The Evolution of Your Startup’s Marketing Hires
If you’re a startup, you might think that building a marketing team upfront will bring results and efficiency faster. Well, it depends. Here’s a framework that helps you see more clearly when and how your marketing hires should take place to bring the best possible business outcomes.
Many companies and startups we’ve worked with have one question that comes up right after they open for business: When should I start hiring my marketing team?
This question raises many reactions. Some people will say you’ll need to have your marketer from day one, even before you think of launching a product. Others will say you should hire a senior marketer, because you’d need someone with experience to take care of your needs. Or you may even think an intern can do all your marketing work – PR, paid media, and so on.
This subject stimulates many opinions; but to me, two of them are key to the point. The first is: You need to afford your marketing spend. You need to be able to pay your marketing team, just as you would need to be able to spend on paid advertisement. The second is: Be certain about your marketers’ profiles. Why hire a full-time PR person when your greatest need is in SEO? This would be a waste of your precious money, and a luxury you probably can’t afford.
These two views seem quite right in general; but they’re no big help if you aim to structure your marketing as flawlessly as possible. That’s why I created this framework: it gives a clearer idea of when and how to go after marketers, along with a 4-stage journey usually followed by startups.
This structure is based on what I’ve seen in the companies I’ve worked with, and on what our team has seen with our clients. It goes from the moment a business consists only of its solo founder, the person who takes care of everything – marketing, accounting, product, HR, everything – until the point when things happen, money flows in, and hiring a team becomes a necessity.
Knowing the right moment
At BDG, our team of 20 consultants does everything in marketing: content strategy, paid media, email acquisition, website development, and more. Our clients are either big companies with consolidated brands or startups whom we may help to grow, in some cases, even becoming their partners.
BDG has two approaches for marketing: we can do strategy, and we can also be the executors. Sure, we excel in both; but down the line, there’s no sense in outsourcing the marketing hard work. In time, you’ll want the consultancy firm or agency to only consult and do your strategy to be efficient, so the natural decision is to hire internally and build an in-house team for the execution.
Sure. But when? And how?
As we’ve seen before, the straight answer for when is the following: Whenever you can afford it, either by bringing revenue or being funded. Additionally, how much you invest in marketing will depend mostly on the nature of your business. If your company is B2B, you’ll probably have a bigger sales team, so you’ll spend differently than a B2C company, where you put money into digital advertising right away.
If we translate this into percentage over revenue, marketing budget – hirings included – usually goes from 5% to 10% in B2B. As for B2C, it’s between 10% and 20% of revenue. This is not written in stone, however. All depends on your goals and the nature of your business. I have also witnessed clients and businesses spend up to 30% in marketing. This is often a decision driven by the desire to become profitable, or to acquire as many clients as possible – and fast.
Now that you know when to start hiring your marketers, let’s go through the how. We will now start identifying the right hires for each step of your startup’s journey.
The Founder: the one who sets the pace
In the beginning, there’s the Founder. She needs to do everything by herself from the company’s very start. In her head, she thinks about hiring as many people as she can for her startup to grow; but she doesn’t need a marketing team at this stage, she can go around it. So the Founder is bootstrapping, exploring free marketing tools, and ultimately, really hustling to get started with marketing.
The Founder does 101 marketing. She tries to get early traction, and he uses all available resources. She relies on freelancers to create blog posts or to populate his website on a shoestring budget, and she’s probably using Canva to have some design done, while exploring all possible resources on WordPress to publish content. The Founder would call her friends to help out on things like setting up Google ads – even if they’ve never set up any Google ads before.
This process may sound stressful and somewhat improvisational, but it is the right way to go. Why? Because at this stage, the Founder just has no funding and no revenue, but she still needs to dip his toe into the water. At this point, it’s mandatory that the Founder has the clearest idea of what is working for her company, and which marketing channels need to be expanded later. But she needs to do it herself for the time being; so she’ll keep playing as a one-(wo)man-band until she has the money to do the proper hires.
The Generalist: the one who experiments
Once the company is ready, either because the Big Check came through, or because revenue is already coming in, it’s time for the Founder to do one of his most important hires: the Generalist.
This is the person who will take care of the breadth of the marketing channels. The Generalist may not be a marketer, but it’s someone the Founder trusts, and is highly organized, so that he or she can run the day-to-day marketing operations as smoothly as possible. Most importantly, this person knows what to do, but doesn’t necessarily know how.
The Generalist is someone who knows where to find the resources, such as by Googling for marketing agencies, picking up the phone to get referrals, or going through LinkedIn to find freelancers. This person will look for content writers and someone to run paid ads. And because you still don’t have tons of money, you have to be surgical about where to spend it. Ultimately, the Generalist needs to drive what I call the Minimum Valuable Marketing, or MVM.
The Specialist: the one with the deep focus
So you’ve reached that point in which your startup has a good breadth of channels, and you have one person who dedicates all of their time to understand where you can invest.
At this stage, you will be uncovering your marketing recipe – and this is what investors look for. They want clear signs of traction. They will ask: Do you have a recipe for growth, and can you scale that? But your Generalist – and the network they built – won’t be able to go deeper into your marketing needs. So your next hire has to go in-depth: It’s time to bring in the Specialist.
Again, making a distinction between the companies I’ve worked with, the most logical first Specialist hire for B2B businesses is probably a content writer. This is because B2B has lots of sales enablement materials – done earlier by the Generalist – that need to go to a deeper level, so you need someone knowledgeable to make that content rise and shine.
What’s also important is that the more specialized your business is, the more specialized this hire needs to be. If you are in tech and you need to write tech-related content, for example, you’ll need to bring a tech writer into your company.
As for B2C, you’re looking for conversion and acquisition. That means, most likely, your first hire will be a paid media specialist. You need someone who can run Google Ads and Facebook campaigns, within other paid channels. This person will look into your industry to bring the right leads, and find the right recipe to understand how much money to spend and how to bring the clients you’re after.
The Squad: the ones who widen the focus
Now that you have your Specialist, and the traction they drove, your marketing operations are more complex. It’s expansion time: you’re gonna build a bigger team, your Marketing Squad.
This is when you need leadership; a marketing director or a CMO should take the reins of your team. This person will take you to the next level through a marketing strategy, driving your vision and bringing in consistent revenue to make your business grow in a sustainable way.
This job is too complex for your Generalist. At this point, this person will probably still be a part of the squad, but ultimately, they will have to decide on one channel to specialize in.
Now more specialists will be integrated in the team, and these hires depend on what your business is looking for. Do you need to focus on acquisition? Or is it engagement and retention?
Again, you don’t have the luxury of spending too much to raise brand awareness and not seeing your return right away, so you have to see where your money is going. At this stage, you need to start evaluating if you can invest $100 in digital channels and get $120 in return, and if that’s the case, can you actually spend $1000 and get $2,000? That’s why you should have your mind on your ROI – Return On Investment. Can I multiply my media spend and have good return on investment? Is that scalable? This is the ROI mentality your marketing team must always have.
Can I multiply my media spend and have a return on investment? Is that scalable? This is the ROI mentality your marketing team must always have.
If you’re B2C, you have a team of three people, soon to become four: you have the Director, the Generalist, and the paid media person. The next obvious hire could be a content person – because at this moment, you’re probably running paid advertising, so it’s time to start building organic traffic and social media.
In B2B, where the focus is on acquisition and sales enablement, you’ll also have three people at this point: the Director, the Generalist, and the content person, and the next hire could be a designer. Up to now, you could have gotten away with having a freelancer to do whatever you need, like sales decks and training material; but from now on, having someone at the office to have a closer contact and interaction will enable a much more fluid and efficient visual marketing.
You may be thinking: Shouldn’t I hire a branding specialist, too? Going through all my past works and clients, I can say that, to this day, not a single one has hired a branding person. They prefer to do it externally, with an agency, a consultancy or a freelancer. It’s not that they don’t want to hire; they just have other priorities for their money.
How marketing hires evolve
Building a marketing team is a history of evolution. There is a logical path most startups follow from birth to maturity, and each phase requires a different approach and specific solutions.
So be patient and wise. Hire your marketers with a clear business vision. Ensure your marketing team has the right people and the right size at the right moment – either if you need to show traction fast, if you want more traffic, more clients, or if you aim at engaging your current clients.
If you do it accurately, you’re paving the way for your marketing recipe, making investors happy and driving sustained growth: the evolution of your marketing team will be your business’s evolution too.