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It pains me when startups see marketing as a necessary evil.

It troubles me that startups are reluctant to invest in marketing.

It is antagonizing to read blog posts about how to do marketing with no money.

For startups, marketing is a crucial element. It is as necessary as product development and sales. Marketing builds brand awareness, establishes a distinct position in the market, differentiates your startup from rivals, and nurtures leads into customers.

Despite the obvious benefits, many startups have trouble getting their heads around something that costs money but may not drive an immediate return on investment. Why spend money on marketing when yet another feature can be added to the product?

lean marketingThe reality is startup marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. A relatively small investment can jump-start a startup’s marketing activities and, in the process, drive more leads and sales.

To draw a fiscal line in the sand, let’s establish a “lean marketing” budget of $25,000.

In the scheme of things, it is not a lot of money, even for bootstrapped startups.

Here is what a startup can do with a lean marketing approach:

  • Messaging that clearly articles what a startup does, who it serves and why its product matter. Well-articulated messaging sets the stage for effective marketing, sales, customer service and account management activities.
  • A Website that features good content and appealing design that engages, educates and drives conversions (sales, eBook and software downloads, trial requests, Webinar signups, etc.)
  • A sales sheet (aka one-pager) used for conferences, presentations, media and analyst outreach and lead generation. A sales sheet offers a high-level summary of what a startup does, the key benefits and features and who has purchased its product. For sales nurturing, it can be an effective tool for evangelists and influencers to champion your product internally.
  • A 60 to 90-second overview video that makes it easy for the people who matter to quickly understand what your startup does and the key benefits. There’s solid ROI because these videos can be used during lead nurturing, sales presentations, conferences and media outreach. I’m an advocate of live-action videos because they highlight a startup’s personality. (Note: I’m not as enthusiastic about animated videos because they are so ubiquitous.)
  • An eBook that can be used to establish domain expertise and thought leadership, as well as ways to grow email lists for lead nurturing and brand awareness. An eBook doesn’t have to be lengthy; we’re talking 1,200 to 1,500 words with user-friendly design and appealing graphics.
  • Onboarding content for SaaS startups that offer free trials. Given the widespread use of free trials, onboarding emails that offer the right content at the right time can make a huge difference. They can encourage potential customers to make their down the sales funnel in a way that is encouraging and educational.
  • A “toolbox” of services to support digital marketing activities: Buffer (social media distribution), HootSuite (social media monitoring), KissMetrics (Web analytics and conversion), Unbounce (A/B testing), Active Campaign, Drip or MailChimp (email marketing), Google Analytics (analytics), Yesware or Contact Monkey (email tracking). You’re probably looking at a monthly budget of $200 for everything.

From experience, you can probably do all of the above for $25,000. It is money well-spent because it establishes a rock-solid marketing foundation. It provides startups with key components to attract, nurture and close sales. 

Rather than struggling with unclear messaging, Websites that don’t convert and a lack of content to turn leads into customers, startups can make a smart and, yes, necessary investment of ONLY $25,000 to jump-start their marketing.

Not spending money on marketing is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It makes absolutely no sense and, frankly, increases the chances that your startup will fail.

Can your startup afford $25,000? The time is now to embrace lean marketing. One more thing: To kick-start your marketing, check out this “storytelling canvas” that I created. It’s a valuable tool to create a solid foundation.


Are you a startup looking to jump-start your marketing? I helped dozens of startups drive more awareness, leads, and sales. There are different ways we can work together – everything from messaging to strategic planning and content to get customers into and through the sales funnel.

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