How Start-Ups Can Make the Most of Their Marketing

Our conversation with Rand Fishkin

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Sure! I started a company called Moz in 2003, initially as a blog, then an SEO consultancy, and finally transformed it into a software company. I raised several rounds of venture capital, grew it from just a couple people to ~150 employees and $40M in revenue, then stepped down as CEO and spent a few more years contributing there before publishing a book, Lost and Founder, and then leaving to start SparkToro. I've done a lot of speaking, a popular video series, blogging, and social sharing all with the goal of helping people learn how to do better marketing.

What is the inspiration behind Spark Toro?

It's twofold:

  1. To help marketers find their audience's sources of influence without time-consuming, expensive, inaccurate surveys and interviews; and
  2. To help break the stranglehold Facebook and Google have on web marketing dollars and effort by giving marketers ways to go forge relationships and opportunities directly with websites, podcasts, social accounts, video creators, etc.

With the digital world becoming more of a “pay to play” environment, what advice do you have for start-ups? How can marketing plans still be effective when there are limited resources available?

Choose one or two channels, preferably ones that aren't pay-to-play (i.e. not advertising). Those channels should be something you're passionate about, somewhere you can actually reach your audience, and somewhere you can create unique value (value your competition doesn't already create). Then focus on turning those tactics into a marketing flywheel that gets easier and easier to do and/or produces more and more results each time you do it.

Given the dominance of Facebook and Google, what is the right way to include these platforms in marketing plans – or do they need to be there?

They probably should be included, but you don't have to pay. Especially early on, I'd urge most companies NOT to spend a lot on ads, but instead find organic/non-paid channels to invest in. Content, email, SEO, social media marketing (the organic kind), relationship building, conferences & events (and now webinars), podcasts, videos, guest editorials, co-marketing, newsletter sponsorships... the list is long. Use Facebook to promote your work and Google to try and rank it and earn organic traffic, but don't bet the farm on PPC and Facebook/Instagram ads.

Can start-ups with limited resources ignore these platforms if their competitors are there?

Absolutely. Going where your competition IS NOT can add far more value than just trying to play in the same spaces they already dominate.

With so many digital options, how do start-ups identify and select the right platforms for reaching potential customers?

See two questions above 🙂 I also made this handy graphic:

Are there any quick wins you can implement with digital marketing to demonstrate immediate value to investors?

Yes. The biggest one is DON'T TRY TO DEMONSTRATE VALUE TO INVESTORS!!! Seriously. Demonstrate value to customers, potential customers, and people/publications who influence potential customers. Ignore investors. Your marketing should almost never be for them.

What is a lesson you’ve learned in your career that would benefit start-up entrepreneurs?

There are so many! Maybe the biggest one is not to be biased into believing that you should "swing for the fences" (i.e. raise venture capital and try to build a high-risk company). That's just code for "you should do this incredibly-likely-to-fail thing because it might make me, an already very rich person, even richer”. Instead, think about whether there are creative ways you can raise money such as debt, micro VCs, emerging alternative funds, crowdfunding, friends and family, angel investors with a profit-dividend model, etc.

What is the focus of your September SAAS North Now?

I'm going to talk in detail, with examples, about how to break free from the Facebook/Google duopoly of online advertising and take your dollars and your efforts to more rewarding opportunities. The best part is that not only will these tactics give you places that aren't as crowded, and conversions that don't cost as much, they'll also make marketing a true competitive advantage, rather than just a money-sinking game you play against all the other incumbents and competitors in a field.

Don't miss Rand's presentation at SAAS NORTH NOW. Register today to save your spot!