How Series A startups can outsource marketing

Eliza Jaskolski
Talent Manager at HireCMO

As a Series A startup founder, after you have found product market fit and reached $1M+ in annual revenue, it may be time to slowly start transitioning away from founder-led sales. This gives you an edge, as you're able to finally free up your time to spend on your largest accounts or work on product, and start relying on a single channel inbound channel to drive more sales through the door.

At this stage, some founders love to bring in a fractional CMO (from HireCMO) and given the punch we pack for under $10K/month, I highly recommend it. But first, it's important to begin thinking about developing some form of marketing foundation internally within your company instead of relying only on outsiders from Day 1! Nothing wrong with bringing us in for a few months or a full year, but you need to begin thinking seriously about the long-term marketing capabilities of your own team because this ultimately will define how successful your outsider marketers will be.

Let's walk you through the steps one by one, on going from building out your in-house marketing foundation before you go all out on contractors/agencies. But if you're in a rush, here's the Executive Summary of this article below.

Executive Summary

Step 1: Build your own internal marketing capability early-on. It's recommended to bring on a scrappy, startup-minded marketer at this time full-time on your team to help you build this out. Build out your target audience, market, and competition. Define your brand story, positioning, and messaging. Craft a lean go-to-market (GTM) strategy.

Step 2: Before you bring on an agency or contractor, think about your own content distribution system first. Align your content creation with your target audience and where they hang out. Consider creating distribution tiers, launch plans, and maintain consistency when creating and distributing content.

Step 3: When trying to find a contractor or agency to hire, prioritize transparency (goes both ways). Be very clear on what your team does or does not have in place in marketing. And request candidness and transparency from the agencies or contractors you may hire. Dive into nuances with nuanced questions. Discuss timelines, scope, and responsibilities explicitly. Be wary of agencies promising everything for a low cost.

Step 4: And finally, beginning the discovery process. Vet potential experts through word-of-mouth referrals. Speak with multiple experts to find the best fit - you'll get better as you go, and there's no shame in not being good at it from Day 1. Maintain honesty and transparency on every interaction because that's how you attract people with the same caliber.


But if you're not in a rush, and would love to spend some more time with us, let's dive into the real thing!

Step 1: Build out your marketing foundation within your own team first

It’s difficult for (pre) Series A founders to effectively handle marketing contractors and agencies without having a single in-house marketer manage those relationships. Making a full-time marketing hire before bringing on external agencies (to manage your website, paid advertising, SEO, etc.) may appear counterintuitive, but it is likely the recommended approach for most startups. If you need a full-time marketer, talk to us and we'll make some calls for ya.

But first, let's start thinking about your marketing foundations within your own team. This includes a mix of the following activities:

  • Crystallize fully and gain deep insight into your target audience, market and competitive landscape.
  • Define the story behind your brand, determine your company's positioning & messaging and the things you have opinions on as a company.
  • Begin defining your go-to-market (GTM) strategy, customer lifecycle and how your product truly helps your customers succeed.

That's a handful. Took me a few minutes to fully think through, and I understand that it can feel overwhelming. Your startup's marketing foundation includes understanding the audiences who love buying from you, defining your brand's story and values, mapping your KPIs and funnel and finally tying all those into your existing business model.

Without these fundamentals hashed out, if you hired an agency (say for SEO), you're burning your valuable revenue dollars because the agency people only implement the channels they know best... they can't usually define your foundations for you. But at HireCMO, our fractional CMOs are capable of helping you at this stage. We won't come in guns blazing and ask you to spend $5000 on SEO, don't worry - at this stage, we'll likely have weekly touchpoints with your founding team to iron out the bullet points mentioned above.

When it comes to fundamentals, it's important to take one step at a time. But swiftly.

Step 2: Begin thinking about your distribution system

Think of agencies as skilled people who can help you "scale". Meaning, they can create a lot of content for your SEO or drive a ton of qualified (hopefully!) traffic through Paid Ads, etc. They can basically up the tempo on a channel once they figure out the type of "stuff" that's working for your target audience. But if you don't fully understand how their work will bring more revenue dollars, you'll have a hard time evaluating their work. And you can only evaluate well, if you have a complete understanding of your own marketing engine i.e., distribution system.

Without doing this homework, you'll essentially end up showing up on your agency calls saying, "Well you got me 500 clicks in 30 days on our Facebook ads, but only 2 people bought our product." And again, you don't want to be burning your valuable dollars. We want you staying lean, remember?

So in order to set yourselves up for success, you'll need to first make sure your own house is in order. This starts by thinking through your own marketing distribution system - here are some things to keep in mind for building out your distribution system:

  • Distribution Assessment: Evaluate the balance between content creation and distribution efforts. Some founders tend to overemphasize on content creation! I would even urge you to have your distribution plan in place prior to heavy focus on content creation.
  • Alignment Check: Make sure that your distribution strategy aligns with both your content and target audience. Think about distribution details on the content roadmap, including content type, primary distribution channel and gated/lead generation components.
  • Indicators of Misalignment: Identifies signs of misalignment (important), such as creating content without a clear distribution plan, driving traffic that doesn't convert, or using channels not suited to the audience. This goes back to my Facebook ads example above.
  • GACC Brief for Distribution: For every (major) piece of content, I propose using a GACC (Goals, Audience, Creative, Channels) brief, with a specific focus on the "Channels" section for distribution details. I hope this makes sense.

And when distributing your content, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Distribution Tiers: Think of creating tiers for distribution plans, tied to the audience and the content you want them to see. For instance, this blog will get chipped chopped into 4 twitter posts distributed by 2 of my accounts (follow us btw!) and then into 2 separate LinkedIn posts (follow our page!) that will be posted over 2 weeks and re-posted every 4-6 weeks. Twitter is our Tier 1 distribution channel because I get to get in front of founders and VCs. LinkedIn is Tier 2 because as of now, it's mostly seen by marketers and they are not really my ideal audience for this kind of content. This "focus" on Twitter helps me create more tailored content over time, and will impact the time/energy commitment to my work as well.
  • Launch Plan for Big Bets: Think of significant content initiatives as product launches! Just like launching a v2 of your core product, having a detailed launch plan for some of your most critical content can help maximize impact down the road. I say "critical" because if you're just starting off, it's unlikely (lol I know because I've been there) that everything your founding team creates from Day 1 is going to get so much attention. So try to prioritize based on the points above in this blog! :)
  • Distribution Grind: Love it or hate it, you need to acknowledge the ongoing effort required for content distribution. Content has a funny way of being re-used many times over because of its iterative nature, so that's a plus for you! But you need to be consistent with it, across your channels. Otherwise, you'll quickly stop being top of mind for your prospects/audiences quickly. As an example, posting once a week or once every 10 days, is better than posting 3 times all in one day in a month. Take it from me, I've spent half my lifetime on Twitter... I should know something.
  • Double Down on Hits: Identify successful content and expand its reach through repurposing, redistributing, and optimizing for conversion. I'm also a big fan of experimenting. Do a poll on your LinkedIn (on your personal account which may have a wide reach) and ask what kind of content people want to read! Or, spend $250 on an ad campaign with a few variations of your creative/copy and see which ones have a higher CPR! Double the budget the next day for the winners, and keep tweaking to get better results. This example may not be sound/apply to you as every startup is different - but the point is that I highly encourage doing tiny experiments across your channels to see what kind of content hooks your audience the most. Took me months to learn this for Twitter. Be quicker than me haha.
  • Conversion Focus: Just "remember why we started" haha. You're putting so much focus and attention on distributing and creating content so that you can ultimately bring people lower in your funnel and convert them customers. And so remember that leads generated by successful content must be strategically directed to customized email drips, customized landing pages, etc.

Step 3: Preparing to bring in the experts

The best kind of external marketers / contractors / agencies (experts) to bring for (pre) Series A startups are contractors and small niche teams who specialize in your industry. I spoke with a friend of mine last week who gave me some tips to keep in mind when going out and hiring your first expert:

  • Know their backgrounds fully: Familiarize yourself with the team members by requesting their LinkedIn profiles. At HireCMO, I am very open about who'll be helping you. For instance, Nancy is one of my most favorite CMOs on my team. So much so, that I did an entire interview with her so you know exactly what she is and is not capable of. I've had some folks tell me not to highlight a person's shortcomings, but I disagree. If you're hiring us or whoever, you deserve to know the things we fall short on. Transparency is extremely important regardless of whether you work with us or not.
  • Reference checks: Verify their experience with clients at your startup's current stage. It's totally cool if they have a diverse range of startup experiences. But having the right to call up their past clients to validate the testimonials on their website is key. I do not recommend doing this too early in your discovery calls with your potential expert. But once you're 70% ready to buy, start writing those emails. In my experience, if you're trying to reach the CEO/Founder of their past clients, you'll need to allow 2-3 weeks for them to get back to you if contacting on your own. Otherwise, you can always ask for a referral through your expert, but I personally am not a fan of letting them potentially ruin the integrity of the reference check.
  • Dig into the nuances: If you're hiring an ad agency (we know a very good firm at HireCMO btw), you'll want to ask your expert nuanced questions about their experience. Confirm their expertise with clients employing the same business model, recognizing the distinct marketing strategies for B2C, B2B, and variations within B2B (e.g., top-down sales vs. self-serve models). I'll make another blog later on with the kind of questions you should ask your SEO / ad agency, so you're a rock star at your discovery calls. Just use the search function and you'll find it on our site!
  • Discuss timelines, scope and responsibilities: Leave nothing to chance, no matter who you decide to work with. If a contractor / agency senses that you're easy-going, some will appreciate you and still be diligent with their work. But most will take advantage, and not be honest with their work. Your mission as the founder (or whoever is going to make this expert hire) is to clearly understand the scope of the work you're requesting, ensuring there is a well-defined process for deliverables, regular check-ins, and established communication tools. Do not leave anything to chance. I can write about this for another 2 paragraphs, but if you want some tips on how to go about this step, just get in touch with us via the contact page and my team will send you some bullet points for your specific situation! That's more helpful than providing generic tips.

Oh and one quick thing. The whole "lean startup" stuff doesn't work out quite well when you're hiring marketing experts (agencies / contractors). If an agency wants to do everything marketing-related for you, for $4.99 and a cookie, please be rational and run. Funny, but there's horror stories around this.

One thing I want to re-focus on, is making sure the experts you work with, have done things (brand design, website design, SEO, ads) in the past for companies of similar sizes and industry as you! I also recommend diving a bit into their business acumen when you have your discovery calls with them. Yes they're doing your brand design or SEO, but it's not possible to do a good job at that if they don't understand the fundamentals of your market, business model, customer persona, etc. They don't need to have all the right answers, but you for sure, need to check if they're asking the right questions. Again, underrated point.

Step 4: Begin your discovery process

Congratulations, you have made it to the last step! The "discovery" process is where you start discovering the expert who'll be best fit to help you. Generally starts with one 30-min phone call, followed by two or three 30-min or 60-min calls before there's a request to either go separate ways or present the documents to move forward with the sale.

I generally recommend being thorough in your search. Word-of-mouth is the #1 way that marketing agencies and contractors (and fractional CMOs too) get clients, because people generally reach out to their own trusted circle first to ask for vendors they can rely on. And I recommend you start there.

Try to not be distracted by those flashy sellers on LinkedIn who say they'll "10x your revenue in 10 weeks or money back". The more "scammy" they sound, the more scammy they generally are. The less they're trying to push you to buy, the more trustworthy they'll feel to you.

I suggest you speak with 3-4 different experts before you actually say yes to anyone. It's perfectly fine to ask for a Statement of Work (called SoW) or "deliverable outline" from an expert for you to thoroughly assess before you say yes. But I urge you to not say lie to these people. I've had some folks sadly at HireCMO tell us they're 100% ready to move forward with us, but right after the SoW hits their inbox, all of sudden they realize they had a "major roadblock they totally forgot about" .... and cannot move forward with us at this time. Sigh. Don't be that guy. Be honest, be direct and respect the other party's time! :)

Wrapping up

And btw, if all this is overwhelming to you that's natural and totally fine. I'm more than happy to message one of our CMOs to help you out 1:1 for 20 mins over a free-of-charge call so you can at least figure out what your next steps should be here. We covered a lot so far, and my team is always open to be your ears if you need to vent or just ask for help!

If you found this insightful btw, check out our other blog on common mistakes that Series A founders typically make when hiring marketing agencies / contractors or fractional CMOs! I sincerely hope you had a fun time reading this. Please get in touch if we can be helpful in any way. I mean it!

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