How to learn marketing as a solo / small founder team (part 4)

In this final part, we go through how to make failure work for you, investing in longer term methods and being smart about where you focus your energy.

How to learn marketing as a solo / small founder team (part 4)

The final instalment (for now)!

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.

Part three was all about creating offers, documentation and iteration.

In this final part, we go through how to make failure work for you, investing in longer term methods and being smart about where you focus your energy.

  1. Don't be afraid to blow it up!
  2. Don't shun traditional / long term methods
  3. Focus on the bottom of the funnel

A pile of purple lego bricks next to a shiny tower of purple AND blue bricks

Don't be afraid to blow it up!

If you haven't noticed yet, I'm a process nerd. Anything that is a repeatable action should have a process that makes it more efficient next time. I truly believe and have seen from experience that this benefits teams hugely, especially as they go through a period of scale. However, processes can also be a huge INefficiency if they're not working. This is why the most powerful teams I've seen are process-driven, but also constantly analysing and micro-iterating to make those processes as good as they can possibly be.

Micro-iterating is taking one small part of an existing process and optimising it. An example you may well have heard about is from Atomic Habits (highly recommended read!) where the new Performance Director of the Great Britain cycling team introduced a new way of washing their hands to reduce the chances of catching a cold. This led to a 1% increase in performance as a result of better attendance. But within 5 years of being appointed, this (along with all the other 1% incremental gains he implemented) helped the team go from European bike manufacturers refusing to sell to the team for fear of being associated with their bad performance, to winning 60% of the available gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

This theory applies to all parts of your business, but as we're focused on marketing right now, let's use an example that I implemented in that area. I noticed that I was starting to receive inbound leads coming from friends of customers, but I didn't have a process for converting them effectively. So every time I got one, I would drop everything, and spend a good few hours researching the company, finding out just the right tone and language for a reply. Now, this was working about 60% of the time (pretty good right?), I'd get an enthusiastic response and things would move forward from there. So it was working. But it was also taking up a lot of time and causing significant interruption to other projects when it happened.

So, let's look at the process itself in a more simple map.

Prospective customer reaches out → Switch focus to New Business mode → researching to craft an appropriate response → conversation → 60% conversion rate.

So the obvious place to optimise is that research chunk. It would be easy to say "How can we make this shorter?" I spent quite a bit of time thinking about this until I pushed myself to think outside the box. Could I cut that research phase out all together? It turned out, no. But I COULD move it further along the process so I wasn't devoting time to something I wasn't yet sure was a really warm lead.

So I created a canned response. "thank you so much for reaching out, I'd love to know a bit more about you and your current journey, when is good for a 15 minute call?" a copy-and-pasteable response, that means you can go back to your focused work, with a calendar invite booked and you don't need to spend that time researching until you know this person is a sure thing.

This is micro in the truest sense of the word, but incremental changes like this can really add up. Say you get 2 leads a week for a year, that's over 100 leads. If you spend an hour on each of them, and only 60% actually convert, that's 80 hours of utterly wasted time. Plug in a hypothetical hourly rate of $50, and you've just spent $4,000 in a year chasing dead ends.

The process that existed was working, in fact it was working over half of the time which is amazing. But there is almost always something that can be micro-iterated and improved, and sometimes those are actually the things which are the biggest changes to our workflow.

So now the process is : Prospective customer reaches out → Canned response → 15 min meeting → Plan time for research → 1 - 2 hours creating a bespoke proposal → 90% conversion rate.

If you're following the 'Document Everything' rule from Part 3 of this series, then iterating like this is pretty simple. And documentation doesn't have to be lengthy or complicated. Your inbound lead 'document' could literally be as simple as the single sentence above. But it allows you and your team to look at each stage under a microscope and see if something can be changed.

Sometimes, a whole process is just plain wrong. In a lot of ways that's easier, because you know you can just throw it out and start again. Whatever you decide, make sure you have one central, accessible place where anyone can refer to the processes you've all agreed on. I can't stress enough how much information this will remove from your own brain, and how having multiple sets of eyes on it will allow the team to find things that you never would have thought of to improve.

Being process-driven is absolutely desirable. But make sure everyone knows what those processes are, and you're checking regularly to see what could be better.

An illustration of an hourglass

Don't shun traditional / long term methods

I don't claim to be a marketing expert. I'm a brand specialist by trade, so I've had to learn about marketing as I go - which I think is true for almost all small founding teams. And, being a bootstrapped business means I have to be quite scrappy about how much time and money I can invest right now in things like marketing. So there's a natural progression there which leads me to avoid paid advertising or long term solutions like content marketing.

Earthfound hasn't existed for long enough to be able to say whether long term methods are more or less effective for me, but what I am trying to do is contribute to these methods as part of my shorter term plans. What I mean by this is that I'm contributing to discussions and helping people in the online communities I've found, partly in off-the-cuff discussion, but also in 'evergreen' content like these blog posts. The reason content can be so powerful is you're continuously adding to a body of work that isn't going anywhere. So think of any longer form messaging as a larger library for people to reference in future, and start adding to it right now.

(I have a separate series coming up on creating content, and some tips and tricks to get your brain past the 'blank page syndrome' - watch this space!)

Just like content, paid ads absolutely have their place. If you host meetups and events, and a big area of community is Facebook, then boosting a Facebook event post is not a bad idea (I've done this very successfully for other side hustles in the past. It can be especially useful if you have a small, local but very enthusiastic / loyal customer base. Paid ads on Instagram and Twitter, similarly, can be really effective, but just be wary of any strategy that depends upon having budget to throw at it in these early days. Back in 2008 WIRED editor Kevin Kelly wrote that creators only need 1000 True Fans to be successful. While that obviously depends on your product, I do believe that one loyal repeat customer will be more valuable to you in the long term than 100 one-off buyers. This is not only because they'll give you more revenue, but they'll also be the people who will help give you constructive feedback, and crucial insights that help you make the product better because they actually care about it.

So, carry out your short term strategy, but keep the longer term on in mind at all times and see how you can contribute to it using the stuff you're already doing.

An illustration of a funnel with 'aware' at the top, 'consider' in the middle, and 'PAIN' at the bottom

Focus on the bottom of the funnel

Now I'm really not one for buzzwords, but the marketing 'funnel' is a pretty key component to understanding customer journeys to purchasing your product.

Think of a literal funnel to pour something into. Wide at the top, narrow at the bottom. I'm going to use our craft supplies organiser app from a previous post for this example.

At the top is the biggest number of potential customers. This is the 'awareness' mindset. Think scrolling through instagram or driving down a highway. You're not there because you're going to buy things, so any message is only helping you become 'aware' of something, that you may or may not remember later.

In the middle, you have less people, and they are in a 'consideration' headspace. This is where your customers are aware they have a problem. They know that the sheer volume of chaotically stored craft supplies is an issue, but they haven't yet decided how they're going to solve it. They're not ready to commit to actually buying anything yet, but they're aware of a pain. Maybe they're on a craft supplies website, or a physical store. Maybe they're watching a crafting tutorial. They're thinking about crafts, just maybe not specifically organisation or inventory.

Down at the bottom are far fewer people, but these people are ready to get this problem sorted now. It's also called the 'purchase' mindset or 'pain point'. They are actively being affected by the disorganised supplies, it's annoying them, or maybe even causing a relationship tension. They need to find a better way to keep track of what they have so they don't over-purchase new items and can find things more easily. They are ready to pay for the right solution.

This is the bottom of the funnel, and this is where you should focus all of your energy in the beginning. As I mentioned in my first post, I found out about this concept in a great talk by Asia Matos which I can highly recommend watching. But essentially, the idea is that although the number of people at the bottom is smaller, they are already in a mental space to buy your product, so the likelihood they will buy it is much much higher.

So, how do we focus marketing activity here?

If you've been following these tips step by step, then you're already doing some of it by finding online spaces where your customers are. The crucial thing to find out is what are the actions of our customer when they move from 'consideration' to 'purchase'. When they pass the threshold from "this is annoying" to "right. I need to sort this out." What do they do? Do they ask a friend, go online to a niche community and throw it out there? Wherever they end up, you want to ensure that your product is the one they come across.

Let's say we've done some initial validation and testing about our community and we know that our typical customer is a member of a few pretty specific crafting forums. There are whole threads dedicated to useful tools, both physical and digital. So you of course need to be on that thread if someone comes searching for a craft supplies digital organisation app. You also know that the power of personal recommendation and review in this space is mammoth. So you reach out to a few content creators in the space and ask if they would review it, in exchange for a free lifetime subscription. These 5 subscribers, of which 3 liked it so much they actually went and talked about it on their podcast / social media, could generate you tens or even hundreds of subscribers each depending on their reach. If you have the budget, you could always pay for someone even more high profile to review it. Remember that ALL spaces have influencers and the power of another real person's opinion will always rate the highest in your audience's minds.

It sounds buzzwordy, but if you can hyper-focus on the moment where your customers are actively looking for a solution to whatever pain your product solves, you'll get much further, much faster.

As we've talked about throughout, this isn't necessarily the right combination for your business. The point is to take some time to find out what is the right solution. Keep testing it. Keep iterating and changing it and analysing what happens. Be prepared and willing to accept when something isn't working, and change it. Remember that you should always be focused on how people actually behave, both in your product development and your marketing development.

Marketing can seem like a crazy black box but really it's just like anything else. Test, learn and iterate.

Interested in working with Earthfound to get some of these answers? Want more bespoke help, or need someone else to do some of the heavy lifting for you? Get in touch!