4 Business Development Tips for Small Companies and Startups

startup1Running any business is hard. If you wanted life to be easy, you wouldn’t be putting in 12-hour workdays, powering through weekends and adding the time you spend commuting to your accrued vacation hours – not that you take vacations.

For driven entrepreneurs who have the guts and determination to turn an idea into a marketable product or concept though, the stakes are even higher. If you own a startup or early-stage small business that depends on a few core employees and regularly faces down failure, you need to give your company every advantage in a competitive marketplace. Start with these four tips for getting your business noticed online and off.

1. Put Yourself in Your Buyers’ Shoes

Whether you’re executing a full-spectrum inbound marketing campaign or pitching your company to a potential client or investor, you need to speak directly to your target audience. A keen understanding of your company’s buyer personas is critical to this effort.

Why is it important to understand your prospects? Even if you have a killer product that should sell itself, you can’t fall into the all-too-common trap of describing it to prospective users in the same language that you’d use in internal communications with team members. As you develop your marketing plan, review your existing customer base to identify key “types” within it.

These groupings won’t be laser-precise, of course, but knowing that your two most important buyer groups can be roughly described as “purchasing managers aged 34 to 49” and “chief technology officers at medium-sized software firms” allows you to focus more narrowly on these groups – and trim outreach efforts that don’t directly speak to them. If you run a consumer facing startup, the same logic applies. By analyzing your sales data, for instance, you might determine that your core buyers are new parents aged 25 to 34 and young professionals who earn more than $80,000 per year. Focus your marketing firepower on venues and media with which these groups are likely to interact.

2. Target Multiple Decision-Makers

Using buyer personas to concentrate your marketing and pitching operations is key, but you can’t put all of your eggs in one basket. As you target prospective clients, partner organizations and investors, open multiple lines of dialogue within each entity. This is especially important for larger prospects in which multiple decision-makers may play a role in the purchasing process. Don’t rely on a single presentation or call to seal the deal. Within the constraints of your buyer personas, target key employees at multiple points in the chain of command. If even one bites, your strategy will have paid off.

startup23. Cultivate Allies Within Target Markets or Organizations

Build on your multi-channel business development strategy by cultivating particularly promising allies at each prospect organization. Again, buyer personas are critical here: With a keen understanding of each decision-maker’s background and objectives, you can craft a pitch that hits on their biggest pain points and turns them into forceful advocates for your firm. Even if you don’t close the sale or secure the financing commitment at the first point of contact, these beneficial relationships can keep your company top-of-mind with the C-level employees who may make the final call.

4. Generate Relevant, Positive Online Press

Every firm needs a fully optimized Web presence, but startups that lack sales momentum or established customer bases need to be especially aggressive in this department. Pay careful attention to what current and potential customers say about you. Negative reviews or blog posts about your products can generate a wave of poor press. While you shouldn’t resort to sketchy tactics like purchasing or generating fake positive reviews, you should counter bad press with positive, reputation enhancing material. Use upbeat blog posts, guest posts, instructional videos and infographics to draw attention to the positive attributes of your company’s offerings.

Do you have an early-stage business development tip that’s worked for your company? I invite you to share it in the comments below.