The Single Biggest Marketing Challenge for Business Startups


ETI was asked through our Twitter page at ETInside “What is the biggest challenge for marketing a startup?”

(The Answer) No one gives a damn about your business

Seriously, more often than not inexperienced entrepreneurs will sit down with their idea, create a decent website, generate some local press, and say, “if I build it they will come.” It doesn’t happen that way. Nobody knows about you and nobody cares… until you generate proof points.

Eventually the social media consistency dies off, the free PR stops running, the website remains static, and your startup is left dead in the water. Did I mention your budget is essentially $0, so paying for industry by-lines, PPC campaigns, or a marketing firm is out of the question?

Did you know less than 1% of all new businesses are funded by Angels and VCs? That means the average founder is using personal savings, bank loans, and family to get off the ground. Silicon Valley is not the norm. There is no budget.

What to do when no one gives a damn?

Get down to the basics. Give people a reason to care.

  • Who’s the targeted audience – don’t say everyone or you fail
  • How does your product / service benefit them – you are not the lowest cost provider this position is way too overused
  • Where is your competitive niche in the market landscape
  • What is your identity in 10 seconds or less

Then turn this information into a 1 – 2 sentence positioning statement.

“For (customer segment), our product/service is (important benefits – reason to buy), because compared to (primary competition – key differentiators).”

You’ve got to learn how to communicate a brands’ relevance to a targeted market or else you fail. Amplifying that message is a whole nother issue entirely.

How do I amplify?

It’s all on you. Your currency is time and effort.

  • Content Creation
    • Create once publish everywhere – blog, slideshare, forums, podcast, syndicated writing, videos, and Quora.
  • Social Sharing & Bookmarking
    • Get in on and contribute to LinkedIn groups, Twitter lists, Facebook groups, Quora/Reddit topics, create Youtube videos.
  • Local Directories – At the very least claim Google Business
    • Some industries will have niche listings as well. Think AngiesList.
  • Utilize free PPC offers
  • Build an industry specific list of publications, blogs, and influencers
    • Reach out to them with your unique value prop and ask for guest contribution or by-lined opportunities
    • Bloggers will often write-up reviews in return for a sample product
  • Network with industry related Meetup Groups
  • Fix easy on-page SEO website issues
  • Get on HARO & ProfNet
  • Distribute a press release on free aggregators
  • Partner with complimentary businesses – you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours
  • Build a referral program: ShareaSale is the giant in the market, but there are other smaller options that take a cut on sales instead of upfront fees
  • Craigslist can be surprisingly helpful for targeting local areas
  • Offer incentives for customers to post on a specific review site. Reuse the reviews as a social proof point on your website.
  • Scrape email addresses and create an outbound email campaign. MailChimp has a decent free plan but scraping tools will cost a little bit of $.

I could go on forever here. Ideally, a few of these options will work better for your business than the others. Trial what works and then stick with it. Just remember, always be looking for the next best thing, a startup isn’t a linear project.

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