Welcome to Startup Land, where budgets are razor thin, you’re always out of time and you’ve got sky-high goals and targets. Buckle up!
Hi there, fellow marketer. I assume you’re reading this post because you’ve gotten on the wild ride of marketing for startups. Or maybe you’ve been doing this for a while already, and you’re looking for a supportive friend. Hi, friend.
WTF is Marketing Grit?
First, why are we calling this series, “Marketing Grit”? A quick definition will be helpful for those of you new to working with limited budgets, overstretched help, and big expectations. For those seasoned startup marketers, I see your heads nodding.
Angela Duckworth, Social Scientist & Author of “Grit”, defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals,” and I’m not sure if there is anything you need more than this when working in a startup marketing department. You need passion to help drive your company forward, and perseverance to keep going when it just isn’t easy.
In this series, I’ll share my experiences as a startup marketer and any tips I’ve learned along the way, and I’ll do my best to bring in other perspectives through research and (hopefully!) suggestions from you, our MTS followers.
My experience has been mostly in B2B tech, most recently in a healthtech startup (because, ya know, I like the added challenge). Please know that I’m writing from that lens and I am ALWAYS learning, growing and sometimes finding out that my previous knowledge was inaccurate (I admit it: I’ve purchased lists. It was the 2010s, I was young and naive and I didn’t know any better).
So, why would anyone want to get into startup marketing?
The good: Never a dull moment
The first thing that drew me to startups was the fast-paced culture. I know, that’s what everyone says about startups, but sometimes cliches are true. The pace is truly different. There is, in my experience, a lot less downtime and discussion around, “should we try this?” I’ve had days where we decided in the morning to run a campaign and by that evening, the copy was written, the landing pages were built and we launched the next morning. How’s that for fast-paced??
By comparison, I once worked for an eleven-thousand person company. It took me five weeks and seven meetings to get one page of a microsite designed. At a startup, generally, as long as you can justify the spend and your reasoning, the answer is either yes or no, pretty quickly.
The good: Choose your own adventure…careers!
At my current org, I was hired for marketing (duh), but when the company pivoted and we needed some extra hands in general ops and QA, well, I raised my hand. And I started on a path where I was able to learn so much about many different areas of the business.
For a minute there, before this particular adventure, I had been thinking about switching career paths (and what marketer hasn’t?). However, what this ended up doing for me was confirming that I do actually want to stay in marketing.
The good: A true team (most of the time)
Startups are small, and they have their own brand of office politics. But my experience is that I’ve always worked with people who are working toward a common goal. You get really close with your colleagues and, most of the time, everyone is willing to pitch in where needed. There isn’t room for egos, so anyone with a big head or a “me first” attitude tends not to last very long.
The not-so-good: You’re no Dolly Parton
If “working 9-5” is your anthem, well, startups might not be for you. While most startups try really hard to give you flexibility, there will be many times that you are the only one who can do that one thing that needs to be done by midnight on Tuesday. The lack of redundancy makes it hard for you to say, “I can’t do that today”.
There is also always much more to get done than you have time to do it in. The trick is being transparent with your team and working with them to prioritize.
The not-so-good: Financing, budgets, and all that fun stuff
This might not be true for all startups, but if you’re in a pre-series A venture-backed company, you run a significant risk of the company running out of money. Additionally, your marketing budget will be miniscule, and it will be the first thing the company cuts when they need more budget in dev or another department.
I don’t want to scare you, but it’s good to know what you’re walking into. And, good news, there are a few ways to mitigate these risks:
- Protect yourself: Depending on your skillset and the time you have available, consider joining the gig economy and picking up a side job. This has helped me create connections and support my family when one of the startups I was working at went sideways.
- Work with what you have: Marketing for startups requires you to be a little savvy. Find tricks to lower your budget while still being effective (I’ll cover some tricks in a future post), and make sure you’re not just doing things because it’s what you did at your last company. You need to have a good reason for everything you do.
The not-so-good stuff: It can feel like the blind leading the blind
The majority of my startup colleagues have been wonderfully smart and highly driven people. However, due to lower pay and higher risk, they tend to be earlier in their career. As a result, I’ve noticed there’s slightly less mentorship available within the company. Startups also tend to be very flat organizations, so the leadership/guidance you previously had might go missing.
You also might be the only marketing resource, which can be a bit, well, lonely. There won’t be a core team to bounce ideas off. This is all manageable, but it’s always a good idea to have a few trusted friends outside of your org that you can use as your sounding board.
If you haven’t curated this group of professional friends yet, that’s ok. We’ll be your friend.
I’ve been described as a marketing jack of all trades, but I’ve spent a lot of time becoming a master of marketing ops. I’m full of strong opinions on marketing automation platforms and data management, which I share with reckless abandon. While most of my POVs are colored by my current work with startups, I’ve worked for organizations of all sizes. If you want to get on my good side, hand her a glass of wine, a dog to pet and tell me you’ve used a picklist field instead of open text for “industry”. If you want to pick a fight, start your request with the words, “can’t you just”.