Marketing Your Startup in the First Two Years: Takeaways from Our February Lunch & Learn

Your startup has a story to tell, and we want to hear it. We recently held our first Lunch & Learn for 2022, “How to Market Your Startup in the First Two Years.” It was a great opportunity to meet startup founders in our community, hear their vision, and share some of our expertise. Here are a few of the takeaways from this event.

February 21, 2022

Your startup has a story to tell, and we want to hear it. 

We recently held our first Lunch & Learn for 2022, “How to Market Your Startup in the First Two Years.” It was a great opportunity to meet startup founders in our community, hear their vision, and share some of our expertise. 

Our founding partner and Marketing Director, Jamie Parris, shared his insights into the first steps to take when getting your new business's marketing efforts off the ground. Jamie founded Electromagnetic Marketing in 2017 because he believed something was broken in the typical agency-client relationship. His expertise comes from facing these challenges head-on and discovering what you need to get your business on the road to success. 

Here are the takeaways he shared at this event. 

1. Know What You Suck At

It's like a superpower. Do you know what you suck at? Everybody is great at some things and bad at others. Life experience will tell you that. You may be thinking, "yeah, you suck at grammar because you just ended a sentence with a preposition." But, in this lies the most critical topic we will cover in this article. 

Knowing what you suck at is essential. It's invaluable. It tells you where and when you need to look for help. 

As a startup, you have limited resources. There are only so many problems you can solve with money, and there are only so many dollars to go around. There are only so many hours in the day, and you have to determine what problem to solve first. But in those early days, you're probably doing everything yourself -- every part of the job, every role, every task. 

When Electromagnetic was in its early days as a startup, we had everything we needed to handle marketing but needed immense help in business management and discipline. So naturally, that's where we spend our equity. Electromagnetic hired Scott Elliott as President to create processes and structures to help our vision. And we've been doing this ever since -- looking for people with the right skill set, who are different from us, to make our team stronger. 

In the early days, you'll have to be very strategic about when you can hire new people. When you start to look at marketing, you'll have to be just as intentional. When the time comes to start spending money on marketing, you'll have a question about whether you should hire a marketing director or engage with an agency first. Ultimately, you'll need both, but the one you hire first depends -- that's right -- on what you suck at. 

You need somebody internal with authority to push things forward and approve work. Initially, that should be you, the founder. But if you suck at marketing, a marketing director can own this, and you can empower them. If you don't set the right expectations for what a marketing director can do for you, issues can arise. 

Many people hire a marketing director expecting them to solve their marketing problems. The challenge is there are so many specialties in modern marketing. It's not just one thing. It's strategy, advertising, writing, editing, design, and much more. There are now 13 of us at Electro, and we're just now starting to feel like we have an expert in every seat. You will have generalists who are moderately good at many things and specialists who are super good at specific things. That's what an agency can bring to the table.

You must find that balance between a marketing director or an allocation of your personal time to push things forward within your organization, approve work, keep things moving and consistent, and an agency partner, which can give you much broader expertise than you'll be able to staff for.

If you recognize that marketing is not your strength, find help because your story is too important. 

2. Tell Your Story, Tell It Well 

Marketing is storytelling. Like anything else, telling your story starts by taking the first step: knowing who you are, the real, authentic you. 

Before Electromagnetic existed, I worked for an agency that served Waynes Pest Control. At that time, Waynes was not my client, but when things were heading downhill, I was asked to step in and try to save the account. My one condition was that we were completely honest and transparent -- and that's what we did. Even after laying all the cards on the table and offering to make things right, Waynes still fired us. It was rough, but since transparency and integrity were nonnegotiable, it couldn't have been done any other way. 

But the story isn't over. Almost a year later, about a month after I started Electro, I received a phone call from Waynes' Creative Director, who had fired me many months prior. He had heard I had started my own agency and then said words I will never forget, "we need you."

But why? Sure, since I was getting started, I was a very budget-friendly marketing option, but that wasn't the primary reason they called me. Waynes' President had sought me out because "He's the only agency person who ever sat across the table from me and told me the whole truth when I never would have known the difference one way or the other." It came down to transparency. 

I later got a call from two Waynes connections about investing in my business. And we grew.

So, why did they call? What is the point of this story? They called because we knew who we were. They called because they knew our story and what we were about. They called because they understood our relationship with our clients, what we do for them, and how we serve them. They called because they could see themselves being a part of our story.

You decide your story, but here's a hint on what it's not. Your story isn't how fantastic your product is. Nobody cares about your product as much as you do, no matter how exciting or revolutionary it is. But when you tell your story and tell a story about your product, people start to care. People need stories to have context and to engage. Your product may be awesome, but ultimately, an awesome product isn't what is going to get you the money,  affection, interest, advocacy, and effort you need to thrive. It only matters how you serve your client and how your product affects their life. 

Why did it have to be you that solved this problem? Why not somebody else? How will you improve your customers' lives? How can potential investors see themselves in your story when the time comes? How can your customers see themselves in your story?

So, what's your story?

3. Marketing Decisions and Budgets

Marketing and marketing budgets will look different for startups than for larger businesses. Most mature companies are thinking about some combination of net income and the company's total value. But for a startup, another factor becomes even more important: time.

For a startup, it can feel like there are a series of checkpoints ahead of you. Every time you reach a checkpoint, you get more time. But this makes marketing budget decisions for startups simple: spend money when it enhances your ability to tell your story in a way that leads you to more funding or more revenue.

When you're in startup mode, you have to inspire people to believe in what you're doing, both internally and externally. Your marketing value lies in the willingness of people to get on board and help you pursue your dream and in your ability to prepare for a launch. And then that same story, all that work you did to inspire those people along the way, carries over to convert into revenue that inspires more sales.

So once again, it all comes down to your story and how you use it. 

Don’t Worry, We’ve Been There

We know these three ideas work because they’ve kept us going and growing over the past four years. If you want to know more about marketing your startup in the first few years, we would love to talk with you! We’re passionate about marketing, but we are also passionate about seeing businesses like yours join the community and fill needs in a new and innovative way. 

Give us a call at (205) 607-2230 or fill out this form to get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you!

Writer: Jamie Parris
Editor: SK Vaughn

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