You’re a bootstrapped startup that’s started to see a payoff from all the hours you’ve spent building your product. You’re starting to turn a small profit. The next step is to reinvest that profit to accelerate your growth.
But you have a dilemma. Where should you be reinvesting?
Should you invest more in customer acquisition and grow your organic channels? Or maybe you’ve started to think about making your first marketing hire.
Let’s get into whether or not you’re ready to hire a marketer for your bootstrapped startup.
To continue growing, you need support from someone with the right expertise. If you’re a solo bootstrapped founder who’s starting to get some traction, you want to focus on what you’re best at. The logical next step would be to hire a marketer.
1. Hire when you know which channels work
Even if you don’t have a marketing background, you need to try doing the marketing yourself first. It can be tempting just to go out and hire a marketer early on, but first, grasp an understanding of what has the most impact.
By doing this, you’ll figure out which channels work for you, and it will give you more direction for hiring the right person.
If you’ve already tested some marketing activities, found what works, and want to scale, working with someone who can go deeper in a specific area can pay off.
For example, you may find PPC is a significant growth channel for you and is already driving the majority of your traffic. Consider hiring an ads expert – this could be a freelancer or consultant and doesn’t need to be a full-time employee.
As a general rule, if you aren’t backed by investors, trying to grow solely with ads is a challenge. You don’t have endless dollars to invest as a bootstrapped company. Many bootstrapped startups are also pretty niche which means advertising is not usually the strongest acquisition channel.
Maybe most of your traffic is coming through SEO. In that case, focus on finding someone that can help you grow your presence there.
2. Hire when you can’t handle the workload
If you’ve already grown so much that you can’t handle the workload, it’s time to hire a marketer.
You’ve put some standard processes in place but need someone else to take care of them so you can run more efficiently. The ideal hire in this situation can take over and improve those processes and give you new ideas.
Think about the marketing challenges you have as a founder. Which of those could be made easier with a marketing hire? Once you’ve decided on this, you can determine whether you need a generalist or a specialist.
So you want to hire someone, but the question is who. Marketing is a broad term. Just hiring a ‘marketer’ isn’t enough for a scaling startup. You’re probably in need of a specialist.
Bootstrapped founders usually focus on organic content, word of mouth, and growth loops.
Someone with extensive experience at a big company may not want to get down to the nitty-gritty and be adaptable to your needs. If you’re hiring an ex-CMO from a big company, are they willing to the dirty work, or are they used to delegating?
Ideally, look for a marketer with a track record of success growing startups that didn’t have a war chest of money to spend on ads.
Hiring someone who has just started in marketing can be more affordable, but the downside is their lack of expertise. The sweet spot here is to look for someone who has some experience in the field you need most, eager to learn, grow and test things.
In the words of Matt Learner from Startup Core Strengths:
“Hire someone who can do 50% of what you need and can figure out the other 90%.”
A growth mindset is the most important thing to look for with your first marketing hire. Someone willing to take on challenges, figure things out, and make things happen without too much direction from the founder.
In the interview process, ask the potential hire about mistakes they’ve made, what they learned from them and what they want to learn in this role. This will help you find those with a growth mindset.
Before you decide to hire a marketer, run some numbers.
How will the investment in someone pay off, what difference will it make to your bottom line, and how will you measure that ROI?
Does it make sense to hire someone full time or will hiring someone on a project basis make more sense?
There are plenty of freelancer growth marketers out there with the expertise you need. Why not try working with a few different freelancers to test the waters. If one of them is a great fit, consider working with them on a more permanent basis.
Hiring too soon is a common mistake among founders who have started to gain traction.
There is plenty to be said for sticking it out and doing things yourself for longer than you want to, especially if you’re bootstrapped.
When you start to think about hiring, the chances are that you’re still too far from product-market fit. You know your product best, and the only way to find product-market fit is by talking to your customers, reiterating and working on things that don’t scale.
Another way to establish whether you should be hiring a marketer is to think about the marketing challenges you currently have in your business.
Make a list of jobs that need doing. Note them down by priority and impact. Will a marketer help you take on these challenges, or can you tackle them yourself?
Do you have time to commit to the hiring process? It often takes a long time to find the right fit for your business. Think about whether better use of time would be talking to customers and understanding their needs.
Once you fully understand the market you’re operating in, and what your customers want from you, you can think about hiring a marketer.
Once you have a clear idea of the specific marketing challenges you need to tackle in your business, think about getting some mentoring from an expert.
An expert can give you targeted advice based on the information you provide them about your business. It can save you time, and you’ll receive actionable input.
Already decided it’s the right time to hire a marketer for your startup? Speak to someone who’s been there before you and has advice on what to look for in your first marketing hire.
Want to chat with one of our mentors? Book your first call with a growth mentor here.