When Robert Herjavec wanted to start his own company, people discouraged him. They said he couldn’t do it. He had zero experience, he didn’t have a business degree and he knew nothing about running a business.
The headstrong Shark Tank star investor steamrolled ahead anyway. In 1990, he launched his first company, BRAK Systems, which he later sold to AT&T.
“I only knew that I loved what I do and how to work hard,” Herjavec told Entrepreneur. Today, Herjavec Group, his Toronto-based Internet security firm, has grown from three workers in 2003 to 220 employees strong, and it’s on pace to bank $150 million in revenue this year, according to the company.
Herjavec’s commitment to taking the risky entrepreneurial leap — despite the naysayers, and he had plenty of them — has more than paid off. So what if he didn’t have formal training? He also didn’t possess the needed marketing know-how, at least not at first and not all on his own. But that was fine by him.
“Like many entrepreneurs, we didn’t really know what to do at first,” he says. “As a startup, it’s almost overwhelming. I learned that’s where a third party comes in to help you. They take the marketing pressure off so you can do more of what you love to do — your business.”
Countless marketing agencies the world over aim to do just that. One such company is Deluxe Corporation. Herjavec announced a new partnership with the Shoreview, Minn.-based firm last week. Together, they unveiled a series of small-business marketing videos. The short “Behind the Business” vignettes feature the multi-millionaire celebrity entrepreneur alongside a few of the companies he’s invested in on Shark Tank.
The videos share tips on how to best market your startup. We picked Herjavec’s brain for a few, too. Here are his top five:
1. Target your customers where they hang out on social media.
Simply having several social-media accounts for your company isn’t enough. To fully leverage the potential for acquiring new customers on social media, you must also market to them where they live online.
“With Facebook and other social platforms, you can have highly targeted marketing campaigns to attract customers who are interested in the product or service that you have,” Herjavec says. “Find the user groups they meet up in on social and win them over there.”
As an example, he points to The Natural Grip, a fitness product startup he invests in. The company makes special gloves for people who do Crossfit, gymnastics or lift weights. “That community, athletes, really likes to hang out in certain places on Facebook and we went there to find and engage them,” he says.
Marketing direct to potential customers on active fan pages and buzzy user groups within the popular social-media mecca turned out to be a smart move. It gained the sporty startup a grip of new customers, according to Herjavec.
2. Don’t be afraid to sell direct online.
Even as the ecommerce economy continues to surge, many small businesses old and new still don’t have shopping carts on their websites. Herjavec says failing to sell directly online is “foolishly leaving money on the table.” He believes that if your customers trust and believe in your brand, they’ll buy what you sell on the Internet.
Of those that do offer online shopping, the feature is often set up so poorly that it frustrates and confuses customers. The result: Potential buyers end up abandoning their shopping carts altogether and the sale is dead on arrival. “It quickly becomes such a hassle to go through with the transaction that they say ‘forget it,’” he says. “Don’t let that happen.”
If you don’t know how to set up an online shopping cart, Herjavec suggests leaving it to the pros. “There are lots of great companies that can handle it for you.”
3. Use stunning imagery to grab customers’ attention.
“People are very busy and the first thing that hits them in any marketing communication is a really pretty picture, not words,” he says, “and I know that sounds really trivial but that engages people and gets them to look at more of your outreach.”
Herjavec’s onto something here. Visual imagery is often more immediately engaging than monotonous walls of text, as the brain is widely believed to processes visuals thousands of times faster than text. Images transmit messages in an instant, not only making your marketing messages pop, but also rendering them more memorable, too.
4. Market to your customers how they like to be marketed to.
“Your customers have a certain amount of information they’re willing to absorb about your brand and certain ways they like to receive that information in over a certain amount of time,” he says. It’s your job to pay attention and learn how they are best marketed to.
How much information can they handle with each outreach? How do they prefer to be communicated with (via social-media updates, e-newsletter, text notifications, etc.)? How much communication is too much and how much is not enough? If marketing email subscribers start dropping off, find out why and adjust accordingly.
When it comes to Herjavec’s own contact preferences as a consumer, he feels being marketed to by email once every couple of weeks is more than enough. “I’m a big car guy, so a lot of the car companies market to me, but they’ve learned when enough information is enough for me and that’s once or twice a month,” he says. “Once a day is too much.”
5. Hire a marketing agency so you can do more of what you love.
Outsourcing your marketing needs to an agency dedicated to taking your brand awareness to the next level frees you up to get back to business. If you don’t have the budget to hire a marketing firm, Herjavec suggests partnering with someone you trust who has successfully marketed their own business.
Whatever you do, he says, don’t take the whole job on yourself, not if you don’t have the experience to back it up.
“I always say, if you’re not a marketing person, you didn’t start the businesses to do marketing, so don’t do it,” he says. It’s crucial that you focus your energy as a small-business owner on the core reason you started up in the first place.
“You wanted to take on the world with the product or service you had, that did something better than anybody else. And that was what you were passionate about, that that’s what caused you to quit your job, get a second mortgage or whatever the reason was.”