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Life is good in the T-shirt business In Focus of t-shirt business startup kit

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If you’re a new college grad who is crazy about art and want to avoid working nine to five, what do you do? For brothers Bert Jacobs, now 49, and John Jacobs, now 46, the answer was to drive a used van up and down the East Coast, selling T-shirts printed with their artwork. After five years of barely staying afloat and with just $78 in the bank, they decided to add optimistic messages to the T-shirts. That one seemingly minor modification launched a $100 million apparel business. Today, Life Is Good T-shirts, hats, and other items are sold by 4,500 retail stores nationwide, and the company offers co-branded greeting cards and stationery with Hallmark, a line of gourmet coffee with J.M. Smucker, and dog accessories with Planet Dog, all promoting positive thoughts.

John Jacobs: We grew up in Needham, Mass. My brother Bert and I are the youngest of six. Dad worked in a machine shop, and Mom stayed home.

Bert Jacobs: Both parents influenced us to be open-minded and to welcome ideas and thoughts from all walks of life. When I was 8, I had a seed-selling business, and during college I had a house-painting business called Positive Painting, which may have been a precursor to Life Is Good. I always wanted to go into business, and I graduated in 1987 with a BA in communications from Villanova University.

John: I graduated in 1990 from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a BA in English and a minor in art.

Bert: After graduating, I drove out to Colorado and went to work in a ski town. I delivered pizza at night and was a ski instructor during the day for a year. John was in school in Northern California on an exchange program, and we decided to do a cross-country road trip back to Boston. Along the way, we talked about developing a business together.

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John: Both Bert and I liked to draw and were looking for a way to combine art and business to avoid getting a job. We realized T-shirts could be a vehicle for art. So in 1989 we started selling them on the street in Boston and in places like Harvard Square and Faneuil Hall. As we started the business, we both supplemented our income for a year with substitute teaching.

Bert: Selling 12 to 15 T-shirts in an afternoon was good. On a bad day, we’d sell nothing.

John: A year or two into it, we bought a used van and took the show on the road. We’d chart out six- to seven-week road trips to area colleges.

Bert: We started selling in college dormitories, and the success rate was better than selling on the street. There was a clear demographic target there.

We learned that if you found the girl everybody admired, and she liked your shirt, she’d sell the shirt for you. It was the queen bee factor. We got male friends to do the same in men’s dorms for us. We were selling enough to keep the dream alive and not have to get a job. After 5½ years of selling T-shirts, we had $78 in the bank.

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John: Then, in 1994, we talked about how people seemed worn down by the media’s constant focus on the negative side of information. That led to a keg party at our apartment where we put drawings up on a wall. We had done a lot of music-inspired, cool, funky designs. But when we asked friends to write notes next to the drawings, we got a lot of comments about one drawing [a stick figure that smiled]. We decided to pair the figure with the words LIFE IS GOOD and printed up 48 T-shirts with it. We went to a street fair and sold all of them in the first hour. It confirmed that people were craving something positive that focused on the good, instead of what’s wrong with the world. The T-shirts sold for $15, or three for $40, and we started taking them to stores.

Bert: Suddenly retailers started asking, ‘Does the smiley guy eat ice cream? Does he roller-skate? What else do you have?’ We reacted to what people wanted and started drawing things that depicted the things that make life good.

John: We gave the character our nickname, Jake. My friends called me Jake, and Bert’s friends called him Jake, but when we were together, they’d call us John and Bert. Our design was just different from the edgy, boastful, in-your-face slogans that were on T-shirts at the time.

Bert: Our concept was that optimism is powerful.

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John: We ended up hiring a sales rep to take the product up and down the coast. There was a stretch where we opened an account every day for 70 days. During that time, we operated out of our apartment. We’d drive to the screenprinter, print the T-shirts, box them up ourselves, and mail them.

In the late ’90s we rented the back of an 18-wheeler, which became our warehouse, and got permission to park it next to the screenprinter. Back then our lifestyle meant eating cereal, PB&J, and pasta every night. We started with mom-and-pop stores, then broke into chains like REI and Dick’s Sporting Goods . By 1996 we were making $260,000 a year.

Bert: Kerrie Gross, the girl who lived above us, helped us process the orders. In 1998 we hired her to take care of the office and sales reps.

John: Kerrie is now a partner in the business. In the late ’90s we got our first office in Needham. It was exciting to have an actual warehouse. In 1998, when we crossed the million-dollar mark in revenue, investors came to us, wanting a piece of the equity. But we liked being able to call the shots, so we chose not to go the VC route, and sought a bank loan instead.

Bert: That was the first time we had to draw up a business plan. We got a half million dollars in credit to manufacture our own label of T-shirts. At the time, we were getting T-shirts from local screenprinters and were printing our artwork on Hanes shirts. To trademark LIFE IS GOOD, we had to put hangtags on the clothing, have our own label, and some other things.

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John: We didn’t have a marketing strategy, and when people suggested we do advertising, it didn’t feel right. At the same time, we were getting notes and emails from people facing adversity – like chemotherapy or the loss of a loved one – telling us how Life Is Good T-shirts had helped them.

We got inspired by those people and decided to start a foundation. Now, instead of advertising, we put on festivals that benefit kids who are overcoming violence, poverty, and illness, and promote the Life Is Good brand that way.

Bert: We originally called ourselves Jacobs Gallery but decided to change it to Life Is Good because we loved what the message is all about.

John: At this point, we have teammates much smarter than us in so many areas of the business. They enable Bert and me to focus on what we do best.

In 2012 we began a partnership with Hallmark to create greeting cards and stationery, using our sayings and artwork. We also have partnerships with Smucker’s and Planet Dog. We’re eager to get into other things, like publishing and filmmaking.

Bert: We’re going to become more of a media and communications company. Apparel is just where it started. We can become a billion-dollar company driving positive social change, teaching, and reinforcing the values we think are most important in the world.

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John: Customers are looking for businesses that exist for a reason, and with social media today, transparency and authenticity are a must. People will build your business up if they believe in you, and they’ll tear you down in a heartbeat if they don’t.

Bert: My brother and I disagree morning, noon, and night about the right approaches for the company short-term. But we agree 100% on long-term strategies and the values of the brand. We push each other’s buttons and go at it, but 10 minutes later, we’ll be having a beer. Life Is Good isn’t about us. It’s about how people face the shadows of life.

John: Most of us want to smile, laugh, help other people, and be grateful for what we have. People who face great adversity gain clarity about what’s important in life. Optimism helps us persevere. Life isn’t easy. But life is good.

Our advice

Blur the line between work and play. We spend a lot of waking hours at work, so inject fun, laughter, and energy into the workday. At company meetings our employees play live music, or we might go snow tubing on a mountain. There’s real information shared at the meetings, then afterward we cut loose.

Failures are how you learn, adjust, and stay nimble. At the first trade show we ever went to, we were telling people it was our first grand opening, until a kind retailer told us to stop tooting that we were brand new because no one wanted to buy unproven products.

Be transparent. You don’t have to be right or have all the answers. You’ve got to be able to tell people what’s happening – good, bad, or ugly. Then others can help solve the problem. People don’t like us because we’re geniuses. People like us because they know we’re trying, and they trust us.

This story is from the May 19, 2014 issue of Fortune.

Custom Printed T-Shirts Business Plan of t-shirt business startup kit

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Market Analysis Summary

Your T-Shirt! has segmented the market into two groups, organized by the type of product that they purchase. The first group is customers that desire an already created graphic image to be placed on the their shirt. The second group are those that prefer custom artwork to be placed on their shirt. Your T-Shirt! has decided to divide the market by the products that they purchase because it offers an intuitive, easy method of targeting the two different groups. An additional reason for segmenting the market based on the two products is because the demographics for the buyers of the two products are distinct enough to group them separately.

4.1 Market Segmentation

Your T-Shirt! has segmented their market into two distinct groups. As mentioned previously, the two segments are grouped by the type of product they chose. Although Your T-Shirt! is dividing the market by product type, it is effectively dividing the market by age as well since the customers who purchase the custom artwork shirts tend to be older than the group preferring the ready-made graphics. While this is not a hard and fast rule, it is a fairly accurate generalization.

Graphics — This is group purchases a shirt and has an existing graphic placed on the shirt. This is the less expensive option and lends itself to low production numbers, as low as one, since there is not the inherent expense of artwork creation.

  • Ages 14-25
  • 69% are students
  • Median individual income is $26,000
  • Go out to eat 3.4 times a week
  • Listen to 3.6 hours of music a week

Artwork — This segment prefers having custom artwork created and placed on their shirt. They generally have the image or style in mind and will direct the artist to create it. Occassionally when the customer will not have an exact image in mind but will rely on the artist’s skills to help shape the work. Some of these customers will use Your T-Shirt!’s partner artist, others will have a friend or other service provider develop the art.

  • Ages 24-43
  • Median individual income is $42,000
  • Go out to eat 2.7 times a week
  • Listen to 3.3 hours of music a week
  • 18% are using the shirt as a form of communication for a cause or a message

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4.2 Target Market Segment Strategy

Your T-Shirt! has chosen these two market segments because their demographics (reasonably young) have the highest likelihood of purchasing a custom shirt. Both of these segments are reasonably young. This is important because most of Your T-Shirt!’s products are T-shirts and younger people tend to wear them frequently.

Music is also an important interest for the target markets since both segments listen to and watch more than average amount of music. T-shirts are particularly popular at music events. This phenomenon may be explained in part by the expressive nature of both music and T-shirt graphics. Your T-Shirt! will provide a form of expression, allowing each customer to choose what aesthetic or idea they want to communicate.

Lastly, the business will be located in Seattle which has a young, hip scene. There are many music and other venues that cater to Your T-Shirt!’s demographic and these will be useful in developing awareness of Your T-Shirt!

4.3 Service Business Analysis

The T-shirt design industry is a primarily brick and mortar based industry. Most companies offer either silk-screening or sublimation services to typically local customers. While most of the products are T-shirts, there is a niche of companies that offer these printing services for uniforms, team jerseys, etc. Most of the participants in the industry fall into two categories, those that sell to individuals and those that sell in multi-unit production runs. The companies that sell to individuals are almost always silk-screeners who have a limited number of silk-screens already developed. The customer chooses which one they want and a T-shirt is made. This type of vendor is often the typical T-shirt maker that you see at fairs. The second type of sells most of their products in larger production lots. This can be explained by the fact that for custom work, whether silk-screens or sublimations, it is not cost effective to produce in small lots.

Recently, a number of companies began offering computer-based sublimation enabling them to offer low production runs. The technology the various companies are using, with Your T-Shirt! being an exception, are is in its infancy an is of low resolution. While the new technology allow companies to offer sublimation using computers, the image quality is average at best. Your T-Shirt! is able to leverage proprietary technology as a competitive edge to produce a much higher quality computer sublimation.

4.3.1 Competition and Buying Patterns

Your T-Shirt! has identified three competitors, two are local companies, the third is an Internet-based shirt designer.

  • T-shirt World — This local competitor specializes in silk-screening. 70% of their business is silk-screening with the remaining 30% sublimation. They require a minimum order of 10 with a 2-3 week lead time. This company only uses pre-existing designs for their silk-screening and for sublimations you must use their artist.
  • Shirt Shack — This local retailer is geared toward organizations or teams with production runs of 20 or more. They do fairly good work but are rigid regarding custom work.
  • Design House — This is an Internet-based retailer that primarily offers computer sublimations. Design House has a catalog of approximately 200 images for the customer to choose from. They do allow customers to use their own graphic. The quality of the sublimations is mediocre at best because they can only use off the shelf technology.

Another minor source of competition comes from home kits that turn your ink jet printer into a T-shirt making machine. While these kits do offer some competition, the image quality is not good, therefore this will only appeal to children or the home hobbyist, someone not very concerned with image quality.

The Ultimate Guide to Startup Marketing by Story t-shirt business startup kit

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Starting a business is exhilarating. Unfortunately, the ‘build it and they will come’ theory doesn’t hold much weight and those overnight success stories you hear about are often the result of behind the scenes years of hard work. Simply put, startup marketing is a unique challenge often times because of the limited resources, whether it’s time, money or talent.

You have to be sure every effort, no matter how small, is well-planned and flawlessly executed. And to make it even more difficult, the traditional marketing strategies don’t always work.

Startup marketing is a whole different science. How so? The secret is properly combining the right channels: Content Marketing and PR.

So, starting from the beginning, here’s the complete Startup Marketing Manual.


Before you start laying bricks, you need a solid foundation. A successful startup marketing strategy follows that same principle. Before you jump into marketing your startup, make sure you have the following bases covered.

1. Choosing a Market

It’s easy for startup founders to believe the whole world will love their products. After all, founders eat, sleep and breathe their products. The reality is that only a small portion of the population is interested in your product.

If you try to market your startup to everyone, you waste both time and money. The key is to identify a niche target market and go after market share aggressively.

How do you choose a market? There are four main factors to consider:

  1. Market Size – Are you targeting a regional demographic? Male? Children? Know exactly how many potential customers are in your target market.
  2. Market Wealth – Does this market have the money to spend on your product?
  3. Market Competition – Is the market saturated? As in, are their many competitors?
  4. Value Proposition – Is your value proposition unique enough to cut thru the noise?

2. Defining Keywords

With a clearly defined market, you can begin building a keyword list. You’ll use the keyword list primarily for blogging, social media and your main marketing site. Essentially, you want to build a list of words or phrases that are highly relevant to your brand. Ask yourself this: What would someone type into Google to find your startup’s website?

Start with a core keyword list. This is a list of three to five keywords that completely summarize what your startup does. For example, Onboardly ‘s core keyword list is: customer acquisition, content marketing and startup PR. Your core keyword list should be based on your value proposition. What is it that you’re offering customers?

Tip: Your core keywords make excellent blog categories.

Now you’ll want to expand your core keyword list to include secondary keywords. Secondary keywords are more specific. Take ‘content marketing’, the core keyword from earlier, for example. Secondary keywords might include: corporate blogging, blogging best practices, email marketing how to, etc.

Use free tools to find the keywords already sending traffic to your website. Then run your core keywords through Google’s Keyword Tool and Uber Suggest. The best keywords found through those tools will be identified by low competition and high traffic. In other words, a lot of people are searching for them, but few results are displayed.

3. Defining Success

Success is different for every startup. Maybe success is 500 new signups per month for Startup A while Startup B thinks success is $50,000 in revenue per month. Whatever your idea of success may be, define it early and define it rigidly. Write it down or send it to the entire team. Just make sure everyone you’re working with knows your definition of success and is prepared to work towards it.

Be sure to stay consistent. It doesn’t matter if you’re defining success by signups, revenue, profit or anything else you can think of. What does matter is that it’s tied to real growth ( no vanity successes) and that it’s measured the same way each month. For example, don’t define success as 500 new signups one month and then $50,000 in revenue the next. Pick one definition and commit to it.

4. Setting Core Metrics

Just as you shouldn’t indulge vanity success, you shouldn’t indulge vanity metrics. Eric Ries refers to working with vanity metrics as ‘playing in success theatre’. While vanity metrics are appealing, if only to your ego, they are useless. They are not tied to real growth, meaning you won’t know if your startup is a roaring success or total flop until it’s far too late.

Be sure your core metrics are accurately measurable and specific. For example, let’s assume you’ve defined success as 500 new signups per month. You might measure the conversion rate of three calls to sign up. The idea is to have a few highly valuable metrics based on actions taken throughout the customer acquisition funnel (e.g. signups, newsletter subscriptions, eBook downloads). Don’t try to measure everything. Focus on the key indicators of success.

Tip: Record baseline metrics right away so you can easily determine your growth.

5. Estimating a Conversion Rate

The next step is to assign conversion rates and values. Consider newsletter signups, for example. 100 new newsletter signups per month could be incredible growth if your conversion rate is 20%. That is, if 20% of your newsletter subscribers become paying customers. If your conversion rate is closer to 1%, those 100 newsletter signups might be insignificant.

Estimate (based on historical data) your lead conversion rate. Now do the same to estimate the lifetime value of a customer. If you know how many of your leads convert and how much those conversions generate for your startup, you can assign values to goal completions like newsletter signups. $2,500 per month from your newsletter is a lot more indicative of success than 100 new newsletter signups.

6. Setting a Budget

At the end of the day, it all comes down to the money. How much can you afford to spend on your startup marketing strategy? Remember that while inbound marketing leads cost 61% less than outbound marketing leads, they are not free. Set a budget early in the game and accept that limitation.

‘57% of startup marketing managers are not basing their marketing budgets on any ROI analysis.’

More importantly, carefully plan how you intend to divide that budget. Maybe your blog has been your most powerful tool to date and you want to invest 40% of the budget on it. Or maybe you want to spend 35% of the budget to develop a new eBook or online course. Just be sure you have the logistics settled before you start spending (or you might just lose your hat).

Social Media

Social media is one of the most popular ways to promote your content and reach influencers. Since a great content promotion plan brings potential customers to your website and influencing the influencer can generate thousands of new leads, social media is invaluable to startups. Of course, there are a few tricks to get the most out of it.

1. Choosing the Right Social Media Networks

Startups tend to choose the social media networks they engage on without much strategy. The two most common mistakes are trying to master every network and trying to master certain networks just because the competition is doing it. If all of your competitors are on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, you should be too, right? Maybe, but maybe not.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Reddit, Pinterest and now Instagram, are some of the most popular social networks today. All of them can be great content promotion and community building tools, but they all have unique characteristics. Facebook, for example, is typically powered by your existing customers who enjoy visual posts like pictures and video. Twitter, on the other hand, is often powered by potential customers who respond well to links (e.g. blog links).

Each social network ‘works’ differently, as in, how the community takes, interprets and digests your sharing and content varies. Reddit is often referred to as a very guarded network and detests spammers. Unlike twitter, here you can’t just schedule various messages every day. The content you share in Reddit has to be specific and unique to the categories you choose. Reddit, like other networks, requires a slower approach. You can’t just jump on, run some ads and expect people to upvote all your content. Be mindful of the network and community you are trying to reach, it may not be in the social space you first thought.

Tip: Consider the demographic of the social network itself. Take Tumblr, for example. Tumblr caters to a young, laid-back audience that loves sharing inspiring quotes and funny pictures. If you’re targeting this audience, don’t spend your time on LinkedIn.

2. Defining the Best Times to Post

The idea that there is a perfect time to post a tweet or Facebook update is a myth. If you’re targeting teenagers, mornings and nights might be the best times to post during the school year. During the summer? That’s a whole other story. There simply is no universal ‘perfect time to post’. There are, however, some best practices (according to Dan Zarella).

  • Saturdays are best.
  • 12 p.m. EST is the best time to share.
  • 0.5 posts per day is the best frequency.
  • 5 p.m. EST is the best time to get a retweet.
  • 1 to 4 link tweets per hour is the best frequency.
  • Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays are best.
  • 6 a.m. EST, 12 p.m. EST and 6 p.m. EST are the best times to tweet in terms of clicks.

3. Using a Keyword List

Now it’s time to put that keyword list you created earlier to good use. When it comes to social media, you’ll use your keyword list to maximize your engagement efforts. If you’re marketing an online shopping club for families like MarilynJean, you’ll want to ensure you’re having family and shopping focused discussions on social media.

The easiest way to do this is to use a social networking management tool like HootSuite. That way you can setup search streams of your core keywords. Using MarilynJean as an example, one of their streams might be for the keyword ‘online shopping club’. They’ll be able to monitor all of the conversations happening around that keyword and join in. More importantly, MarilynJean will solidify a reputation in the space.

Tip: Use your keyword list to help target any online ads you may be running.

4. Creating and Using an Influencer List

As mentioned above, one of the best marketing techniques online is to influence the influencer. It will take a long time for your startup to develop a highly influential relationship with thousands of people. Instead, focus on connecting with the people who already have that influence.

‘78% of social media users said posts by brands influenced their purchase behavior moderately or highly.’

For example, MarilynJean might look to connect with a famous celebrity mother via Twitter. If that mom loves what they’re doing for families and tweets about them to thousands (if not millions) of loyal followers, MarilynJean will see a huge surge in both followers and traffic.

Tip: Journalists and community leaders are great influencers as well. Don’t limit yourself to celebrities, who can be very tricky to connect with.

Build your influencer list with a bit of market research. Start by finding popular blogs in the space. Who writes for those blogs? Who owns them? Search for your core keywords on Twitter. Who appears in the results? Who are they following?

Remember that a high follower count is not always a good indication of influence. Look for how engaged their followers are and their follower to following ratio.

5. Setting Up a Blog

Setting up a blog can be quite simple. It’s a matter of downloading the software, uploading it to your server and following the setup instructions. WordPress, for example, is free and offers many amazing plugins. One for example, is Yoast SEO. Start by installing Yoast, a SEO plugin that will help Google and other search engines locate and rank your content. (Other great plugins include Akismet, Calendar, and featured posts) Then, setup the basics like blog categories and tags.

Once the back-end of your blog is ready to go, think about the curb appeal. How does your design look? Ask a professional designer to help you design your blog or give it a small revamp. Then invite ten friends to check out the design and offer feedback. You’ll get a feel for the aesthetic appeal. Remember, design is important as it relates to user experience, but it shouldn’t be all consuming. Your blog is about publishing really great content, at the right time to the right people. Your design should simply enhance that experience.

Be sure your design is also functional. Ask yourself these questions:

  • If I stand back and squint my eyes, does my call to action still pop?
  • Do I have search functionality?
  • Do I have social media information and sharing functions (e.g. Twitter feed, Facebook plugin)?
  • Do I have a blog subscription and RSS feed option?
  • Do I have featured images on my blog’s homepage?
  • Do I have social sharing buttons on each blog post?

Note: While WordPress is not the only blogging platform, it is one of the most widely used.

Startup PR

PR remains a mystery in many startup circles.

When’s the right time to tell people about your startup? Is there value in getting early coverage on industry blogs? What message is going to resonate with writers? How can you maximize the press coverage you do get and translate it into sales? Should I hire a PR firm to help me out?

The good news is it doesn’t need to be such a mystery. Fundamentally, it all boils down to this:

1. Craft Meaningful Positioning Statements

Much like a great elevator pitch should lie in the mind of any entrepreneur, a series of engaging positioning statements is vital. And while constructing two sentences may seem easy, crafting effective statements is quite the challenge.

Start by identifying what the product is and how it will affect others. Think of the product as the solution created to solve a worldwide problem. This is an important measure to remember when marketing and selling the product. Don’t think of it as selling a product. Think of it as solving a problem. Lastly, who will care about your product?

  • What is your product?
  • How will it affect others?
  • Who will care?

Positioning statements combine these three key factors into two sentences that are used to market the product and pitch it to the media. To ensure success, it is important that these statements not only articulate what the product is capable of, but that they clearly describe its value proposition as well.

2. Define Your Startup Sensitivities

‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ – Sun-tzu

By identifying competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, one can better understand how to market one’s product as better. Why is their solution to the universal problem their product solves better than those before it?

Be creative. Use spreadsheets, visual imagery or lists. Harness all of the information available on the product and its competitors, and study it. Look at each closely and determine strengths and weaknesses. If there are others who have an edge, then look at an angle where they are lacking.

Creating ‘the next social network for penguins’ might be your ultimate passion, but be conscious of the fact that you’ve got a remarkably short span of time to engage writers when pitching them. Focus on the one (or two) strongest aspects of your value proposition (what your customers love about you most) and lean heavily on those hooks to gauge media interest.

3. Identifying the Right Writers for a Media List

The importance of identifying who will care about the product is not only relevant in terms of crafting positioning statements, but in identifying the right writers for a media list as well. Any media outlet employs a number of qualified writers capable of telling the story, but you should be careful to pitch only writers who will be the best fit for your product. Though time-consuming, this simple step should never be overlooked.

Determine key media outlets of interest then search for stories with similar themes or relevance to your own. Look at the writers who’ve covered those stories.

Always pitch the right writer for your story. For example, if your product is exclusively for iPhone, don’t pitch a journalist who only reports on Android products.

‘Build your network before you need them.’ ~ Jeremiah Owyang, Partner and Industry Analyst at Altimeter Group

Once you have identified the writers to connect with, utilize social media to engage with them. Build relationships and ask of nothing. Set up private Twitter lists of the writers of interest, and actively respond to them and retweet their posts. Make friends with them!

Relationships with writers are not always easy to build, but the effort to achieve them can mean great story coverage and the opportunity to be covered again in the future. Even if you are not in a position to leverage journalists or writers, you should still be connecting and making those relationships. In due time, they will always benefit you and your startup.

4. Creating a Press Kit

The key to a successful media launch is rooted deep within a killer media kit. Begin by identifying the items needed:

  • Media Advisory
  • Logos & Screenshots
  • Founder Bios & Photos

A media advisory should include all major points that are important to the product, the company and its success. It should include how the product is changing the world and why it is important. More importantly, it should be written and directed towards who will care. The ‘pitch’ should be included in the headline and/or the first paragraph of the release. This is an excellent opportunity to use your positioning statements from earlier.

Include brief and necessary background information on the company and its founders. Enough to offer a taste of the team behind the product. By offering quick stats at the end of the media advisory, writers are given a brief snapshot of the company. Include:

  • Company Name
  • Website
  • Twitter Handle(s)
  • CEO & Co-Founders
  • Launch Date (if applicable)
  • Fees (if applicable)

Be conscious of time restrictions or sensitivities. Is there an embargo present or a set launch date and time?

Remember, most writers will merely skim a media advisory. By ensuring that a media advisory is tight and effective, you’ll increase the chances of story coverage.

Always offer the media options to use as supplementary visuals to accompany the story. Include company logo(s) and relevant screenshots of the product. Anything that offers a glimpse of features and capabilities is appreciated.

Provide a brief biography of each founder and respective photos. What is the driving force behind the company and how have their beliefs shaped it to become the success it is now? Include any tidbits of information that writers could use.

An important takeaway is that your press kit can be your ultimate weapon in securing great coverage. We recommend using a personalized Dropbox folder or Google Drive for each journalist you approach so that you can easily share by inviting them to the folder. It’ll also confirm when they join or view the folder – confirming interest – and hopefully that a story is about to be written.

5. Reaching Out to Journalists

Engagement with journalists prior to reaching out is key. When interacting with writers beforehand, you should request to send information on a story that may interest them. As previously mentioned, by building a relationship first, this request doesn’t come off as insincere. Writers may still decline, but by continuing to build on the relationship created, you could potentially convince them to accept in the future.

Content Creation

With a blog setup and your PR in full swing, it’s time to kick content creation into high-gear. Managing a blog and other forms of content can seem daunting, especially to not-so-great writers. Fortunately, four little steps will give startups the information they need to get serious.

1. Creating a Topic List

You’ve got a good looking blog designed and a great content promotion strategy, but something’s missing. Oh right! The content.

Before you dive right in and start writing, create a topic list. The perfect topic list is based on your core keywords for SEO purposes. Using your core keywords on your blog builds your startup’s credibility with search engines. Start by brainstorming ten topic ideas around each of your core keywords. Where possible, use your keywords in the titles, but not where it feels unnatural.

With between thirty and fifty topics, you can start thinking about writing. But first, put all of these ideas into a calendar. When will each be published? Who will write them? Are any of them in progress? A blog calendar helps you track your topics from conception to completion. Gantt charts are often shrugged off, but for the purpose of properly managing an editorial schedule, they are extremely helpful. Check out the multitude of templates and spreadsheets available for free online like: 90-day calendar, a Google Doc template, or these free guides from Bob Angus.

Tip: Be sure to add descriptions to your topic ideas. You might not remember your main points when you go to write the post three months from now.

2. Knowing What Types of Content to Publish

There are four main types of content to be published (excluding blog content). Like social networks, each one has unique advantages and disadvantages. Consider your options carefully, always keeping your target market in mind. And remember: don’t try to do a little bit of everything right away.

    eBook/Guides: Information products are huge. Offer a free eBook in exchange for a name and email address. Just like that, you have a new lead. You know they’re interested in your product because they were interested in the eBook and now you have their contact information. Now, follow up. Ask their opinion of the eBook and open the door for conversation.

‘Information products have the best margins. If you can get them into a subscription, then you’ll have monthly reoccurring revenue.’ ~ Dan Martell, Founder of Clarity

  • Webinar: Hearing your voice and engaging with you live gives your customers (and potential customers) a sense of ease. Webinars capitalize on this! Cross promote your webinar on your blog. Also, have someone on your team live tweet during the webinar using a custom #hashtag. At the end of the webinar, after providing real value to the attendees, post your contact information. It’s a simple, interactive way to generate new leads.
  • Newsletter: Email marketing is far from dead, despite what you might have read. Make subscribing to your newsletter quick and easy. Don’t go overboard with your email blasts though because if you overuse the connection, you’ll lose it. For the same reason, you’ll want to ensure every newsletter offers real value and is not just an excuse to push a new product. Try offering a discount, a promotion, industry news, or a contest – whatever!
  • Video: If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how much a video is worth. Keep it simple by having an explainer video created or by shooting an introduction video. Put the video on your startup’s homepage and/or blog. You might be camera shy, but statistics show that most people would rather watch than read.

3. Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is vital for startups. First of all, guest posting on a popular blog is a great way to build your reputation in the space. Second, having someone influential guest blog on your startup’s blog is an easy way to drive traffic.

Start by looking for outgoing guest blogging opportunities on the top blogs that are writing for your target market. Most blogs will accept guest posts openly, so look for a writers’ page or contributors’ page. If you’re having trouble, track down the blog owner or editor on social media. Ask to email him a first draft of your blog post idea. Just make sure it’s high-quality and 100% original.

Once you’ve built a reputation, it will be easier to find influencers willing to contribute to your startup’s blog. Create a writers’ page of your own or reach out to select influencers individually via social media or email. When the guest post is published, be sure to ping the contributor so she can promote the post to her whole network.

4. Capturing Emails

Email subscription has been mentioned a few times already. Capturing emails can be divided into three categories: email submits, newsletter subscriptions and blog subscriptions. Email submits could come from eBook downloads or similar offers. Newsletter subscriptions are just that: people interested in reading regular updates and content from your startup. Blog subscriptions are straightforward as well.

Email submits and newsletter subscriptions are best managed by tools like MailChimp, which allows you to easily send well-designed custom emails to leads. Blog subscriptions, on the other hand, are best managed by tools like Feedburner, which allows you to automatically notify leads when you published new blog content.

Test and Iterate

By now, your marketing strategy is in full motion. Of course, no one gets it perfect on the first try and there’s always room for improvement. That’s where testing and iteration comes into play. Remember back to the core metrics and definition of success from earlier. Keep those two things in mind here.

1. Setting Up Analytics Tools

The key to measuring success is a great analytics tool. If you need a no-frills solution, check out Google Analytics. It’ll give you the basics and, over time, you will learn to master the somewhat complicated behind-the-scenes mechanics of it. If you want something more user-friendly and advanced, tools like KISSmetrics are always available.

Your experience setting up your analytics tool will be different depending on the solution you choose. However, all analytics tools will have you insert a snippet of code on your webpages, which allows them to track visits and events. Be sure to look for analytics tools that are committed to preserving fast load times, like Measurely. Some codes leave visitors waiting for the website to load, which can increase bounce rate dramatically.

2. Measuring Against Benchmarks

Earlier, you recorded your baseline metrics, which you’ll use as benchmarks going forward. Ideally, you’re measuring week over week and month over month growth. If you make the mistake of waiting for solely month over month data, you could be too late. Each week, compare your core metrics to the week before. Some give and take is normal. Each month, do the same. Here, you should look for consistent growth.

‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’ ~Peter Drucker, Management Consultant

When you see significant growth or decline, be sure to attribute it to some event(s). For example, a tweet that went viral or a newsletter that was a huge disaster. Isolate what you did differently and either replicate it or avoid it going forward. Don’t just measure your data – act on it!

3. Brainstorming Creative New Ideas

While tweaking what you’re already doing is great, coming up with brand new ideas is even better. It’s not enough to only iterate and optimize what you’ve been doing. The most successful startups are always trying creative new things. Maybe a social contest, a funny video, a new online course, a clever PR angle – the list is endless.

Many of your new and innovative ideas can easily fail, but the few that succeed will be well worth it. Never get complacent! As a startup, the name of the game is agility, flexibility and thinking forward.

Best Practices

What are the industry experts saying? What are the top startups doing? Here are three startup marketing best practices.

1. Sell the Solution

Too many startups focus on the problem instead of the solution. It makes sense, of course. Founders design a solution for the problem, which makes the problem a founder’s first love. Unfortunately, it’s the solution that appeals to potential customers. Realistically, there are hundreds of products that could solve the problem of, for example, low productivity. What makes your solution the perfect choice?

2. Have a Compelling Story

Storytelling is a powerful sales tool. Just ask Seth Godin! If you have a compelling story, use it. How did you come up with your solution? Did you struggle in the beginning? Are you still struggling? Use your story to differentiate yourself from the competition. Startup marketing is all about the customer and establishing an authentic relationship. Having a relatable story to tell is a fast-track.

3. Use All Your Resources

Your team is arguably one of your biggest marketing tools. Their passion for what your startup is doing is called evangelism. Use it to your advantage. Send them out into the world excited to tell your startup’s story to anyone they meet. But don’t stop there. Ride the buzz from a trending topic by writing a blog post on it or creating a video about it. Run a contest around a major holiday to drum up some hype. Be sure you’re not overlooking any marketing resources, big or small.


Startup marketing is a complex science. Some great ideas have failed due to a lack of media attention and customer awareness. Others have gone under thanks to a poor strategy. Still, other great ideas have spiraled to billion dollar fame! Well, founders everywhere can stop searching for that elusive secret to startup marketing success. It’s simply the sweet spot between content marketing and PR.

About the Author: Renée Warren is the Co-Founder of Onboardly, a company focused on helping funded technology startups be more visible and acquire more customers. They do this through Content Marketing, startup PR and Social Media. Subscribe to their blog here!

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