Saturday, August 11, 2012

So You’re Looking for Investors: The Why and How of AngelList

According to credible sources like Forbes, Mashable and TechCrunch, if you’re an entrepreneur or if you’re an angel investor and you haven’t heard of AngelList, it’s time to get a clue. It seems that AngelList has single handedly dragged the back-room world of venture capital screaming into the light since its 2010 launch.
At first, people wanted to dismiss the potential, saying that only loser companies would want to share data and broadcast fundraising plans so publicly. Then, some Venture Capitalists said they’d never invest in an opportunity that didn’t come through traditional channels. Other VCs swore they’d have exploratory dialogs privately or not at all. They’d never do something as prosaic as leaving comments on a company’s profile.
But AngelList trounced those objections and found traction in 2011, with 500 start-ups and 2,500 investors who joined the community, resulting in a total of 12,500 introductions and subsequent fundings.  Trounced and then did the Happy Dance!
In fact, AngelList has proven to be a remarkably effective way for investors to connect with entrepreneurs. The hybrid social-network platform offers a greater degree of visibility to start-ups that might not otherwise have access to investors, and, on the flip side, has become an important resource for investors looking to boost deal flow and as well as connect with other investors.
After an afternoon of limiting my research to information published this year in order to stay current with upgrades to the platform, the definitive guide is Brendan Baker’s "How to Hustle with AngelList," updated this past April, 2012. This is a great article since in addition to the basics, it covers how to make it on to AngelList, how to set up profiles, and some proven tactics. If you have time to read only one article on AngelList, this is the one.
Two other essential articles are Raising Money On AngelList: 21 Tips From Two Active Angels by Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot creator fame and an article by a prolific angel investor, Joshua Bauer, co-founder of Otherinbox, entitled 9 Tips for Raising Startup Funds on AngelList
This brings us to my laundry list of articles on different aspects of AngelList. 

What I took away from doing this online secondary research, aside from being entertained on a rainy afternoon, was that AngelList has really brought another avenue to the way entrepreneurs can seek out funding. It can cut down on the amount of prospecting involved in raising funds and it’s an immediate confidence booster when potential investors see other prominent Angels/VCs investing in your company.  AngelList takes the limited time an entrepreneur already has and optimizes it to seek out funding, and it’s a great digital tool that VCs use to scan through potential companies quickly. 
Bottom line: It connects VCs and Angels and is an important method for showcasing your start-up company to investors. Also remember that my point of view is based on what I’ve read. I’m not an investor or launching a start-up (at least not yet). But if you are, share your perspective as the rest of us would love to know what you think.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Building a Marketing Plan? 10 Questions to Answer.

Building a marketing plan? Here are 10 questions to get you started.
  1. Do you have a clear definition of your target market?  Perhaps you're considering expanding your target market so you can close deals that otherwise would not have come your way. On the other hand, you might narrow your definition of a target, putting your focus on those prospects most likely to become customers, maybe in a specific niche where your company has good market share. Either way, your decision will drive your other marketing decisions.  
  1. Is your current marketing mix delivering results? Most companies measure results by the number of qualified leads generated and the amount of visibility gained for their company, brand, and products. For example, email or snail mail lists tend to score low on both lead generation and visibility because they push your message out at a single moment in time to people who may not be interested. Conversely, specialized search engines and banner ads on targeted websites provide consistent presence and engage interested prospects who are actively searching for products like yours.  
  1. How visible are you? While having a robust website is essential, it isn’t enough. Your audience uses multiple online resources to locate products and suppliers. Specialized search engines, online ads, presence on the right social channels, and email newsletters all are important considerations. 
  1. What are the benefits of your current media choices? By evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of your media choices, you’ll understand the true value of your marketing program. For example, trade shows help raise your brand’s visibility and generate press and leads. But the number of leads is limited and events can be expensive when you factor in registration, promotion, travel, and other expenses. The moral is: know the ROI of your programs. 
  1. Will you reach your target audience at the right time? Like selling umbrellas when it’s raining or bathing suits when it’s hot, you want to reach your target audience while they are motivated and actively searching.  Develop a calendar for what content you’re pushing out, how, and when. It will be a huge help. 
  1. How will you maintain frequency? If you disappear off your customers’ radar screens for any length of time they will forget about you. So a consistent presence online and off is key to being their choice when they need you. 
  1. How will you measure lead quality? Not all marketing programs deliver quality leads. As any sales person will attest to, the quality of the sales and marketing opportunities generated by your marketing plan is a better indicator of potential sales than the quantity. Look for programs that provide leads in a timely manner with contact information and area of interest, helping set the stage for your response and follow-up. 
  1. How will you ensure brand exposure? The concept of branding is often pushed aside during weak economic times in favor of lead generation, but if you abandon it, you dig a hole for your sales team, forcing them to start from the beginning with every sale, introducing your company and explaining your value proposition. Many programs offer both lead generation and branding. Sponsorship of industry e-newsletters, online banner ads, and reward programs are some ways to build your brand and engage qualified leads. 
  1. How do you measure marketing success? Before you commit to any marketing programs, you should establish metrics to measure performance. Direct and online marketing programs deliver impressions, clicks, leads, sales and customers which make measuring which programs are working easier. Brand programs aren’t so easy to determine. But in all cases, you need to create the valuation method as well as set the performance metrics before you launch.      
  1. What can you expect from your media partners? With every marketing dollar precious, it’s essential that you establish a trusted relationship with media partners who understand your customers and know how to help you reach new ones. They should continuously introduce you to a targeted audience and recommend new channels to market your products as well as provide comprehensive reporting. That reporting should show the number of leads, demographic information, and be delivered as close to real time as possible so you can determine the best channels for the most leads. 
If you’ve got these covered you’re in good shape to put together a viable and productive plan. In getting the best answers, don’t work in a silo. Make sure to involve your company’s key players. The benefits will be not only in a great plan, you’ll gain consensus, and enhance your own business credibility as well. Bet you’ve thought of other concerns. What are they? Share your thoughts here!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Build Your Personal Brand on LinkedIn

Remember Adrian Monk in his detective series? He was a tidy freak, but it was his obsessing over details that helped him solve those murder cases. Like Mr. Monk, I’m feeling persnickety, and just as Monk wisely points out that the dead guy in the dark room couldn’t have turned off the lights, it bugs me that people using LinkedIn don’t take advantage of the ability to have a personalized URL for their profile. To me it seems obvious and it’s so easy to get one!

When you sign on to LinkedIn, you get an elongated URL that’s automatically generated. You — yes, you — can customize this URL so it is simple to remember and supports your personal brand. In my opinion, claiming your name here is key, but my preference shouldn’t stop you from inventing something else. Like coming up with a personalized license plate, you just need to think it through. If you were a tattoo artist, you might use “inkbeneaththeskin” or if you were the CEO of a bakery chain, maybe you’re “dollars4donuts”.

For a straightforward solution, take my LinkedIn URL as an example. At the time I set up my account I was able to customize the last text to "marionguthrie", my name. If you have a common name like Tom Smith or Cathy Jones, you may need to add a middle initial or a code, or you may decide to go the customized route with a word that reflects on your competency. Then you can use your LinkedIn URL in your signature line or any place where you want to direct interested people to a summary of your professional accomplishments; i.e. your LinkedIn profile. It’s a value added! 

While we’re talking about LinkedIn, another pet peeve of mine is this: please try to get at least three recommendations. Three is LinkedIn’s suggested minimum. Recommendations are your ad; your third-party endorsement. They humanize your profile and make you more appealing and credible. Superman’s list of jobs outlining him as a reporter and sometimes superhero become so much more colorful and engaging when there’s a recommendation that says, “He leaps tall buildings in a single bound.” Don’t you think?

Also be “in with the in-crowd” and take advantage of the three website links on your LinkedIn profile. Include links to your personal website as well as your company’s. Be creative. Since I haven’t finished my company website yet, one of my links provides a list of my Talent Zoo articles written to date, which gives me a chance to showcase some of my writing. If you’ve joined Tumblr or Gust or any other community, you can use that URL too. (With Facebook, use with caution; ask yourself, "What would Mary Poppins say?") These links help build up your persona as a business executive who is participating in the digital age, not just standing on the sidelines.

Last but not least, there is great value in generating content on LinkedIn that can also be published (if you check the birdie box) on Twitter. Why bother? Aside from the fact that you might learn something (oh, I sound like my Mom), the updates you write and post in that little LinkedIn box at the top of your profile are a great way to stay top of mind with your LinkedIn contacts and it helps build your credibility when you share interesting news stories or blogs or opinions. In addition, when you check that Twitter box, your LinkedIn update will post automatically to your Twitter. And voila, you’ve amplified your message’s reach.

It’s not like Facebook, Twitter, About.Me, or Google+ (although I’m not sure any one has figured out Google+ quite yet). LinkedIn is a distinctive social media tool and it’s all about business. So use it to find opinion leaders in your field, to locate your next speaker for that association meeting, or to uncover the heads of those companies you’re targeting for your next sales effort. Or use it to discover who to network with to find that next project or that next job. Just do me a favor and personalize your LinkedIn URL. When you attach that URL to your communications, you’re creating a link to your profile where folks can see just how good you really are.

As far as being a bit compulsive, it gives me solace that Mr. Monk was far worse. Here’s some proof!