One of the questions we try to ask during the early phase of a startup marketing engagement is “what is your marketing budget?” Some executives look a bit stricken by the question. Blank looks are common. Mostly, we ask this question because all of our experience from both successful startups and large public companies tells us that success depends upon having a plan. And having a plan means having a budget.
We used to try to have a conversation about an annual marketing budget. But for many early-stage organizations, it’s unrealistic to expect that an annual program budget of $300,000 to $500,000 will get earmarked for marketing. After funding baseline programs like PR and the website, it’s a fight for dollars.
Typically, we budget at the initiative or program level on a quarterly basis and we take an incremental view of planning. It’s very common to turn on a marketing initiative and measure results at the end of three months before deciding to sustain or increase the investment level in the program. The focus today is on piloting a new program, measuring and testing results — especially the impact on sales activity — iterating and trying again. That could be a social media strategy to build followers, community and traffic. Or, that could be a webinar series for lead generation. For startups, our advice is to plan at the marketing program level, measure results, iterate, and then scale. And remember, what gets measured gets funded.