I feel a little “Benedict Arnold” writing this as I make a living as a Marketer. However, it has become glaringly obvious to me in the past few years that early stage startups have some interesting opportunities to stimulate growth without needing to invest scarce funding in Marketing headcount. When the company takes off, by all means get some Marketers in to help scale. In the meantime, here are the key things you need to do.

1. Build a website
I think everyone gets this one. You need a website, but don’t outsource this! The one hire I recommend you make is a Digital Marketer who gets how to build a lead converting website, understands SEO and SEM.  Your website needs to be a dynamic part of your marketing strategy where you are constantly working to improve traffic to your site from organic search and conversion once they get there.

The next step in maturity once you have the funds will be to make sure you show up in search for the key buying terms for your product. Again, do not outsource! Make sure your Digital Marketer is Google certified and knows their stuff, then turn them loose. They will get farther than any agency because they understand your product(s) and are a part of your business.

2. Keep software to a minimum
Vendors would have you believe that you need marketing automation as soon as you start generating leads. But really, you don’t need it until you are much larger and even then you might not need all the bells and whistles that marketing automation is based on. If you want to email product releases to customers, just use your email system. Lead nurturing with email is starting to become an outdated practice as prospects are filtering and ignoring vendor emails as a standard.

That means that email marketing software (the simple version of what marketing automation is based on) is no longer a must have either.CRM is a tougher call. You are going to want to keep track of your customers and you’ll want CRM functionality as you grow. There are some inexpensive entry level products for startups. But don’t be bullied into it. The important thing is to keep a clear record of your customers, their contact information, the product(s) they have and a way to keep basic notes on your interactions with them. You will have turnover and you’ll want to make sure that customer IP doesn’t leave with your employees.

3. Start a referral program
So if you don’t have marketing, how are you going to grow your business? The answer is with a referral program. Uber, Dropbox, AirBnB and countless others achieved growth via referrals. It works because your happy customers are doing the marketing work for you. They are finding the right prospects that are interested in your products. This is critical to helping you scale because you don’t have the money to have the few precious people who are selling chase down a bunch of bad leads. You need them focused on the highest quality leads and referrals from people who already use your product are the answer.

This is the one place I recommend you invest in a solid referral software solution that can grow with your business. The reason for this is because tracking referrals is not an easy thing. You need to connect a prospect to an advocate across multiple digital avenues and through the sales cycle. If anything breaks or is missed, you can easily give your once happy customers a very disappointing experience.

4. Spoil your customers more than your kids I can’t stress enough how important this last step is. Gone are the days where customers use your product and are satisfied that’s enough. They expect you to delight them. They expect you to treat them like they are precious and valued. This is particularly true in software where you have a long term subscription relationship. You constantly have to be earning their business.

So what can you do? Be proactive and give them value beyond what your product does. Don’t wait for problems to come in, solicit feedback from customers often. Invite them to focus groups with their peers to discuss how to use the product or how it can be improved. Monitor your customer’s use of your product and consult with them on how they can get more value.

And of course, random acts of kindness don’t hurt either. Call them to congratulate them on a successful referral and make them feel special. Send something fun to them in social media or via direct mail just because. If you aren’t giving them all the love and support that a parent would, they just might start thinking they aren’t wanted and take their business elsewhere.

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Care to further the discussion? Tweet me @Trishawinter