When (and how) to outsource marketing in a startup

One of the most interesting problems early-stage startups run into is when to actually invest in marketing. 

There's no one size fits all answer, but there are tested and true approaches. Most importantly, if you're a founder or early employee, the starting point is to assess where you are...

"We are working on an idea and have some early customers / users of our product"
"We have a company that’s making money (revenue positive) on a consistent basis, and has a clear business model and path to growth"

For early-stage startups, outsourcing marketing is almost always a mistake. This is because you haven't identified your market(s), and built enough of a community or customer base to withstand changes.

Rand Fishkin of MOZ, recently published a deck on all the ways startups suck at marketing, and how to avoid them. In some ways the conversation is similar to hiring a sales team before you're ready to scale: you have to actually do the work yourself first.

But the crucial point Rand makes, and that many people miss when they're busy encouraging you to outsource your marketing, is that marketing in a startup is a mix of strategic and tactical work. 

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Framework for building an email newsletter

People and businesses send crappy emails all the time. We tolerate it because there is some value being exchanged or because we have some type of relationship with them, but ultimately if you don’t respect your audiences’ time and attention they’ll unsubscribe the second they think they can get that value elsewhere or if they just get annoyed enough.

Seth Godin wrote something related to that back in 2011 (links here and here) calling it the “attention economy.” With technology increasing the things that demand our time, it’s an idea that will probably continue to grow in importance. 

The most important thing to keep in mind with email marketing / newsletters is that while they are usually labeled as owned properties, they are also earned via the trust of your audience.

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