The hardest thing to say to a potential client is, “I am not the right consultant for you.”
There are a lot of reasons why a client/consultant relationship might not be a good fit, but before you even start interviewing potential partners, you need to determine if your startup is actually ready to begin marketing.
Before you begin marketing
I often work with start-up founders or executives who know they need to “do something with marketing” but they don’t know where to start.
I love those calls. Working with a young business, coming in from the beginning to build a marketing strategy from the ground up, or, as Anne of Green Gables would say, it’s “a new day with no mistakes in it!”
A marketer’s dream — never hearing the words “this is how we have always done it.”
But, while I love being the first cook in a new kitchen, the pantry needs to be stocked with the ingredients to make the cake:
In this case, those ingredients are: customer, product, value.
As a founder, you need to clearly define your product or service, have a good sense of your ideal customer, and be able to describe the core value of your product or service as compared to similar offerings.
From there, I can help you tighten up your messaging and brand, develop a marketing plan to connect with potential customers, address gaps in your customer journey, and put it all in action with solid tactical execution.
How to determine if your startup is ready to begin marketing
Do you really know what you are offering, and to whom?
Your organization might be doing great work, but can you clearly articulate exactly what you are doing, for whom, and why it matters to them?
Or, are you doing too much, or doing it for too many people? Is your product/service aligned with your customer needs?
Find out by creating your elevator pitch:
I am/ We are a [type of business] organization. We provide [services or products] to [types of customers]. This helps them overcome [pain point] by making it [key benefit] to accomplish [customer goal]. In three years, we want to be [your top business goal], and we will do this by focusing on [service line/product] and [customer segment].
Your pitch does not have to be perfect (marketing can help!), but if you have no clue how to answer that question, or it takes you more than 60 seconds to describe what you do, you should probably spend a bit of time defining your identity before you seek marketing help.
Are you ready to make hard choices?
In the early stages, a lot of brands develop purely on grassroots and a shoestring. Maybe a good friend built your website for virtually nothing, a relative with past experience is leading a service line, and your former co-workers are now board members providing strategic advice and direction. You could not have gotten things off the ground without them, but now that you are ready to take off, are they still able to provide you with the depth of expertise you need?
A marketer, or any outside strategist, is going to provide you with unbiased recommendations, and sometimes those will be hard to hear (and even harder to act on). You may have to make decisions that intersect with the family and emotional dynamics that are baked into your business. If you are not ready to manage the challenges that may arise, then you are not ready for marketing.
(And, if you are reading this thinking “oh, that won’t be a problem for us”, then you are also not ready.)
Do you know where you are going?
Thought the “where do you want to be in five years” question was only for awkward job interviews? Sorry.
Knowing where you are going is fundamental to any strategy, and unlike the chicken or the egg question, when it comes to a business strategy or a marketing strategy, the business strategy always comes first.
If there is no overarching organizational strategy, then there is no way to define success (or failure) of marketing — not a position any marketer wants to be in.
Sure, the mantra of a start-up is to build the plane while it is flying, but you at least need to have a blueprint that confirms you are building a plane (not a boat), and hopefully some idea of what direction that plane is flying (not down).
Unfortunately, if you do not have a business plan in place, then it is probably too early for your startup to begin marketing.
Think you are ready to begin marketing your startup?
As a fractional marketing executive, my ideal clients are those who have all three of the above figured out.
Even if the answers are not quite perfect, or if you only have two out of three, I can usually help you get there.
But, these are the table stakes for involving marketing in your game. Can’t answer any of these? Then, I am sorry (not sorry), but I am not the right consultant for you.
Psst…Hey you! I see you in the back, quietly nodding “yes” to all of the questions:) I have one more for you — are you ready to grow your business? Yes? Then let’s talk.