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Let’s tackle something I see all too often: Startups throwing their first round of funding at a marketing agency. It might seem like a no-brainer to get your name out there, but this is a trap.

First off, let’s talk about what a marketing agency really is. They’re like those guys who stand on the side of the road holding up a sign for a furniture sale. They might catch your attention for a moment, but are they really going to convince you to buy a couch? Probably not.

Now, imagine that you’re a startup with a cool new product. You’ve got a limited amount of money, but you know that you need to get your name out there. So, you hire a marketing agency. They promise you the world, telling you that they’ll get you in front of all the right people and make your product go viral.

But what actually happens? They make you a cheesy commercial that looks like it was made on a flip phone from 2003. They write a few blog posts that nobody reads. They create social media accounts that get no engagement.

Worst of all, they charge you a boatload of money for all of this.

Not all marketing agencies are bad. But even if you do find a good one, think about this: Do you really want to spend your limited resources on something that’s only going to give you a short-term boost?

Here’s the thing: Marketing agencies can help you get your name out there, but they can’t make people love your product. That’s up to you. You need to focus on creating a product that people actually want to use. If you can do that, the marketing will come naturally.

Let me give you an example. Remember when Juicero, the $400 juicer, came out? They spent a ton of money on marketing, but it turned out that nobody actually wanted a $400 juicer. It didn’t matter how many ads they ran or how many influencers they got on board. People just weren’t interested.

Now, imagine if they had taken that money and put it into making a better product. Maybe they could have figured out a way to make a juicer that actually worked and didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Maybe they could have done some real research to find out what their customers wanted.

If they had done that, they might still be in business today. Instead, they spent all their money on marketing and went bankrupt in less than two years.

Other failed startups would have benefited from a comprehensive communications strategy. Here are the key components of what The UpWrite Group brings to the table for emerging brands – or heck, even established companies looking to reinvent how they show up in the marketplace:

Communications Strategy: This goes far beyond a content calendar, although building one of those is certainly part of it. Businesses need to understand their target audience before blasting messaging into the world. That’s where a clear strategy segmented by channel and fueled by competitive analysis comes into play.

Earned Editorial: Especially for startups, earned editorial is one of the best ways to get your product and leadership team into the world. We helped an up-and-coming automotive brand land hundreds of placements in Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes, and many industry trades to help capture what we call third-party validation. You can talk about how great you are all day long, but until a credible platform starts to sing your praises, you’re yelling into the wind.

LinkedIn for Leaders Program: We revamp the LinkedIn profiles of entire leadership suites so they scream less job seeker and more engaged executive aligned with the corporate brand. One of the first places potential investors, partners, customers, and employees go when considering a new company? LinkedIn.  

These are just three components of how we help businesses go to market. There are more. And we have fun collaborating with companies on them.

So, if you’re a startup with a limited budget, don’t waste your money on a marketing agency. Instead, focus on creating a product that people actually want to use and thinking through how to shine a light on it.

Do some real market research. Find out what your customers need and want. Create a communications plan.

And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun along the way.