8 Important Lessons for Working With Startups

01/29/2016 11:03 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

2016-01-21-1453392289-5143123-YoavVilner.pngYoav Vilner is the CEO at Ranky. He also mentors startups in accelerators, such as Microsoft and Yahoo, and is a regular columnist at most top-tier media sites -- Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, TheNextWeb, VentureBeat and more. Follow him on Twitter at @YoavVilner.

Late 2013, after a long period of freelance consulting to startups about their growth and marketing, a colleague and I decided to partner and become a growth-hacking team, later to be branded as "startup marketers."

Underneath Tel Aviv's sun and missile alarms, we helped startups shape their PPC, inbound marketing, content marketing and SEO campaigns. The word about us grew and to date, we are Israel's most notable startup-marketing team with a portfolio of 70 known startups.

Whether you currently work with startups or you're considering taking them on as clients, here's what you should know:

Takeaway 1: You Wanted Startups? Then Learn to Love Instability

The best and worst thing about having startups as your clients is their lack of stability. Your clients are young, creative and unpredictable. They could change their mind tomorrow, run out of funds the next day, or hire a new CMO who will want to make way for his best friend's startup marketing company instead.

Whenever one of our startup clients suddenly changed their mind about us (after we'd been working so hard for them), I'd comfort myself with the fact that working with startups is still much more interesting than regular companies.

Takeaway 2: A Startup Founder's Opinion Goes a Long Way

When your clients are corporate companies or even small businesses, chances are that they won't know about each other. With startups, it's exactly the other way around -- most of your clients know each other, speak to each other, and even meet each other often. Because of this, their experience with you is much more than important; it's the difference between succeeding and failing.

A startup founder who isn't pleased with your services can eventually cost 10-20 potential startups that would have hired you. Luckily, if you are good at what you do, it works exactly the opposite -- one pleased startup founder can mean 10-20 potential startups interested in working with you.

Takeaway 3: Employees Are More Important Than Clients

Given a certain budget or any other resource, it's sometimes more scalable to invest it in your employees' happiness than bringing in another client.

Happy employees are in fact your best sales reps. They are the treasure you can expand your company upon, with the exact opposite being also true: unhappy employees are your competitors best sales reps.

Takeaway 4: Giving Back to the Startup Community Makes the Difference

When given a moment to spare, my co-founder and I mentor young startups in ventures such as Microsoft Ventures, Yahoo's first accelerator in Tel Aviv, Wayra, Innovation Warehouse and more hubs across Tel-Aviv and London.

I get a lot of satisfaction helping budgetless startups get started because, as an entrepreneur, I know what they're going through. Mentoring is, in fact, super scalable for a company like ours. Those young startups will raise funds eventually and then want to hire you, not to mention telling all of their friends about your great advice (see Takeaway #2).

Takeaway 5: Irrelevant Meetings Are the Biggest Time Waster

We get a weekly amount of 10-20 new emails from potential clients, but most of them aren't really suitable for our portfolio, or just aren't willing to spend the budget we need. When we were still a young company we were so excited about each incoming lead. We spent days and nights meeting every single one of them. Today, we know that it's much more efficient to give all the dry details via email or phone first, before rushing to their offices to meet them.

Takeaway 6: One Good Case Study Is Worth More Than 10 Salespeople

As a young startup-marketing team, we never needed to spend much effort on outbound sales because our clients would recommend us.

But there comes a time where you start hacking your own growth, and just as we work hard on our clients' content marketing, it was time for us to do some of our own. We posted a case study about increasing a mobile security App's organic traffic by 700 percent. We received 20-30 emails from potential clients, dozens of more Likes on our Facebook page, and an increase in email subscribers.

Though the work on the startup's traffic was very hard, preparing that case study didn't take more than 30-40 minutes and of payoff was huge.

Takeaway 7: The Client Is Not Always Right

Some of our clients have thought they should dictate the entire marketing strategy for us, and let us only do the dirty work. I learned that they respected us much more when we contradicted them and taught them something new.

The results will arrive quickly and they will be easy to measure together, so it's not a long-term risk either way. Don't be afraid to lead -- that's what they hired you to do to begin with.

Takeaway 8: Your Personal Facebook Is a Better B2B Lead Generator Than LinkedIn

When we started, LinkedIn was our obvious tool to drive new leads. Today, it's clear that the most engagement is on Facebook. Chatting to a potential client there can go a much further than doing the same on LinkedIn.

Also, Facebook lets you easily stay in touch (liking/sharing/commenting) with potential leads on an everyday basis, while people don't use their LinkedIn profiles as much. Just be careful not to overdo it. Not everyone wants to share their personal experiences with potential providers.

Conclusion

Startups can be the best clients in the world. Forget about instability, craziness and disagreements -- working with a fellow entrepreneur on his or her startup's marketing and helping them grow from the ground up is an exciting and rewarding process to be part of. Yes, there are challenges, but, at the end of day, you and your team get to enjoy the hard-earned success when they finally reach their goals.