Building a marketing team from scratch for a startup is an exhilarating challenge. (And a little bit daunting because of the massive responsibility.) The way a business presents itself in its early stage can make it or break it. Building a strong team to get the company’s marketing off the ground is completely doable, though, and needn’t involve a serious increase in your consumption of adult beverages.
Startups run the risk of becoming paralyzed because they don’t know where to invest first. As a marketing recruiter, you don’t know how big your team should be and what job descriptions it should encompass.
The key is recruiting smart, hungry learners with broad job descriptions and making sure they’ll work well together. Think of it as a tightly knit team of loosely defined marketers.
How to Start Building a Marketing Team
It might be tempting to recruit a dream marketing team of established specialists. But at a startup, you don’t hire superstars — you make superstars.
For an early stage, scrappy company, a team of early-stage, scrappy marketers make sense. Look for quick learners who have done a little of everything and who know you’re going to throw a lot at them. They should have a basic understanding of offline, online, communications, and marketing, but they haven’t gone too deep and are nimble when they’re bouncing around.
They’ll start out broad, but they’ll end up in the channel where they can find their flow. And, in time, that can become their niche. You’re providing them a path for career development, and they’re paying you back by growing into the focused role your business will need down the road.
Besides smarts and eagerness to learn, it helps if you can bring in phenomenal, crisp, confident writers. Writing might not be their ultimate niche—or it might not—but writing touches all of our channels, and lucid writing is an indicator of organized thinking.
Keeping Your Marketing Department Moving
Once you’ve snagged those critical first hires, you can flesh out the rest of your department strategically. Adopt the following techniques to steadily grow an enviable marketing team:
- Keep agencies, freelancers, and contractors close. In your first six months, expect to hire contract work a lot. It saves money, and it’s really handy when it comes to project-based, on-demand work. Maybe you need someone to handle a particular social campaign or a few graphic design pieces. Time will tell if you need to keep those roles going. I love using agencies and freelancers to figure out what my next hire should be. Make sure you identify and communicate performance indicators to gauge the success of your contractors. Did they meet deadlines? Did they drive traffic to your site? And for your part, make sure you’ve properly armed them with guidelines and goals.
- Gradually bring some specialties in-house. After working with freelancers and agencies for half a year or so, weigh the possibility of bringing their duties in-house. You might want more control over content or output, or you might feel like full-time employees would bring more brand passion to certain responsibilities (think social media content creation and management). On the other hand, you could also still feel completely happy with outsourcing those tasks—and that’s totally fine, too.
- Make friends with your team members. When you’re part of a budding marketing team, you can expect to work hard because you’re playing pioneer constantly. So if the team is going to be putting in long hours and collaborating closely, spend time getting to know each other. Research supports this method of creating a forward-thinking culture. Making time to meet regularly—both as a team and one-on-one—is essential. In the one-on-one meetings, I make a point of giving attention to these three areas: practical, professional, personal. Practical is all that “are you getting your work done?” stuff. Deadlines on track? Any obstacles encountered? Hey, that mockup’s looking great. Then there’s professional: are your projects fulfilling? Are they getting you where you want to go in your career? How do you feel about our industry’s future? And personal: how are you? Did that campground on the river kind of suck? Hey, I just discovered a great brewpub. Even with everyone working remotely, we still cue the Zoom calls to handle our regular meetings. Sure, that forces it to be a BYOD (bring your own donuts) situation, but it still builds camaraderie, openness, friendship, and morale.
- Make interviews into group collabs. There’s a very important thing to remember here: any time you bring someone new into the fold, you’re creating a new team dynamic. So don’t hire someone who’s going to want to leave—or worse, make someone else want to leave. That’s why I invite my entire team to participate in the marketing hiring process. They sit in on interviews so the candidate finds out what we’re about, and my team members give me their feedback individually. Then I average their input. But if someone on my team really objects to a candidate, it might amount to veto power. I’ll ask the team member why; then in the second interview, I’ll dig deeper to see what’s up. Maybe it was all just a misunderstanding. Or maybe the candidate really is someone who’s going to upset the dynamic. And if that’s the case, we’ll move on. Next candidate.
- Build strong recruitment channels. You’ll have openings in your marketing department from time-to-time, so make life simpler by amassing a network of individuals you can tap for candid recommendations, references, or résumés. Having a network speeds up the marketing hiring process; it also helps you eliminate worries about putting the wrong person in a marketing seat.
Be sure to constantly build this network, too: social events for marketing professionals are always a great idea, and meetings, workshops, and seminars could introduce you to someone you’d like to stay in touch with. Even on off days, keep a business card or two on hand. You never know who you’ll run into.
Tomorrow’s Dream Marketing Team
As you plan your first hires at your startup, resist the urge to recruit rockstars. Look for eagerness to learn, passion for your company’s goal, and personalities that work well together. The scrappy, versatile marketing team you build today is tomorrow’s dream team of experts and authorities.