How to learn marketing as a solo / small founder team (part 2)

Make marketing work for you, by working out your own 'golden formula'.

How to learn marketing as a solo / small founder team (part 2)

Ok so now we know the basic bullet points. But what if you really want to embark on this journey to find YOUR golden marketing formula?

For this second instalment in 'How to Learn Marketing as a Solo Founder' we'll look at the very first steps in more detail:

  1. Choose your audience
  2. Find out where they congregate [on the internet]
  3. Learn the rules and then be helpful

Note: The previous post in this series summarises the 9 marketing tips I've learned so far as a solo founder. If you'd like to read that, head over here.

An illustration of three smiling faces, representing your audience

Choose your audience

We know statistically that the more messages one piece of communication contains, the less effective it will be. If you keep this in mind, it makes sense to narrow down the audience so that your message can be as specialised and targeted as possible, increasing its overall effectiveness.

Here is a list of questions I use as a baseline to start determining the audience for any product or service:

  • Does your audience have a specific gender?

This isn't always relevant but depending on your market it can be useful to know if there is a distinction here.

  • What age bracket are they?

Be specific. And if you're not sure, make an educated guess and then spend some time validating that with real people. Even if you don't have a customer base yet, solid user testing will help you find out with prospective users.

  • What level of education has your audience likely achieved?

Again not always relevant, but depending on the product it can be useful to know if we're targeting high school diplomas or PhD graduates.

  • What industry does the audience work in?

This is usually pretty obvious especially if you're developing a B2B / professional product, but again a specific range of industries can help you work out relevant terminology both to use and avoid.

  • Would they be purchasing your services in a personal or professional context?

This should be pretty obvious, but make sure you know. The answer will dictate how you communicate.

  • Is your audience the purchase decision maker - do they control the budget that will ultimately buy your services?

More useful in a professional context, but for example if you're creating a product for children, are you targeting them or their parents in your marketing? Consider who is making that purchase decision and what influence they have over the purchaser.

  • What media might your audience read? (New York Times, Medium, The National Geographic, Regional Tabloid...)

This sounds like a strange one, but you can achieve a lot by using similar communication to other brands your audience is voluntarily exposing themselves to. If your users are programmers and developers there's no point talking to them like a lifestyle / influencer brand, because they're internet power users and will see straight through it.

  • What other non-related brands might your audience buy? (Apple, Microsoft, PlayStation, Louis Vuitton, H&M, Amazon, Whole Foods, Walmart...)

Again, remember that we are surrounded by thousands of marketing messages, adverts and pieces of content every day. It's not necessarily about creating one standout message, if you want to grow your user base you need to focus on creating useful and consistent content they come back to. Learning about which other brands your audience is consuming can help you create a clear picture of the sort of visuals or messaging you should (and shouldn't) be using.

  • What is their major pain point that would lead them to buy your services?

Again, you have likely built your product around this so I'm sure you know it, but write it down and make sure you and anyone else on your team are aligned about what the pain is that you're solving.

Once you've asked yourself these questions, you can create what I call a 'persona' (although again, insert whatever buzzword you like here). The point is to make a concise description of a real-life person; one individual you're 'talking to' whenever you speak to your external audience.

If you have more than one persona, that's ok, but remember that each message can ONLY be speaking to one audience.

An illustration of a blue question mark with various social media logos sketched on top

Find out where they congregate [on the internet]

For this step, you will need to spend some time experimenting with which platforms make the most sense for you and your team. But a good starting point is to ask anyone who has expressed interest / validated any of your ideas for your product in the past.

Don't ask them 'where they hang out', ask them about the pain point that your product is addressing and where they might go / who they might ask to alleviate that pain. Would they ask a friend in person? If they don't know anyone who shares this exact problem, would they ask a professional network? A niche Facebook group? A dedicated community forum? Get real answers to this and you'll start building a picture of possible channels you can use.

As a solo founder / small team remember; you cannot be everywhere. We literally don't have the time to be present and effective on every platform (honestly I don't think anyone does). But instead of thinking of this as a limitation, think of it as an opportunity to build a solid community in just one or two places.

Be as out of the box as you can here. Social media feels like an obvious place to start, but make sure you're being targeted about it. Creating a Facebook page probably isn't going to be specific enough unless you already have a big network of prospective users; so, find niche Facebook groups with tangible ties to the pain points your product is solving. Twitter can be great for meeting people and networking, but it's so busy and moves on so quickly, it can be hard to be seen. Consider using it for customer service or building a personal brand rather than being your main marketing channel. Reddit is amazing for some topics and useless for others when it comes to professional objectives. Forums like IndieHackers and specific Slack groups / Discord servers can be a surprisingly good tool depending on your audience, so be sure to investigate these.

Once you've got a list of all the potential platforms, you can decide which one/s you're going to focus on to start with. You can always add more later, but for now pick an absolute maximum of three. Pick where your first experiments will be, then focus JUST on these.

Learn the rules and then be helpful

Dedicate a specific slot every day to interact in these spaces. To start with, just listen and observe.

Join groups / threads / topics that relate to your business, and observe. Find out what the community rules are. Can you post blog links, promote your own services or answer questions? Note the type of question people raise, the language they use, what they do / don't respond well to from other people sharing content or advice. Once you've been there for a while, start quietly interacting with individuals. Remember that in almost all of these places, you'll do better if you dedicate some real time and energy to helping / giving before making demands or trying to push your own product.

Approach it from the perspective of developing a community and building a reputation as a helpful individual / team. The ideal scenario we're working towards is someone who is experiencing a problem thinking "Who can help me solve this? Ah I know, X can! I'll get in touch with them."

Being helpful doesn't always mean playing the same games as everyone else. If you notice that certain people aren't getting as much of a response, and you can see a reason why, send them a message about it. Be polite and constructive, lift other people up and it will start coming back to you.

When you're ready to start posting your own content / promoting your own product, follow the rules and pay attention to how people respond. Every detail is useful here. If you have a particular post that went well, see if you can replicate the results. Dedicate time to contributing, not just demanding.

Coming soon... Part 3 where we delve into the next 3 tips in more detail ( Create Offers, Document Everything and Approach it Like Feature Development)

Feel like these first three points are still out of reach? Did I miss a crucial point? Get in touch and let's have a conversation!