The greatest challenge of a 21st century startup is getting anyone’s attention. twenty years ago it was enough to put a flashy neon sign on a street corner and local people would start lining up at your door. You don’t have a street corner on the internet, and no pedestrians, so where do you start?
It feels like you’re a ghost waving at imagined customers in an empty room. So what do you do? You can’t just sit on your hands and wait for something to happen. You need to develop a strategy, and here, I’ll share one of mine with you.
Start with Networking
Stop thinking of yourself as a 1950s factory boss, and try to think like a redditor. Internet denizens aren’t here to be fed slogans and lines, and attempting to do so will get them shoved right back down your throat. You need to be a human being, not a marketer.
You need to find the forums where your target audience is, and most important, where your market niche’s influencers are. You need to be available on those forums with your expertise. Add the forum regulars on your social media accounts. Show the world who you are, show them what you know, and that you have the answers to their problems. This is a significant investment of your time, and sometimes resources, but this is how you earn social capital. Don’t neglect it.
Find your competitors, find the owner’s social media accounts, and see who they are talking to. You need to be talking to those people too. If you did your prior footwork, those bloggers and social media influencers will have seen you on the forums. When you contact them, they will know who you are, and be ready to talk to you, re-tweet you, pin your stuff, and share your content.
Offer Value on your Website
Don’t ever let anyone regret going to your website. You need to have more than products and testimonials on your site. What this looks like varies enormously depending on your business, but in essence, the currency of the internet is easily accessible information. That means that you need skilled writers who can write in a manner that is easy to read, humorous, and concise.
I’ve been working in internet marketing for a while now, and this is the biggest mistake (short of trying to sell a valueless product), that business owners make. In a world where there are tens or hundreds of mostly identical stores offering mostly identical products, there isn’t a reason to pick your store out of many and buy from you. Geography has become an utterly meaningless abstraction with the advent of online shopping, and all of us now have to compete with every single store on Earth that has access to a drop shipper.
Be your Business
The age of formality is over. You can’t show up and just hide behind a store name, because nobody wants a relationship with a store. If you want to be successful on the internet, you need to be a minor celebrity. Not in the kind of way that strangers recognize you on the street, but in the way that the important people within your industry, all over the world, know who you are, and respect you.
To do this, “own it”, in a public way. Talk about it on your personal social media. Talk about it to people in meatspace interactions. You can’t be humble, or separate your public and private life when you’re an entrepreneur, because you need the support of the people in your private life to make it to the public.
Don’t Give Up
Finally, don’t expect instant results. First, you need to REALLY know what you’re talking about. Then you have to really earn the respect of other people who also really know what they are talking about. This stuff takes time. Often, entrepreneurs will give up on their passion because they think nobody is listening, but if you keep at it long enough (at least two years), and keep working on the quality of your communication and the value of the content that you are bringing to the table, people will start to listen. Don’t give up on your passion.
Oh yeah, if you’re starting a business about something you don’t care about, quit now, because you’re definitely going to fail.