On February 28, it was my pleasure to lead a 1-hour panel titled, “Flexing Your Marketing Chops: How to Evolve Your Marketing Strategy to Match Your Goals.” The final of three sessions in the “Your Company is Growing Up: What’s Next?” event, sponsored by the Illinois Technology Association (ITA) and the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC).
The three sessions aimed to provide a well-rounded approach for launching and nurturing a startup. As the final session, our panel focused on evolving your strategy through marketing. And with the ever-changing marketing landscape, we were excited to cover a range of topics and answer a host of questions.
Nearly 100 attendees joined our panel of experts, including Jeremie Bacon, CEO, Backstop Solutions; Stella Fayman, CEO, FeeFighters; Derek Koenig, CMO, Akoo International; Ross Shelleman, CEO, Target Data. I served as panel facilitator for the 1-hour session.
In addition to a packed house of attendees, the Twitterverse joined in the session. Using the hashtag #startupgrowth (some tweets are still available for review on Twitter), professionals across the country were able to join the conversation, and attendees were able to extend the conversation beyond the session.
Certainly, our discussion could have gone on for hours, but with only one hour we got into as much depth and detail as possible. For those who could not attend—and are looking for ways to evolve their marketing strategy—here are three key takeaways from the session:
1. You can’t hide from social media. Maybe you (erroneously) hoped it was a fad. Or maybe you were scared to branch out because of a few horror stories. But social media is a crucial component to any successful marketing strategy. Not only is it an effective and cost-efficient way to build relationships with your target audiences, it is one of the best tools for small businesses looking to compete with the “big boys.” In many instances, social media levels the playing field for small- to mid-size companies looking to stand out and take their businesses to the next level. Just be sure to make your posts relevant and not just a sales pitch. Remember this little golden rule from Derek Koenig: Why should I care? Why should I share? In other words, keep your audience in mind and make your posts important and interesting so that you make a connection—ultimately causing the reader to engage (either with you or by sharing your information with their network).
Social media also enables businesses to more easily extend their public relations reach—especially when budgets are tight which is typically the case for start-ups. Media, reporters, bloggers and industry experts are active on social media and by tapping the various platforms you can easily reach and engage with them and their audiences. Social media is both time- and cost-effective. So, if you’re a business looking to grow, begin by building critical relationships with industry influencers via social media.
2. Don’t waste your cold calling time by starting too low. Sure, you may just be starting out. Or maybe you’ve been on your feet for a bit. But are you selling yourself short during cold calls? Let’s face it, most of us don’t enjoy making cold calls. But they are still one of the most effective ways to generate new business, and they are a crucial component to successful marketing for startups. So while you may dread cold calls, do yourself a favor and at least make those calls more effective. Don’t settle for gatekeepers or low-level employees—aim for the top. Go directly for the CEOs and head decision-makers at your target clients. In today’s professional arena, CEOs are more accessible than ever. Using LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, you should be able to get the contact and background information you need to reach the right people.
I believe that you can NEVER underestimate the power of referrals to help you get in the door with a new contact or client, and the panelists all agreed. Stella said to be persistent and talk to anyone and everyone to make your connections. She highly recommends reaching out to potential business partners to facilitate introductions. Ross Shelleman stressed that the first step in securing a solid referral is to make sure you deliver on what you say you’re going to deliver. That’s so true!
3. ROI is key to your short- and long-term success. Is your current marketing working? Now…did you have to think about the answer? At the startup stage, it is crucial that you are aware of how every penny is spent—and the results of those pennies. Formulate numbers for every resource and tactic you employ, and visit those numbers regularly to assess and make changes when necessary. When you make decisions for your business, they must be backed up by metrics—no exceptions. Bottom line: ROI is king. You must run your business based on numbers, hire based on numbers, and invest and grow based on numbers. You owe it to yourself and your business to be as thorough as possible. Follow through on this step, and you’ll already be ahead of the competition.
Now that you’ve got some tips to help propel the growth of your startup, it’s time to get out there and start implementing them! And if you’re looking for more marketing tips and tools, feel free to stop by the ClearEdge Marketing blog or read ClearEdge Connects, our e-newsletter. Follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/clearedgemktg.