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Marketing Advice for Startups: 9 Tips for Bootstrappers

Andy Crestodina | December 9, 2013

Got a startup with no marketing budget? Join the club. When we started Orbit Media in 2001, we had two computers and a phone. No budget for anything, really. And it was a slow start. It took years to build up our network and our pipeline.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently. In hindsight, I should have jump-started my marketing from day one. If I could do it again, this post describes what I would have done. Use this as a simple guide for content marketing, starting from the beginning.

Note: This basic content strategy is not just for startups. It works for works for any business, old or new, that is just getting started with content marketing.

1. Know your value.

Knowing exactly what problem your startup solves is the first step. You need to know who you’re talking to and what unmet need you’re meeting. Even a very simple positioning process will sharpen your message.

It may change later as you learn how your audience is using your services, but the position you start with is the cornerstone of your marketing. Miss this and all else will fail.

2. Get a few early champions.

Even if you have only one customer, get a quote from them to use in your marketing. This is important social proof that shows visitors that you’re legitimate. Eventually, you’ll want to use these testimonials everywhere: your home page, product/services pages, landing pages, and newsletters.

This kind of social proof is most effective when used near calls-to-action. Don’t make a separate testimonials page. Put the proof right in the pudding of every page.

3. Set a theme for your content.

Time to choose your topics. This is where you’ll be teaching and publishing, having conversations, and ranking in search engines. Chose one or two complementary topics that are relevant to your audience.

Stay within a narrow range of topics. It will be almost impossible to compete with bigger sites for general topics. The tighter the topics, the easier it is to rise above the noise and become relevant.

Example: Buffer App makes social sharing easy and social marketers more productive. What is their content about? They publish on social media marketing topics, but they also share the latest research on productivity and efficiency. So their blog and newsletter are about both marketing and “life hacking.” They chose two narrow topics within a broad theme, knowing their audience cares about both.

4. Find your keyphrases.

Ideally, you were thinking of keyphrases when you created your sitemap. If you didn’t, don’t worry. It’s never too late. Find a set of keyphrases tightly grouped around your topics, and plan to create a page for every phrase.

Check the search volume for potential phrases. Using the keyword research tool of your choice, confirm that at least some people are looking for the phrase. Often, the phrases that are not as popular are also less competitive.

5. Build a list of allies.

Don’t go it alone. You’ll need to connect with like-minded people. This network will create opportunities for collaboration, cross-promotion, introductions, and new ideas. Take the time to identify influencers, journalists, bloggers, and of course, prospects.

Follow, subscribe, listen, share, and comment. Eventually, you’ll want to reach out, build a relationship and collaborate. You never know what these relationships will lead to, but they’re more likely to be useful if you begin by building a list of useful potential contacts.

6. Allocate your time and set your frequency.

Be realistic about how often you’ll be able to publish. Take into account who is involved and how much time they have when you create the publishing calendar.

Share the responsibilities of creating content, but divide the tasks. People who work with the customers should pass along topic ideas. The founders should be ready to network with the press. Vendors can help, but they can’t do everything.

7. Set up Analytics Properly.

It only takes a minute to do it right. Set up Google Analytics as soon as you launch your site. At very least, it should be in place before you start marketing. Here are three of the most important places to set up:

  • Goals: Add contact forms (and thank you pages) as goals, so you can see conversion rates and funnel visualization reports.

  • Filters: Make sure that traffic from your own office doesn’t appear in the stats.

  • Campaign Tracking: Every email newsletter and social campaign should use URL tracking code in the links.

Now you’ll be able to analyze results and make improvements based on evidence.

8. Publish, publish and then publish.

Your marketing may include blog posts, videos, diagrams, in-depth guides, whitepapers, case studies, and podcasts. The best format will depend on two things: what your audience likes best and what medium best conveys the value you provide.

Videos are a good format if the product is innovative or complicated. Video is also good if a high level of trust is required, as in business-to-business service companies that need to generate leads.

Publish pages and posts for your most important, general topics first. Put in as much time and energy as it takes to make them valuable. Once this “cornerstone content” is in place, you’ll have a place to link to in future posts and guest posts.

9. Make it a priority.

Marketing is critical for startups. Your business won’t grow without it. So take it seriously and allocate serious resources. Build your site into the best content platform you can create. Then, fill it with the best content you can create.


About the Author

Andy Crestodina, Strategic Director of Orbit Media

Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. He is also the author of Content Chemistry, An Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing. You are welcome to connect with Andy on Google+ and Twitter.

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