5 Critical Mistakes That Can Kill Any Startup

Just believing in your product or service isn’t enough. Is your startup scalable? Is it marketable? If no, you’re probably making some of these mistakes.

5 Critical Mistakes That Can Kill Any Startup
[Image: Flickr user Kelly Sikkema]

You’re an entrepreneur. You believe in the product or service that you’ve built. But then sales stall. What went wrong?


The truth is that over half of all small businesses are gone within five years, and only 30 percent ever make it to ten years. That’s because most entrepreneurs have great ideas for products and services, but they don’t know how to market them. Here are the five most common marketing mistakes to avoid:

1. Not asking your customers what they think of your product and not listening to their feedback.

Not having a product or service that the market really wants is one of the biggest mistakes startups make and one of the leading reasons that fewer than 5 percent ever achieve their growth targets. Some people can divine what prospects want, but most mortal entrepreneurs need to talk to their market.

The problem arises because many entrepreneurs set out with a very strong belief in what they’re doing, and resist being told otherwise. Show your customers what you’re doing and get their input. If you’re following the Lean Startup approach this can mean creating an approximate version of your final product and getting one or two “pilot” sales that you can learn from. You’d be surprised at how many companies are willing to invest in “pilot” projects.

2. Not building a “converting website.”

Most startup websites aren’t built to sell. They’re built to drown potential customers in information. Your website has to be the center of your marketing universe.

When someone finds you, they have to be presented with a very compelling path that leads them to a place where they can be converted from “anonymous visitors” to “known customers”. One such place can be a “resource center” that offers your prospects a range of content that effectively addresses the burning pain they have at each point in their decision cycle (note: that does not mean brochure-ware).

In exchange for the valued content, they give you their contact information. Your website turns from a self-serve buffet into an effective lead conversion engine.


3. Not letting potential customers find you.

Today, buyers are pretty self-sufficient because they can be. Armed with Google, they can find out everything they need to know about what you sell. So when they’re looking, you have to make sure you’re found. That said, the range and scope of social media and inbound marketing tools is staggering and tends to overwhelm even the heartiest marketer – let alone the average entrepreneur who sees marketing as being a necessary evil.

The secret is to focus. Search Engine Optimization is a must. You have to make sure that your web content does a great job of discussing the themes your prospects are searching on. From there, you need to allocate your resources. A blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn can be serious credibility-builders, but they’re also serious time sinks. Allocate the time you spend on social media carefully. You might consider hiring a social media consultant to help you.

4. Not pursuing prospects.

Many startups convince themselves that they can run a blog, a Twitter feed, and maybe some Facebook for good measure, and their marketing is covered. That is, until someone notices that sales seem a little sluggish.

Marketing that pays back is equal parts being found by best prospects mixed with actively finding best prospects. It isn’t hard to identify 50 prospects who, by all rights, should be buying your product, and then targeting them with an intriguing campaign that starts to build a relationship. As those initial 50 prospects move into various stages of engagement with you, you roll out the next 50 prospects, and so on. If you know who should be buying from you, introduce yourself to them!

5. Not measuring your success and creating obtainable goals.


The fastest path to growth is to double-down on what works. The hard part is often figuring out what worked and what didn’t. There are many marketing measures you can torture yourself with, but the most useful metrics will measure how engaged your prospects are with you (how much content they’re downloading from you and how much time they are spending on your website) and how efficiently these prospects are converting to sales (on a cost per sale basis). You’ll need some technology to help you with this, but it’s worth the small investment.

Success at anything requires that the practitioner uses a proven, repeatable system. The same is true of marketing. By creating such a system based on the five principles above, you’ll be able to achieve a high-level of consistency, scalability, measurement and, finally, success.

Drew Williams is a serial marketing entrepreneur and co-author ofFeed the Startup Beast: A 7 Step Guide to Big, Hairy, Outrageous Sales Growth[i] (McGraw-Hill 2013). Drew shares his beast-building ideas at and @FeedYourBeast.