When’s the right time for a startup to hire a marketer?

It was a question that popped up recently during a conversation with a potential client. It is a startup with a product with the potential to strike a chord with small business owners. One of the keys to success will be driving awareness, and then educating users about the benefits and how the product works.

At some point, it will be a no-brainer to hire a full-time marketer, who will quarterback the company’s branding activities. The question, however, is when?

Does the startup pull the trigger now given the importance of brand building? Does it wait until the product is fully baked so marketing attracts customers who will be happy? Does it do some marketing now before hiring a full-time marketer?

There isn’t a right answer because every startup has different needs, aspirations, and budgets. There is no doubt all startups need to marketing. The question is who, when and how often.

In working with dozens of startups, here are some thoughts on the hire now or hire later conundrum.

One of the big challenges facing startups is figuring the marketing they want to do. Depending on the marketplace, the options include content marketing, Webinars, social media, direct mail, PR, conferences, SEO and advertising.

To find the right mix, startups often have to make educated guesses and experiment before discovering the right formula.

It means the most relevant marketing skills needed can emerge over time. It may be, for example, that email marketing really isn’t the right channel, even though everyone believes it makes sense.

In hiring a marketer before really knowing the marketing that works, a startup can hire someone with the wrong skills. While they’re great email marketers, they can’t create videos or write blog posts. It’s the classic round peg in a square hole proposition.

Another consideration for startups looking to embrace marketing is making sure they hire someone with a willingness to plan and hustle.

When a startup is getting going with marketing, it needs someone who can plan and then make it happen. You don’t want someone who wants to direct traffic but has little interest in driving the car.

Last but not least, a startup need to make sure it is committed to marketing. They have the interest, appetite, and money to do marketing right. They realize marketing is an investment and an important corporate pillar, rather than an add-on whose utility comes and goes.

For startups ready to hire a marketer, here are some options:

Hire a consultant (apologies for the not-so-subtle pitch!) who helps a startup navigate the marketing waters. A startup gets the strategic guidance and tactical execution it needs but doesn’t have to make a long-term commitment. It’s like hiring a marketing mercenary who does what is needed before packing their bags.

A startup can use different types of consultants for particular projects, or hire the same consultant when and if needed. For many startups, this is the easiest way to launch themselves into marketing.

HIre a junior marketer who can do relatively low-cost tactical work so a startup can do some marketing. It could be someone who does social media, writes blog posts or serves as a community ambassador.

In the scheme of things, it is a relatively inexpensive and risk-free way to do marketing. At the same time, the junior marketing can gain valuable experience so they can take on more responsibilities or become a valuable asset when the marketing team expands.

The common denominator in hiring a consultant or a junior marketing is it gives startups financial and strategic flexibility if their marketing needs change or expand.

After a consultant has done their work, a startup can have a solid foundation to hire someone who doesn’t have to start from scratch. A junior marketer can fill the same role by helping a startup establish a presence before hitting the accelerator.

At some point, a startup will recognize that it is time for a full-time marketer. As a startup gains momentum, there will be a growing need to drive awareness and other activities to attract customers into and through the funnel.

Another sign that the time is right is that a startup’s marketing is working and that additional investment will have a positive ROI.

Then, there is the reality of having more money. At some point, a startup can afford to spend money on marketing, rather than pouring it into product development or sales. With more money in the bank, marketing is less intimidating and less of a risk.

At the end of the day, marketing matters to startups.

Marketing plays a crucial role in the buyer’s journey as a prospect moves from awareness to consideration to decision. Every step of the way, marketing encourages, educates and excites customers that making a purchase is the right thing to do.

For startups, it means hiring a full-time marketer is a when not if proposition. Sooner or later, they will have to bring on people who talk a different language and get excited about different things.

But it’s a positive development. It means a startup is starting to mature. It is evolving into a business leveraging a variety of skills to drive growth.

The first moves into marketing happen in different ways and at different times. Every startup follows its own path and that’s okay.

Any thoughts on how to hire a startup marketing and when bringing on a full-time person makes sense?

I’ve worked with dozens of startups and fast-growing companies looking to build rock-solid marketing foundation. My services are driven by a framework and processes focused on discovery, messaging, strategic planning and content development. If you want marketing that makes a difference, let’s talk. If you’re looking for free insight, subscribe to my weekly newsletter