The Dos And Don’ts Of Online Marketing For Start-Ups

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For a startup to get noticed and build a customer base, it’s becoming increasingly important to be online. This is where the majority of businesses are finding their customers, building relationships and ultimately making the sales to fuel their growth. 

But with so many businesses accessible at customers’ fingertips, start-ups don’t just have to be online – they need to be able to stand out. This is where online marketing comes in. 

As a small business owner, you’ll have to wear many hats and take on different roles as your start-up grows. Being a marketer might not have been on your list, but with this guide, we’ll help you through some of the base dos and don’ts to transform you from a marketing beginner to an online leader. 

Let’s get straight into the dos and don’ts of online marketing for start-ups. 

Do set achievable goals 

Before you start trying to market your business online, you need to create a clear set of goals that you want to achieve. It’s no good just saying ‘I want more customers’ or ‘I want to grow’. The goals that you set need to be realistic, achievable, and measurable.

That means assigning numbers and values to your goal. It’s fine if the goals you set now aren’t quite right, as you can always review and change them later on if it’s not working for you. But for now, you need a place to start. Some examples of realistic and measurable goals could be: 

  • Generate 10 new leads;
  • Make 5 new sales;
  • Grow your social media following to 100 people;
  • Have 20 people sign up to your email newsletter; 
  • And so on…

You’ll notice here that all these goals have numeric values, so you can easily see where you measure up. Just one thing is missing here – a deadline for when you want to achieve it. This could be over a quarter, half a year, or even a full year. Your goals are yours to decide. 

Once you know your goals, it’s time to work on the strategy and how you’ll achieve them. That brings us to the first don’t of the list… 

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Don’t neglect to plan 

One in 5 businesses fail within their first year in the UK. And the most common reason why start-ups fail is that they didn’t have a business plan. Like that old saying goes, failure to plan is planning to fail. 

It’s more than a cheesy saying, though. The cold, hard fact of the matter is that businesses that had a plan grew an average of 30% faster than those that didn’t. This includes your online marketing. 

A traditional business plan has a section for your marketing strategy, where you detail who your audience is and what you will do to reach them.

That’s not to say that you need to include a detailed breakdown of your online marketing in your business plan – but look at the overall picture and strategy of what you want to achieve and by which channels. This is your starting point to help focus your efforts, rather than jumping in head first and seeing what sticks. 

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Do know your audience and industry 

Your customers are the most important part of your business. And, by extension, they are the most important part of your online marketing. Fundamentally, marketing is just a method of reaching, communicating and building customer relationships. 

To reach your audience, you need to know them. This means doing your research, and finding out: 

  • Your audience demographics, like age, gender, relationship status, and more;
  • What their interests and hobbies are;
  • What their aspirations are;
  • What challenges they are facing;
  • Why they would trust your company.

In addition to getting to know your audience, you need to apply the same level of research to your industry as well. Here, you’ll find out what companies are already out there, what they are doing to reach their audiences, and how your company measures up. 

Once you know your audience and industry, you can build strategies that speak directly to them. 

Don’t obsess over the competition 

Researching your competitors is a significant step in building your online marketing strategy. It can help you find inspiration, and identify where you can stand out. 

But there’s a danger for start-ups to get overwhelmed by the competition, especially if you’re a newcomer facing well-established giants. It can be easy to get disheartened by how many followers they have, or how many people interact with their content. But whenever you view this, try to remember that they have time over you – and with time, work and great strategy, you could be in a better position than they are now. 

Basically, don’t get weighed down comparing yourself. Do remember that you’re looking for ways to swoop in where they’ve missed a trick, and keep doing. 

Do use social media to your advantage 


Over half of the world’s population, a whopping 3.8 billion people, use social media. It’s a massive way to connect with your audience – and needs to be something you take advantage of as a start-up. 

There are many tips and advice we can give you here to help market your business on social media. Especially when we get into the nitty-gritty of how each platform works, and what type of content thrives on which. 

In fact, there’s so much we want to tell you that we had to dedicate an entire guide to it, which you can find here

Don’t try to be on every network 

Focusing on a couple of social media platforms where your audience spends the most time is the best solution.

This is our biggest don’t for social media, and one of the most common reasons that start-ups fail online. Social media is a powerful resource, but it needs to be harnessed properly. That means making sure that you dedicate the right time, content, and strategy to the social media network that you’re on. 

Not every platform is the same. What works on Instagram doesn’t work on Twitter, and vice versa. They all require work and time, which you won’t have if you do the same five times over. You can’t be everywhere at once, so don’t try to be. 

Pick one or two platforms that your audiences use. Then stick to these and dedicate the energy into getting them right, rather than muddy the waters with a half-ditched attempt at having them all. 

Do make it personal 

Online marketing is about forming connections with your audience. Connections are incredibly personal, so it makes sense that the most powerful forms of online marketing are personal. 

Now, personalisation does have a limit. You can’t exactly create a personalised Facebook ad campaign for every single person in your audience. It’s unfeasible, and honestly, against the rules.  

But there are places where you can get personal, which you should take advantage of. 

If you’re replying to a message, don’t use a generic response. Cite back snippets of information that they told you and show that you’re listening. If you’re building an email list, make sure that you use a program that puts their first name into the email copy. And so on. 

Don’t be creepy 

Personalisation is powerful, but do use it carefully. People like receiving marketing messages customised to what they’re interested in, or what they may have previously browsed (hello remarketing adverts!). 

But no one wants to feel like a company is harassing them, or that their data is being used in nefarious ways. There’s a big difference between these two email headers: 

  1. Dave – enjoy your special discount on our chairs! 
  2. Dave, we know you’ve been looking at our chairs. We’ll give you £5 off if you come back. 

One is a nice surprise, one is vaguely threatening. Don’t be creepy. 

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Do keep a regular schedule 

Consistency is half of the battle. Whatever online marketing channels that you choose to use (email, social media, blogs, videos, etc), it’s important to bear in mind that none of them will be a one-time hit. Although you may have one post that performs great and gets you a ton of attention, that doesn’t mean you can throw in the towel. 

The less you post, the more time your audience will have to forget about your business. Or worse, if you post loads and then suddenly stop – your audience might think that you’re no longer in business. 

Timing also plays a key role. To get the best response, you must post when your audience is online and active. Otherwise, what’s the point of posting if no one is around? 

While you’re getting going, it’s good to stick to the same time and days while you build up a rhythm and see what works for your business. This can also help your audience recognise when to expect new content from you, putting them in a more receptive mood. Win-win.

Don’t spam your audience 

Be assertive in what you communicate to your potential clients. Try several ways of communicating until you find the perfect balance.

Consistency is about posting regularly. But there’s a balance between being regular and spamming your followers. If they see posts from you constantly or receive emails every single day, they might get annoyed by you and leave. Or worse, your content will be automatically filtered out and won’t even reach them in the first place. 

There’s no secret formula for how often to post here. It’s about balance and recognising when you need to make adjustments. If you get fewer impressions or opens, or if your follower count drops suddenly, you might be oversharing. It’s all trial and error. 

Do use email

Email marketing might come across as old-fashioned, but it’s immensely powerful. The day it stops working is the day that businesses will give it up. As it stands, email marketing currently offers one of the most lucrative ROI (Return on Investment) rates of 4400%. That means for every £1 invested, you could get £440 back. 

Why would you not use that to your advantage?

If you’re new to email, there are two key things to bear in mind: 

  • Email marketing needs a great email list. That means more online marketing, to gather emails, which you can use for more online marketing. 
  • The subject line is always the most important. Unlike social media where people will scroll past videos or pictures before choosing to read your content, email relies on those very few words in your subject line. This is the make or break of whether people will read on, so you must master the art of enticing people in just a few words… 

Want to know more about the secrets of email marketing? Find the top 11 small business email tips you need to know here. 

Don’t break GDPR 

You need a good email list to run email marketing campaigns. But there are rules about how and where you get those emails from. It’s not possible to just save customer email addresses – with GDPR (sorry for bringing it up!) you need to get express permission to receive marketing communication from you. 

Yes, it’s an annoying protocol. But to stay nice and legal, make sure you have a nice opt-in form on your website that collects addresses within the guidelines.

Do invest in PPC or paid to advertise 

Paid advertising can be a great tool to help put your content in front of the right people.

You’ve got to spend money to make money, right? 

Although there are plenty of free online marketing options that you can use, if you want to speed up your growth and achieve better results, you might want to consider using PPC or paid advertising campaigns. 

Using paid advertising, you can put your message in front of your audience at the right time. You don’t need to worry about getting them to follow you first and hope they see your post – you can guarantee eyes on your business by the right people. 

It’s natural for start-ups to be wary of putting money behind online marketing, particularly if you don’t have much experience in this area. To help out, we’ve put together 7 small business PPC tips that will help you drive a profit and connect with your audience. 

Don’t forget about SEO 

One mistake startups tend to make is that when trying paid advertising, they will put all their eggs into the PPC basket and neglect SEO. 

PPC (Pay Per Click advertising) is about paying to put your website on the top of search engines when customers are searching for relevant keywords. SEO (search engine optimisation) is how you get your website to organically (i.e. freely) be listed on search engines. 

We go into the differences between PPC and SEO here, But fundamentally, PPC is paid and fast, SEO is free and slow. But you don’t have to decide between the two. If you choose to run a PPC campaign, you can work on your website SEO simultaneously to work on increasing your organic traffic and results in the long term. 

So how do you increase SEO? Our handy guide on the 7 affordable small business SEO tips will reveal all. 

Do track your results 

This is one of the most important dos on the list and is essential for every business. No matter what method or strategy of online marketing you choose to follow, you need to track your results and compare them against your goals. 

This is essential for seeing what’s working, what isn’t and more importantly – what you can do next. 

This will involve using tools like Google Analytics for your website, as well as tracking metrics like followers, email open rates, sales, leads and more. Whatever your goal is, you need a way to track and measure your results!

Don’t be afraid of testing and taking risks 

It’s important to track your results. But there’s a danger that businesses can get too caught up in the numbers to try anything new. 

For example, if you find that posting on Twitter on Thursday morning is getting a lot of attention, there’s a temptation to do nothing but that. And although that’s good in theory, you’re assuming no other time frame will beat that. If you’ve never tried posting on a Saturday afternoon instead, how do you know what frame is better? 

It will take a while to figure out what works and what doesn’t for your business. But one thing you should never lose is the ability to test new ideas and take risks. In doing that, you’ll find your best marketing opportunities. 

Want more inspiration for your online marketing? 

You’ve come to the right place. Find all the guides, tips, and inspiration that you need to make your business stand out online here at Business4Beginners.

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Author
Business4Beginners has been advising new businesses owners since 2013. The founder, Paul Bryant, has created, grown and sold several successful businesses and remains the editor and fact-checker of all content published on the site.
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