5 questions every start up should answer – before you invest in PR

I spent the day yesterday acting as a mentor to 16 business women in a Speed Mentoring session run by Motivating Mum. It was fascinating finding out about their businesses – so many fantastic ideas. It was also mentally exhausting deep diving into 16 different businesses in 8 minutes segments!

But no matter what their business, I found myself saying the same things time and time again. And I thought perhaps it would be useful to repeat them here for any other small businesses who are wanting to get some publicity and ‘get their business out there’.

Many start ups create a product or service because that is what they’re able to do.  They can paint, cook, write, advise, run workshops etc. Once they’ve created their offering, they think: how can I get customers for it. They often rush out and buy advertising, try to get press coverage or other things that cost them time or money. What they have done is the age old business failing: make a product, and they will come. Instead, they should be asking, what is it that people need?

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to create a product or service based on your abilities. Because that’s quickest way to getting started, rather than trying to learn an entirely new field. But once you’ve figured out what you are able to do, I suggest start ups ask themselves these 5 key questions pretty quickly:

What problem or need does my product solve?  Think deeper than the obvious here. If you make floor cleaner, are you selling a product that gives you clean floors? Or are you selling a product that saves you time and therefore lets you get on with things you really want to do? Or are you selling a product that gives the home maker a sense of pride, the feeling of being a good mother, a sense of nurturing? (OK, possibly not all that with just a floor cleaner, but you get the idea).

Who has this problem/need? In other words, who is my target market? Don’t simply think: people like me. So many start ups do this. They have a problem (can’t get bogies out of their baby’s nose) so they invent a bogie extractor (and yes, I actually saw these in a parenting magazine this morning). So they imagine that every mum will want a bogie extractor. But perhaps some mums will be happy with a tissue.  Is this a tool just for screamish mums? Mums who have lots of money? Mums who are very health-aware? Fastidious mums? Or perhaps it’s something to be sold to GP surgeries? Think beyond yourself.

What makes my business different from what is already out there? In other words, what is my USP? Firstly, you can’t answer this question before you know what else is out there. Sometimes I think start ups don’t research their market properly because they don’t want to realise someone else has already done it. You need to know who else is offering something similar. You need to understand how your competitors are positioning themselves. And you need to find some way of being different. Try your hardest to be objective here – try to see your product through neutral eyes. You will think your product is better made, your customer service is better, your delivery times faster. Whatever. Your customers will no doubt think the same about theirs. What is the real difference between you? If it’s not obvious, make it obvious.

What are my business goals? Once you’ve figured out what you’re selling, who you’re selling to, what need it solves and why it’s different to what’s already out there, you need to set yourself some business goals. What are you trying to achieve? Sales through your website or stockists around the world? Five coaching customers a week or a monthly workshop for 20 people. Once you know what you’re trying to achieve (and be as specific as possible), you will know where to invest your promotional energy.

And then, finally, ask ‘How can PR and marketing help me achieve those goals?‘ Getting national press coverage when you’re only trying to reach a specific geographic area might give you great exposure and help you build a credible brand, but will it actually put bums on seats or ship product? Figure out what’s most critical, and invest in that first.

Unless you have answered the other questions first, spending any money on advertising or PR is a massive waste and a sure fire way to get poor fast. So before you get too keen to see your name in headlines, take time out to ask these questions first. You may be surprised at the answers.

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