Once your company has successfully navigated the proof-of-concept stage, the time is right to start in on a streamlined marketing strategy.
There are lots of creative ways to bootstrap an early stage marketing plan and gain valuable experience as you go.
1. Take personal ownership of building your brand. Just as you are hands-on when it comes to achieving a successful prototype and securing risk capital, be hands-on with marketing. This is not an area to delegate.
If you are like many advanced technology entrepreneurs, you have a lot to learn. Invest some time every day on marketing. Learn by doing. Boost your knowledge and experience while your business is small and mistakes don’t matter so much. When your company does have the resources to hire, you’ll know what type of people you need and what you want them to do.
2. Create a corporate logo. The company logo is the cornerstone of a company’s marketing strategy. It’s the “face” of the business, the most obvious and frequent statement of your brand. You want a logo that speaks to the customers and markets you intend to serve. It needs to be visually appealing and say something meaningful about your brand.
Creating a logo is a learning process — especially if you’ve never started a company before. Likely your company’s first logo probably won’t be the last — think about how much startups change as they refine their strategies — so that first logo doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good. Keep in mind what you’ll need it for. Your logo will be an integral part of your web site header, letterhead and business cards so it needs to fits nicely into those formats and still be readable.
Design contest websites can be an efficient and cost-effective way to come up with a logo. Prices start around $300.) 99designs has very good tools for creating a design spec as well as a free design consultation service. With Crowdspring, you describe your business, name your price and deadline, and invite designers to bid. The typical project gets 100+ entries and has a money back guarantee. DesignCrowd works similarly.
If you have a marketing plan laid out you may even want to check with your local university’s Advertising, Public Relations and Marketing Departments. Many Campaign focused classes look for project ideas every semester and in exchange for a little of your time you can get a lot in return.
3. Create a way for people to find your company on the Internet. It used to be that a startup could delay having a web presence. Not anymore. Initially, well-executed LinkedIn and Facebook company pages can be effective alternatives to a website. You can build these pages yourself.
Once you start talking with investors, business partners or customers, a website is a necessity.
Be clear about what you want the website to accomplish. For many startups, the goal of the website is to provide information about the business. Or, your website integral to the product or service. For others, the website may be a major marketing tool.
If you are a DIY type of person the cost of a site can be kept relatively low just by purchasing your own domain and hosting through services such as godaddy or rackspace and following their steps to upload a free content management system like WordPress. WordPress is a great solution used by companies large and small, and if you aren’t the creative type a company like ithemes can get you started with a template and plenty of how to tutorials online.
If your pockets are a little deeper or the idea of building your site is just too much, get professional help. Do your homework first. Ask for referrals from other startups. Choose a Web designer that has worked with startup companies before. Keep your first website simple and sleek. Consider hiring a writer to create or at least review your content.
4. Create a media kit. Sometimes called a press kit, this doesn’t have to be a high-cost glitzy package of expensive-to-produce brochures. Your media kit can be entirely electronic. Make your media kit available on the web as a zip file and also individually for people who need a logo quickly. The goal is to make basic information about your company easy for others to get.
Start with a 200- to 300-word description of what your company does, the markets you serve and the potential benefits to your customers. Add a few “did you know factoids” –-statistics about your company or the industry or markets that you will serve. Supply both high- and low-resolution images of your logo in various file formats, as well as a few pictures of your product.
Build interest with an article about your company — or you market, a customer testimonial, or relevant blog. Include biographies of founders and complete contact information. Consider a YouTube video describing your products or services.
If you want people to talk and write about your company you have to make it interesting. Practice telling your story. Have your elevator speech down pat. Your conversation doesn’t always have to be about what your product does. It can be about the market you serve or the benefits that the market will receive. You can talk about customers you hope to serve or how your startup sponsored a runner in a March of Dimes 5K.
Seek out media types at networking events. Ask their advice on how to work effectively with journalists. During the conversation, give them an idea for an article. Have some facts at your fingertips. You’ll learn something and reporters and bloggers will remember you.
Creating a memorable and enduring brand is challenging, rewarding and fun.
Editor’s Note: Grady Epperly is i2E’s marketing manager.