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How startup founders can build their brand on a limited budget ft. Kate Walling of Traction Hero (Inbound Success, Ep. 139)

How startup founders can build their brand on a limited budget ft. Kate Walling of Traction Hero (Inbound Success, Ep. 139) Blog Feature

April 20th, 2020 min read

What can startup founders learn from the marketing strategies of high growth, silicon valley tech companies?

Kate WallingThis week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Traction Hero founder Kate Walling talks about her experience helping VC-backed tech startups develop marketing and business strategies, and the specific things she recommends they focus on to achieve exponential growth.

Highlights from my conversation with Kate include:

  • Kate advises early stage tech companies on their marketing and business growth strategies.
  • When she starts working with a new company, the first thing Kate looks at is the product and business model to determine whether there are opportunities to use product-led growth.
  • After that, she evaluates the company's brand and positioning within the industry, and then focused on the sales team.
  • One strategy that Kate has seen several companies use successfully to drive growth is community, and specifically building a community of their customers, users and fans and allowing that community to mostly self-moderate.
  • To be successful, Kate says marketers need to be a part of the larger corporate strategy conversations around what the product is, how it will be positioned, what the tech stack is, and how sales will go to market.
  • Another effective way to raise your brand profile is to work with industry influencers. Kate says that these do not always have to be paid relationships, and that it's important for your marketing team to be aggressive in building relationships.
  • If you have a small budget, one of the best ways to gain early traction as a founder is through a personal email newsletter. This is a strategy employed by many of the accelerators. Send it to friends, family, former colleagues, etc., but NOT clients, and share your journey as a startup founder. You can also use this to ask your audience for help and introductions.
  • PR is another good way to get the word out at a low cost. While you can always hire a PR agency, there are plenty of opportunities for you to directly pitch yourself to local media, and you can subscribe to HARO and respond to those pitches at no cost.
  • Tools like Canva are handy for making marketing collateral that looks like it was created by a designer but really uses templates to look professionally made.
  • Kate's advice to founders is not to try and take on too many things. Find a few channels and platforms that are a good fit with your audience, do them well, test and iterate.

Resources from this episode:

Listen to the podcast to get specific strategies you can use as a startup founder (whether you have a big budget or a small one) to hit your growth goals.


Transcript

Kathleen Booth (Host): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast.

I'm your host Kathleen Booth and today my guest is Kate Walling, who's the founder and CEO of traction hero. Welcome Kate.

Kate Walling (Guest): Hello Kathleen. I love your podcast.

Screen Shot 2020-04-19 at 8.38.23 AM
Kate and Kathleen recording this episode.

Kathleen: Thank you. I'm excited to have you here.

I am going to do a little bit of an announcement for my listeners before we dig in. Um, if you have listened to my last few episodes, you might've heard this, but it's late March, the coronavirus pandemic is happening.

We are recording on Zoom and Zoom is having some bandwidth issues. So just saying, if you're listening, be patient with us. If the audio gets a little funky from time to time, we're going to do our best and hope that Zoom holds up for us as we go.

But, these are interesting times we're living in. Lots of people working remotely, lots of people using video conferencing software. So it is what it is.

But with that said, welcome Kate. Can you please tell my listeners a little bit about yourself and Traction Hero?

About Kate Walling and Traction Hero

Kate: Absolutely. So let me try to make this the short version of the story.

I've been an entrepreneur since a really young age. I started my first startup at 23, which was a consumer facing startup. I've kind of been an entrepreneur since then, although I've had a corporate stint.

I'm in the middle because at one point I realized that being an entrepreneur from a young age means that you don't understand corporate structure and you just hit some walls because you have a lack of understanding.

So I've also worked in a public tech company here in Silicon Valley and now I'm back with Traction Hero, which is a marketing agency for startup companies where right now we provide a lot of tech companies with on demand services just as they need it.

So basically they can email with a quick project they need done and we turn it around in a couple of hours.

So it's really good for companies that have large budgets, but not enough team. Basically there's a lot of those.

And then we're also slowly building out services that are really focused on the deliverable so that startups can say, "I need a market research study done" or "I need a new identity."

Everything is focused toward what needs to happen to get that done. So as you know, when you're doing a lot of projects, you've got to have a writer, a designer, a printer, all these different people, and it's very stressful for marketers.

There's not really been a solution so far where they can just cross that thing off the list and know that the whole thing is getting done.

So that's what we're working toward, is really solutions that help marketers get stuff done as they need it. 

Kathleen: I love that you personally have been a startup founder and that you've done a lot of work with startup founders because I'm personally passionate about that. I have been a business owner. I've started a couple of different businesses.

Having walked in the shoes of the founder, I think you described it so well where there's so many things that need to get done. And that's just from a marketing standpoint, right? You're wearing all the hats when you're in a startup.

You could be the owner, the chief salesperson and the marketer as well as other things. And in those early days it can be really hard to zero in on, what are the most important things I should be doing in order to gain traction?

That is one of the reasons, FYI, that I love your company name. You stay focused without falling victim to shiny object syndrome or you know, working so much in the business and not on the business, et cetera. It's a challenging, challenging time.

Kate: It is. And I think, you know, marketing's been already challenging for a number of years because the MarTech stack keeps getting larger and, and Silicon Valley, the budgets keep getting larger, but your team size doesn't.

But marketing is getting more and more responsibility for profit and loss. So there's a lot of pressure and I think what I hear from clients is, what you're saying, is that this was a different style with Traction Hero.

And that's because I've personally been through the technology accelerator programs.

I am on my fourth startup. I really know what it's like. The interesting thing is that I started this agency model in Seattle. I built an agency in Seattle before I came down to Mountainview California and the model works so well, so it's called scrappy face and it was scrappy, right?

And we just went in and we helped these funded tech companies and we just moved as fast as we could. And we had a great team.

I closed the agency because I went through a divorce and growing a company really quickly in the middle of a divorce in a city that was always raining is brutal to say the least.

But the model was so interesting and when I went into corporate tech, what I realized is that I kind of thought their needs would be different.

What I saw was just maybe limited, but it really wasn't, it was pretty much the same concerns of "I've got money, I don't have enough people to spend it." You know, "I don't have enough hands."

And then marketing has gotten so specialized that you can't possibly hire enough people to do all these things well, like they can't be experts at everything.

So, you know, I'm a big proponent now of having smaller marketing teams, but knowing how to get more done quickly and having whatever workforce you need, that's really fluid.

Kathleen: I love that.  should take a step back because this topic, when you talk about startups, I feel like it's a Rorschach test because the word "startup" can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. And for some people, they hear "startup" and they think little, you know, two or three person company. And yes, of course every startup has to start somewhere.

But then there are startups that are incredibly well funded, VC funded, that go from being one or two people to 20 to 30 people within a span of a month.

When I think the conversation we're having, it's more around that high growth startup, not that little company that's gonna slog along for five years. We're talking about, you know, startups that have a lot of potential that need to move fast.

I think that's really key here. That's the experience I've had working in startups, is that it's all about speed, especially if you're looking for investment.

Because as soon as you bring on investors, there are high expectations. There are benchmarks you have to hit. There are thresholds that you need to get to. And all of that needs to happen really quickly.

And you're right, you know, you couldn't possibly hire enough people to do that and you can't have a team that includes the world's best in everything, right? Because you'd need to segment out each little thing you do and hire a different person for it.

So what's the best way to move ahead? And the other element of that that, I think, is so interesting is this need to balance brand with demand generation because those are two really important components.

And especially if you're in a high growth startup, you absolutely need demand generation. There is no company that doesn't, but brand is really important these days.

How early stage startups can quickly gain traction

Kate: So like, yeah, how do you do all the things? It's so hard and I mean, you bring up a great point first. Defining "startup" is important. I think right now I do tend to concentrate on the tech startups that are scaling and have money.

I also tend to help entrepreneurs that are somehow very well resourced and there's an opportunity that needs to move quickly. Those were the fun ones.

That can be anywhere. It's like there's been a regulatory or legal change and so it's presented this opportunity and you've got to go fast to take advantage of that opportunity.

So that looks different different ways, but it's typically those two categories in terms of entrepreneurs who are working on a smaller project or evolving it.

There's so many tools now that they can use that would save them so much money that I think just having that right tool stack is a better situation.

But back to your question about balancing brand and demand gen.

It's super hard and I think what I used to do is go month by month, quarter by quarter in my corporate role and say "What are the business objectives here? And so what does what makes the most sense?"

So if all of a sudden the sales team is growing from 40 to 90, right? I've got to get the demand gen up and going. I've got to get tools in place to deal with that. And that evolves into other things like what type of sellers are they? How are these tools going to work together?

Whereas if the brand is newer or there's been a change in the industry or there's some kind of potential in terms of content or positioning, you go on the brand side.

I think you just have to kind of reevaluate it every several weeks when you're, when you're at scale, when you're trying to work with scale.

Kathleen: Yeah. It's funny that you say that because I think the last month or two have been the best example of why it's important to reevaluate every few weeks because I can speak for myself.

I had a beautiful 90 day marketing strategy that I finished at the end of January. I'm a big believer in planning in quarters and adjusting in months.

And so I had the strategy put together and I was starting along my merry way, implementing my strategy and then coronavirus hit and blew it all up.

I feel like I, I, you know, I want to do air quotes, "go into work every week." You know, I'm not going anywhere. I'm working out of my house right now. And the priority is constantly changing based on the current fire.

And I say that not meaning that like, the house is on fire and the company's in jeopardy. That's not our case. In fact, oddly we have an increase in demand because of what our product does.

But, it's about pivoting and shifting and recognizing now it's all about remote work and you know, that sort of thing. And that's different than what I had planned out, but when things are moving fast, you gotta be able to go with it.

Kate: You do. And I think, you know, in terms of the virus, it's the emotional roller coaster for us personally. It's the same with business.

And I think it's that way with most parts of businesses, right? It's like, "Oh, I don't know if I have enough toilet paper. I don't know if I have enough this or the National Guard is moving in," you know?

So it's like, every day, assessing where things are and what your needs are. And I'm seeing that with my clients. The first week was about "What should we be doing? Should we do a campaign?" So we do an email and alert people of what services we're changing.

Now it's moved to, "Okay, competitively, what do we need to do? What's going on in the industry? What's the overall campaign, you know, with our overall strategy here?" And that strategy ends up being not just marketing, that's the whole business offering. We need to move products.

But marketing from my observation right now, which is, you know, limited in the grand scheme of things, marketing is driving some of those business questions, right?

Because you can't go to a marketer right now and say, "I need you to do something about this virus." The marketer has to say, "Well wait, what are we, what are we offering here?"

You can't just throw together some kind of campaign or ad without meaning. I mean, this is not a, um, you know, "throw a graphic on it" type of problem.

How do VC-backed startups approach marketing?

Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely. So let's put the pandemic aside for a minute because I feel like we could have an entire episode on that and I may need to do that at some point soon.

My curiosity has been peaked by what you said about how you tend to work with these well-resourced, need-to-move quickly, but potentially bandwidth-constrained companies.

I think what is really interesting about that is that a lot of marketers see those kinds of companies that do grow really fast and they think, "What are they doing? What is the secret sauce? What's happening behind the scenes that's enabling them to go so quickly?"

Maybe I'm wrong, but I suspect it's not that they're just throwing money at the problem. It has to be more of, yes, you need money, but what are you going to do with that money that supports a really high growth kind of scenario?

So maybe you could talk a little bit about that and pull back the curtain on, if somebody does come to you and say, you know, we just got VC funding, we've got to triple the size of this company in a year. We've got the budget to do it. As a marketer, what kinds of things are you doing and looking at for them?

Kate: The first thing I look at is, is there anything in their model that should be evaluated overall for marketing in terms of distribution or influence?

For scalability, like you said, it's demand gen and brand. However, for a lot of things it's, is there something that needs to be built into the product from a marketing positioning standpoint or differentiation to make sure that that scale can happen with the brand and demand gen tools?

That's one of my favorite parts and that's where your puzzles come in.

So if you're a SaaS company, do you need to be offering some kind of certification program because you need more people using the software? What are the different channels? How is that working?

I think getting a grasp on, is there something from a business model perspective that needs to happen?

The other thing is, a lot of companies at that point have some juggernauts, right? Like, we're seeing churn is hitting here and it's too high, or we're seeing these little scenarios happen with customers, or our lifetime value is off.

So we start trying to troubleshoot some of those things so that, that first step is really about marketing and the product and the operations of the business, and then also what needs to be worked out before you scale.

There are usually some major learnings there.

Once those kinks have been ironed out, we start looking at where are we positioned in the industry? Where is brand awareness? And then what is the plan with the sales team?

So if you've got two sellers and you're going to hire maybe one more, that's a pretty basic stack because you don't want to build anything too complicated until you understand, are these relationship-based sellers, are these more tech savvy sellers?

There's a difference in the tools required.

So you can do something more basic in the meantime, just getting them basic collateral, making sure they have that stuff on the brand side.

You start wanting to do more PR, more on positioning and really claiming your spot in the industry landscape.

Then, as your sales team picks up, so when you start getting to like 20, 40, 50 up and up sellers, you're looking at a lot more sophisticated systems. You're usually looking at a change of how sales works.

So if you have inside sales reps, how are they working, how are they using your marketing software?

You get into really complex software decisions, and that's usually driven by marketing.

How can startups use product-led growth?

Kathleen: There's so much there. I have so many questions I want to ask you. Let's go back to one of the first things you said, which is that you actually begin in many cases by looking at product.

So it sounds like what you're talking about is product led growth, and really going in and looking at what are the opportunities to bake something in -- the product that we have that can itself be a growth driver.

I would love it if you could just talk a little bit more about that.

Kate: It's both from a positioning standpoint, and distribution comes up.

That comes up with SaaS companies a lot. And positioning can come up with B2C, right, of like what is this particular opportunity here?

With direct to consumer you see it because you'll see, like, consumer products that are extremely well designed or they're really hip or something like that. So that's where you'll see that brand move play in really big.

And, and usually with D2C, that's part of the initial product development. But sometimes that can come in as like, how do we do that?

Sometimes it can be, with B2C, how do we build a community around the product, right? So some companies are doing a really good job of using Facebook groups.

I think Facebook groups are amazing for marketers right now of, we're going to liberate our whole community and let them build with one another. But what are the rules of that?

So I think there's just a lot there in terms of B2C, it depends. If it's a commodity-based business, it's harder. A lot harder, right? You're looking at, how do we feel different to the buyer? How do we provide a different experience?

If we're not really offering something different, can we deliver it different? Is there really strong brand value that can go throughout the whole company and how would that be protected?

So it really has a lot of different shapes. Think of channel partners or technology partners who are taking our API and installing it.

But is there something more? Is there a way to even scale it bigger than that? Right? Like get like a whole group of individuals selling this thing for you.

So I think it's really out of the box type thinking. And generally at this point, you know, the startup's been going for awhile, they've had some success, they're ready to, you know, commit, and they're ready to scale. They're leaning that way. So it's a really good time to do this work.

How marketers can play a role in the broader business strategy?

Kathleen: You're coming in as a marketing advisor. At the same time though, it goes to the core of the business strategy. It's not just a marketing strategy.

If you're talking about putting an evangelist program in place or changing elements of the product or building a certification program, some of these are business strategies.

So how do you navigate that conversation? Because I think often marketers are really challenged with, we're really comfortable staying in our marketing lane.

But a lot of the times, when we get out of that lane -- and sometimes it manifests as, you know, we're starting to make recommendations about sales software, other times it's like the things you're talking about that can get rocky if you don't do it right -- how do you approach that?

Kate: Yeah, that's a great statement. It's so true with this early stage stuff that I'm talking about. It's typically before a startup has hired a CFO or a senior level marketer.

And so you're working directly with the CEO and they have some marketing resources. They'll have a small agency, they'll have a couple freelancers, right?

Part of their problem is that they don't know who to hire. And most of the time what I tell them is you can't make that hiring decision yet. We don't know what the marketing is, so we don't know what type of marketer to hire, you know?

So I'm a huge proponent of fractional CMOs because I think it's just too early and you don't want to get the wrong person. There's a lot at stake.

And I think a lot of startups at that base, they've got revenue coming in, hire a CMO to come in four hours a week and figure this out slowly.

And who realizes that you're going to hire for that position when you know what the direction is? So that's more early stage. And the company usually has maybe five to 10 employees, but marketing's not built out yet at all.

Later on is where you get really more tricky. You've got someone in charge of sales and they have a particular way that they're hiring. Then as a marketer, you're supposed to bring in demand gen, right?

And the demand gen you need to bring in is a different skillset than the sellers have. And the sellers were not aware of the software that you have to do.

In my corporate role, it was a rollout plan. I started with HubSpot and got people used to this idea, this is what's going on and why.

Then I moved into Marketo, which is super hard.

Kathleen: I just went in the opposite direction. I went from a company with Marketo to a company with HubSpot and I'm like, "Thank God. It's so much easier."

Kate: And then with Marketo, the sales team was growing. We had to do much more sophisticated type rules and stuff too, because all of a sudden you can have a sales team and you start bringing in all these leads and a sales team does not care.

They don't care. And they're not gonna answer them.

And you've got a cultural problem of you have to educate them toward how do you deal with these leads, what it means, their job and that it is, and you have to have support from the management team that this is going to be required.

There's a whole lot and it just really depends on who you're working with and what their background is. You have to take it one step, one day at a time.

So I think it just depends on the team. It depends on where people are. You have to be pretty fluid marketer. You have to be able to say, "This is what I need and it's going to be a process and I'm going to have to get buy in. And so how do I do that?" So you have to be patient.

Kathleen: I think you raised something really important, which is, when you're coming into the job, you're at an advantage because you're working with a CEO.

But just one thing I've learned is that when you, when you're in those hiring conversations, you have to, you have to have a conversation about that.

I might be making some recommendations that are outside of what you might think of as marketing. How are you going to feel about that? Are you open to it? Are you willing to keep an open mind?

You know, really, really figuring out that the personality type of the founder, the CEO, and whether they're willing to listen and, and consider other things I think is so important at that stage of a company.

Kate: Critical.

Specific strategies that startups can use to drive exponential growth

Kathleen: Moving onto something else. You said you started talking about community and I love that topic. I could talk about it forever.

And I guess this is, this is part of a bigger question I have, which is, I'd love it if you could share some examples of what you have seen work really well to fuel fast growth in some of the companies you've worked with.

And maybe we could start with community because I came from a company a few jobs ago where we built a very large community and it was huge for us and it was a Facebook community. Through that experience I became really passionate about that.

So that's just one example but, but there may be others. So, specific things that you have seen really deliver for the companies you've worked with.

Kate: It's different for B2B and B2C. So I'll start with B2C because it's the easy, fun one.

What I'm seeing right now that I love are these Facebook groups around certain products.

This is not a client of mine, but it's actually a product I use. There was, what's it called, the meal delivery company that I was using for awhile when I had really busy days.

It was all plant-based food and then they had this Facebook group and you could join it and people were just sitting there and they let people post whatever they want.

They can sit there and post like "I really hate this smoothie. How am I going to get through this or am I supposed to do this later or not?"

And it's super interesting to watch how that worked because the community moderated the community members for the brand. Brilliant.

People will say, you know, "I did lose weight, I did not lose weight. This is really more about health." And so you start seeing these advocates come up and then they would use those advocates for their Instagram stories and other things.

So that organic way of building a community that moderates itself is really interesting.

Now initially, you have those questions about when do we step in and when do we not, and how do we moderate? I think if you can get by with moderating lightly, but you know, the feel of the brand is so positive, right?

So that's a brand value that you have less of those issues but they're going to come up. But I think you have to have a very careful strategy about how to moderate that.

The other thing that people are using a lot on B2B is obviously these micro influencers. There's some startups paying a lot of money for this and it's all over the place.

Traction on that sort of slowed down the end of last year and now I'm starting to see clients pick back up on interest in that because everybody's at home and online, right? So we're starting to feel like there's opportunity there.

I'd say if you can build your own organic community, that would be ideal, right? If you can't, you can use these micro influencers and that's great content as well.

I talked to someone last week and their product's working and they're sold out, and they've gotten all this influencer marketing and that helped. But then all of a sudden years later, they don't have brand values.

And so when you're needing to do more, you're needing to build content, you're needing to build demand and you're needing to build, you know, other parts of marketing, if you don't have those brand values built out, then all of a sudden you're like, well, who are we? We were using everyone else for the voice.

So you'll run into that for B2B. It's true here.

I think some of this comes to hiring.

So what I've seen work really well is that you become friends with all the influencers in the industry and you sponsor their podcast and you appear on their podcasts and you go to their events and you just kind of make sure the team knows who the influencers are.

And then you do everything you can to get involved with people at every level. You'll have local events and you'll bring the people in that you know, in that city and have them share their stories.

And so it's a constant kind of industry networking. I've seen that work really, really well on the B2B side. But it's definitely different.

Kathleen: It's so interesting that you say that because I've seen that work really well too, where people have formed strategic relationships with industry influencers and sometimes, not paid as you say. It doesn't always have to be paid.

It could just be really showering them with love in the form of, you know, having them on your podcast or going on theirs or commenting and sharing and making introductions.

I worked for a marketing agency for awhile and they did this exact thing and their way of forming those relationships was by offering to make personal branding websites for influencers. That was a great way to get to know them. Then you've done them a favor.

So there are a lot of different ways that that that can be done. I think that's really smart.

How to hit big growth goals on a small budget

Kathleen: You work with well-resourced companies that are able to do a lot of these things. Any lessons learned or suggestions for companies that don't have those giant budgets? What are some things they can do in the early days?

Kate: Oh yeah. I love the scrappy brands and helping startup founders. So I advise a lot of startup companies. I love this part of the work cause I obviously identify with it a lot.

Being an entrepreneur for so long, I think, you know, when founders are trying to grow a brand unlimited budget, one thing I always bring up is never forget about email, because if you create an email list of your friends and family and colleagues and anyone that you meet with, those people become very loyal to your process.

If you share with them where you are and what you're going through and what you need help with, they will help. It will absolutely help.

I've seen that be really successful.

Now your tone has to be right because nobody owes you anything and you want to be entertaining and kind of make them feel a part of it. And that's part of the email structure, right?

Of like, "Here's what's happening and you know, these exciting things are happening, these challenges are happening. Here's how you can help."

That is the basic format that does incredibly well. And that is one of the main marketing tricks that comes out of the Silicon Valley tech accelerators.

They have all their founders do a weekly email and it works.

I, on my own, I've had open rates of like 90% or higher, very high.

Kathleen: I want to talk about that for a second because I'm fascinated by this. I also believe strongly in email.

I also think that people think of email as this old, tired, dead strategy, but there's some really interesting things being done in the world of email right now.

So you're talking about founders doing a weekly email. Can you peel the layers of that back a little bit for me? What does that look like? Who does it go to?

Kate: Sure. So this is not client facing or customer facing. My personal list is maybe 200 people and it's my closest friends, my family members, colleagues I've worked with for years, people that I've met with on this journey.

So it's people that know what you're up to and what you're striving for basically. But not clients.

Clients and customers would get something different. They don't need to understand the process.

So that email list is specific for friends and family colleagues.

And what you do is, every time you send, you add more people that you've met along the way.

I usually start it with like "Hi friends" or something like that. And then I usually say something seasonal about what's happening in the world and that I'm thinking about them because I am. All these people, they're cheering you on.

And then I'll typically say, if you're new to the list, here's a link to the previous email, right? So that there's some sort of context in there drawn into the story correctly.

And then I'll put some kind of update about where I am or what challenges are happening. And it's usually interesting stuff because when you're building a business, you hit all kinds of things in the world that are happening.

So for example, with Traction Hero, there've been changes in California privacy law, changes in California employment law that have really changed the model. And that stuff is interesting. If you're not in it all day long, it's pretty interesting.

So share the challenges you have.

And then I usually say, "Here's the ways you can help. So if you just open your social accounts, we're now on Instagram. Would love if you would follow," and people will, they'll do it.

Or "If you happen to know a friend who knows anything about X, Y, or Z, would you mind connecting me?" They will.

This technique is straight from accelerator programs and it is a good one.

Kathleen: Do you add these people to the list or do you ask them if they want to opt in? How does that work?

Kate: I add them. I often will mention it to them. Like, "I'm going to add you to my newsletter. Let me know if it's okay."

You're not doing it for a business so the rules are different. This is actually a question I'm curious to know. I mean I still send, so my recommendation is, I send it through MailChimp, their most basic template. And the reason why is people can unsubscribe. It does hurt your feelings a little bit more when someone does that you know.

It's also interesting because if sometimes there'll be like a vendor or somebody and if they offer, I've actually had this happen, someone unsubscribed and I was like, then you're not interested enough in my story for me to pay you.

Kathleen: Yeah. Right.

Kate: Like, if you're not interested enough in this email because this is just basically what's happening with my business, if you're not interested in that, then I mean, I don't think that we'd be a good fit in terms of working together. I mean, I'm not bothering you.

It's like once every six months, I mean slow, but I used to try to do them once a month.

MailChimp's most basic template is perfect. And just text. I mean I throw in, maybe, you know, if I done a new logo design or something, throw it in. But keep it pretty simple. And that way people can unsubscribe.

Kathleen: I'm a big fan of not overly designing emails. I mean these days, most people have the images in their emails turned off by default. And so if you've got a lot of design in there, it just doesn't get seen half the time anyway.

And it looks crappy to have a lot of those image boxes. Like, "Turn your image on," you know, it just doesn't look good. So simpler is better all around with email in my opinion.

Kate: Yeah, I know, I totally agree. And that MailChimp basic template's nice. The fonts big, it works well on mobile. It's, it's a nice one.

These emails still take, I'm going to say it like if I'm fast, two hours. They still take time.

You don't want to bother anybody and you want it to be entertaining and you want it to be, you know, uplifting, even if you're talking about your challenges.

The most important thing is tone. I've seen some of these founder emails and if you use the wrong tone, people are like, "No thanks."

Kathleen: So what is the right tone?

Kate: I think it's friendly and I think it's engaging. You know, I don't think it's like, "Hi friends, hope you're enjoying this day. Please like my Facebook page, please sign up, please send me people who should be customers."

It's not about a million asks. People have a lot going on in their lives.

It's more of like, "Here's what's going on with building this startup right now. Here's what I'm trying to do. Here are the challenges I'm having. And that's interesting to people, because a lot of people haven't gone through it or want to go through it. And you know, entrepreneurship is never a straight line at all. 

Kathleen: I love that idea. I mean, that's something that really any founder in any industry can do.

I think for some it's going to put them in a place of discomfort because a lot of the founders I've met don't like talking about themselves that much, which is kind of funny because you're going to have to at some point as a founder. 

But I think that's neat because that's something you can do that doesn't take really any money, that just takes your time.

Kate: I'd say founders who have marketing backgrounds definitely have a hand up on this one.

In tech accelerators, what would happen is I would send in mine first and then whoever in my batch would typically take mine and copy it. So people need examples of this.

Email me and I'll send you one of my past ones because it does help to see some kind of, you know, formula that's worked for people and it's so much easier for marketers.

Kathleen: I love that. So maybe we'll put Kate's email in the show notes and you can email her and say, Hey, I need your newsletter so you can see what it looks like.

So you had, you said you had some other things to be on that and I took you on a tangent with that one. 

Kate: So other things on my list.

Definitely write industry articles on LinkedIn so that you're showing industry expertise and what you're learning. I think that's very important just to start showing industry expertise and that you're connected to the industry.

The other thing I'll say is look for media stories where you might fit in and ping the journalists.

So a quick side story, do we have time for that?

Kathleen: Yeah, go for it.

Kate: When I started my Seattle agency, I had just been through this issue of what's called domain front running, which is when you go in and you're buying a domain and before you can hit checkout, someone takes it from you. So they're capturing it on the domain register thing.

Well, King Five, the big news station in Seattle ran a story about how these guys were making all this money on domain names and how it was such an innovative business.

Well, I got the journalist name and I sent them an email and I said, "I totally disagree with you. This is really bad for entrepreneurs. It's, you know, it's not right. There's some negative things happening that are just unfair."

So they came to the office and filmed me talking about the story about how someone stole my domain name and then sold it back to me for a lot more money than if I'd just been able to push the button. And that was a great opportunity.

I've had a lot of luck. You know, my first startup was around printing cookbooks and I had a lot of luck just calling local news stations and cooking on air. Free PR.

I've gotten a lot of clients placed, um, if you have a consumer based business, there are a lot of news stations that their lunchtime, they'll have like a third hour, they have a third hour.

It's usually lifestyle and you can get pretty easily placed on it if you have some sort of presence and something to talk about. They need people for that lifestyle hour.

So always look for PR and media opportunities.

Kathleen: Yeah. And I would say a great resource for that also is help a reporter out -- HARO. I mean that's a no brainer. It doesn't cost anything.

You subscribe to it, you get an email, however many times a day with reporters looking for sources for stories. It can be overwhelming, but it also is full of opportunity.

Kate: Yeah, if you have gmail, you can put on a label and then go in and look when you have time. But yeah, that's an awesome recommendation.

Podcast interviews are great. You find people like yourself and you have similar topics and interests.

There are websites like Canva that make building marketing collateral so easy and you look like you know what you're doing design-wise and it doesn't cost you extra money.

So by all means, make your decks, make your one pagers, make collateral for all these different use cases. Think about collateral.

Kathleen: Oh my God, I have to stop you and just say, I am the biggest Canva fan girl on the planet. I am not a designer. I do not know how to use the Adobe suite to design anything.

That's the one thing I've just realized. I'm not, I don't have the aptitude for it, but I can go into Canva and make the most beautiful things and I do it probably four times a day. I love it. Yes. It's amazing.

Kate: Yeah. Canva, huge. When you get later on in your startup and you have to have brand differentiation and you know, you don't want to use simple stuff, that's different. Early on, use Canva, print this stuff, have leave behinds for customers.

It doesn't cost that much money to just really work on your marketing collateral.

I think also when you're on the topic of press, look at your local press opportunities, where can you talk at local events, whatever works locally. We'll end up working in different geographies and at larger scale. So learn locally first and that stuff is free. It just takes time.

And also work on your industry. So look, so look at this stuff in terms of, are you being, are you B2B or B2C? So where does that fall in? Then look at your media, look at it local and look at an industry as well.

And then you want to start growing your community in terms of media.

I see entrepreneurs, it's kind of painful to see that they're trying to do all the platforms and it's terrible on all of them.

Just choose the ones that are most relevant and a couple to start and just start figuring it out.

There's some great tools. A lot of people are saying, "Well, I don't want Twitter because it's not working."

Okay. But the thing about it, the people who are on Twitter right now are really passionate and they stay on it. They're a very, very, very passionate bunch.

My favorite Twitter tool for growing a Twitter audience is called Jooicer, which is J. O. O. I. C. E. R. Have you seen it? It's awesome. It's like 30, 40 bucks and will grow your Twitter audience for you beautifully.

So you know, find tools like that.

And again, like we were saying with Canva, you can make beautiful social media posts in Canva since you now have to have more designed content. Use Canva for that. 

Kathleen: Yeah, I love this and I will tell you right now as the head of marketing at a startup, I use Canva, I use helper a reporter out.

I totally, totally agree with you on those suggestions. Those are great.

Kate's advice for startup founders

Kathleen: Well we are running low on time. So any last words of advice for startup founders out there who really want to take that fast path to growth?

Kate: Yeah, I think the important thing is to try to not get overwhelmed. And so what I recommend doing is, do a list of 10 to 15 different things. You can try figure out a small test for that, that's feasible.

Like, if it's an ad unit, put enough money so it's actually worth the test and go through and test them and concentrate on one thing, like one thing a week, step by step by step.

If you try to do it all at one time, you get really overwhelmed and it ends up not diluting the quality of it. So, one foot in front of the other is what I always tell people.

Kathleen: Yeah. That's good.

Kathleen's two questions

Kathleen: Now changing gears because I have two questions I always ask all of my guests. We're all about inbound marketing on this podcast.

So when you think about inbound, is there a particular company or individual that you can point to that you think is really doing it well?

Kate: The first thing that popped in my mind was not what you asked. It was a company that helps people do it well. I really like Unbounce for landing pages. I think you can get a very beautiful landing page up quickly.

I would have to think on that. I think, sorry, I was not prepared for this one.

Kathleen: That's okay. Unbounce is a good suggestion actually. I can just keep that.

Kate: Okay. I'm a huge proponent of Unbounce. There are other cheaper tools, but I really like the quality of Unbounce.

Kathleen: Yeah, they're a great company. Second question, the biggest pain point I hear from marketers is that they can't keep pace with all of the different ways that digital marketing is changing. So how do you personally stay up to date with all of it?

Kate: Being an agency owner, I've spent a lot of time and resources going through MarTech tools and organizing them. If anybody wants these reports, just please email me.

And that helped organize my brain a lot and help me understand if I was doing the right thing or not. So we've done reports where we analyze CRM tools.

There's one on website development tools. We've got one on email marketing and one on marketing automation.

What those reports did, because in my head I just couldn't keep it all straight, was say here are the solutions, here are all the features that they all have comparatively. And then here are the integrations they have.

Because I think what's so hard about MarTech right now is it's not only like I like this product, so I've got 20 products I have to put together.

And when you're going out to buy, it's, it's not a great way for marketers to have to spend time of like, which tool, and having to analyze this themselves.

So one of my goals to help marketers is to say, here's some reports. Go through everything that you need to know and hopefully you can pick a tool or at least narrow it down to two or three that you should get a free trial on before you commit to it.

So I think any website like that, save yourself time on evaluating tools. Find people who've done the research for you. I think that that is really overwhelming.

Kathleen: That's so true. It is. It's a lot. There's so many MarTech tools now.

How to connect with Kate

Kathleen: All right, well we're just about out of time. So Kate, if somebody's listening and they want to learn more about you or traction hero or they want to reach out and ask a question, what's the best way for them to connect with you?

Kate: Katewalling.com is my personal website and Tractionhero.com is for the agency. It's a very landing page type website. Right now we're kind of building, um, by doing the work first.

You can always reach out to me on my email, which is kate[at]katewalling.com or Twitter, which my handle is @Katewalling.

You know what to do next...

Kathleen: All right, fantastic.

If you're listening and you liked what you've heard or you learned something new, please head to Apple podcasts and leave the podcasts a five star review so we can get in front of some more folks just like you.

And of course, if you know anybody else who's doing kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me @workmommywork, because I would love to make them my next guest.

That's it for this week. Thank you so much, Kate. Stay healthy.

Kate: Thank you so much for having me.

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