There is most definitely a learning curve when starting a new venture, and if you aren't making mistakes, you're not taking enough risks. I've seen startups come and startups go. I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. When it comes to marketing your start-up, there are a few key items you should avoid.
Here are some of the biggest marketing mistakes startups make:
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Mistake 1: Forget about the pre-launch hype
I get it — When you are busy building your startup, marketing is probably the last thing on your mind. That being said, growing hype before a launch is exactly what you need to be doing. Maybe you're waiting until everything is "just right." That's fair, but if you hold off until everything is "perfect" (you will be waiting a very long time) to plan your marketing strategy, you will have wasted a valuable opportunity to gain traction in the early stages. Do not fly under the radar. Get your name out there as soon as possible.
Mistake 2: Fail to build an audience
Even before you technically have a product, you need your people. You must test what you are building and ask for genuine feedback — beyond just your (potentially biased) inner circle. When you pitch to investors, you can be sure they are going to ask about the size of your audience. They will expect tangible proof that you have a viable idea on your hands. Without sales figures to display, hype and interest are going to be your only true initial indicators of success.
Mistake 3: Overvalue the website
Yes, of course we all want cool, slick, "sexy" websites, but too often entrepreneurs obsess over the look of their online presence. "Perfect is the enemy of the good." What you should be focusing on is your product. Dedicate your attention to building a reputation and delivering quality and value. When you create something people are truly excited about, they will talk about you enough and it shouldn't matter what your website looks like.
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Not only that, but perfecting your branding can end up being a waste of time. Many companies end up pivoting at some point during their evolution. There will always be a chance for you to rebrand and relaunch your website if you so desire. Do not make the website your marketing priority.
Mistake 4: Undervalue content
Embrace content marketing. This is the best way to: A) build solid SEO, and B) develop thought leadership and authority in the space. Warm up your blogging fingers and offer some insight, behind-the-scenes peeks and company updates. Optimize this content with keywords and blast it out to all of your social channels.
Mistake 5: Network without a strategy
It is trite, but true: time is money … especially when you are a stretched-thin, stressed out entrepreneur. So before you begin networking, make sure to identify your goals in order to maximize your time spent in the room. Create a prioritized list of who you should be talking to, where to best find them and what you hope to gain from these interactions. Make sure you have plenty of business cards on hand, and collect a few yourself. Follow up in a timely manner to remain relevant and fresh in people's minds.
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Mistake 6: Put the wrong people in charge
First of all, you can't do everything yourself. In my 15-plus years in recruiting, I've seen that "Founders Syndrome" all too often. Your passion and zeal is commendable, but a Jack- or Jill-of-all-trades can stymie the best business. Hire a dedicated marketing team to assist you, even if you start small. Not only is launching a startup a sizable task, but it requires expertise. On a related note: Do not hand the keys to your social media accounts to a college intern. Sure, they may be super social-savvy, but these channels are the mouthpiece for your brand. Make sure that the voice behind them is an invested spokesperson.
Mistake 7: Look too closely at the competition
Just like you learned in grade school: Keep your eyes on your own paper. It is completely natural to glance over your shoulder to see what the competition is tweeting, or what product updates they are making, and I'm not by any means telling you to ignore them completely. The problem is when you constantly take cues from other companies, you will eventually find yourself trapped in a game of catch-up. Your startup is not their startup; tactics that work (or don't work) for them may or may not work for you. It's about innovation, not copycatting. Therefore, if you're doing it right, it shouldn't even matter what the competition is doing.