The biggest hurdle in startups or new businesses is the risk of trying to sell or market something no one wants to buy. That’s followed closely by the fact that no one has heard of your company or your product.
When you’re new and poor, you can’t buy your way into brand awareness with traditional media, but you can earn your way in.
1. Leverage Niche Press
Trying to get mainstream media to notice you early on is often as productive as trying to land P&G as your first client.
Your newness and difference make it harder to get conventional press. Conversely, they make it much easier to get coverage on blogs that cover startups and technology.
There is a standard list of key events that tech and startup press like to cover:
- High profile employee additions (management team, investors, engineers)
- Key client acquisition
- Interesting features or new versions
- Anything feature related that is topical
PR Web and eReleases are relative cheap for press releases. Help a Reporter Out is a newsletter where reporters submit requests for story sources or commentary. You have to weed through a lot of irrelevant stories, but you can sometimes strike a great fit.
2. Tap Into Existing Communities
If you can’t get prospects to come to you, go to them. Find the places your prospects already congregate – both online and offline. This includes:
- Well read news sites and blogs: Pitching these sites a story about your company generally won’t go very far, unless they happen to be niche press (see above). But many of these sites need a constant influx of content. You can often fill that need either with interesting content (studies, topical analysis, infographics) or by offering to be a writer – either as a regular contributor or guest post. If your own blog is large enough, you can offer the opportunity to guest post or swap guest posts.
- Conferences: Almost every conference accepts pitches to help shape the agenda or speak on a chosen panel. The trick is to know the deadlines, which can often start 6 months before the conference is scheduled to happen. If you can pitch both topics and then the opportunity to speak on those panels, that will give you even more opportunity to be selected. If the conference has an affiliated publication, preference is sometimes given to writers of the publication.
- Groups: Online communities, forums, MeetUps, LinkedIn groups, trade associations, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Quora… anywhere there is a conversation among your prospects, there is an opportunity to be a part of it. The important rule is to make sure you’re actually having a conversation and not just looking for opportunities to pitch your product. Focus on helping first and keep the sell soft.
3. Go Direct
If you can’t get prospects to come to you, go to them. Sometimes direct selling, especially to early adopters, is faster and more productive in the early stages of building your customer base and sales pipeline.
Direct can happen in a lot of ways:
- Sales Team, telesales or in-person team
- Direct Marketing, such as direct mail
- Performance Marketing, including affiliate, paid search, etc.
You Have No Client References or Logos
At some point, every startup will get the dreaded question “So, who are some of your other clients?” Social proof like logos, references, testimonials and case studies are classic sales tools, but they’re not required.
- Compete Like a Small Company: Yes, the incumbent has thousands of sales people and a well established reputation. But, as a smaller company, you can offer some things they can’t:
- Service: Who doesn’t like to be catered to, especially by the key employees instead of a customer service contact? Personal and custom attention are a luxury larger companies often can’t afford.
- Influence: The ability to influence the product can be a powerful selling tool. The customer gets features they want in exchange for using less polished products or services.
- Price: Everything from the price, total cost of ownership, and payment terms to the payment methods can set you apart.
- Ask or Negotiate for Logos: Simply asking for logos, quotes or testimonials from existing customers can often yield a quick source of references. If you do any customer surveys, include an open ended field for comments. For the positive ones, follow-up and ask if you can use them in your collateral. You can put language about using logos in standard contract language, though it may or may not get approved. If not, ask for reference, logos, and quotes as part of the price negotiation.
- Sell To Early Adopters: Instead of trying to sell to a mainstream audience that cares about doing business with the safe vendor, sell to one that’s excited by working with a new one.
- Become a Thought Leader: If you can’t spend money, then spend time. There is almost no barrier to setting up a place to distribute your ideas, like a blog, or tapping into existing channels. Content and inbound marketing help establish credibility, increase traffic to your site and give you something to pitch to press. These resources are helpful:
Startup Marketing Resources
There’s a well established community of people who write specifically on the challenges of marketing startups. Here are three recommended resources:
What are some of your challenges and tricks for building brand credibility on the cheap?