Common Missteps Early-Stage Companies MakeMonique has 15 years of experience as a Revenue Growth Marketer, specializing in B2B technology. She has worked for freshly minted startups through high-growth startups, privately owned legacy SMEs, and even globally-acclaimed publicly traded brands. Monique has done growth marketing from both sides of the coin—as an outsourced agency/consultancy and an in-house employee. To say that she has seen it all would be a gross understatement. Monique has advised companies to avoid the mistakes many early-stage startups make when it comes to marketing operations and strategy. “I’ve seen many early-stage companies make missteps in their hiring processes early on. Many can’t figure out how to hire and the right moment to do so, especially when it comes to the more strategic roles. For example, many are on the hunt for a catch-all marketer. They want a person to be their marketing strategist who, in time, can transition to be the VP of Marketing. However, that’s a bit far-fetched. When you’re a startup, you may not be able to afford someone who can do it all unless you have significant funding. The catch-all marketer is hard to find, and it’s asking a lot from someone you might not be able to afford.” Many startups set their sights on unicorns that can do everything. They want both a player and a coach all in a single package—someone who’s versed in digital marketing, can hire and manage, and even stay on top of marketing operations tasks while they’re at it. Monique agrees that instead of searching for the elusive unicorn, it makes a lot of sense to outsource seasoned consultants on a fractional basis. “I see a divide in marketing where people either bring in a strategist, a higher level directional lead, or even a technical unicorn. However, full-time middle management isn’t necessary for early-stage companies. Companies at this stage see more of a benefit by outsourcing fractional talent at the top of their game. I know in the past, freelancers didn’t have the best reputation, but that has changed. Consultants have to constantly pay attention to emerging trends to retain and attract new clients.” Some businesses think they’re ready for a VP of Marketing, but that VP may start hiring tactical roles but forget the importance of marketing operations. When the executive team asks for insights on whether or not what marketing is doing is working, the VP of Marketing finds themself in a bad spot. This scenario can be avoided if business leaders put growth-minded marketers in place before hiring an executive who hasn’t experienced an early-stage environment. “Once companies have determined they need marketing expertise, they should look for a marketing leader who can determine how they should get their product to the market. Alternatively, they could hire a fractional CMO to get them through specific growth stages. This is a great opportunity to leverage someone who understands their space and can help them steer that ship until they’re at a different revenue level when it makes sense to bring a leader in-house.” Monique also offered her views on how business organizations can determine whether they need a Growth Marketer or a VP of Marketing early on. “Some people specialize in certain stages. Early on, you need someone to figure out how to address the market. They’ll research competitors’ positions and understand where growth pockets are in your niche. This is growth marketing. An in-house or outsourced Growth Marketer can determine the company’s direction for the first 1 to 5-years. A VP of Marketing tends to come in when that foundation has been laid so they can focus on the long-term aspects of the team, strategy, and operations.” Another mistake lots of businesses make early on is hiring too much too soon. This is usually attributable to not understanding which roles are absolutely critical and which roles may be fractional. Often, this can be a tough decision to make, particularly when you don’t have an experienced Growth Marketer to guide you. “A Growth Marketer is going to be the one who helps you to understand who to hire when. Marketing operations is essential early on. Then, your Growth Marketer will ask, do you have a storyline already in place? Do you know how to instruct your sales team on how to sell what you offer? If you don’t understand your value proposition, how will your team sell? “If your storyline and value proposition are weak, you can hire all the people you want, but it won’t make any difference. On the flip side, when you work with a strategist early on to figure out your brand story and value proposition and communicate that to your team, you’ll be able to do a lot more with fewer people. “These are all questions you need to ask before you start hiring.”
The Ideal Marketing Organization & How it Evolves as a Company GrowsCompanies have to ask plenty of questions before determining whether or not they need more marketing resources and even which marketing resources are suitable for them at a particular stage. Monique shared her opinion. “It again all boils down to the question, is there any marketing talent on the team right now? Assuming the answer is no, then I think that it’s wiser to work with a consultant or a fractional CMO to evaluate your growth path early on. In one company, you might need a VP of Marketing in 6 months, and in another, a year and a half. Having some consultant or agency come in to help you figure out your growth trajectory and hiring plan is smart at the beginning. “Even if your marketing department is 100% fractional, you do need to have a leader in marketing. The next step is to consider what talent you need right now. And is the need short-term or one that is long-term and will grow with the company? “A great example is building a website. You will need to build your website early on, but do you bring in a front-end and back-end developer at that stage? Probably not. You can outsource that initially and then hire web operations when the company has scaled. “The question you have to ask is what are long-term positions or roles to have and what’s something that’s time-bound and not going to continue forward? If you don’t know the answer, that’s when you need to have a strategist consult.”
The Roles Freelancers & Agencies Play in Growth MarketingThere are some key flags that it might be a good time to bring in a consultant. The first scenario is when you need expertise in a niche specialty short term. If you’re dealing with data privacy, and want to be compliant across the board globally, then it’s a great time to bring in somebody who specializes in that. As Monique explained, “When you’re looking at roles consultants play best in, strategy is one of the strongest areas. Consultants and agencies can help you figure out which path to follow directionally. The best agencies also tend to deliver an element of execution, which is the other area freelancers or contractors can excel at: technical execution. “When you need to be highly flexible as a team and to be able to execute and do things pretty quickly with top talent, outsourcing is the way to go. This is especially so when you don’t want to deal with onboarding or education about the latest trends and techniques. Agencies are staffed with people with the right expertise, so your ROI with fractional resources will be much higher than hiring each position before your company is ready.” Another space that consultants play well in is temporary scale. If you have a huge project that your key resource is working on (for example, your marketing ops person is trying to fix the data flow between marketing and sales), that resource won’t have enough time for day-to-day operations. So it’s best to hire someone fractionally to do your campaign management and daily operations so they don’t fall through the cracks. “Consultants can come in at pivotal points of change. These pivotal points of change can be a system change or a new market opportunity. Having a consultant come in and help you assess whether that pivotal change will be profitable, if you have the resources to make that change, and how to make that change happen can be very valuable.”
For more on getting the most out of external marketing resources, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast. For comprehensive tips on how to work with those resources, check out Monique’s guide here.