How to Build a Marketing Team In a Startup?

Let’s start with several questions first:

  • How large is the organization to date – 5 people, 50, 500, 5000?
  • Is it a bootstrapped startup, a SMB, an established organization?
  • Do you sell locally, on traditional media (newspapers and radio), internationally?
  • Do you aim for B2B or B2C clients?
  • Are paid ads a better starting point or you’d rather shoot for inbound marketing?
  • Do you sell products or services? Physical or digital?
  • How long does a traditional sales cycle take?

Selling candies locally to kids in a cornerstone shop is quite different from organizing events and webinars and creating complex funnels for B2B deals.

With that in mind, you need to define your marketing strategy – which entails the SWOT analysis, your buyer personas, the buyer’s journey, mediums you’re about to start with, strategic activities to engage with and the corresponding roles you need for the job.

Small businesses traditionally start with a single, T-shaped, marketer handling different activities and experimenting with 3–4 channels at a time. Once one of them picks traction, they hire a marketing assistant who handles this activity.

The first (more experienced) marketer invests in training, continuous experimentation, refining the workflow and exploring the next activity eligible for a full-time hire.

Needless to say, this requires sufficient marketing expertise – figuring out where your audience is, what works for them, how to boost conversion rates and designing effective marketing funnels.

In my experience, 80% of the businesses out there start in one of the following ways:

  • One of the founders wears the marketing hat over the first months/a year, identifying potential venues worth investing in.
  • A marketing assistant is hired to sift through the data and play around with different techniques studied at the university (and read across the forums).
  • Accidentally finding a successful source (through referrals, a marketplace, an on-site venue) which requires a full-time person to handle logistics.
  • Hiring a marketing agency on a retainer for at least a year, in which they build the entire marketing strategy from scratch, defining the complete workflow and tackling certain actions.

We usually work with businesses generating anywhere between $5M and $100M, with some enterprise exceptions with revenue exceeding $10B.

In case we take on a client making under $5M, we usually advise on hiring one or two marketing assistants on-site. They can handle the day-to-day management and data analytics, as well as time-consuming tasks that:

  • Take a lot of time and research, thus costing more if we handle them.
  • Require internal know-how – newsworthy activities for PR or detailed product updates to be gathered by the product/tech/creative teams.

Larger businesses prefer to put us in touch with team leaders since it’s more efficient. From a financial standpoint, smaller brands see the rationale behind hiring someone to manage the process internally (while strategy and high-end activities are tackled here).

Bottom line, there are different ways to build a marketing team. You can start with an agency and slowly build the team in-house. Or hire a marketing director/VP of Marketing to build your team internally.

The remaining 20% of the businesses mentioned above start by outsourcing specific activities to different agencies – SEO, content, creative, strategy. More often than not, they decide to bring this in-house or outsource to one agency (reducing the communication overhead and lack of sync between vendors).

Your thoughts?