Unconventional tips to market a small business/startup better

Niraj Ranjan Rout
Published on November 9, 2015
Mc Donalds Logo On Road

Many of us think that marketing is a pretty mechanical job – build a product, look up for best practices online, throw a bright spotlight on the proposition, and done. If only it were that simple!

Personally, in my attempt to market Hiver, I made a few not-so-obvious discoveries. Not everything they teach you at business schools can be put to good use – the hard truth that very few like to talk about.

There are lessons that were always meant to be learnt the hard way – lessons that books, and blogs do not talk of.


1. Employees over customers

One of the business masterminds of all time Herb kelleher, ex-CEO of southwest airlines said,

“Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.”

The marketing bible says – do it all for the customer. Well, I choose to disagree. The reason is simple – it is your employees who handle your customers. It is a given that customers can be unreasonable at times and act as business deterrents out of sheer ignorance, or unrealistic expectations. Even otherwise, there is a lot of stress involved in handling customers and this pressure lands on your employees.

So again, where should the focus lie? Employees, every single time.

Employees are key for the success of a company. Treating your employees right will not just boost their wellbeing and happiness, it’ll gradually trickle down to your customers, and effectively so. That given, taking good care of your employees is certainly of paramount importance.

Also, there are no better marketers than happy employees. Like they say – Word of Mouth stems from your employees.

Happy employees will:

  • Have genuine smiles.
  • Become your brand’s best propagators.
  • Never slack.
  • Bring fresh thoughts on the table.
  • Strive to foster your customers’ trust in the business.
  • 2. Patience is the key

    We, at Hiver, always like to follow what we call the ‘3 month rule’; for small businesses and startups, patience is crucial. Expecting fast results can keep you on the edge of your seat, and distract you from giving your fullest focus.

    Yes, every founder wants to change the world in a jiffy, but, being impatient can take things south faster than you can imagine.

    Infact, let’s take this rule a step further and apply to every new major thing you are working on– be it a new sales strategy, a new marketing strategy, or major changes in product positioning or functionality.

    So the take away is – When you’re doing something major, keep at it for 3 months without expecting significant results.

    Personally, I did not expect a customer acquisition for the first 3 months. Quite surprisingly, it helped me focus better on the product.

    3. Don’t turn data into your bible

    I won’t deny the importance of data, but too much reliance on it is not good. Trying to outsmart your competition based on data is almost like aiming blind. Big Data is swaying us all into a limbo!

    It’s not practical to rely ONLY on data. No matter how much data you look at, there’ll always be some you’ll miss. If plain numbers can help you churn out the perfect solution, there would be no need for any marketing strategies, would there?

    A lot of successful businessmen still place a great emphasis on using your instincts while marketing. Blink does a great job at explaining why you’ve gotta trust instincts, and snap judgements.

    Even if you decide to rely completely on data, it’s really not about statistics; It’s about finding stories, says IBM.

    You should keep a few pointers in mind:

  • Think strategically, act tactically – surely, think long term, but take small calculated steps which need not be purely based on data. For example, walking through the last few interactions with the customer is a good place to start, better than any data about them.
  • Find the pattern in data – usually, people look at data with preconceived notions, and manipulate the data to support them. Instead, search for patterns, and pair it with your common sense and intuition.
  • 4. Your customers don’t know what they want.

    Believe me when I tell you that NEVER ask your users what they want. They will, more often than not, not have the slightest clue of what they want.

    Steve Jobs himself said that customers really don’t know what they want unless you show it to them.

    So why the brouhaha around ‘let your customers help you build the product’? What I learned is – frame your questions in such a way that you can figure out their needs through not-so-direct questions.

    For example ask them:

  • If they are facing problems; problems that your product can solve.
  • Accounts of how/why they use similar-to-yours products.
  • Their train of thought while buying a product.
  • Questions that will give you a cue about their personality
  • A candid chat over skype with your users can yield better results than a perfectly designed questionnaire.

    Decipher what your users need – take your findings to product improvement – and give your customers a first class experience, and Voila! your customers will become your evangelists.

    5. Market your product right away

    Let’s keep it real. For small businesses and startups, investing in a huge data mining project to determine your market fit is a stretch. Market segmentation and positioning before marketing the product itself, is a great strategy, but, usually only for MNCs and big businesses – they have the moolah, the time, and unused resources. Startups go lean!

    Market fit is the degree to which a product meets a market demand. I was advised that this is the way to go to build a successful business in which the company meets early customers, gathers feedback, and develops the product accordingly.

    But, we decided to go with our guts and went in the opposite direction – we first built the product, based completely on our instincts. That done, we began marketing instantly.

    We only started collecting feedbacks and gathering data after we had already gained our first set of customers, and we tailored our product, and the marketing strategy accordingly.

    The users helped us get to product market fit quickly. It also prepared us for ramping up marketing later.
    I advise that for small businesses, this is the best way to go about determining your marketing strategy.

    Final thoughts

    These are only a few of many effective unconventional strategies. The point I am trying to make through this post is – don’t blindly follow the trendiest marketing moves, think for yourself, trust your instincts, and go by snap judgements at times.


    Niraj Ranjan Rout

    Guest Contributor

    Niraj is the founder of Hiver (hiverhq.com), an app that turns Gmail into a powerful customer support and collaboration tool.

    Related Posts

    Influencer MarketingHow Marketers Can Overcome These Influencer Marketing Challenges
    Customer ExperienceCustomer Experience (CX) – Understanding the On-going Marketing Paradigm Shift.
    Singer with a Guitar5 Ways on How to Independently Boost your Online Music Portfolio in 2022


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *