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Getting Started: Marketing for Startups Starts with SMART Goals

By October 4, 2016Inbound Marketing, Strategy

When you are starting a company, it can be difficult to know where to start. Sure, you know you need a website, and you’ll probably want to use direct email, and you’ll need to get your social network pages built. But those are tactics. What do you want these tactics to accomplish? How will you know if you’re succeeding? What can you change to get better?

Get Smart

You need to start with goals. As the old saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road can take you there. The best marketing goals are SMART–Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.

Let’s break these down.


John F. Kennedy famously promised to put a man on the moon by 1970. Very specific. What’s a specific marketing goal for a startup? If you’re starting from zero, you may want to start with building a list of contacts for email mail marketing to start building an audience for your company. How many contacts do you need by the end of your first month, quarter, or year? Pick a number, but make sure it passes the rest of the SMART goal criteria.


Measurable means you know if you reached your goal or not. A man on the moon by 1970 is a very measurable goal. So is 500 new contacts. Not all measurements are equal. We prefer hard numbers to percentages, especially when working with startups. Percentages can mask weak results–if you went from 10 contacts to 20 contacts, that represents 100 percent growth but it’s still only 10 new contacts.


Lots of businesses set audacious goals that can’t be reached–especially when trying to raise money. They’ll say things like “This is a $5 billion market. If we get 1 percent, which is conservative, we’ll make $50 million in our first year.” This is not realistic because it’s based on very rough data. What evidence is there that you can win 1 percent of a market? Making goals achievable is important both for solid planning and for team motivation. Setting goals that no one believes can be achieved discredits the planners at the start. Is 500 contacts in a month achievable? Do you have data to support it? You’ll be able to set smarter goals as you have more experience to go on–after a month or two you may want to reset your goals to make sure they are achievable.


Does the goal relate to your business? Does it matter? Will reaching it make a difference? Are 500 new email contacts relevant to your marketing success? You may want to further refine that to something more specific and measurable–500 opt-in contacts, for example, so you know you’ll be able to email these people. A step further could be 500 opt-in contacts that match your ideal customer profile/buyer persona.


Timely means there’s a deadline for the results. A specific month, year, or other time frame helps make a goal more measurable and more realistic. Landing a human on the moon by 1970 puts a line in the sand for measuring success or failure.

Gut Checks

One of the things that makes SMART goals smart is that they generate ownership and accountability. Everyone on a team needs to own the goals or everyone fails. If you’re a sole operator with no employees yet, you may need to form these with a partner or funder. SMART goals force a gut check by the organization.

What’s Next

SMART goals create a very clear picture of where you want to go. Then you can create the strategy, a road map, to get there. How will you get 500 new emails? A call to action on your website? A trade show? You’ll need tools and tactics to implement the strategy.