How to learn marketing as a solo / small founder team (part 3)
In part one, we summarised the 9 tips to get started on creating your 'golden formula' for marketing as a solo / small founding team.
In part two, we broke down choosing, locating and interacting with your audience.
In this next instalment, we'll be going into a bit more detail about specific actions and methods. Treat these tips as tools. Spoiler, if you're a tech founder you'll probably recognise some of this methodology!
- Create offers
- Document EVERYTHING
- Approach it like feature development
Now that you know who you're talking to, where they hang out and what the rules of those communities are, you can start interacting with people. But here is the biggest part where we fall down. No one wants to be a salesperson, or spammy, or just annoying. So we tend to avoid 'selling' for fear of putting people off. My biggest advice here is to think of it less as sales and more as mutual data gathering.
Offers can mean all sorts of things. It could be the obvious discount / free trial - but it could also be early access to test a specific feature and offer feedback, a referral scheme or maybe a free workshop / one-time service (depending on your product). Think about what data you need at this stage in your journey and then plan accordingly. But the crucial rule? Make sure your offer is benefitting you AND your user. Ensure that you're not asking them for a favour, you're actually helping ease some pain of theirs in exchange for the insights they'll give you.
Do you already have a solid product with a loyal user base?
In that case some sort of referral deal would make sense. Referrals can look different depending on your model, so it could be as simple as 'refer someone with a unique code and both get 10% off' or it could be a much bigger reward with some more effort required by the customer 'refer 5 people who sign on to X tier of membership and get a whole year free' There is no one answer here, so you may need to test it out and see which format resonates best with your chosen audience.
Don't have enough data and insight yet to know if you have truly solved your "product market fit" (whether you have the right product, at the right time, in front of the right people)?
In that case you need valuable user testing, and these communities you've found are the perfect testers. Create offers to gain their insights and set up environments to get the most useful data possible. I talk about it all the time but if you haven't read the Mom Test, I will guarantee your user testing could be 100% better than it is right now. This was the case for me, and the insights I gained through the first offer I created for my chosen community gave me invaluable insights to build and develop from.
Creating win-win offers will ensure that you're getting valuable insights because your audience have a vested interest in improving the product with you.
It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how few people are doing this effectively. Documentation looks different for everyone, so don't worry too much about where / how you're noting things down just find a system that your whole team can use. If you're a solo founder, it's easier to choose a tool but just as easy to fall into the trap of 'only I will understand this'.
Even if you're not planning on expanding your team, write as if someone else needs to read and understand it. I can't stress this one enough. I have come back to notes I wrote right back at the start of my freelancing days and I have absolutely no idea what they mean. Make things as clear as possible, future you and other team members will thank you for it.
There are a few reasons that putting things down in black and white is so important:
- If something is written down, there is no room for interpretation or misunderstanding. If someone doesn't understand it the way it's been written, that's an easy conversation and fix. But if everyone is functioning on a verbal / recall-based set of rules, I guarantee that they have different ideas about what those rules are.
- Documenting what you are testing and what the outcome is can be CRUCIAL for problem-solving and refining processes. Not doing this allows for errors or mistakes to be swept under the rug and potentially repeated for way too long before they're identified.
- Our memories suck. It's easy to think that keeping everything in your brain means it's more secure, but actually our memory is really fallible, and it also means that some important information is only available when you are. This creates unnecessary pressure and bottlenecking around the 'keepers' of the information.
- Spreading the responsibility for maintaining information takes a load off everyone, especially you. Every business has a number of specific processes. Finance, marketing, branding, product-based, and other more specific for your sector. Each of these should be clearly defined, so they can be constantly reviewed and optimised. This also means that you can delegate specific areas to specific leads. Even if you're not doing that now, structuring your documentation this way allows for you to delegate things when the time is right, without a ton of stress in handing crucial information over.
Dedicate a small amount of time every day to documentation. For me it's usually no more than 10-15 mins at the end of the day when I am planning for the following day. If you're a tech founder, you might have more because you need to document more specific things, but the more you can get into a habit of doing this the better you and your team will perform in the long run.
These are just a few ideas of where / how you can document, based on my experiences and seeing other teams' methods:
- A shared Google/One Drive/DropBox Drive. This is a great one if you're a cloud-enabled or remote team. Have some straightforward rules about where things live and how you file them, and then allow everyone access to the bits they need. I personally have used Google, and even made a small Google Sites intranet for the team so they can get to everything easily without needing to navigate whole file structures. It also has the benefit of version control so you can see who has made additions to what if needed, and keeps everyone accountable.
- A shared Notion space. This is my go-to now, as I find it's easily maintainable and scaleable for my team in its current state. I don't know if it always will be but the data we have is easily transferrable, which is another reason I like it for the moment.
It feels like a lot of admin, and depending how far into your business you are, you might have a lot of processes already so you're probably thinking "I do not have time to sit and do this, it'll take forever!" If that's the case, set a small task for the next month that every time you use a process that isn't documented, allocate a bit of extra time to document it as you do it. That way, you'll quickly identify which are key, everyday things that everyone should be aware of, and which happen less often but are therefore more likely to be forgotten. You'll probably also find a few things which should have a process but don't, so everyone is doing it differently.
I promise that if you can get this right, scaling your company in any way, at any point, will be a BREEZE.
Approach it like it's feature development
Ah finally something we're all familiar with! This one came up after I found myself having the same conversations over and over with tech founders in particular who hate marketing. "I know it's important, I just have no motivation to do it, I have to learn a whole new set of things and I just want to focus on the product development." Sound familiar?
When I dug deeper into this sentiment, I found that in almost all cases, my clients weren't approaching marketing as if it were any other development process. And neither was I. This led to a fundamental change in the way I approach marketing. Whether you use sprints, or another form of iteration for your product, translate these steps over to your marketing activity. View everything as an experiment, measure it, learn and refine. Depending on what the channel is, have a specific question you're asking. Let's look at an example with blog posts. You've got a post that you are pretty happy with and you know it's answering some key questions for your audience. But you're not sure about how to format the title.
Our question then is:
"What type of title does my audience respond to best?"
To run a test for this, I look at the online communities I identified in the first few steps of learning my formula. Let's say for the sake of argument, it's Twitter, Indie Hackers and LinkedIn. I put the same post out on all three platforms, but restructure the title for each one. Now I measure the traffic and engagement on this post across all three platforms. I see that one format performed significantly better than the others (let's say it was the one on Twitter), so next blog post I try using this format across all three platforms. It performs better across all of them, but still much better on Twitter which tells me that those users prefer this type of format, not necessarily all users everywhere. And so on and so forth. These types of small incremental experiments while putting out content (whether it's blogs, social discussion, videos, podcasts, memes or anything else) can be exponentially effective in the long term.
Marketing is a longer term investment of time than paid ads, direct sales or referrals. So make sure that while you're setting up that consistent input, you're tweaking it all the time to make it as good as it can possibly be. Rapid iteration is one of the biggest advantages of a small team. Make it work for you everywhere, not just in feature development!
Still need some help with documentation and how to get started? Not sure what the best offer might be or how to set up the experiment for it? Stuck on which elements you should be iterating first in your marketing journey?
Get in touch, and let's see if I can help!