Startup marketing is a lot like a subculture. You learn a new language and start using terms other people don’t usually come across like pivot, monetisation, deadpool, incubator and use acronyms like MVP and IPO.
You learn new customs and rituals like elevator pitches, hacking and unconferences. You meet people in the same boat at events, and then usually find them again and again at the same style of events until they become acquaintances, allies, peers and even friends.
As such, the subculture is pretty strong and gives a lot of support. But when you find yourself surrounded by the same language, rituals and customs all the time- along with the same people affirming how you operate all the time, you can start living in a sort of startup land.
That’s great- until you start forgetting what it’s like in the real world. Then it becomes time to remind yourself of the things you forget once you get into startup marketing!
Meetings don’t equal work
Anyone who ever worked at a busy office before they got into startup marketing will remember the times where life was full of meetings, and how many of them could have been cut short or done without. Oddly enough, outside the Agile or Waterfall gangs who time-box meetings, startup people seem to really, really enjoy meeting over this and that and the Cat in the Hat.
Look, networking is fine. Meeting as a specific team to sort some stuff out is also fine. Meeting to keep your investor happy and up to date is a great idea.
But meeting to brainstorm all the time, or to make a dandy little statement to each of your departments, or inviting people who are completely irrelevant to the process is burning what little cash you have.
Couple of points:
- If you meet to discuss ideas all the time, you can actually trick your brain into thinking you are working. You aren’t. You’re just planning to work. You need to make sure you’re not just getting high off the feeling of productivity and are actually being productive with startup marketing.
- Work comes when you actually do something OUTSIDE the meeting itself as a result of what’s gone on. If your 1 hour meeting doesn’t produce something or move you forward towards your goals worth 2 hours of labour, frankly, you’re wasting your time.
- Approximately 50% of the people you find in the world are introverts. So bringing them into group situations all the time may not in fact be getting the best out of your people. Actually, it might be doing more harm than good.
So if you find the diary is full of a lot of meetings, make a commitment to work out how many you actually need. Trim down the face to face time and instead use online project management tools to keep a track of questions, or brainstorm online.
Make the time you pull away from work to talk count- and always make sure things are done as a result of a meeting as opposed to the meeting being the result.
You’re allowed to eat alone
Your breakfast, lunch and dinner are part of you as a person- they are not owned by your startup. You don’t have to meet people to talk business when you’re trying to get nourishment. These are times when you may be able to grab half an hour or an hour for a bit of free thinking time. So don’t tie them to work engagements and talking shop.
Oh, and yes it may be super trendy to all get together around the table in your co-working place or your office and have a brown paper brainstorm, but your entire life doesn’t have to be around the people you work with.
In fact, you might come back feeling a little better if you nick out to have lunch with your partner, an old work buddy, or on a park bench away from work.
Your tummy is not on the clock. Respect your break time and give your head a chance to think about something other than work.
Scut monkey work can be important
When did it become so trendy not to answer emails? Or to live in a desk covered in papers and crap? Or not to take the time to clean out old emails, qualify leads and pull down stuff?
Taking time out to reorganise what you are doing, to reply to things in a timely fashion and to have an uncluttered space that doesn’t have dead work hanging about or requests flagged but not responded to helps keep you centred.
Yes, turn on your music, block out emails, don’t be a slave to social media and don’t be the jerk that spends the whole day browsing blogs in the name of “research”- but also remember that these things are part of the process too. To stay creative with startup marketing you have to give yourself time to clear the decks, finish things and daydream.
Clear the dead projects, keep you work space tidy, get back to people who have cared enough to email you and spend some time investigating what is out there in cyberspace to learn from.
All of this stuff is actually pretty good for you. Boring repetitive but necessary work lets your brain reboot, too.
Everyone has off days, even you
If you can’t concentrate, are flicking from social media to email and back again, you’re having an off day.
It’ll happen. Forgive yourself for it and move on. Startup marketing doesn’t need you to be perfect. Actually, it probably works better if you’re more human.
Being glued to the desk and being unproductive is pointless- and may also make that un-productivity linger longer than you want.
If you can, take the day off. Call it a mental health day- you’ve probably earned it!
Or if you can’t, maybe get some of your scut monkey stuff things done. Or grab a pen and a notepad, change scenery far away from the laptop, and chart and plan, doodle and draw.
Reorganisation and “going analogue” can be the key to unblocking a bored and frustrated head.
You can’t measure everything in startup marketing…and that’s OK
Big data, little data, reporting, analytics and all that jazz are great because you can start to measure what is happening in real terms, learn from it and have something to go on. But you can’t measure brand impressions that are in people’s heads. Nor can you really boil community into hard, nutty little sales figures.
A common panic in startup marketing is realising at some point, social media costs time and money to do, but may not be delivering direct sales. Nor is blogging making customers hand over fistfuls of dollars. The things you measure this kind of work on are how social is the sharing, how many comments you get, and sometimes that really isn’t enough.
But the truth with content is it’s doing things that you can’t measure, like winning sceptical customers over, slow cooking a little bit of trust with your brand, or cutting down the amount of customer rejections you never knew you had. Startup marketing isn’t as cut and dry as when you work a big desk in a fortune 500 company.
You can’t measure the invisible impact. But as human beings, life should have taught us by now not everything can be explained and not everything can be measured. So sometimes you need to understand this will apply to your startup, too.
Startup funding doesn’t automatically mean success
It can be super tempting to feel like a bit of a lame duck at startup events when everyone is talking how much investment they have. However, as much as funding is an important part of the equation to the majority of startups, it’s not the true measurement of success.
Funding is a form of validation, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll be successful. It doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get customers.
The classic example of this was Web Van in the 90’s. Funded to the tune of 400million dollars and it failed. It failed because it didn’t get any customers. It burnt money with lots of warehouses and headcount being a big company.
You are running a startup. You need to prove that people want your product. Don’t be concerned about the startup next to you with the fat bank account. Care about the person walking past who could be your next new customer.
AND if you are that startup with the big fat bank account, please don’t say “we’re not focussing on customers right now”. I can’t tell you how much ice that pours into my veins each and every time I hear it.
Startup marketing has to be customer-centric to be effective in the long term.
Think more about your customers and less about your peers because peers don’t pay the bills in the long term.
How to remember what it’s like in the thick of it
Most startup marketing people I know work their bums off. The answer to most of the issues above and general woes really seems to be the ability to step away from the startup on a regular basis.
When you’re too close, thinking you have to do everything to save the day all at once, you lose perspective. You forget about looking at your customers, you forget that you can always get a freelancer in to help, you forget what it’s like to have a job as opposed to have a job that owns you. You forget that while being able to reach out to other people who get it is important, it can sometimes take you a million miles from where you should be focussing.
So if you find that you aren’t making measurable progress, take a step back from your startup marketing and:
- Look at what you are doing critically and gear your time around producing something
- Hang out with some non-startup people and talk to them for a while and see if it all makes sense
- Find a rhythm where creativity is still a part of the equation
- Declutter your desk, diary and head
- Look for the small wins within the haze and capture the moments when you make progress
- Talk to customers instead of peers
- Learn to enjoy time alone with the breeze on your face- and give yourself a break
Want to take a breather from startup marketing? Why not pop along to the Freelance Jungle or Hacking Happiness Meetup? It’ll help with the perspective.