Building the Marketing Strategy: A Blueprint for Start-ups

Recently, I’ve been getting asked questions directly and indirectly related to the marketing strategy for start-ups.

start up

Here are some questions I’ve received:

  • Why can’t I attract business for my tech start-up?
  • How can a start-up achieve its marketing strategy goals?
  • What are the most effective ways for a small business to start marketing with little or no budget?
  • Is the marketing strategy for a start-up different compared to a business that is no longer a start-up?
  • What should a start-up do different with its marketing strategy?

These issues are really symptoms of the same painful problem, which boils down to not clearly understanding what a marketing strategy is and how do you get one. Don’t worry … it’s a fairly common ailment.

There’s a process you can work through that will help you achieve greater clarity of your start-up marketing strategy, which leads to great clarity in your business.

This process might also help you come to understand how to turn your start-up into a success with only the necessary elements, because you’ll know exactly what attributes to take stock in before you start thinking about creating or realigning your business.

1) Narrowly Define “You”

Understanding the characteristics, desires and behaviors of a narrowly defined target market is very hard work, but indispensable to your start-up success. Every marketing book, class or expert will tell you this, but few can give you the magic tablet that allows you to go deeply in the psyche of your prospect.

You can acquire some measure of knowledge from various research techniques, but nothing beats living, breathing, and feeling the same things your prospects do. I once heard Zig Ziglar say, “owners are closers.” You must own the product before you can sell anyone on it. I truly believe that the owner is the customer. Some of the surest successes in history have come from founders who created a product or service to meet a personal need and discovered a business by virtue of doing so.

2) Connect Your Offering to an Established Market

Some entrepreneurs dream of locking themselves in their lab for a year or so and emerging with the world’s greatest innovation. Sounds romantic I know, but if your innovation solves an incredible problem people don’t yet know they have, you may wind up burning through all the money before they get it.

Better to innovate around a proven market, borrow genius from an unrelated industry, or discover an unmet need in a mature market crying for a solution. New products or services are like riders, they need a horse to go somewhere and interact with the outside world. So,  if you have a terrific offering, but you can’t find a way to connect it to a medium to travel, nothing happens, there’s no activity, you end up with a static marketplace. 

Steve Jobs famously said in 1996: “Picasso had a saying — ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ — and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

3) Use Your Competitors Marketing and Advertising

Sometimes entrepreneurs shy away from competition. If market research shows that there’s too much competition in a given area or industry, the thinking is that the market is saturated and there’s probably no room for your start-up there.

Wrong. While it may be true that your neighborhood couldn’t possibly stand another doughnut shop, I’ve found the success of several businesses in an industry, even in the same direct community, can spell opportunity.

If people are already spending money on a product or service then two-thirds of your work is done. Use your competitors marketing and advertising to your advantage. They have educated the market so they understand and value the offering enough to whip out their wallets. All that’s left for you to do now is show them how much better you can make the experience. Few businesses really provide great service. In fact, stealing market share in mature markets is one of the easiest paths for smart start-ups to run.

4) Simplicity is Your Innovation

Much of this article has focused on entering proven markets. While that’s absolutely the advice I’m giving here, know that you must do so with a significant point of differentiation that market easily understands and appreciates. In most cases this can be done by looking at the way most folks in the chosen market operate and find a way to simplify your offerings around breaking the mold.

For example, if people in your service business operate by proposal and bid, come up with a fixed price. If the traditional operating method is custom work, come up with a series of pre-packaged offerings that meet most people’s needs without the custom hassle.

There’s a popular pizza restaurant in California that has one unique pizza on the menu each day. They make it up in big batches and serve thousands a day at $20 per pie.

5) Nothing is in Stone

Here’s the one that can snag small business founders. If you’re in love with your bright shiny baby start-up and all that it offers, you may become blind to the reality the market suggests.

Keeping an open mind and a willingness to discover what the market really wants and adapt accordingly is one of the core advantages of your smallness – remember to use it.

Talk to your customers, talk to your competitors, talk to your employees and remember nothing is precious but what the numbers prove to be so.

Eliminate Competition With Superior Positioning

There are plenty of people out there with exceptional products and services who are losing out to others with lesser offerings and higher prices.

What’s going on with that?

Superior marketing and sales techniques, that’s what. Here’s how to level the playing field (or even tip the scales in your favor).

Wouldn’t selling your product or service be wonderful without competition? Well, it’s possible, only to the extent that a certain type of person considers you the absolute only option.

If you take a moment to read my about page you know that I’m 110% all in when it comes to positioning my business as strategic and educational. This type of positioning is so vital to success.

The traditional approach to positioning involves offering a benefit your competition cannot or will not offer, thereby making your offer the only choice for those who value that benefit. It still works too – look at the insane level of customer service that Zappos offers, and you’ll understand why tons of people wouldn’t dream of buying shoes elsewhere.

For small and micro-businesses, eliminating the competition with superior positioning can be as simple as creating a unique bond with enough people to build a thriving business. Creating a hybrid business at the intersection of disciplines, crafting a better metaphor that communicates what people need to hear, or creating an emotional bond and huge trust based on your own personality.

But I believe the best way is to communicate information that demonstrates a supreme level of professionalism and this is done by creating a new customer kit that explains:

  • What to expect from us next
  • How to contact us if you have a question
  • How to get the most from your new product/service
  • What we need from you to get started
  • What we agreed upon today
  • How we invoice for our work
  • A copy of our invoice

Creating a series of documents and/or having a strategic step that allows you to communicate key information positions and demonstrates a supreme level of professionalism not always displayed by the small business community.

Which makes you the absolute only option!

About the Author:Patrick McFadden is the owner and marketing consultant at Indispensable Marketing, a strategic marketing firm based in Chesterfield, VA. We help small to midsize businesses get the strategy right so marketing tactics get results.

Is Social Networking Productive?

Productive means causing or resulting in something. Getting a result. Producing a fruit.

From my experience the answer then is yes. Social networking is productive but only if  you focus on two things – who you can help and who can help you.

Now, if you accept my productive social networking statement as truth, then you must surely also come to the realization that it’s not a number of followers, Likes, or LinkedIn connections game.

See, in order for other to help you or you to hep others, you must actually get to know something about the hopes, dreams, goals and objectives of the person you’re trying to network with and you can’t do that with a “follow” or a “like.”

The surest way to make social networking productive is to build deeper relationships with fewer people. Likes and follows and LinkedIn connections may create awareness for your brand and open doors for actual networking, but nothing can deliver the fruit or the result of actually helping someone else get what they want or connecting with someone who can help you get what you want.

Sure, all that helping people get what they want might cut into your Facebooking, Linking, and tweeting, but by building fewer, deeper, stronger, authentic relationships in this very manner you can make your social networking efforts very productive.

About the Author: Patrick McFadden is the owner and marketing consultant at Indispensable Marketing, a strategic marketing firm based in Chesterfield, VA. We help small to midsize businesses get the strategy right so marketing tactics get results.

12 Essential Elements Every Marketing Plan Needs

So. You think you’ve got yourself a good marketing plan.

You choose your marketing plan format. You knocked out the first draft. You allowed it to sit for an hour or a day. Marketing Plan

Now it’s time to execute on that bad dog — ruthlessly. So that it has a fighting chance in the trenches.

You’ll want to pay attention to the details like too many objectives, and letting market research trump everything. You’ll want to choose your ideal client carefully so you charge a premium.

This will allow you to shed bad customers so that you have a healthy and profitable business.

But you’re not done. You also must ensure that your marketing plan has all of the essential ingredients it needs.

Ingredients like these, as presented in this list below. Print it, save it, but whatever you do … use it.

 Your marketing plan should include:

  • a description of your ideal customer
  • your core message (vs competitors)
  • your key marketing strategy
  • your communications tools
  • your lead generation plan (networking, advertising, public relations, referral)
  • your web presence plan (yes, with a blog)
  • your lead conversion plan
  • your customer loyalty plan
  • your marketing calendar
  • your marketing budget
  • your key strategic indicators
  • scads of sales, revenue and profit projections

A well crafted marketing plan is one of the most important strategic steps a business takes, but there’s a disconnect. Marketing plans get created, but never used because, once put to paper or ether, they don’t easily relate to the real life experience of a business.

Here’s what’s needed to truly make your marketing plan work.

The 13th Element

Your marketing must have a life and the only way it can do that is if you throw it into the middle of your day to day business. As a document it’s a fantasy and it stops breathing the minute you open the door each day. A truly effective marketing plan must integrate into the reality of the stuff you do each day.

About the Author: Patrick McFadden is the owner and marketing consultant at Indispensable Marketing, a strategic marketing firm based in Chesterfield, VA. We help small to midsize businesses get the strategy right so marketing tactics get results.

3 Core Components of an Effective Marketing Strategy

Living inside the bubble of the marketing world, it’s easy to forget that many business owners  and start-ups still don’t know the three core components of an effective marketing strategy.


A question I saw this week was a great reminder of this. It also reminded me that marketing strategy is far more important to the small business than marketing tactics. Strategy and tactics must work together in order for a business to achieve a measure of true momentum, but an effective strategy must be in place before any set of tactics make sense.

When developing an effective marketing strategy for your business the following three core components come into play.

 1. Who Really Matters

For any strategy and set of tactics to work, they must first appeal to someone. Some
call this your “target market.” The first element, and in my opinion the most important
element, is “who”. Develop your marketing strategy around a clearly defined and
understood ideal client above all. This post titled What is a Marketing Strategy and How to Get One goes deeply into this process.

Using your ideal client profile as the basis of your strategy also allows you to think very personally about how you serve them and how you use your tactics to attract them. Without this concentration on an ideal segment your marketing strategy will often lack focus.

2. Be 100% Different

After developing a profile of an ideal client, it’s time to find a way to appeal to this group.
The only sure-fire way to do this is discovering or creating a methodology, approach,
tools, pricing, product, or service that clearly differentiates you from the rest of the

The market needs a way to compare and differ, and if you don’t give them one, they will
default to price comparison.

You need to search and find that one special way of doing things that your customers
truly value. Again, this post titled What is a Marketing Strategy and How to Get One unveils the best way to discover what your customers really value.

In some cases you may be doing something truly unique, you just aren’t communicating as your core marketing message.

If you don’t take this step seriously everything else you do in terms of marketing will be far less effective. That’s how serious being different is.

3. Connect the Dots

The final step in the marketing strategy game is to take what you’ve done previously in terms of defining an ideal client and creating a core point of differentiation – and turning it into your stated strategy.

When I created Indispensable Marketing my stated strategy was to create a strategy-first SMB marketing brand by consulting and coaching with the heart of a teacher. This strategy contained a narrowly defined ideal client and a clear point of differentiation.

Our mission was to explain marketing in a way business owners can understand and our “marketing with the heart of a teacher” strategy became how we would do that.

Like most effective strategy the gap in current offerings and positioning was what offered the clear opportunity. Connecting your strategy will also include careful study of the competitive environment and that of other unrelated industries in order to fill a need with your innovation or differentiation.

Now, before you determine whether Facebook is better for your business than LinkedIn
or if direct mail is still an effective way to generate leads, start at the point where you will
ultimately create the greatest possible impact – strategy!

About the Author: Patrick McFadden is the owner and marketing consultant at Indispensable Marketing, a strategic marketing firm based in Chesterfield, VA. We help small to midsize businesses get the strategy right so marketing tactics get results.

How to Better Understand a Prospect in 6 Revealing Steps

The steps I’m about to reveal below have profound implications for anyone that wants to join or sell to another organization. Some of my competitors may think I’m crazy for giving this away. But here’s what I understand, “Too much content will NOT giveaway your secrets. A list of ingredients doesn’t make someone a chef.”

Now, I’ll tell you right off that I suspect there are some coaches and consultants that would charge tens of thousands of dollars for this, but you get it for free! All I ask is that you share this with your network and position yourself as someone who shares quality, relevant and helpful information.

I believe that you can understand more than most about a company by studying how its community is formed or not formed. I further believe that any coach, consultant or sales person that attempts to work with an organization, regardless of size, can greatly increase the value they bring to an engagement by helping a customer or prospect deconstruct their own community.

Use the framework outlined below in an effort to better understand or dissect any organization you would like to engage or sell.

How to Better Understand a Prospect in 6 Revealing Steps

  1. Start by researching and documenting every touchpoint an organization uses to interact with and move its prospects to customers. (I recommend downloading my FREE ebook to use the I.E.S. (Informing, Educating, and Selling) Marketing Touchpoints model as a way to audit and organize these.) – What do they do to create awareness, build trust, convert, serve and follow-up?
  2. Move on to audit the brand elements of their online and offline presence. Include things like advertising, events, social networks, public relations, sales and sales promotion, email marketing, and SEO.
  3. Put together a grid of content types – awareness, nurturing, education and conversion. Do they blog, create eBooks, newsletters, facilitate seminars or conduct webinars? Do they have gaps and inconsistencies?
  4. What can you learn about their culture? Do they publicly display their beliefs, can you interview an employee or two, can you research and monitor what’s being said about them online?
  5. Do they have a set methodology for conducting business, working with clients, creating value? Have they named it, are there terms, phrases and processes that dictate a shared language internally and externally?
  6. What do that stand for? What’s their one true thing – even if they don’t know what it is. What does the market really value about them, say about them? Why are employees drawn to work there?

The steps above represent the study of prospects, customers, and brand advocates past and present, and a process that will lead you to truly understanding the inner mechanics of a prospective client. You can make this research as simple or complex as the situation dictates but having this framework to apply will make your research more valuable and consistent.

But, it’s what you do with this information that makes the magic happens.

You’ll possess two things having done this process.

1) The keys to engaging a prospect in ways that your competitors will not even consider and 2) a road map for how to educate your customer or prospect on their own reality.

So, let me ask you this – how many other coaches, consultants, or salespeople are approaching companies with this level of insight?

About the Author: Patrick McFadden is the owner and marketing consultant at Indispensable Marketing, a strategic marketing firm in Richmond, VA. We help small to midsize businesses get new or better results from their marketing efforts.

5 Trusted Advisor Behaviors You Must Embrace Right Now

Do you want to be a successful coach, consultant, counselor, mentor or professional?

When professional service people start talking about being a trusted advisor these days, and they’re doing it a lot, they usually default to things like good advice,  a feel-good process, throw in some consultative salesperson tricks and we’re on the trusted advisor track.

I’ve been coaching and consulting for a handful of years now and with every emerging “coined term” there seems to be an equally reactive rush to embrace the accompanying tactical behaviors and it’s what leads people to do things that don’t make sense.

Below are five trusted advisor behaviors you can no longer ignore as they’ve become universal and cross industries and demographics in undeniable ways. And they make sense!

1. Take notes.  It works in every industry. It shows prospects that they can count on you to remember and do what they’ve been talking about.


2. Provide testimonials. Showcase what third party vouchers have to say about you. This will vary from industry to industry, but examples include case studies, references, ratings, warranties, and certifications.

Indispensable Marketing - The 7 Elements of Small Business Growth - Blurb

3. Strategic noting. Write down something your prospect says and follow up on it later. For instance, if your contact mentioned a large project the last time you spoke, bring it up during your next call. A simple question like “How’d that initiative work out?” will do the trick.










4.  Prove proactivity. Keep up to date on your prospect’s industry, and bring major changes to their attention before they reach out to you. For instance, the sales team at a tax firm should closely monitor the new tax rollouts and regularly offer to sit down with their prospects to sort out how the new guidelines affect them.

Here’s a framework that I’ve dubbed “Proactive Proof” to convince your clients and prospects that your firm is proactive. It forces you to get the right answers to questions that showcase why your clients and prospects should see you as an a trusted advisor.

  • What’s going on inside the company?
  • What’s happening with notable parties outside the company — competitors, suppliers, etc.?
  • Who do the buyers you’re working with report to, and/or who are the influencers in the company?
  • How does this company “keep score” metrics-wise, and how do you help them in what they do?

5. Exhibit chemistry.  Be friendly, clear,  and understand your prospects’ nonverbal cues and then start mirroring them. **My hands are only in my pocket for a reason! ;)**Patrick McFadden at Haley Buick GMC










Question: What do you think about these behaviors? 


Patrick McFadden on The Art of Educational Marketing [Video]

Business Owner and Marketing Expert Patrick McFadden says that ” Educational marketing is all the marketing we’ve got left.”

Indispensable Marketing - The Art of Educational Marketing [Front Page]

He goes on to say, “Teaching your customers and giving your customers the resources to believe you is new marketing.”

What is educational marketing? You’ll have to watch this five-minute video to learn more.

Interview with Patrick McFadden from Owl Train U, LLC on Vimeo.

3 Words That Sum Up the Entire Marketing Process

Marketing is essentially everything you do or say to inform and educate ideal customers. Now, when you have a marketing process in place then you must turn that informing and educating into selling.

That my friends is the entire process of marketing summed up in three words that make up what I call The I.E.S. Marketing Touchpoints.

Indispensable Marketing Touchpoint Process

The idea behind the touchpoints is that you look at each of the three stages and intentionally plan products, services, processes and touches that logically move prospects along to the point where they become customers. I talk more in detail about building your touchpoints in my eBook 7 Steps to Small Business Marketing Success.

If you do nothing else spend some time thinking about the three I.E.S. stages below and you will be miles ahead in your marketing.

How do you Inform ideal customers about who you are and what you do.

  • Who You Are: This is the initial introduction to your company, and for small businesses this is commonly conveyed through your advertising messages, networking, PR coverage and referred leads.
  • What You Do: Once a lead is aware of your company, they can and should be led to dig a little deeper (website, physical location, etc.) to see what’s behind the ads, networking, PR and mentions.

How do you Educate ideal customers about your differentiation.

It may be your unique approach, process, service, product, methodology, packaging, pricing, trail offers, product samples, audits, seminars, nurturing activities, etc. but your marketing materials and sales presentations must be designed to communicate your core message of differentiation with complete clarity.

How do you Sell customers once they say yes.

Do you have an orientation process? A kit of information that explains everything and everyone the new customer needs to know in case of problems or in order to move forward? Is there a clean process to hand a project from the sales team to the service team? (Even if that’s the same person, it’s a process that’s important)

About the Author: Patrick McFadden is the owner and marketing consultant at Indispensable Marketing, a strategic marketing firm in Richmond, VA. We help small to midsize businesses get new or better results from their marketing efforts.

A 15-Question Process for Painless Target Market Research

Target market research is one of the most important types of research you’ll do throughout marketing your business. It’s also one of the most difficult.

I believe that most businesses are uniquely suited to serve a narrowly defined target market or ideal client.

Determining just who that is, and making their description a central theme of all of our marketing communications, is one of the foundational elements of good marketing strategy.

There are countless ways to research, measure, analyze and theorize about your target market or ideal target client, but experience tells me most small businesses don’t have to look very far beyond these 15 questions.

  1. What gender is your target market? Are they male, or female, or an even mix?
  2. How old is your target market? The age of your target market determines the presentation of your brand.  It also affects the tone and message you use when you connect with your target market.
  3. What habits do they have? This describes what your target market likes. Habits are also sometimes referred to as psychographics and relate to values, beliefs, and lifestyles.
  4. What is their income level? Is your target market middle-class, wealthy, or barely able to pay the bills?
  5. Where do they live? Is your target market national, worldwide, or just your local neighborhood?
  6. What are their hobbies and interests? Does your target market share any of your hobbies and interests?
  7. Do they have any special needs or health issues? It’s important to take special needs into consideration when researching your target market. For example, some people who have sustained a traumatic brain injury can have seizures if presented with bright, flashing colors. Does your target market have any special needs you need to be mindful of?
  8. What media do they read? Is your target market avid blog readers? Do they even know what a twitter is? Knowing what media your target market reads will help give you insight into the topics that interest them.
  9. What other websites do they visit most often? Again, knowing what websites your target market spends the most time on helps you understand what topics, issues, and leisure activities are important to them. It also gives you some clues about how and where to promote your company.
  10. Do they subscribe to any magazines or publications? Knowing which magazines your target market subscribes to can be a great source of research. For example, most magazines have media kits available on their websites that detail the demographics and lifestyle of their readers.
  11. What is their greatest fear? Something that reduces or eliminates the fear of your target market  is a powerful means of attracting them.
  12. What is their greatest frustration? If your target market is frustrated over a problem, how can you build your company around the solution? If you can do that, your target market will feel excited they’ve found the answer to their problem in your company.
  13. What is their greatest hope or dream? Does your target market have a common hope or dream you can incorporate into your company that they relate to?
  14. What event or need causes them to search for what you offer? Do you know what causes your target market to seek your help in the first place?
  15. Is there anything you have in common with them? Sharing a common interest, problem, skill, or passion with your target market can give you a huge advantage when building your company. The common ground you have will help your target market identify with your company and engage them faster – encouraging interaction and more sales.

The answers to the types of questions above are not always available, but pondering them in relationship to your target market or ideal customer may allow you to more fully address their wants and needs in every interaction and communication.


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