where to get started. In no particular order, here are five things I’ve learned over the past few years:

Social media works, but be thoughtful in your approach

Take the time to study the competitors in your space and see what platforms work best for them. Remember that there are different, but overlapping audiences between social platforms. For example, you’ll want to reach the overlapping group of users who are following you both on Facebook and Twitter. Crafting your strategy around this idea will help your brand reach a wider audience as your qualified leads share it with their friends and followers.

Also, you’re probably working with a small team, so focus on coming up with ideas and campaigns that are scalable. Think like your users and play the long game. Social media is a lot of work, so never underestimate how much effort it’ll take to do it well.

Don’t try to do everything at once

A lot of startups think they need to be everywhere and establish a presence at every corner of the Internet. They’ll devote five percent of their resources in twenty different areas and wonder why the needle never moves. Let’s be real, your company doesn’t need a MySpace page. While your resources are limited, you should focus your efforts on the two or three social platforms that will have the most impact — most likely they’ll be Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Reserve the appropriate handles everywhere else and stay focused on the tasks at hand. Be goal-oriented and reevaluate often.

Press is important

You need to be persistent in your initial efforts to get press. Be smart about it by coming up with clever and unique hooks for the appropriate writers. Figure out what topics different publications and reporters focus on, and then find a way to get your pitches to them through connections. Understand that they are extremely busy and always be respectful if they pass on your pitch. You’ll find that beyond the initial spikes in traffic, press can also make an impact on your business development and fundraising efforts.

Use the distribution that others have already established

Know the influencers in your market and build relationships with them over time. This includes brands, bloggers, reporters, and celebrities. Most likely they’ll have a large following that in aggregate will become a large part of your customer base.

Come up with partnership ideas that fit both party’s goals and interests — think: content marketing, social media campaigns, paid advertising, joint contests, and events.


Be creative and try new things because you never know what will work. If you notice that a particular campaign isn’t working, throw it out and switch to something else. Observe what other brands are doing, try to reverse engineer their process, and modify it to fit your company. Always monitor your progress and set clear boundaries. Pour more resources into successful campaigns and see how far you can take it.

I’ve found that experimenting in marketing means being wrong a lot and that’s okay. Remember that this is a process that simply requires you to learn from the failures. You’ll no doubt get better over time and develop an efficient process for testing out new ideas.

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