“The Dirty Dozen” Marketing Processes that every internet start-up must master

What I learned from running an internet startup.

Over a year ago, I wrote an article on the blog of my company Publisha, saying that I’d come round to thinking that there are 12 core marketing processes that most internet startups have to focus on.

My original article has had around 20,000 views, and I’ve received a lot of feedback on it. I thought it was time to update my thinking.

The marketing processes

Almost every startup needs to get these things right:

1. Drive targeted traffic to homepage
Aim: Get the right potential customers onto the homepage.

2. Signup
Aim: Get them to sign up for a free account.

3. Induction immediately after signup
Aim: Get the user to set up their account ready to actually use it.

4. Activation: keep them going
Aim: Ensure user is still using the site 30 days later.

5. Push them to Pay
Aim: Encourage payment within 30 days through roadblocks and desirable features.

6. Payment
Aim: A smooth payment process with minimal dropout.

7. Retention
Aim: Ensure user accounts remain active.

8. Referrals
Aim: Get users to refer other potential customers to us.

9. Testimonials
Aim: Get users to tell us why we’re great, in a form we can use in our marketing.

10. Upgrades
Aim: Get users onto higher-paying accounts and deliver more value.

11. Re-activation
Aim: if a publisher stops using their account, we get them going again

12. Build your email list
Aim: Get a list of users that are active, engaged, that you can contact regularly to keep your momentum going.

BONUS PROCESS 13. Continual Improvement
Aim: Continually measure and optimise all the marketing processes.
This is vital: it ties all the other processes together.

Why your start-up needs to think in terms of processes

If you’re looking for coherent direction, improvements in your business every day, and a feeling that you’re not floundering but executing a plan, you need processes. In short, they can shortcut your route to the top.

In my startup, I find that my biggest problem is a lack of time, and that holds us back more than anything else. If you find that you are limited by lack of available time then processes will help you immensely. Setting up a process probably takes about ten minutes extra effort, but the benefits soon stack up. If you’re measuring your effectiveness you can start doing more of the good stuff, and stop doing the pointless stuff that’s currently sucking up your time. Better time management alone makes processes worthwhile.

If you’ve ever worked in a big company you have two things: my profound sympathy, and probably some experience of processes. There’s an old saying, “Education is wasted on the young”, the thinking being that you don’t appreciate it until it’s too late. Well, that’s exactly what I think about processes as they apply to start-ups. They say there’s a lot that big companies can learn from start-ups. Well, here’s something start-ups can learn from the big boys.

All that start-up stuff about “We’re nimble” can often be code for “We don’t really know what we’re doing, so we just flit around from thing to thing without a coherent plan and a solid direction pushing us forward”. So the momentum never gets going. I think processes are a great way to give that momentum.

Bigger companies formalise this into talk of “Quality Management Systems” and accreditations like ISO:9001, but you don’t need to get that heavy with it to get the benefit.

Another benefit: as you get bigger and take on more staff, you can already say “This is how we do things round here”, and hand off an optimized process to them, rather than vague notions of what to try.

How it works in practice

It’s not rocket science. It’s not even new – hurray, that means it’s tried and tested!

The idea comes from an American called W Edwards Deming who’s been dead for nearly 20 years, and he was 93 when he croaked! He invented it in America, everyone there told him he was crazy, so he went to Japan, showed it to them, and they used it to thrash the Americans by making things better and cheaper.

If you want to get all funky and MBA about it, it’s called the Deming Cycle, or Plan Do Check Act (PDCA), which you can check out on Wikipedia, but you can go with a light version of it to make sure it doesn’t take up too much time.

Here’s what you do:

Plan: What are you going to do to get the results you want?
Do: Go and do it!
Check: How did you do? This is where your metrics come in.
Act: What are you going to change in the process to improve it for next time?

So for each of the first 11 processes I’ve listed above, this is what we do. Process number 12 is really this Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, where you break out the metrics, the Google Analytics, and all that good stuff.

An example process

Not to go into too much detail, but to take Process 1 as an example, here’s the basic sorts of things I cover in the plan for my own business. No great surprises here:

1. Drive targeted traffic to homepage

Search Engine Optimisation
Search Engine Pay-Per-Click
Facebook Advertising
Joining in on Discussion Forums
Blogging
Commenting on Articles on other blogs
Twitter
Affiliates
PR and press coverage
Each of these items then breaks down into further detail on what we’re going to do. So for the item on commenting on articles on other blogs, we have lists of the blogs that we comment on.

We then have regular review meetings of the processes where we discuss results and decide how to change our processes. Over time, we think this will let us get better and better at what we do.

Why not try it and see how it works for you?

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