We work with a lot of startups. It has been a surprise to find that many entrepreneurs, even the most tech-savvy, don’t have a clear plan for building a marketing infrastructure. They know all about their product and their target market, and have lots of ideas about the message and channels to use, but not as much of a plan for building foundation for marketing that will support and sustain the growth that they expect. Here are four foundational marketing tools that get overlooked, and what we think are the best options out there.
Many startups have some web development expertise in house. Or the founder has a friend that is referred to only as “the web guy.” They build a custom site because they want to be unique. The internal person takes another job. The web guy moves or just gets busy. There’s no one who can maintain, update, or redesign the site. We had one company come to us that didn’t even know how to access their site. They didn’t know where it was hosted or built, or how to log in. We recommend WordPress content management system (CMS) because it is well known, open source (you own your site’s content), and there are lots of resources available to work on it and to add functionality over time with themes and plugins. Another common scenario is one in which a company hires a web design firm to build a site and has to pay a designer any time they want to add a new page, correct a mistake, or make any other change to the site. We offer training as a part of every new website we design so that someone on the client’s team can make basic changes to the site. A drawback on WordPress is that it doesn’t offer much in the way of support, but there are many WordPress experts out there so some help is usually nearby.
Website Hosting: WP Engine
Most startup leaders know that they need a website, but few have thought at all about hosting. Some start building out their ideas for the company on a “free” hosting/web building platform (where you pay for something other than hosting) like Wix or Weebly to get started. Others get the cheapest hosting they can find and use WordPress with added themes and plugins. Hosting matters. Website security, performance, and user experience are at stake–all critical to marketing success in the Google-driven world of online search. We recommend WP Engine for WordPress sites. WP Engine only hosts WordPress–the company knows the CMS inside and out. It has a global Content Distribution Network to ensure speed; it offers proactive security monitoring and important features like theme plugin compatibility maintenance (failure to update plugins is a common reason sites go down). It delivers awesome service (when you call WP Engine you get a WordPress expert in addition to a web expert). It costs money–starting at around $30 per month, which companies that are used to paying $3.99 per month for hosting can have a hard time getting their heads around. We’ve found that $3.99 per month only sounds cheap to companies with small sites, low traffic, and plans to stay that way.
CRM and Marketing Automation: HubSpot
Customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation are increasingly blended. Sales and marketing manage contacts together to optimize the sales funnel. HubSpot is a great platform to do both. A lot of startups balk at HubSpot because of the cost–starting at around $1,000/month plus onboarding for most companies. There are other cheaper products out there for marketing automation but few that do everything HubSpot does, or as well as HubSpot does them–especially with its integrated CRM. With HubSpot, you can build email lists, build and schedule lead nurturing email campaigns and social networking campaigns, create landing pages, blogs, calls to action, track the behavior of contacts on your site, score, and qualify visitors in collaboration with sales for a true closed sales-marketing loop. Once your company starts growing, HubSpot will seem like a bargain, because managing contacts and communicating with them like you know them (because you do) will be simplified and automated. HubSpot has also been studying online lead generation and business-building for the better part of a decade and keeps its customers ahead of the rest. Yes, you could get by with a free mail service, free landing page service, and try and cobble together and manage campaigns for the cost of the labor involved. You will reinvent the wheel a few times and then when you are ready for real marketing automation package you’ll have to replace your shaky foundation with something that can support your business.
PR: Muck Rack
We recommend Muck Rack for PR distribution for one simple reason. It is designed around the way journalists like to work. Writers use Muck Rack to build profiles, source stories, publish and promote their work, and to communicate with their audiences. It’s all built on Twitter, which is the social network that has emerged as the leading PR channel. Journalists like Muck Rack because the company is on a mission to eliminate journalist spam–mass, anonymous emails to every news outlet a PR hack can think of. You can do just about everything with Muck Rack that you can do with a traditional PR distribution platform–search for and qualify journalists, build media lists, send email pitches to individuals, etc. Muck Rack doesn’t use a wire service for mass press release distribution because the company thinks mail press release distribution is a waste of time and money. It helps you build relationships with journalists that are influencers in your industry–relationships that you should start building well before you launch your product or company.
When you’re building a home, you start with the foundation. It’s important to get the foundation right because it’s very difficult to replace the foundation after the walls have gone up. A company’s marketing foundation is similar. Building a solid website with quality hosting, a contact management and marketing automation platform that streamlines and personalizes communications, and a platform that helps you build relationships with influencers in your industry will make growth come faster and make it much easier to manage when it comes.