When you’re launching a new business or have a growing firm you’re trying to take to the next level, the key to gaining traction is effective outreach to your audience, clients and decision makers. Easier said than done, right? For young startups, the hurdles can seem insurmountable. After all, you’re still struggling with name recognition, while bigger, more established firms seem to have all the advantages.
We talked to entrepreneurs from around the world about the biggest outreach obstacles for startups and the approaches they’ve tried that work best.
What is your biggest outreach hurdle, and/or how have you overcome it?
- Gaining momentum for a first-year event
- Adjusting to social media as a private person
- Hitting a brick wall financially
- Following up with people featured in articles and asking them to share
- Focusing on one area, perfecting that area and then moving onto the next thing
- Growing a community without a large marketing budget
- Winning business through speaking
- Getting right in the face of decision makers
Eva Baker, Teens Got Cents, @TeensGotCents
I am putting on a conference for teen entrepreneurs this summer. This is the first year we’ve ever had it, and I’m finding it difficult to break through that wall of hosting a successful, first-year event. I tell people about it, and they say, ‘Oh, that sounds really great.’ They’re interested, but we don’t have any momentum because we haven’t done one before.
Sometimes it gets discouraging when you feel like you can never reach all the people you want to reach to drum up interest and ultimately get more attendees.
Asaf Kopla, ShowUnreal Social Media Platform, @AsafKopla
My biggest hurdle is basically I never was a social media person and barely knew the basics. I’m more of a private person, and adjusting is never easy. But when you have a great idea and want to succeed, you must go for it. You must adjust and do the best you can to reach out to people, so I’m using a lot of tools including Facebook and Twitter. Twitter is an amazing tool for outreach.
Lori Cheek, Cheek’d, @LoriCheekNYC
The financial struggles around my business have been the biggest hurdle I have faced. For 14 months I rented my apartment out on Airbnb while I practically worked out of a suitcase and slept on my friends’ sofas. I sold my entire wardrobe on Amazon and eBay. I was going to do pretty much anything to keep my business alive, and a couple of years ago I hit a brick wall financially, so I decided to take myself onto “The Shark Tank.” They pretty much all quickly shut me down, but I ended up raising five times that much money from an investor after the show, so it came in handy.
Austin Miller, Bookly Cloud Based Bookkeeping, @GetBookly
We banner ourselves as champions to small business, since those are our clients. We try to give them helpful advice that will be shared online. For example, I wrote an article the other week about the top 50 Google Chrome extensions, and instead of just sharing that, I individually contacted each of the people who had created these Chrome extensions and said ‘Hey, we’re about to share this article. Would you be interested in sharing it as well?’ We got over 500 shares on that article, and we’ve done the same by replicating this formula on many other types of ‘listicles.’
Noel Wax, GroundSwell Group, @GSwell_Grp
Our company’s goal is to connect brands with consumers through the causes they support. But our hurdle is enormous—there are 1.6 million registered nonprofits out there, and thousands of businesses that want to find a way to connect with those nonprofits. And no one has built a system, a resource or a marketplace to understand both sides of it. So that’s what we’ve built, but the work is endless.
Our challenge is to go in and figure out where we should focus—is it on domestic violence, LGBT issues, seniors, youth rights? There are so many different causes, so what we’ve determined is to stay focused on an area, perfect that area and then move onto the next thing as opposed to being paralyzed by the data analytics of trying to figure out a way to get it done. It’s been a tall task, but day by day we’ve figured out a way to accomplish one goal at a time and work our way towards a long-term, sustainable business.
Leah Cannon, SciStart, @SciStart
It’s really difficult for young scientists to commercialize their research, so our goal at SciStart is to build a community of scientists and business-development experts who can help young scientists develop a business plan and turn their research into products and businesses.
Our largest hurdle is growing our community without having a large marketing budget. One way we’ve tried to do this is to target our marketing to an audience who will honestly be interested in what we do. We need to understand where our audience really is. Are they on Twitter? Are they on LinkedIn? Do they read blogs, do they watch videos? And then we create the kind of content that will give them important information by reaching them where they are.
Stan Kimer, Total Engagement Consulting
I have a special form of networking. I have about six or seven different ways of reaching out, but through this one area I’ve actually won over half of my business. I offer to speak at local and state human-resources professional groups on my areas of expertise, which are diversity and career development. And this way people can see first hand that I really do know my subjects, and they also see the passion I have for my areas. Then I usually have some books that I give away, I collect business cards, and then I reach out and follow up with the people who have heard me speak. And again, I have won over half my business through people hearing me speak. Over the last five years I’ve spoken at 60 venues and gotten 2,000 contacts through that.
Danita Harris, Rated M Wine Infused Foods, @RatedMWines
Our business sells wine-infused foods and products, so I have a couple of different vertical lines that I deal with—everyone from the wholesaler to the distributor to the end user. They’re on different media platforms, but I try to pull all of them together at the end point, which is obviously the sale.
I get the best response from LinkedIn, where I can be right in the face of chefs, who are the decision makers. Even if I’m going through Ritz-Carlton, I have to go through food and beverage directors, but ultimately it’s the chef’s decision. Sometimes it’s a slow process, especially when I’m dealing with end users, going to our e-commerce outlets and seeing those returns in terms of sales trickling in, so sometimes I wonder, am I saying the right action item? Am I giving enough sales procurement to get them to want to actually purchase from those media outlets?
My sales are both B2B and B2C. The trick to doing both is starting with the B2B; customers go to the events of a corporate client, maybe enjoy their Sunday brunch with my cocktail salt on the signature drink for the day. Now I can then turn that into a purchase on my B2C platform.