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The Startup Marketing Checklist

I tried dozens of side projects before starting Draft.dev, and now I’ve worked with hundreds of early-stage startups to help with marketing. So, a lot of founders ask me how to get started in marketing when your marketing budget is small and your product is new.

I created this list to give people an answer that is evergreen (not chasing fly-by-night marketing trends), easy to execute, cheap, and provides a proven ROI when done well.

This marketing checklist is a comprehensive, chronologically ordered list of marketing tactics and strategies that you can use to market your startup. The list is free and open to improvements, so feel free to reach out if you have suggestions.

Pre-Launch Marketing Checklist

Your marketing plan starts long before you launch. Market research, planning, and preparation are critical parts of any marketing strategy, even if you haven’t fully baked your marketing team.

Competitor Research

I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it. - Walt Disney

disney image

  • Make a list of competitors (see this list of tools to research competitors).
  • Competitor data to collect:
    • Link to their website.
    • “One-liners” and taglines competitors use.
    • Pricing and business model.
    • Blog/RSS link.
    • Social media links.
    • Key employees on social media.
  • Subscribe to RSS feeds of your competitors’ blogs.
  • Follow your competitors and their key employees on social media.
  • Monitor competitors’ websites for changes.
  • Site monitoring tools to try:
  • Subscribe to industry newsletters, magazines, trade journals etc.
  • Use Google Trends to do initial demand and search volume research.

Customer Research

If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be called research. - Albert Einstein

  • Find people in your contact list who might be future customers. Have 20 conversations (see The Mom Test).
  • Attend meetups or conferences for your target market.
  • Meet another entrepreneur who has a similar or competitive product.
  • Make a list of your competitors’ customers:
    • Check competitors’ Twitter followers, mentions.
    • Look through their Facebook fans.
    • Find people who follow them on Linkedin.
    • Check their website. Some companies list customer stories on their websites.
  • Reach out to your competitors’ customers, find out what they like/don’t like.
  • Create an “early access” list for potential future customers.

PR (Public Relations) Preparations

  • Create list of tech, startup, and industry blogs.
  • Create list of local small business journals.
  • Create list of local bloggers and journalists in your industry.
  • Create a “Media Kit” page (check out this example).

Website Setup

  • Come up with a name and domain name.
  • Write a site tagline and elevator pitch.
  • Create a logo.
  • Set up a landing page.
  • Create “About” and “Contact” pages.
  • Create Pricing page (see this list of pricing models):
  • Consider/test various pricing options:
    • Create a free or trial tier for your paid product.
    • Offer a 100% satisfaction/money-back guarantee.
    • Make product invite-only to start.
    • Offer free/discounted access for early adopters/beta testers.
  • Add social media follow links to landing page.
  • Set up analytics to learn about who signs up, bounces, etc.
  • Analytics platforms to try:
  • Set up error logging, monitoring, capturing, etc.
  • Set up on-site messaging to capture leads and engage customers as they land on your site (see our list of live customer chat tools).
  • Test your website for common SEO, speed, and security problems like broken links, missing page titles and insecure pages (see Checkbot).

Email Setup

See this list of email marketing tools for services that make managing email easier.

Email is the Jason Bourne of online: somebody’s always trying to kill it. It can’t be done. - Unknown

  • Set up email address to send and receive emails.
  • Set up email list and signup form.
  • Create a standard email template for your brand.
  • Create transactional emails for when users sign up/purchase.

Blog Setup

Content Marketing is all the marketing that’s left. - Seth Godin

Social Media Setup

Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage. - Amy Jo Martin, CEO of Digital Royalty

  • Search for availability of names on social networks.
  • Choose 2-3 social media accounts you’ll use based on your customers’ preferences:
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • LinkedIn
    • Instagram
    • Snapchat
    • TikTok
    • YouTube
  • Standardize profile image, background photo, links, and call to action across social channels.

Post-Launch Marketing Checklist

Once you launch, the real fun begins! Whether you go out with a bang or you gradually grow your userbase over months, getting customer feedback is essential for building a successful startup.

customer at register

Free Promotional Channels

I don’t care how much money you have, free stuff is always a good thing. - Queen Latifah

You must spend money to make money. - Plautus, Ancient Roman playwright

Recurring Marketing Checklist

Much of marketing is staying consistent over time. While you need to know that a tactic is viable, you might have to stick with it for weeks to see real results. This marketing to do list gives you a chance to check off all the boxes – literally!

Ongoing Content Marketing and Blogging

Blogging is like work, but without coworkers thwarting you at every turn. - Scott Adams, Creator of Dilbert

  • Build/update publishing calendar for your blog/video marketing efforts.
  • Regularly post blog posts on your blog(s).
  • Solicit guest posts from early customers and fans of your product.
  • Repurpose existing blog posts:
    • Record/post video of you reading the post on YouTube.
    • Turn posts into a podcast.
    • Create an infographic based on the post.
    • Create a presentation of your post.
  • Promote your blog content (see this big checklist for more promotional ideas:
    • Send post to your email list.
    • Promote on your social media.
    • Email friends and relatives, ask them to share if relevant.
    • Send to other bloggers for feedback, ask to share if they like it.
    • Add your latest blog post or landing page to your email signature.
    • Submit your post to relevant aggregators and niche communities.
  • Refresh old blog posts every 6-12 months

Email Marketing

Any email that contains the words ‘important’ or ‘urgent’ never are, and annoy me to the point of not replying out of principle. - Markus Persson, aka “Notch”, creator of Minecraft

  • Send a regular email newsletter with blog posts, use cases, customer stories, etc.
  • Promote email list on social media.
  • Send 20 cold emails per week to connect with early customers and get direct feedback.
  • Send new users a personal email introducing yourself.

Social Media

We have technology, finally, that for the first time in human history allows people to really maintain rich connections with much larger numbers of people. – Pierre Omidyar, Founder of eBay

  • Schedule regular social media content (try these social media tools to help automate the social media process).
  • Social media content ideas to try:
    • Show what’s happening “behind the scenes” (eg: pictures of your workspace, in-development features, etc.).
    • Blog posts from your blog (or partners’ blogs).
    • Special offers or discounts.
    • Relevant news, advice, or blogs.
    • Funny or inspiring quotes.
    • Polls or questions for your followers.
    • Suggested books.
    • Useful tools or websites.
  • Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups where your product ideas for marketing projects might be beneficial.
  • Send exclusive offers to LinkedIn/Facebook Group owners.
  • Join Twitter chats related to your industry/product.
  • Search Twitter for people talking about issues you’re solving with your project and interact with them.
  • Give early users discounts for taking pics with your product.

Public Relations

The art of publicity is a black art; but it has come to stay, and every year adds to its potency. – Thomas Paine

  • Ask bloggers with list articles to add your site to their content.
  • Reach out to small business journals, reporters, bloggers. Inform and ask for coverage.
  • Reach out to podcasters, try to get featured on their show.
  • Find professors and students with .edu sites to link to your content (good for SEO).
  • Find reviews or lists of similar products. Ask to be added or leave a comment about your product.
  • Guest post on other blogs:
    • Build a list of blogs that are a good fit for your product and accept guest posts. Save their contact form/information.
    • Write a few posts on your own blog first (to use as a demonstration).
    • Create a list of “pitches,” blog post ideas with a title and one paragraph summary that might grab bloggers.
    • Pitch the blogs one idea each. See what they respond to.
    • Help promote your posts via social media, email lists, etc.
    • Reach back out in a month and try another pitch. Try to become a “regular”
  • Join and participate in forums related to your product or industry.

More Ongoing Marketing Ideas

Marketing Optimization Checklist

After you’ve kicked off your marketing engine and start to see results, it’s time to optimize. The following ideas will help you get started, but optimizing your marketing efforts is a never-ending challenge.

As I mentioned above, this checklist is subject to change, so email me if you’d like to add your suggestions.

Karl Hughes

By Karl Hughes

Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.