By Janine Popick
You've been busy working hard on your startup; building the team, fine-tuning the product, rounding up investors, or looking for office space. But in addition to all that, there are still essential tasks you need to do before you can flip the launch switch and open your business to the public.
The old saying "If you build it they will come" is rubbish. If you're not already a "unicorn" with buckets of cash at your disposal, you need to do a ton of work in what I call the pre-launch phase.
In this phase, you need to build a list of people who care about your company and your product; these are your early adopters. It's your "early access list."
How do you build this golden list? It takes is some time and work, and you have to do it along with everything else, but it's important. Here are the five steps you need to build an audience that's excited about your business and eager to become a customer.
5 Small Business Startup Tips
1. Organize Your Contacts
This is an easy step, but many folks overlook it. You already have a ton of contacts from business cards, prior contacts at past jobs, your contact manager, LinkedIn, and your Gmail account—to name just a few. Gather all of the friends, family, and contacts that matter to your startup and load them into a CRM system. Keeping them all in one spot will help simplify how you communicate with them in the future. Constantly add to this list, and put notes into it; it should act as the heartbeat to your business.
Send your new contact list an email to let them know what's going on with you and your new gig. Invite them to receive emails that give them a heads-up on what's going on with your start-up. Also invite them to your early access or beta list; that should clean your list of bounces and unsubscribes and leave you with a group of people who truly want to hear from you.
And as your business grows, you'll figure out how and when to integrate other applications into your CRM system; make sure you choose one that you can use for a while.
Small Business CRM Tools: Insightly, Salesforce, Zoho
Figure 1: BuzzSumo shows you industry influencers based on your keywords.
2. Identify and Talk to Influencers in Advance
Even though your startup hasn't launched yet, it's great to give influential people in your industry a behind-the-scenes look at what you're doing. These people consist of anyone who:
- Wrote a book on a problem you solve
- Speaks at your industry conferences
- Blogs about your industry or competitors
- Publish articles about your industry
Not only do these people love to be in-the- know, they're also sure to offer tips about your new product or service that you may not have considered. Influencers usually have huge followings, which is exactly what you want. They also love to be the first to talk about new and cool things, so it's important that you build relationships with them.
You can find your influencers easily by using tools like BuzzSumo and Topsy. Make sure you immediately follow them, engage with them, and email them on LinkedIn to see if you can get their attention and, ultimately, a tiny portion of their time.
3. Nail Your Keyword Strategy
Keywords are an integral part of your pre-launch strategy since it takes time to build any organic traffic to your site. Organic is the best kind of traffic, since it's free and typically converts (to a signup, to a lead, or to a sale) much better than paid-for traffic. Start with a list of any keywords or phrases you think people might type into a browser to find you.
Another good keyword strategy: see what keywords your competition ranks on. Go to SEMRush and input your competitor's name. You'll see a list of keywords with the average monthly search volume they rank on. This will give you even more ideas of what your keywords might look like.
Figure 2: SEMRush makes it easy to see what keywords your competition ranks on, which can help you build your own keyword list.
Once you have your keyword list, check out Google's Keyword Planner for Adwords. You don't want to spend money on Adwords (just yet anyway), and this free tool will give you what the average monthly volume of searches would be for your keywords. You'll also get new keyword ideas from the tool as well.
Moz is a great tool to monitor all of your keywords and to see where you're ranking for them.
Keyword Tools: Google Keyword Planner Tool, SEMRush, Moz
4. Create a Web Page, Start Blogging, and Collect Emails
Now that you've got your keywords nailed down, it's time to put them to work. Assuming that you have your domain name (and you should buy it for no less than a 5-year minimum), it's time to put up a simple Web page.
Talk to people about what you do, what's coming and when (if you can), and include a signup form for them to be on the early access list. Wufoo is a great tool for creating forms, and it's free. Make sure to use your keywords in your Web page title and tags, and include them in the copy on your page. Your Web page should also include a link to your blog, which we're about to discuss.
When you create your WordPress blog, write articles that use your keywords with good search volume. Make sure you anchor link between articles, and use the Yoast plugin to help optimize your content for your keyword or phrase.
Figure 3: Long before launching Dasheroo, we created a Web page that featured what we planned to offer.
Looking for subject matter? Write about the inner workings of what's going on in the company. You want to get people who visit your blog excited about when you launch. Give them a launch countdown highlighting your great moments and your perils. The more transparent and authentic you are, the more they'll want to help you succeed. Let your readers in on the good times and the bad; they'll feel like they're an integral part of the launch.
It's also very important to get backlinks to your site; it tells Google that people like you enough to direct traffic your way, and that helps with your organic rankings. You want backlinks from respected websites; use the Moz Bar to find good ones.
Tip: include a popup signup form on your blog to capture visitor information for your early access list. You can time the popup so that it appears shortly after people land on the page. If you're using Wordpress, PopUp Maker offers great features.
Web and Blog Tools: Wufoo, WordPress, Yoast, MozBar, PopUp Maker
5. Social Media is a Must
I assume that you have—at the very least—a Facebook company page, a LinkedIn company page, and a Twitter handle. If you want to take it further, you can add a Pinterest page, a Google+ page, and an Instagram handle. If you don't have these social media accounts yet, get the first three set up right now.
Social media marketing works really well with all of your blog content. As soon as you publish a blog post, share that content to all of your social networks. You can even post it on Twitter multiple times a day since the life a tweet is so short.
You also might want to test a "Like Campaign" on Facebook. Social Media Examiner has a great step-by-step post on how to set one up. Basically it's a campaign with a "Like Our Page" call-to-action instead of a "Buy Now" CTA.
Start by targeting people who Like your competition, who like other products or services that complement yours, or who like influencers in your industry. Facebook makes it easy to do this. You get targeted likes, and if you create informational and interesting content people will engage with your Page.
Once you start to gain a following, spend a few bucks to boost your Facebook posts. Building demand will help when launch time finally arrives.
As for Twitter, it's important for you to follow people. But which people? I already told you to follow your influencers, but follow your competitors to see what they're doing. Follow people that follow you, and check on Twitter's Who to Follow tool to see if there's anyone interesting there.
Figure 4: Twitter does a decent job recommending who you should follow. It's based on who you follow and who follows you; pay attention to it!
Be sure to tweet about your weekly progress, and tweet reminders about how people can join your early-access list. Interacting with anyone who retweets your content will help you build your name.
If you have a lot of LinkedIn connections you're golden. It's time to invite people to your early-access list. Just like you did with Facebook and Twitter, give your LinkedIn contacts that behind-the-scenes look into your startup. You can even re-post your blog content as a long-form post in LinkedIn. Then link off to your blog to get more eyeballs.
One last and important comment about social media: beware of anyone trying to "sell" you Likes on Facebook or followers on any social network; it's a shady practice, and if you're caught, you could lose your social media accounts.
Social Media Tools: Facebook Ads, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
Bonus Step: Reward Their Interest
Make sure you pay off the early access folks and really give them the first shot at using your product. These people make great beta testers. Give them a good month or so with the product, listen to their feedback, and make necessary changes before the big day.
Remember, Google Analytics is a no-brainer to track website users and sessions. All of the social networks and email marketing providers offer analytics capabilities, or [shameless plug alert] you can use our business dashboard tool, Dasheroo.
Under the category of "been there, done that" I've had a lot of experience with pre-launching a startup. Engaging with different groups of people and building your audience before you launch is the only way to go. You can build it, but you don't tell them about it before hand, they just won't come. So get out in front of your launch, and by all means keep the momentum going and growing.
Founder and former CEO of VerticalResponse, Janine Popick is currently a co-founder and CMO of Dasheroo. Writing on topics related to marketing, small business, and entrepreneurship, her work has been featured in USA Today, TIME, Forbes, Small Business Computing, Businessweek, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Social Media Today.
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