Sales and marketing

Small business marketing: Six lessons from start-up Adboss

Six marketing lessons in six months

By Jason Rose
Tuesday, 05 July 2011

It was scary approaching June 30 because it represented six months since we launched our business Adboss, a media buying website.


There was that moment of realisation that half the year was gone and we were forced to reflect on the goals we set way back in January.


One of the key challenges for our business has been its marketing. Here are the marketing lessons 2011 has taught me so far on how to successfully launch a start-up.


Lesson one: Get busy


The biggest lesson has been that if you are not making noise you are invisible.


Being a web-based business we track site visits as a key metric and it’s amazing how steeply traffic spikes when we are active.


It doesn’t matter what the activity is – PR, direct mail, whatever – when we’re “out there” visits spike and as soon as we stop traffic drops.


We now realise – hindsight makes everything obvious – that marketing is like shark’s teeth and just as a shark’s tooth starts to wear out there is a new one immediately behind it, ready to replace it.


If the replacement tooth wasn’t there the shark would go hungry and businesses are the same – unless you’re constantly marketing to potential customers things go quiet, too quiet.


Lesson two: Experiment


The other big lesson is to try lots of different things. We have tried many approaches – some have worked, some haven’t.


The scary thing – but also the exciting thing – is that we haven’t been that good at predicting winners.


We have been super excited about certain initiatives only to see them be moderately successful and we have been lukewarm about other activities only to see them wildly exceed our expectations.


The lesson is to be constantly thinking about clever, affordable ways of reaching your market – ads, PR, search, social media, people in gorilla suits, whatever – and give them a go.


As a start-up you need to make flexibility a virtue.


You may not have the marketing budget of a large company and what you equally don’t have are the seven layers of management those firms must navigate to get something approved, so use that flexibility to experiment.


Try to keep the financial commitment of any experiment modest and expect lots of things to fail, so don’t tie up too much time or money in one thing.


Lesson three: Next


Before you conduct a marketing experiment do three things -- first set a budget, second set a goal and third be prepared to cut and run.


In other words balance trying lots of things with keeping a sharp eye on results.


If an idea works invest more in it because you may have uncovered a winning idea.


If the idea does worse than you expected, kill it quickly and without mercy.


Persisting with an idea that does not work eats up valuable time and resources – the two things start-ups don’t have.


The moment you kill off the dud idea try something else and don’t get disheartened.


Experiment again and quickly because, as I’ve already mentioned, when you’re not out there you’re invisible.

Lesson four: Don’t do everything


It’s critical to be busy but you cannot afford to be too busy. Inevitably your team, like ours, will be relatively small, with everyone doing everything their job title suggests and around 20 other things as well.


You need to set realistic expectations around what you can do from one day to the next and that requires discipline as well as self-confidence.


You will inevitably hear what other companies are doing and read the advice of marketing gurus, and the impulse to copy and obey will be immense.


But before you do that work out what is achievable and more importantly what your priorities are.


For example, having a social media strategy is “the thing” at the moment.


We sat down and looked at what we needed to do but also looked at what we could realistically do.


We decided to focus on Twitter, Linked-In and Tumblr, deliberately deciding to put Facebook on our “we-will-get-to-it-when-we-have-the-time” list.


Lesson five: Find good people


When he sang A good heart these days is hard to find Feargal Sharkey may well have been talking about marketing companies.


A key lesson for us is when you find a partner who understands your business, who is good to work with and who delivers great results, hold on to him with everything you have because they can be rare.


Many marketing services companies say – and even themselves maybe think – they want to work with a start-up, but they quickly run out of interest when your budget doesn’t meet their expectations.


Make sure they understand exactly where you are at and that they see working with you as an interesting journey that they want to be involved in.


Lesson 6: Be bold


Finally, we have learnt to remind ourselves exactly what we are bringing to the market – something fresh and different and that our marketing must reflect that.


It’s easy to gravitate towards the tried and the conservative, especially when it’s your money and reputation on the line.


But the world isn’t looking for your product so you need to find new, innovative ways of reaching potential customers and sparking their interest.


It’s not about being different for the sake of it, it’s recognising that when you can’t afford to be loud you have to work extra hard at being interesting.


And it’s on with the rest of 2011…


Jason Rose is joint managing director of media-buying website


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