Just Do It!

In his preAlistervious contribution, Alister Esam, CEO and founder of two businesses – technology company BoardPacks and social polling network Peepoc – shared his views on the importance of a strong and usable product offering in a start-up business. In this latest column he takes us through the evolution of the marketing function – from start-up to maturity.

Talking the Talk
Marketing is key to an entrepreneurial business. As a start-up, you need to be out there, to be found. You need people to hear about you. And, in what is essentially a numbers game, it becomes imperative not to overthink what you’re saying.

It’s all too easy to get excited about certain tasks that make the company yours, from completing the registration documents with Companies House to finalising your logo design or getting that corporate messaging ‘just so’. Of course, it’s right for a corporate to ensure consistency of message and brand presence but as a start-up you need to get clients; you need to sell product and this means getting out there talking to the market.

With this comes a degree of freedom to have fun, explore different angles and methods to promote your business. It also brings with it a great opportunity to find and grow exceptional – if not experienced – talent.

At BoardPacks, our second hire after product development was a marketing graduate who we thought had talent, at £15k per year. We were able to experiment with different elements of the marketing mix and learn together what worked best to promote our product to our market. When this individual moved on after three years, the agency they moved to could barely believe the range of experience they had garnered, let alone the degree of responsibility they had been given. What’s more – for us, it worked. Within our core target market, after three years we had the brand recognition we sought and the sales to match.

Skills Acquisition
Naturally, things change as the company matures. On the one hand, you have more funds to invest, and on the other it does become important to spend more time on quality over quantity.

As a company, it’s also likely to be the case that you’ll need access to specialist skills – from SEO or PR – that it doesn’t make sense to retain in-house: the return on investment becomes a different equation. So rather than spend £25k hiring, you may get better quality from the right outsourced partner.

The marketing team at BoardPacks got as large as six, when we were a team of 20. Now, with 40 people across the UK, EMEA and an emerging US operation, we have an in-house team of four marketers, with a more mature skill set and the experience to manage different elements of the marketing mix themselves (including specialist partner agencies).

Some Parting Guidance
The one thing that I have learned is that there is no silver bullet. Starting up your own business and helping it to grow into maturity is a continuous learning curve; what works for one market or one product, may not work for another. However, as parting guidance, I wanted to share some learnings that have worked for me and stood me in good stead in the last 15 years:

  • Focus on the things that will mean business success: build the product; market it; sell it
  • As a start-up, you can achieve a huge amount with the right people: find someone who is motivated and keen to get experience so they can become involved in every aspect
  • Sometimes, especially in start-up phase, it can be more beneficial to employ one individual to cover multiple tasks
  • As you grow, your resources will grow with you. Then is the time to focus on quality marketing and other ‘nice to haves’
  • When outsourcing, consider the ROI; the outsourced provider has to offer more than an easy option, meaning contacts or specialist expertise
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