Startup – When startups should hire a marketing consultant

I recently sat down with a good friend and marketing expert, Jude Brown, the CEO and Founder of Pikosocial. Jude sponsored Social Media Camp 2012 and is one of the most knowledgeable people that I know when it comes to getting real results from your marketing efforts.

Jude has been working with local Victoria startups such as Rewards Den, ForkJoy and Kiind so I thought it would be appropriate to talk with him about the best time for startups to hire a marketing consultant.

Note: My audio recording for this interview didn’t work so the following responses are paraphrased with the permission of Jude.

What homework should a startup do before hiring a marketing consultant?

It is important that a startup knows what their core message is before they speak to a marketing consultant or hire a dedicated marketing person inside their company.

If you don’t know why people should care about your company and product or service then no amount of “marketing” can help. You need to do the ground work and figure out what it is about your company that really connects with people. This is the hard part that the founders need to do.

Far too often startups spend 6 months – 1 year working on a new product idea only to lift their head up at the end and say “lets market this”. This approach can lead to a product that no one wants because you haven’t figured out why your customers will care about it first. This typically requires picking up the phone and talking to customers. By the way, a (phone) conversation is the most profitable form of communication for any business.

There has to be an exception to this rule, right?

It’s true that sometimes you can get a little too inundated by your own story and it can become stale. In these situations you may just need an external set of eyes, at which point it may be helpful to bring a marketing consultant. This meeting should only take 2 – 3 hours and shouldn’t be a big expense. If a marketing consultant wants to jump in and starts by proposing a huge contract you should probably just walk away.

So what should startups do when they complete their homework?

Finding a marketing consultant is a lot like dating. You are going to want to meet with a bunch of different marketing consultants. On the first meeting, you are both really just trying to find out if you like each other. This should take about 30 minutes – 1 hour.

During this meeting you will want to see how they understand your business and you should get an understanding of their business.

What if we want to move on to the “Second Date”?

If the first date went well and you want to continue dating, remember, you shouldn’t sign anything yet. You are still evaluating if this is going to turn into a marriage.

A good marketing consultant will start by getting to know you. If they don’t get to know you, how can they help represent you to the world? Now it is time to move on to the second date.

This date will take time. A typical first meeting could take 3 – 5 hours and then be followed up with a multiple page questionnaire designed to get an even deeper understanding of your business and objectives. Remember, this whole process should cost you nothing. You still don’t know if you want to marry this consultant.

After this interview process you should expect to see a summary of your startup returned to you for your approval. If you decide to approve the summary of your startup then the marketing consultant should then put a plan together of what the marriage would look like and what you can expect.

Only if you like the final proposal should you sign on as a customer and start the marriage.

Do you have any final tips for startups when hiring a marketing consultant?

  1. Don’t Pay a Retainer - Retainers are going the way of the dodo bird. There are some very high-end marketing firms that still request retainers but these are groups that are typically working with major household brands. If you are working with one of these firms, then paying a retainer means that you will be paying someone to play Pac Man at their desk until you call, and then they will jump into action.Smaller marketing firms that request a retainer are just using the retainer as a way to pay their bills. They will load their staff up to 125% capacity so that when you call, you aren’t at the front of the line, and your project is going to take longer than it should to get out the door.
  2. No Contracts -  There is no reason that you should be signing a long term contract with a marketing consultant. If they aren’t producing the results that you want and/or need, you need to end the marriage and move on. It’s nothing personal and a professional will understand that it just wasn’t the right fit.
  3. Think in Cost Per Acquisition - Brand marketing is a long play. It can lead to big results but most startups can’t afford the luxury of the long game up front. Before you start, ask yourself what will this marketing campaign will result in and is it worth it to you?If you are looking for webpage visitors or paying customers think about how much you would pay for that and then be sure it makes sense to move forward with a marketing consultant.

If you have any other advice for startups looking to hiring a marketing consultant or just have a comment please feel free to chime in below!

 

Startup – 4 Ways to Use Social Media when Hiring

If you’re running a tech startup, it’s almost impossible to not know how hard it is to find good talent. In this article, we share 4 ways to use Social Media when hiring.

It doesn’t matter if you’re based in San Francisco or Victoria, finding the talent that you need to keep your company growing is hard. Everyone is trying to hire the best people and often they have bigger budgets and fancier offices than you.

Don’t let this discourage you. Using some clever techniques, your company’s culture and social media, you can and will find the people you need.

 

1.    Create a social presence

Ok, so this is pretty obvious, but it is worth saying. If you don’t have a social presence, GET ONE!

It’s no surprise that the most popular social sites used by recruiters are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter because almost every potential young employee is already there. If you’re looking for new staff, your startup should have (at the very least) a LinkedIn profile, and most likely you will have a Facebook page and Twitter account.

Use these social networks to reach out to followers and fans that are actively engaged. It’s not uncommon for great potential applicants to be interacting with you already. These applicants can make great employees because they already know what you’re business is about and identify with it.

Also, remember that even if your customers aren’t potential employees they may know someone. Post your application landing pages and encourage customers to pass it on.

2.    Mine your employee’s connections

Chirag Nangia, CEO of Reppify did an interview with Forbes that included a few tips for employers. One key take away was to leverage and grow your existing talent pool. Your employees have social connections extending both professionally and personally.

A personal employment referral from a friend has a lot of power. If you hire your employee’s referral, both your current employee and your new hire are going to be eager to prove that their referral was gold for the company. Further, referral bonuses for employees who refer new hires that last past the probation period can greatly increase the odds that they make a good referral.

If your looking to mine your connections, both those of your company and your employees, take a look at tools like LinkedIn Recruiter to do this in an automated way.

3.    Create landing pages

Spinweb focused on the use in landing pages when hiring in a recent article. Hiring is just like any other web funnel and thus we can use all the standard web funnel tools like landing pages, A/B testing, and user analytics.

A good landing page for a job will include a description of the job, require a link to the applicant’s LinkedIn profile and provide a social sharing widget so they can share the job on, even if it isn’t right for them.

Remember when you are optimizing your landing pages, you may not be looking just at conversion rate. The quality of the applicants you are receiving is far more important than the quantity. You can use tools or consulting groups if you require help ensuring the quality is high, but if you’re a startup, you may want to do this review yourself.

4.    Track down passive talent

This infographic by mediabistro reminds us that the current job market brings a lot of applications, and many of them are unqualified. You have the opportunity to use social media to recruit passive employees (employees that are not actively applying/looking, but would suit your company to a tee).

When you are looking for passive employees, you are looking for individuals who are passionate about your business, your company culture and who would be a good fit.

You can use social to cultivate the talent that fits you by using the tips above. Look into their social profiles, use your connections and convince these potential applicants that they want to be a part of your startup.

 

 

 

Startups – What Follower Ratio Should My Startup Have on Twitter

This is a question that is asked often:

What following:follower ratio should my Startup have on Twitter?

And it’s a great question, because startups want to make sure that they (look like) they are navigating social media effectively.

MG Siegler on Techcrunch calls the answer to this question Twitter’s Golden Ratio.  He claims that if you have a positive twitter ratio (more followers than people you follow) you are less likely to be a spammer. He also thinks this ratio only comes into play once you are dealing with thousands of followers. Before that point you are just building your following.

Building your following

As your following/follower numbers rise you want to start teasing out the mass or spam followers from your tribe. Take a look at the number of Tweets, Followers and Following from your newest followers before you decide to follow back.

If they look spammy (relatively low number tweets, following lots of accounts and followed by very few) it is probably best to not follow them.

If they fit into your niche or appear to have genuine interest in your startup, then you could be looking at an influencer in your space and you want to follow them.

Compare numbers when…

You have thousands of followers or consider starting at hundreds. Now is the time to really start looking at the Tweets that pop up in your stream. Have you picked up some spam followers? Are you following people who really aren’t a part of your tribe?

Now you can ask yourself the ratio question again and then….

Ask the internet – you’ll find people want engagement.

When you ask the internet (or in this case Quora) you find a lot of opinions and suggestions. Some say that there are no conventions; others suggest that you make sure that you always have more following you than you are following yourself.

More importantly, there are the answers that remind us that it is not the number of followers but the interactions of your followers that are key. If you are a startup, you are looking for a couple of things:

  1. Your tribe
  2. Potential Customers

Engagement comes from these two sources. You are interested in interacting with your tribe and your tribe leads you to potential customers. Which means that when you engage your following and start seeing genuine interactions – those referrals will give your social media presence a larger boost than a particular ratio of followers:following can provide.

Why buying followers isn’t worth it

Remember, if you Google ‘Twitter Followers’ you find lots of opportunities to buy Twitter Followers. What does that mean? It means that there is a lot of perceived value in having a large following; however, if they are not following you out of genuine interest it is also not likely that they will be promoters of your startup.

In conclusion:

Math is fun, but if the Twitter ratio doesn’t necessarily dictate the effectiveness of your startup’s Twitter account. Instead, focus on engagement and building your tribe. Save the math and the numbers for important metrics like organic search.

Startups – Social Media before the Launch!

As we start to build our startups, we are often overrun with excitement about sharing our company with the world. This could be great and lead to major investment, customer excitement and wildly successful business, or it could  lead to  an unfortunate stream of Social Blathering with no focus and leave people with the wrong impression.

In this article, we outline 3 case studies of 3 different startups, each at different points in their company’s timeline. Each case study covers what the startup did before they launched – how they gained traction and notice and what they did to turn that traction into a marketing machine.

Please take these simply as examples and ideas as you consider how your startup should act on social media before the Launch.

Outbox

Launched Feb 26 2013

This startup is trying to modernize snail mail – by digitizing it.

Outbox is a great example of a startup that did their pre-launch marketing right. They didn’t go exceptionally heavy into social media until their product had been launched. Once the product was launched, they were sure to keep their social media light by only answering questions, giving thanks and not selling.

The Outbox blog is another example of great pre-launch marketing. They started the blog a year before they launched and have filled it with lots of pictures and quotes from keen customers. The quotes stand out because they have been re-written in a visually appealing manner that pop off of the page making this blog a great place for future referrals. (take a look here)

Outbox also delivered a number of  Tweet-worthy gifts to influential offices around San Francisco and  gained huge momentum in the social media world. Once those Tweet-worthy gifts hit – the media storm took hold and on Feb 27, 2013 the coveted Mashable article was written. Now Outbox is everywhere online.

Take home message: Start slow and low to build a strong foundation then surprise the influencers and be prepared for success.

App.net

Launched Aug 17, 2012

App.net took a different approach to gaining a quick social foothold – they launched on App.net’s crowdfunding platform.

Crowdfunding allowed them to raise $500,000 and gain over 9,000 paid users very quickly. In turn, they were able to attract more customers by quickly adjusting their price structure, which earned them even more social buzz.

Their crowdfunding success alone earned them articles on TechCrunch and Mashable that began early in August 2012. They are now an established brand, which has an active social presence with multiple conversations daily.

Take home message: Your investors talk , especially when they are customers.  Crowdfunding sites can be just as (if not more) powerful than finding a VC for consumer focused businesses.

Startupality

In Their Pre-Launch Phase

Startupality is a startup that aims to offer other startups a collaborative management tool based on lean startup principals.

They are brand new and have not yet started making a fuss. You can find their Facebook and Twitter accounts are created but doing nothing. They do already have a blog up with a couple of posts. Overall, you can see they are staying under the radar and focusing on the company.

Their main web presence is their landing page where you can enter your email to stay informed. Once you have signed up you are given the option to share their page on social media.  This is a great first step to getting the word out without blasting out to the world that there is an impending beta.

Take home message: Take it slow, get the product right and then blow the top off of your great new company.

In Conclusion

These are just 3 of many startups each with different pre-launch strategies. Which strategy is right for your startup is up to you. If you learn from others and think about how to apply their experience to your businesses, you greatly increase your odds of launching your own great company will greatly increase.

 

Startups – 2 Actionable Ways to Connect with Your Customers from HootSuite and AppSumo

When it comes to establishing your brand and company, nothing is more important than connecting with your customers. Obviously your customers are your company’s lifeblood by way of revenue. Not-so-obviously your customers are also your company’s lifeblood when it comes to customer growth and product improvement.

Rocket ship growth and deep product insights only happen when you know your customers and they trust you. Trust doesn’t come from knowing your name by reading your welcome email. Trust means that they feel like you care about them personally and they can count on you.

Luckily, when it comes to establishing these connections the bar is so low than almost anything will make you look like a rockstar (even if you spent almost no money on it).

HootKits with Dave Olson

One of my favourite people to talk with in the Social Media industry is Dave Olson over at HootSuite. Sitting down and chatting with Dave is like plugging your brain into the matrix training program for the first time and feeling the raw knowledge course through your mind.

Dave is a huge proponent of building real community and real relationships. The type of community that tells friends about the HootSuite product, the type of community that gets together with other users in the real world, and the type of community that is so proud to be HootSuite Certified that they put it on their resume.

When I last sat down with Dave, he shared with me one of the simple ways that they build their community. They send out what is now their infamous HootKits; well, they are infamous if you are a passionate fan of the HootSuite community.

These kits simply have a few stickers, some temporary tattoos and a couple of buttons in them. If you get a shipping contract with the postal service you can send kits around the world for about half-off and the contents are very cost effective.

Cookies with Noah Kagan

Another person that is known by many in the startup world is Noah Kagan, the founder of AppSumo and respected online growth expert. Noah has become the face of many techno-hackers attempting to make a go of it in the online world.

Noah has built a tribe of individuals that subscribe to the 4-hour work week belief system. His ability to connect with this tribe and the customers that sell to it has been a huge part of his success.

Noah recently did a presentation at Growth Hack New York. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but they did film his talk which you can watch here. In his talk he mentions that they send fresh cookies with a personal note to important clients as a Thank You.

This kind of gesture, while affordable, is what we at SaaSquatch call Tweet-worthy. This means that the personal touch is so amazing to the recipient that they can’t help but blog about it, tweet about it, and tell their friends at the water cooler.

Wrapping it All Up

These two great brands have found unique ways to connect with their customers in a meaningful and personal way. Neither solution is overly expensive but buys them more good will than most nights on the town.

Think of what small, personal and unique ways you can connect with your customers and then watch them return the favour to your brand 10 times over.

 

Startups – Lost: Tribe Needed

In recent years, several prominent startup investors and observers have rung the alarm that there are too many early stage companies in online technology. If this is true then your startup could be in major trouble, and you need to figure out an exit strategy.

When there are too many startups in the eco-system, each one is fighting for resources (investment and customers) and very few can find enough to survive. Some people postulate that to address this issue we need to encourage startups to roll up and turn into fewer, large companies.

The reason I bring this up is not to provoke a debate on the topic – which is a whole other topic for another blog – but to show that if you don’t fight for your share of the resources you will not make it. As a startup, you have to fight smart to win because startups just don’t have the resources to fight dumb.

One of the ways to fight smart is to use your social outlets in a very targeted manner. Seth Godin, the best selling author and startup educator, suggests that one of the smartest ways to fight for customers is by focusing on your tribe.

Many startups start their social media life by tweeting about every topic that they think is related to their business – even in the most obscure way. This is a “hard fighting” approach where no single group is aware that you are talking to them. This leaves your startup with no core identity for people to associate you with and no niche customers.

To fight smart and get noticed, startups need to first identify their tribe. Tribes are groups of people that are connected through a shared vision of themselves. This tribe might be growth hackers, but aren’t online marketers, because all online marketers don’t have a shared vision.

Once you know which tribe you are a part of, you can start to tweet and share about topics that are highly relevant to your tribe. This helps to make you an expert in your space – and your startup a trusted organization – when other members of your tribe are looking for a product like yours.

For those startups that are rocket ships and can work for most companies – don’t worry. Focusing on a tribe will not stop your rocket ship. You can grow the size of the tribe you are focused on over time, and even switch tribes if it makes sense for your company.

An example is Facebook. They started by being restricted to Harvard students who felt like connecting with friends online. The tribe quickly grew through other universities, and once the tribe was at its maximum size, they switched to corporate tribes and ultimately consumer tribes.

Recommended Listening Seth Godin’s Startup School