Most entrepreneurs would unanimously vouch for the fact that a creative idea is a bedrock on which any new venture is built. With that said, the next step is not always as obvious as one would like it to be.
There is no dearth of startups which opine that any delay in writing a business plan can be self-sabotaging.
On the other end of the spectrum, preparing a business plan way too early without developing a product or having a well-defined plan (or customers) is unlikely to create a lot of value for your end users.
Instead, honing up the creative idea, ascertaining market demand as well as ensuring that a business model is well defined is paramount to the sustenance of the startup process.
Let’s talk about it in greater detail.
Two Truths and Three Precursors
Now, there are two fundamental truths you would do well to remember when marketing a startup.
- Merely having a good product does not always guarantee success. You need to market it in order to make it reach your audience.
- No matter how much you market, you’re unlikely to go very far with a mediocre product.
Lately, a lot of startups have experimented with the idea of marketing their idea/product as soon as they feel it is viable enough to be presented before their audience. This, however, is NOT a blanket rule that means you can go all out and market your product without considering other extraneous factors.
As it turns out, the key to timing the marketing efforts lies in adopting a balanced approach.
Put succinctly, there are three precursors to a successful startup.
- A great product
- Finding the appropriate product-to-market fit
- Once the second goal is achieved, the onus shifts to great marketing, which determines whether the idea swims or sink. Yet, there’s no getting shortcut to having a good product, to begin with.
When Is It Too Early?
In marketing parlance, the definition of marketing and its underlying context needs to be properly understood. For starters, marketing does not refer to bulk purchasing a swarm of website traffic to gauge the worth of a product.
Equally, marketing is not confined to making social noise on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, or even developing a landing page that reads ‘coming soon.’
With regard to startups, marketing specifically denotes hardcore marketing campaigns. That’s the stage when entrepreneurs get in touch with a marketing agency, invest their time in building PR, and begin up-scaling their outreach efforts to accomplish a singular purpose – customer acquisition.
Generally speaking, if you feel your product isn’t quite ready to be marketed, you’d want to tread cautiously and cover all bases by fine-tuning it and after evaluating the various pain points of your audience.
This is an important point which is egregiously undermined so very often, albeit with a silver lining.
What’s the good news you ask?
It is that failure really isn’t always bad news if it enhances your prospects for longer-term success.
None other than Thomas Edison phrased this beautifully when he made many failed attempts to develop an incandescent bulb. He remarked:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
The bottom line: The faster you ascertain what doesn’t work, the faster you’ll be able to find what does and will.
Translation: You need real customers to figure out whether they will actually buy into your product. But that’s not the same as putting your product for premature scrutiny.
The risk of marketing too soon is that it can be disastrous for a company even before it begins to make its presence felt.
Consider this: if a high-profile startup reviewer or mainstream media outlet mentions your product, which ends up having a nightmarish user experience, or is stymied with technical/procedural challenges, the damage to your brand can be enormous.
Tell All Signs of Premature Marketing
Generating leads, but not converting them into sales
One of the most tangible signs of generating that you’ve pressed the ‘market’ button sooner than you should have is when lead generation is not translating into confirmed sales.
Generating leads, despite being a good start, doesn’t do much good. In the event your product isn’t able to close sales, continuing to market would only exacerbate the problem. At this stage, your focus should be to understand why your leads aren’t yielding results.
This could be a subtle indication that it’s about time you rework on your product, its messaging, or even consider pivoting.
Impediments in the buying process
It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or are a serial entrepreneur. Analytics is a wonderful friend that rarely lets anyone down.
If something is keeping your potential customer from going through with the purchase process, something’s clearly amiss; the problem needs to be fixed right away before it assumes alarming proportions.
Probably, it’s the buying process that needs tweaking, or a bug that’s annoying people, if it happens to be a technical product.
In some cases, it is the process itself that needs overhauling – in which case – you may need to do everything possible that helps simplify the buying process. Regardless, such teething issues must be nipped in the bud before prevaricating and pushing your idea in the primetime zone.
Lack of engagement
It could well be the case that you have a killer service or idea, great product, if your users seem to think otherwise, the problem is not limited to marketing alone – chances are that your buyer persona isn’t fancying spending money on your product.
In such scenarios, it’s best not to waste money marketing the product. Instead, pivoting or exploring a new idea that is more likely to work would be a far better idea.
Put in as much time as possible in drilling down deep to figure out what is it that your audience is looking for before pouring all your capita on making a product nobody is interested in.
The Perils of Jumping the Gun
In order to truly scale your cherished product, you should ideally be making money even as you’re putting in your capital. In most cases, this is the best way to prolong your runway and get some leeway to iterate as your product gathers momentum.
Not doing so and burning your capital could possibly mean running out of steam even before your business takes off, which again can cause irredeemable harm to your reputation.
According to a recent report, nearly 50% of all businesses cease to exist before their fifth year. Only 33%make it to their 10th year. Quite remarkably, these figures have remained consistent through all these years.
Even large-scale economic expansions and other positive measures have not improved the survival rates of startups.
The message is loud and clear for new entrants: Anything less than a spectacular user experience could prevent them from gaining widespread acceptance among the public.
So, What Is The Right Time?
That’s the million dollar question. In all fairness, the answer has been subtly outlined in the above sections.
When you can learn, gauge, calculate, iterate, and ensure that your product is on a strong footing, you’re pretty much ready to begin marketing the product. After having been tested rigorously against proven standards, your product is likely to have smoother sailing.
Instead of spending most of your time crafting a business plan, your endeavors would be better-utilized observing/asking questions to potential customers.
Explore significant and logical evidence to determine whether the problem you’re trying to solve is worth solving and whether you can make money out of it.
Answer these questions as honestly as you can:
- Am I able to define a pain point?
- Can this problem be solved?
- Will my solution improve customer experience drastically?
- Will the customers be willing to pay?
- Do I possess the resources and skills to implement my business idea?
- Who will use my product?
- Are there other products that can solve the same problem as effectively as mine?
- How much am I willing to invest to launch and market?
The key here is to find out your individual market space and identify things that need to be changed. Don’t be too surprised if your version of the solution isn’t ideal, or that your customer isn’t who you thought they would be.
It is far better to access this information now and make a course correction, rather than having to refine your entire business 2-3 years down the line.
If you have good reasons (credible proof) to believe that your customers are willing to buy your product – and you are confident of delivering a pleasant experience – you’re good to go.
Summing it up
There’s no doubt that your decision to start a new business needs to be applauded. However, ensuring the success of your idea needs both hard work and a generous appetite for risk-taking. Asking difficult questions and spending time on market research can validate the credibility of your product and, most importantly, identify the right time to market your product.