In the early days at Buffer, we would have very clear roles as a team. Joel would code, build new features and improve the product. I would write, get press and do guest blogging to drive signups.
For a start, this worked very well. As we moved on, it felt as something was missing. The clear split between what each person was working on meant one thing. Only one brain contributed to the product and only one brain contributed to the marketing. But that’s not how startups work, there are no departments. To speak in Steve Blank’s words:
“A Startup is not a smaller version of a large company“
As we changed this, what we soon discovered was this. Joel’s ideas on guest blogging or pitching for press were very successful and did far better than some of mine. So we switched to brainstorming ideas for marketing as a team and leaving only the execution to myself.
Today, we have internalized this even further with each press push or marketing effort. And what’s most important, nearly everyone on the team also puts stuff out there that directly brands and markets us, oftentimes completely unknowingly:
Joel has become a very prolific blogger writing about his experience building Buffer. At the same time, my Co-Founder Tom has started to blog about the technical challenges we are facing at Buffer and open sourcing code libraries.
Here is one of the good things that can come of this. Lifehacker picked up several posts, as did MongoDB:
Realtime Analytics at Buffer with MongoDB http://t.co/vaTeez60— MongoDB (@MongoDB) June 6, 2012
New people that come on board, like Tom A. started to blog amazing posts on his experiences too. All rake in an incredible number of signups, that weren’t even intended in the first place.
This is definitely a path we want to continue. A company we learnt from a lot and who does this exceptionally well is HubSpot. For a start HubSpot’s CTO, Dharmesh Shah runs OnStartups, one of the most popular startup blogs on the web. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to generate a considerable number of leads from there.
What is more, they have people, who are very well known and who work on building their own presence on the web. And at the same time, that is what helps HubSpot bring in new customers. A couple of examples that come to mind are Dan Zarrella, Laura ‘Pistachio’ Fitton or David Cancel.
Just check out the links to their names. They do amazing things building their personal brand and at the same time spreading the word for their company.
Marketing is about telling stories
How can the person heading support on your team help with marketing? How can your top notch engineer help with marketing? And what about the UX designer you just hired?
Marketing I believe, at the very heart is really just about telling stories. And everyone on your team has amazing stories to tell. As a startup, you collect an insane amount of experiences throughout the day, defined very succinctly as what I would call “Paul Graham’s Law”:
“Economically, you can think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into a few years.“
All you have to do is put these stories out there for people to read as posts, listen to as podcasts or view as videos. Imagine if everyone on your team just collects their experiences and turns them into compelling stories on their own or your startup’s blog.
Encourage everyone on your team to build their platform
“Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”Jim Rohn
This is one of the best quotes when it comes to this topic that always sticks in my mind. And it’s not about marketing at all. At the core it is about allowing anyone on your team to build their platform. If you need help, Michael Hyatt, one of my favorite authors wrote a whole book on building your “Platform” describing exactly how to do it.
To strip it down to one paragraph, Joel once mentioned this amazing quote in our internal IM tool to us:
“I’d also very much encourage you to get as much as you can for yourself in terms of ‘reputation’. I sometimes see Buffer as a rocket ship which I’m desperately clinging onto and using to catapult myself as high as possible, both in terms of personal development and in terms of opening further opportunities down the line. The higher a reputation we all have individually as well as Buffer as a whole, the easier it is to “get in” to places we need to.”
This deep understanding of personal self improvement, reflective thinking and growing as a person is what this all comes down to. Marketing is merely a welcomed byproduct.
Gradually, the whole of your team will not only become experts for their areas internally. But also for everyone else out there to observe and see. And that’s powerful beyond imagination.