Are you trying to sell your product, and it feels like a monumental task? I'm with you, I've been there!
If you're anything like me, you find sales and marketing difficult. I have a technical background, and before starting Jexo, I knew nothing about sales or marketing responsibilities. I had to learn and adapt, and I luckily managed to establish a talented marketing team. In this episode, I'll share my journey into hiring for marketing as a clueless founder, and I'll give you some pointers that worked for me.
Here's where we are with Jexo today, one year later, after starting to get into marketing:
- More than 10,000 visitors every month and doubled in the last four months.
- We managed to balance out channels in lead generation and not rely strictly on Atlassian Marketplace searches. In November last year, we had 85% of leads from Marketplace, whereas now this source is 3rd biggest.
- We just entered the 100k Alexa ranking were; less than six months ago, we were 3million ranked.
- We rank on prime google search positions for tens of keywords.
- Our social media presence rivals that of household names in our industry.
- And Atlassian talks highly of us as role models in branding and communication.
So how did I do it? The team we hired, along with my brilliant co-founder Nikki smashed it over the past year.
The steps for having a kick-ass marketing team in your startup
Let's talk about key steps to form a talented and autonomous team in the early startup stages, mainly because I know other founders who are struggling today that could benefit from this guidance.
There are four things that you need to make sure you do to succeed with marketing your startup:
- Learn how not to be utterly clueless about marketing
- Start hiring entrepreneurs
- Stop telling people how to do their job
- Prevent bottlenecks and work dependencies
Step 1: Learn about Marketing
I kept mentioning the word clueless, but the reality is I did have to learn a bit about distribution channels, generating leads, type of content, and so on. You have to have a rough understanding of the digital marketing engine to know how to start assembling it correctly.
And I know what some of you might be thinking: "Well, if I wanted to learn how to do marketing, then I would do it myself and not read this article on how to hire a marketing team for it." And sure, you could just hire an advisor to instruct you who to get for your marketing team or even pay a digital marketing agency to conduct all the activities, so you don't have to even think about it.
But if you want to set solid roots and, like myself, you see marketing and sales as a critical component of your business, you'd want to understand how that component works. And learning about digital marketing is the way to go. Also, the team's success reflects your confidence as a leader, and at least for me, that means understanding what my team is doing.
So what you can do to get yourself into marketing? Here is what worked for me:
- Read a couple of marketing books
- Research about selling for SaaS
- watching youtube videos from marketing influencers like Dan Martell or Neil Patel.
- Courses, eg. Growth accelerator course by Dan Martell
From this list, I can especially highlight the Growth accelerator course that really helped me understand some of the magic of generating interest around our products. Once I felt I understood enough, I spent some time on hands-on marketing tasks with my co-founder Nikki and only after this period I started looking for people to hire.
Step 2: Hire entrepreneurs
Let me give you an example of what I mean by hiring entrepreneurs for your marketing startup team. When we hired Jenn into the team as Digital Marketing Lead, and a vital factor in the decision was how she handled the first interview stage with us. You see, Jenn is not only a marketing nerd demonstrating that by comfortably talking about various practices and terminology, but she also made us feel like she was already working for Jexo.
Let me explain how:
- First, she did thorough research into our business, our backgrounds, the current positioning state, and our social presence. She went so far as to ask her friends in the Product Management space to explain our product to her. So over our introductory call, Jenn listened when we explained our business and actively contributed with her understanding, giving us a feeling that it wasn't the first time we talked.
- Secondly, she was already suggesting ideas for content and distribution to improve our exposure and growth. And I'm not talking textbook generic fluff but honest, tailored thoughts that she spent time coming up with.
So I labeled Jenn as an entrepreneur because she is a motivated individual full of initiative, with a creative mind and a great skill set, not shy of picking up other tasks like design, video editing, and so on.
And if you're an early startup, you need people like Jenn, versatile entrepreneurs like yourself that care and act as you do. So structure your talent hunting activities and job interviews so that you highlight these traits.
Step 3: Empower your team
I think the word empower gets thrown a lot these days and slightly lost its meaning. But what I'm saying to you is to stop being a hard head and quit telling people how to do their jobs. I know it sounds harsh, but in all honesty, I'm telling my past self that as well. Because like any entrepreneur parent that cares a lot about their baby startup, I was at times way too protective.
It is a natural feeling. After all, you put so much to get your startup business where it is today, and you want everyone to treat it with the same care. But what you fail to realize is that by babysitting and not trusting the team with taking their own decisions, you are stripping them from the feeling of ownership and responsibility. They're working to please you rather than to deliver real value to your company.
I stopped reviewing social media posts. They get published on a daily and most of them I see live. It is similar with articles, I don't tell Sarah, our content manager, what to write and I only review if she asks me to. I only help shape the needs for growth, for example, increasing monthly conversion by 5%. I don't know how, but the marketing team does, so I let them do their thing.
So remember that not every work needs validation from you, instead set the direction, establish a mission and goals, and only help when the team needs it the most. After all, if you take the previous point seriously and you manage to hire a marketing team formed of autonomous and motivated entrepreneurs, they will crave the opportunity to be creative and deliver value. So let them shine!
Step 4: Prevent bottlenecks
When you reach that sweet stage where your marketing team deals with every task, and you don't have to be involved, your role should be to spot bottlenecks and friction dependency. Here is an example:
Nikki, my co-founder, is a brilliant designer. She created all our clever branding and visual assets. She was also putting together every single social media banner and article pictures using Adobe XD, Illustrator, and Procreate.
But as soon as we had our first hire for the marketing team and we accelerated generating written content, the visual work started getting sluggish because Sarah relied on Nikki for that kind of work. Like every startup founder, Nikki wears a lot of hats, she is also a product manager and working on marketing and SEO, so she was spread thin.
It was then when I realized I needed to make Nikki redundant in a big part of the design work. The marketing team needed an easier way to have all of these assets available on time, so we decided to use Canva.
Canva is a super user-friendly online design creator. Basically, a Photoshop, Illustrator, banner, and clip maker bundled into one platform made for anyone to create visuals in minutes for their social media and beyond.
Canva allowed us to centralize our design assets and brand guidelines and enable the marketing team to collaborate and create their own visual assets with the brand colors, illustrations, and backgrounds generated previously by Nikki. We also made social media banner templates that anyone can reuse with ease, and when it comes to the Canva editor.
Apart from being intuitive, the two features I love are:
- The background remover - you can throw any picture at it, and it does a crazy good job at cropping the main object or person. It's magic!
- Multiple people can edit the same design at the same time - Which means Nikki can come in and quickly make adjustments, and our marketing team will see them as they happen. Or we can even have a workshop where the whole team contributes with ideas for the next visual campaign.
Honestly, we can't work without Canva at this point. If you haven't yet, give Canva a try because you're in your early startup days, and you need all the time-saving tools in the world right now.
Bonus Tip: Hiring the right marketing team
When you kick off the startup marketing team, you need two roles: content generation and distribution. Sure, you can hire one person to do both, but most often, you'll find that both these spaces are large to require dedicated focus. If you can only afford one hire and prefer content generation because you're worst at that, try to help with the distribution. The opposite applies; if you're good at writing about your product and teach others, then hire someone for content distribution first.
And here's a suggestion for finding someone for your marketing duties that has the kind of mindset explained earlier. Have a look at the Shapr app as you get to explore profiles of thousands of creatives and professionals in any country; you connect and chat in a more relaxed, non recruiting vibe setup. And if you're looking for a remote in any country, I can recommend the Spanish and South American market. I meet so many talented marketing people in these areas, and it is super easy to list hiring ads on these markets too!
I know recruiting the right people can be difficult and extensive, and I don't claim to have the silver bullet. But overall, as a startup with limited resources, you want to hire entrepreneurship-spirited people like yourself, and you have to trust them.