In Part One we talked about the details of getting your web-based start-up off the ground including business plans, fundraising, and legal. Now let’s look at Internet marketing and how you plan to create online awareness about your brand.
Internet marketing: Forget traditional media like print advertising for now unless you know someone or have cost effective creative ways to execute this plan. Also keep in mind that if you plan to build online awareness, then online marketing is the fastest and most cost effective way to go. There are many strategies and if you have successfully raised money then you have some good options. Hopefully you budgeted this in your plan under the “Use of Funds” category. If not, you may need to get more money!
Search engine optimization for your website: I can’t stress this enough. If I have to do some things differently for the first company I started, then I would have invested heavily is SEO from day one. I would have saved millions in Pay Per Click advertising. Before I go off on that tangent, let’s move on.
Pay Per Click Advertising: A great way to get some initial traffic and conversion from your site. Hire a professional Internet marketing company that understands how to budget, target ads, and foster conversions using optimized landing pages. This way you can ensure that you are using your budget wisely. I can’t say how many times companies have approached us with current PPC budgets in the tens of thousands per month who have terrible analytics with bounce rates over 90%. This is just plain depressing.
Social Media Optimization and Marketing: This is a very powerful tool which can help begin to build your brand online. Executed using the right strategy and it can be one of the most cost effective brand builders out there.
Keep in mind as an entrepreneur you should be wearing most of the hats. Sales & Marketing is definitely one of the areas you should not outsource at the beginning. You know your brand and your purpose better than anyone and hopefully you have more passion than some outside marketing consultant could offer your target audience. Also, if you are an online company, you should know the basics of Internet marketing. Learn how to perform a basic Google AdWords campaign or even get certified. Once you have a bigger budget though it is better to turn this over to Internet marketing professionals who have proper bid management tools. This will allow you to focus on growing your business rather than worrying about what keywords to turn off and descriptions to change.
The bottom line is that whether you are doing it yourself or you have hired an Internet marketing company to do it for you, invest in this area from day one. Trust me. It will pay off big time soon. Don’t wait to start the long road to page one in Google. Start now.
Hiring and Firing: You may plan on being a one man (or woman) show for a while but eventually you will need to hire some kind of staff. Use resources like Craigslist, Dice.com, or Monster.com to find qualified people. I suggest calling references BEFORE you even bring them in for an interview. This can save time. Sometimes people can interview very well but are not actually good employees. I have been very close to making offers before but then called some references and was saved a bit of unforeseen discomfort.
Make sure your interview process is comprehensive and ask tough questions. Do not be rude or intentionally try to stump the interviewee, but be sure to ask questions where thought process is more important than the actual answer. Ask questions about what they like to do outside of work and use sites like Facebook.com and even MySpace.com for further research. Hey, it isn’t an invasion of privacy if the person decides to tell the whole world about every time they binge drink!
The timing for finding good people could not be better. It is a buyer’s market…for employers that is. Due to the current economic conditions there is a vast availability of highly skilled workers. You can hire people more cost effectively. This is not to say you should use the economy to make offers that are embarrassingly low. Be fare but realistic.
Do not be afraid to let people go if you sense they are not working out. If you are an experienced employer or manager you can make these judgments more quickly and will usually be able to tell if a person will work out in the first couple weeks. This is not the economy in which to play the “let’s wait and see” game. You will need self starting team players who leave the office after you do; or that are at least willing to stay as late as you do.
I also suggest from a leadership standpoint that you should be the first person at the office every day without exceptions. This sets a good standard and people will know you are committed to the company’s well being…and theirs.
Money Management & Operations: If you are running the books, I suggest always running much leaner and much meaner than you even think you need to. Being liquid goes a long way. You will have greater piece of mind even things are taking longer to grow than you thought…which will most likely be the case. Liquidity will also help you build credit and obtain a line of credit should you ever need one. A LOC is a great way to live a bit beyond your means rather than spending tons in legal fees for raising equity capital. Not to mention you will have to give away a lot of ownership.
I have always heard from some very experienced entrepreneurs that you should always raise as much money as you can whenever you can. For the most part, I agree with this statement. I would say though that when you are starting out you should raise the money you need and not more. Save that for later. As an entrepreneur, you will ALWAYS be raising money.
Make sure employees are paying for themselves in some way. This is easier to calculate with sales people but everyone should have goals to hit and benchmarks to exceed. Even the admin people (although as a lean and mean start-up you should not be paying admin salaries).
Offer benefits if you can afford them because you may not attract good people otherwise. Statistically however, over 50% of small businesses do not offer any type of benefits. So if you are out there looking for work, do not look shocked when the company that just offered you a position says they do not offer benefits and tells you to bring your own computer to work!
No company is completely immune to the economy so if you plan to start your own business be wise about it, plan accordingly, and work your ass off! Entrepreneurs who are successful usually work a lot more than people working for major companies in the same industries. If you think you are going to start your own business so you can kick back with your laptop on the couch…think again. Unless you are engineering one hit wonder and make billions in a liquidity even that only took two years to reach, then you better get to work. The amazing success stories like Facebook.com and YouTube.com are just that. Amazing stories. These situations are not the norm. Most of us will have to work for a living! Hopefully you love what you do so it does not seem like work, but life!