Great businesses were not born great. They were made great. While it may appear subversive if not paradoxical, as a small business owner or a new market entrant you have to believe that it is possible for you to stand up to competition. It is crucial to believe that it is possible for a start-up company to look beyond red flags, create space for themselves in the market and penetrate the defences of the companies that are often considered too big to fail. The key question here is “How can a start-up company market itself in the face of diverse fiscal challenges?”
A Start-Up Company Caught Between the Devil and Deep Sea: Fiscal Prudence or Profligacy
When faced with paucity of resources ranging from manpower to finances, it is easy for start-up company owners to get intimidated by the sheer proportion or magnitude of the challenge of expanding one’s outreach. Presuming that there are two essential commandments for a business to be successful, i.e. delivering value and building scale, what should be the starting point in the journey of a start-up company?
Bankers, Angel Investors, PE Firms and Customers Ask One Question: The Idea
It must be borne in mind that modern day businesses are not premised on the paradigm of strategic location, exploration and ownership of physical resources or even seed capital. Ask a banker, venture capitalist or any private equity firm about their priorities ahead of funding a start-up company. A vast majority shall answer in chorus. It is the business idea that paves the path and navigates a start-up company all along its journey. With the advent of cloud, social media and analytics, ideas have replaces the old school resources. Ideas constitute the intellectual capital that start-up companies can process to deliver value and build scale.
It is prudential on the part of start-up companies to take cognizance of the fact that all primary stakeholder groups that play in role in either building scale (investors, PE firms and venture capitalists) or creation of value (customers) are always interested in the core idea of an offering.
Talk of paucity of fund and the imminent requirement for a bank loan or injection of private equity capital. As long as the sweat capital that goes into defining and refining the business idea remains strong, the financial capital will follow steps to oblige the start-up company.
Navigating Beyond the Idea to Expand the Outreach of a Start-Up Company
Given that a start-up company has the core idea, what are the next steps in its journey to expand its outreach? Who does the start-up company reach out to? How does it reach out to the people that it has targeted? What does it take for a start-up company to expand its outreach once it has identified the starting point of the journey? These are some of the key questions that a start-up company owner must answer.
Pitching the Idea to One Self First
Wait a minute though. Who does the start-up company answer? Who poses these questions to the start-up company in the first place? It is the start-up company itself! Let us get this straight. Before a start-up company pitches customers to deliver value or investors to build scale, it has to pitch its idea to itself. A start-up company has to first understand and convince itself of its offering before reaching out to either customers or investors. Now, let us take a look at the next steps.
1. Demonstrate Empathy like Microsoft
Consider this question as the talisman of Mahatma Gandhi for a start-up company. The CEO of one of the biggest tech corporations, Microsoft, Satya Nadella in his book “Hit Refresh” offers a rather interesting take away for start-up companies and business idea leaders. During one of his interviews at Microsoft, Nadella was asked what he would have done had he seen a toddler crying alone on a street while on his way to work. As expected of any astute professional that is target oriented and result driven, Nadella’s first answer was simple. He said that he would have called the police and handed over the custody of the toddler to the cops. Interestingly the interview panellists begged to differ. Their response to Nadella has a very important lesson for start-up companies: “Have some empathy.”
The underlying lesson here is based on a key insight on the business philosophy that defines what Microsoft does and why they are in business. Start-up company owners looking to deliver value to customers need to do the same. Develop empathy. A start-up company has to first develop empathy to define what it does and why it shall get into the concerned business. This is the key to asking what a start-up company can do understand the challenges that customers are faced with and how the start-up company aims to offer a solution. To do this, a start-up company needs to face its prospects, engage with them and ask questions. They need to know what their customers want, not what they are offering to the customers.
2. Engage with Prospects to Get Insights on the Idea
How does a start-up company engage with prospects? Where does it find these prospects? How does it reach out to these prospects? In the modern day, the options are diverse and large. For beginners, it shall be great to use free or low cost e-mail marketing software products. Start-up companies can also look forward to building a great website to augment the process of creating an interface with people.
E-mail marketing automation platforms like Constant Contact, Drip, Mail Chimp, Active Campaign and Get Response enable enterprises to scale up their email marketing at very low costs. These low cost e-mail marketing automation platforms can be leveraged by start-up companies to initiate conversations with people. It can make good sense to send questionnaires on the said product group that the start-up company aims to offer. Further, the questionnaire should ideally consist of questions on the nature, type and magnitude of challenges that customers face. Answers to these questions can then probably be analysed and segregated using basic Microsoft Excel to identify patterns in the answers and get insights on demographic, economic and geographic segments. Start-up companies can also look forward to analysing the website traffic sources.
These deep insights should ideally set the tone for the start-up company to go back to the drawing board and reframe their offering in line with prospects’ requirements and challenges. The result shall be one great offering that directly addresses these customer challenges and answers the definitive question of value offering of a start-up company for customers.
3. Create Amazing Content for Conversation Starters
Why shall people take interest in engaging with a start-up company? Why should they even care to look at the email from a start-up company? Across any device, platform or media, people always need an answer to the question of the necessity to engage in a conversation. The answer lies in the creation of amazing content. Let us remember that even as a start-up company looks to expand its outreach and zero down the gap with customers and investors, it has to look at communication as a thread of conversations.
The key to navigating the journey of conversations with both customers and investors is to create amazing content. Starting from the subject line of the e-mail, the introduction of the challenge that the start-up aims to resolve, the questions contained and the introduction of the brand, there is no substitute to precise and crystal clear content. Moreover, the content must inspire awe from the people targeted. In today’s digital era, there is a line of difference between skimming and reading.
To suggest that people read e-mails, posts on social media or even web content is a travesty of truth. People skim information while overlooking the subject matter itself. As such leveraging technology to get people to learn from an email or any conversation on digital platforms is a challenge that can only be addresses with great content that triggers an intrigue in readers. Remember that for a start-up company looking to make inroads into people in the market at low costs; it has got to invoke the interest of people. This is precisely where content has a great role to play in marketing for start-up companies.
The definition and nature of content though should not be mistaken to be text alone. You can always include awesome graphic images, videos and even audio to engage with people. Start-up owners can lean on the Portent’s idea generator to reimagine interesting topics and titles for content creation. They can also look to embellish their content with stunning graphic banners to showcase their brand in a very unique and visually appealing way. Bannersnack is a great online banner maker that allows users to create amazing graphic banners based on either standardized or custom templates. The use of tech platforms in creating content actually adds value to the marketing communication of start-up firms.
4. Leverage the Power of Social Media Very Strategically
The turn of the new millennium saw the rise of social media platforms. Big corporations and small businesses alike jumped on the bandwagon of social media buzz, converting platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram into their de facto public relations and brand building assets. While the business rationale behind start-up companies running after social media is palpable, there is a need to understand its use within the domain of a small budget. This calls for analysis, sorting and prioritization in social media planning.
It is important that start-up companies ask themselves some difficult questions before committing precious financial resources to a social media strategy. Precisely speaking, the choice of social media platform must be aligned to the target audience and larger goals of marketing.
LinkedIn can be great platform to engage with professionals, extract leads, engage in dialogue for B2B selling and further to learn the tricks of the trade from industry experts. Start-up companies can also leverage LinkedIn to engage with bankers to add value to the definition of their business model, prune their loan application and understand what it takes to convince banks to get their small business loan application approved.
On a similar note, a start-up company can lean on Twitter to announce product launches, offers, schemes and even value additions to existing products. A great Twitter handle that is backed by powerful content and visual representation can enable start-up companies to distribute press releases. Free online press release publication platforms like Free Press Release, PR Log and Big News allow start-up companies to distribute marketing news at scale and low or no costs at all.
5. Custom Discounts to Reward Loyal Followers
How can a start-up company offer broad based and generalized discounts to all customers? Given that start-up companies have to operate within a small domain of available financial resources, it is a given that a low pricing point cannot be used as a strategy to build traffic. However it is absolutely possible to practice custom pricing.
Start-up companies can retrieve insights from their revenue statements and billing histories archived in CRM software products to offer discounts to loyal customers. There are multiple low cost and effective customer relationship management software products for start-up companies and small businesses like Sugar CRM, Invoice Era. Doing so can provide multiple benefits to start-up companies.
First, customer loyalty rewards and points coupled with price discrimination can allow start-up companies to gain traction in the market. Second, it makes enormous good sense to for start-up companies to use customized low pricing points to retain loyal customers and reward them for sticking to their brand. Third, it allows start-up companies to spread word of mouth by leveraging existing loyal customers as opinion leaders in their communities of family, friends and colleagues.
Marketing a start-up company on a shoe string budget calls for in-depth analysis, foresight and cognizance of the fact that marketing is a journey. While the advisory suggested above may not be sufficient for start-up companies to achieve success, it is worthwhile to note that it allows them to make a head start and move forward. The use of technology can be a great enabler of this journey for start-up companies that have to more often than not make do with a small budget, team of people and scale.