When should startups start digital marketing, content marketing, or inbound marketing? It doesn’t matter which synonym you choose to anchor your business's future to.

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When is the right time for a startup to get going with digital marketing? All too often, entrepreneurs come to us and say, “I have this great idea for this product or service, and as soon as I get it off the ground, I'm going to come back to you, and you're going to build this funnel and help me magically get clients a couple of hours after you start.” OK, that’s slightly exaggerated! Usually, they'll give us a couple of days! But they have no idea what their sales cycle length is.

By the time they come to us, they've already lost a lot of months because, in the time it takes for them to build their product, launch it, and get funding, they could have been doing a lot of valuable research on what the people they are trying to reach care the most about.

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Startup Digital Marketing and Product/Market Fit

One of the things that entrepreneurs are trying to get to with a startup is product/market fit, which is like step three or four down the road. Product/market fit is all about knowing who your ideal clients are and at what price points, quantities, and durations they will purchase. Once you understand that, it becomes much easier to scale marketing and sales more effectively with much more confidence. Prior to that, it's a lot of stabbing around in the dark to figure this out.

The ideal time for startups to start digital marketing is almost immediately right out of the gate. The challenge for a startup is they’re trying to conserve cash as much as possible until they get to product/market fit. So early on, if you have the luxury of having a founder that's a subject matter expert (or maybe even you) on what it is that you're building the business around, you should try to find a way to share your ideas, thoughts, answer some questions, solve some problems, similar to what we're doing with this video here perhaps, and get that out there in front of potential clients and see how they react to it. Hopefully, at least one of you has that kind of expertise.

Don't talk about your product, don't talk about what you're trying to sell. Just talk about the kinds of problems and the kinds of questions that your ideal clients tend to have. Can you attract them in an educational context so they see you as a subject matter expert?

Once you have some traction with that and build some reach on social media, perhaps you capture some of this for an email newsletter you send out occasionally. It becomes a lot easier when you're ready to look for Alpha testers or Beta testers or get some product feedback to have already a fertile audience of people that know, like, and trust you, that see you as an expert, and that already finds your content relatively helpful.

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What About Waiting for Funding?

The challenge in many cases is if you're trying to get seed capital or angel or venture capital (VC) funding, most of the time relatively sophisticated investors, unless you get it, go into the, what is it, the three F's, friends, family members, and the rules. If you're going to sophisticated investors, they will want to see your plan for how you're going to scale revenue. They're going to want to see your metrics.

Think about the kind of stuff that they talk about on Shark Tank when you're presenting an idea to Kevin O'Leary, Mark Cuban, Daymond John, or Barbara Corcoran. Think about the kinds of questions they ask. If you can go to your investors, whether they're angels or VC, and you already have answers for yes, this is who we're trying to attract, this is what we care most about, we've been blogging, we've been podcasting, we've been doing webinars, we've been publishing, and we found that based on 100 pieces of content, these were the 10 or 15 that resonated most.

We have a really strong idea of what they want. We've done some limited testing. We have an idea of what some of our conversion metrics look like. Those are the kinds of things that intend to impress the heck out of investors because, in many cases, they're not just looking at you. They're not just looking at your product.

They're trying to figure out how you're going to get distribution. And if you’ve already thought through distribution, because you've started to do digital marketing, obviously you need to conserve your cash as much as possible and keep it as capital un-intensive as possible.

The Bottom Line

Get some ideas out there and see what's working. See what type of content resonates the most with the audience. You'll gain some very valuable intelligence. That will be incredibly important when you have your product or service ready to launch. So when should startups start digital marketing? Pretty much right out of the gate?
At what point did your company start digital marketing or inbound marketing? Share your thoughts in the section for comments below.  

To learn more about digital marketing, content marketing, and inbound marketing, enroll now in our free 7-day eCourse: Go-to-Market Strategy 101 for B2B SaaS Startups and Scaleups.

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