You are at that very early startup stage; the idea is starting to be fleshed out, a plan for an MVP is in place, and you have both butterflies of excitement, and frequent bouts of nervousness.

You might be planning to build your MVP in secret, and when ready, send a short email to a couple of big name sites (think TechCrunch, etc) and hope that next minute you will be on the cover of Time Magazine or Wired.

I hate to break it to you, but you are statistically more likely to be rolling in a bathtub, swimming in $100 notes whilst delegates of the G8 gently fan you with large palm leaves, and pour Dom Perignon into your bath. (This may or may not have been fact checked).

So, now that reality is sinking in, repeat after me… customer acquisition is a tough road ahead of me.

Okay, now that we have you grounded (sorry about that), what should you be doing right now, alongside building your tech, and fleshing out your business plan?

Assuming you’ve done your customer validation, and you know who you are going to target with your shiny new startup, here are nine important early stage startup growth tasks I would be doing, if I were in your shoes. Right now.

Work on your pre-launch one sentence pitch.
Set up social media accounts.
Get a landing page (with an email collection form).
Do lots of research.
Read bucketloads of material.
Start interacting with journalists and influencers.
Build an audience focussed on your targets.
Buy lots of coffees for others.
Start content marketing.

OK, lets delve into these nine early stage startup growth ideas in some more detail.

 

Early Stage Startup Growth: Pre Launch PitchWork on your pre-launch pitch.
So, building in secret isn’t my cup of tea, however nor is releasing everything up front. You want to explain something about what you do, such as on social media bios and your ‘coming soon’ page, without releasing a lot of information.

For example, you could write ‘Save hours a week writing amazing content with [name]. Stay tuned!’. It’s vague enough to not announce you are launching an AI bot for writing blog posts, however it is also benefit-laden enough for people to get intrigued.

 

Social MediaSet up social media accounts.
Once you’ve decided on a name, try to lock it in on the social media platforms that you are expecting to use to market. Say your new startup is called Example. Take a look on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and try to grab that username.

Now, we all know Example is going to be taken, so you may need to use a variable. If you are staying within geographic boundaries, say Australia, you may feel like you can get away with ExampleAustralia.

For most, who are targeting a wider audience, consider adding something like;

[startupname]team
team[startupname]
try[startupname]
[startupname]hq
weare[startupname]
[startupname]says

You’ve obviously not settled on a final design at this stage, however you shouldn’t leave your social media accounts as the default design (I never even look at accounts using that egg image on Twitter). Try to find an appropriate free stock image, or even just a colour pattern you can use instead.

Now, use the pre-launch pitch you wrote above to complete your bio.

Over time, as you get closer to public launch, you can start firming up the design and bio on these sites, and if you decide not to use one, just set it to private, or leave a link to your other social media accounts, for anyone that stumbles across it.

 

Landing PageGet a landing page with an email collection form.
I’m hoping before you even named your idea, you did research and ensured that you could get a great domain name, and hopefully a handful of variable extensions as well (I’m talking [startupname].com, [startupname].co, [startupname].net, [startupname].io, etc).

If you haven’t yet, grab the variables that you can; see Domainr for some interesting domain extensions available.

Set your domain names up to point to a single ‘coming soon’ page, and use your pre-launch pitch line, an image vaguely related to your startup and ensure you have an email collection form, so at least you are building a list from day one.

Don’t make it onerous either; just ask for the persons email address, or even first name and email. Asking for more information than this is one sure way to prevent many from registering their interest. A nice gesture is say they will be notified first, they will get unique content or they will get a special discount or offer at launch.

I wished I had done this from the start with 6Q (Yes, I should have known better!). We got listed on Product Hunt before we had a proper pre-launch page up, which resulted in thousand of visits and no way of capturing interest.

There are a few landing page services out there, who specialise in these pre-launch pages, such as LaunchRock, or for a self-hosted solution, see SeedProd.

 

ResearchDo lots of research.
You will want to be researching a long laundry list of items whilst you are in this stage. The best way to do this is ask yourself a stack of questions, and try to find research, statistics or articles that can help answer them.

These questions should include;

Who is my target customer?
Where are they located?
What do they currently do to fix the problem I am solving?
What are they interested in?
What do they read?
How do I best reach out to them?
Will I have competitors (Yes, you will, and from unlikely places)?
What features do my competitors have?
What price point are they selling at?
What is my point of difference?
How will I be charging? Monthly? Per user? Once off? Per interaction?
Who are some potential early adopter customers I could approach?
What are my biggest risks?
How can it all go wrong? What can I do to avoid this?

Build a big document of questions (start with those above to kick it off), and add the answers (as well as interesting links to refer to again) over time. Feel free to notate or change responses as you learn more; this is meant to be a living scratch pad of thoughts and ideas.

I find storing this on Google Drive or Dropbox, and having the accompanying mobile app, means I can add, edit and change as thoughts come to me, no matter where I am.

 

Read the InternetRead bucketloads of material.
You may be doing this as a part time gig, in the middle of the evening, or on weekends. As well as building your tech, sorting out your plan, and doing these pre-launch acquisition points, you should also be trying to read the entire internet; or at least, all the articles you can find that cover any gaps in your knowledge.

For example, find every article you can about early stage startup growth, and don’t just take my word for it. Read a bunch of different views, and take on the advice from the ones that most resonate with you. There are literally zillions of blog posts and articles you could read; make time every day to absorb a few. I share links to interesting articles regularly on Twitter, these hopefully will steer you into something interesting.

A few other places to start, are;

Buffer
Gary Vaynerchuk
Growth Hackers
Quick Sprout
Sixteen Ventures
Startup Marketing
Startup Study Group
Susan Patel
SWLH

The above links are just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll soon be blaming me for your new late night reading habit, but it is better to be full bottle on as much as you can, instead of slightly knowledgable in a few areas. Plus, there is plenty of time to sleep once you have that bathtub full of money.

 

Build AudienceBuild an audience focussed on your targets.
It’s time to go back to our social media, and look at your research. Where are your targets likely to be, and what are they likely to be interested in reading? A great way to kick off audience building on social media is to engage people by sharing content you have found that may be useful to them.

How do you find the first few hundred people to follow you? Start by following them! Look for accounts sharing material similar to what you are sharing (competitors, similar industry influencers, etc) and follow their followers.

Don’t buy followers; these are typically nearly always bots, and there is no real value in this. Sure,it can help you get over follower ratio hurdles, however you will get absolutely zero interaction.

Oh, and if you are in Australia, make sure you check out my side project account, @StartupPerth.

 

InteractStart interacting with journalists and influencers.
Journalists rarely read a press release from some unheard-of outfit, and decide to devote their front page to it. Think about your own behaviour; you are more likely to open an email from a name you recognise. The best way to get people to start recognising your name, is to start engaging with them on social media, before working your way to emails or even a phone call.

Go back to your earlier research about media that your target audience are likely to read; start trawling through their sites, looking for journalists who cover the topic of interest that you will likely be filed in, when your startup launches. Start stalking these people; add them to a spreadsheet, and hunt down their Twitter usernames, personal blog addresses, etc.

Then follow them on social media, start liking or sharing their content, or even commenting on other articles they have penned. Do this for a while, before sending a very succinct email introducing yourself.

I’ve done the heavy lifting for you, and created a Twitter list of Australian Media you can trawl through.

Don’t go straight for the jugular by saying you are only weeks away from being in a bath swimming in $100 bills. You are better saying that you read their recent article and just wanted to drop an email to say you really enjoyed it/learnt from it, etc.

Be genuine about all of this though; don’t suddenly go on stalker overdrive, and start retweeting everything they say, or sending a daily email offering your feedback. That is just plain annoying, and you’ll quickly get filtered into their ‘crazies’ pile.

Once you have build up a little rapport, these people will be more placed to hear a pitch from you – remember though that these folks are busy and likely to get pitched to every single day. You better have something that stands out.

 

Buy Lots of CoffeeBuy lots of coffees for others.
This post came about, because I was giving a fellow entrepreneur (Hi Abby!) some advice over a coffee about what growth tactics she should be considering, before launching her startup. I’m a very busy guy, running two businesses and raising three kids and trying to fit in a life, however I happily said yes to a stranger to give up an hour of my time to help.

I’m not saying this to point out I am some form of hero; you will find most people are as easy to approach and willing to help a fellow founder. Interrogate them as much as you can about their lessons learned, startup growth, tactics for sales, ways to roadmap product and the like.

I encourage you to hunt down startup founders in your local area, and offer to buy them a coffee and ask them any burning questions. You will be surprised how approachable many are; and remember, once you have more experience under your belt, be sure to pay it forward by helping others as well.

 

Content MarketingStart content marketing.
The most cost effective startup growth method is by far, content marketing. Given much of the benefit of content marketing is search engine exposure, and knowing that search engines can take quite a while to index and start to rank your content well, the earlier you get this underway, the better.

For example, we were penning posts such as this one, on the 6Q blog a whole six months before actually launching our product. This way, we had already started establishing some search engine ranking, and an interested audience before the big day.

Using your customer personas and the questions you’ve answered above, you should be able to list a few dozen topics you could cover (see my post The TOC hack for finding new topics if you get stuck). Remember, you can spend a weekend or few evenings writing a number of articles, when you have time, and can always trickle them out later.

Look for opportunities to guest post on sites that your targets may be reading, or swapping content with someone of influence in your space. Keep a few of your best posts up your sleeve to possibly pitch to media for publishing then you launch – this is a great way to build some links back to your website, and get some interest from their readers.

Content marketing isn’t just writing articles either; take time to see what people are doing with presentations on SlideShare, videos on YouTube or Vimeo, and other forms of content, such as Infographics and the like.

For example, see how we used the key points from this blog post, Simple and Effective Employee Engagement Ideas and turned it into this SlideShare presentation, Simple and Effective Employee Engagement Ideas. By doing so, we are reusing existing content, and promoting it in new forms, reaching different audiences.

 

Conclusion
To conclude, these are only just some of the many early stage startup growth tasks ahead, as you build your startup, and then unleash it to the world.

If you think this short list sounds exhausting, wait until you launch! A whole new few hundred tasks will become apparent to you then. Remember to take time out to relax and rekindle your energy too.

I wish you the best of luck!

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