Marketing Strategy Blog Articles

4 Marketing Tips for Every Startup

I read a scary stat the other day: 25-30% of venture-backed businesses fail. To be honest, that surprised me. Coming from a background of startups that were either acquired, went public or both, I look at VC investment as a sign that you are going to make it. Just call me a glass “half full” kind of person. But even with the most kicka$$ board of directors, all startups have to quickly show that they can create a product that clearly fills a need, acquire customers, retain and expand their customer base.

In high growth periods, companies lean on teams of scrappy marketers who can do a lot on a little budget. These marketers must be Jacks and Jills of all trades. Unlike big enterprises, they aren’t assigned to a single piece of the marketing pie such as SEO, paid advertising, brand or PR. They do it all.

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I’ve personally felt the pressure that startup leaders put on their marketing teams. At Rally Software, I was responsible for 200+ field events a year that had to generate $3M+ in revenue. And at AlchemyAPI, my team was tasked with growing our user base to more than 90,000 users. And now at SmartAcre®, my team helps many of our customers through similar obstacles. Here are the challenges I hear over and over again from our clients, along with my ideas on how to begin breaking them down.

Challenge #1: I don’t have enough budget.

If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard this (or said it), I would never have a budget problem in the first place! Startups are notorious for running marketing programs on minuscule budgets. So, if you aren’t part of an organization that dedicates 50% of its planned revenue to marketing (yes, it happens), you aren’t alone.

I normally suggest that people deal with the budget problem last. Money doesn’t grow on trees and without data to back up your case for more, you will find yourself sounding like a broken record. Create a plan for achieving your goals with low-cost activities. Here are some budget friendly ideas to get you started:

  • Publish thought leadership content
  • Use social channels to organically share your message and build a following
  • Use social forums (Quora, Reddit, Linkedin groups) to provide helpful input to your ideal customers
  • Build a referral program for current customers to introduce you to their network
  • Submit to speak at local meetups and events

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While it is nice to have a healthy budget, the fact is that you typically have to prove you can use it wisely before you get more. You must demonstrate that you will make a big impact with each and every dollar you are given.

Challenge #2: I have too many things to do and not enough people to do them.

This is a reality everywhere. We are dealing with increasingly long lists of demands from the CEO, sales, product and others. Our teams are slammed, and while we try to help them navigate more efficiently, we are still on the hook to deliver. No board of directors is comfortable hearing, “Sorry, we just didn’t have enough bandwidth this quarter.”


  • Automate: Make sure no lead is left behind by automating your marketing processes. Test drive marketing automation platforms such as HubSpot, Marketo and Pardot. Once you find an option you like, automate as many processes as possible. Start with a common campaign such as content download nurtures, sales first touch outreach, or newsletters. This will also help you measure success and gives your team the power to report on a regular basis to show how you help reach broader company goals.
  • Outsource: Consider spending a little of your hard-earned budget to increase the bandwidth of your team a lot by partnering with an agency. With a team of dedicated marketing experts, you will ramp up your ability to execute and give yourself more time to focus on strategy and forward-thinking. You’ll also look really good when you increase messages in market, leads go up and more deals are closed/won.

If your team continually feels slammed with work and unable to meet deadlines, consider working with an automation platform to track leads and schedule email campaigns. If you’re so focused on providing a stellar product that you’re unable to market your brand, consider hiring an agency to alleviate the pressure on your internal team and handle the majority of your marketing efforts. If you’re lucky, you might outsource an agency proficient in marketing automation.

Challenge #3: I have a hard time getting anything in market because it needs to be be “perfect.”

Entrepreneurs put their blood, sweat, and tears into launching a startup, so don’t be surprised if they think of the company as their “baby”. A lot of passion goes into growing a business and emotions come out in the process. There’s a common conflict of “we need to be in market now” and “it needs to be perfect” that marketers have to overcome as they try to get campaigns in front of potential customers.

Often times, there are many layers of approval at a startup because small teams want or need everyone to weigh in. There are no weak links at a startup, so everyone has knowledge to contribute to the discussion. Respect the expertise of your team, but don’t let it be a bottleneck.

  • Create review processes early and bring data in to help drive decisions.
  • Use metrics to demonstrate what works and what doesn’t.
  • Have a standard review process, including timelines and assigned roles, that is followed for each campaign.
  • This process will streamline decision making, and helps get you out from under the “analysis paralysis” that can sometimes occur.

Remember, you will not know what works unless you try it. So get it out in market and learn how to make it better from there!

Challenge #4: “But look at what our competition is doing.”

It is essential for VC-backed companies to have awareness of market conditions, the competition, and the messages being shared in the market. One of the worst case scenarios you can find yourself in is having an amazing idea that someone gets into market faster than you. If your competitors get the glory for your idea, you are just a laggard or copycat, right?


  • If you are simply copying marketing ideas from your competitors, or constantly searching for and sharing what they are doing, your own efforts will suffer.
  • Keep your team’s focus on the future and create a solid marketing foundation with relevant industry thought leadership content aimed at helping your primary audience and give your company a megaphone by sharing the content in all relevant channels, including where your competitors are.

Startup life is hard. But if you joined your company because you believe in and are passionate about their mission to impact the world, you are in the right place. There are many templates and tools to get you started down the path to marketing greatness including the ones I mention above.

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If you are still stuck, reach out! Don’t go at it alone. There is support for you, in teams like SmartAcre, who have a history of working with marketing leaders to build a pipeline of leads and convert them to real opportunities.

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