🚀 Ultimate Startup Launch Checklist: 2020 Edition 🚀
Co-founder @Apollo Digital. Helping SaaS companies grow their user base using SEO & Content
Over the past few years, I've had the great chance to help some awesome SaaS startups with their digital marketing.
As a result, I've ended up doing digital marketing for a ton of different industries. To name a few: workflow software, online resume builder, knowledge base software, BPM software, SaaS management software, event fundraising software, and many more.
Some of these startups were completely bootstrapped, some had over 10M in funding, and others were well-established SaaS companies generating over 3M ARR.
The one thing that surprised me however, is that even well-established companies with 30+ employees and a dedicated marketing team, were lacking some very basic processes and set-ups, which I think are essential for any startup to succeed.
So, that's why I decided to create this Startup Checklist. Hope you find this useful. And feel free to contact me directly if you have any ideas on how to make this checklist better!
📚 Step #1 - Research Phase 📚
Before you start planning your launch, you need to figure out your overall product and marketing strategy.
1. Create a list of competitors in your niche & include the following:
- Competitor name
- Pricing options
- Key features
2. Define your product & business:
- What’s your business model?
- What’s your pricing model?
- How many pricing tiers do you offer?
- Do you offer a free trial?
- Is your product freemium?
- Which key features are you going to focus on for launch?
- What’s your differentiator?
- How are you going to beat the existing products on the market?
3. Spy on your competitors and figure out which marketing channels are getting them the best results.
- 📄Content Marketing📄 Do they publish blog posts on a regular basis? Do they promote their content on social media? Do they get a lot of Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn shares
- 🔗Search Engine Optimization🔗 Do they have good rankings on Google with their blog posts? Do their landing pages rank on product search terms? You can check this by running their website through SEMrush or Ahrefs.
- 🔎Search Ads🔎 Are they running ads on Google Search? You can check this by running their site through SEMrush.
- 👀Facebook Ads👀 Are they running ads on Facebook? You can check this through Facebook Ad Library.
- 🤝Affiliate Marketing🤝 Check their website footer to see if they have an affiliate page up. You can also do this through a simple search query: “site:[competitor website] affiliate program.”
- 🔁Referral Marketing🔁 You can usually find this in the footer. Check what kind of referral terms your competitors offer.[ ] Now, if you're planning on raising money, use all of the above to slap together a bad-ass pitch deck.
🌐Step #2 - Slap Together a Website🌐
Time to get things rolling. The next step is to create a website and create a foundation for your marketing
1. Pick a domain name. Pro-tip, all the good “.com”s are taken. Go for something more creative like a .io, .xyz, or other TLD. We recommend using NameSilo for buying the actual domains, they don’t do price-gouging, unlike most providers.
2. Buy hosting
. We recommend using SiteGround
- they have 99.99% server up time, and their customer support is amazing.
3. Pick an email marketing provider
. It doesn’t particularly matter which one. We usually recommend MailChimp
since it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers.
4. Create relevant social profiles. The key here is relevant. If you’re a B2B enterprise software company, you really don’t need an Instagram profile where you post selfies. Usually, most startups go for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
5. Create a landing page for your product. You’ll need to create a landing page that sells your product. In 99% of cases, we recommend using WordPress. It’s going to allow you to be a LOT leaner than having your tech team code your entire website from scratch.
6. Create other essential web pages. E.g. about us, contact us, pricing page.Set up a payment processor. We’d recommend Stripe (the best option on the market) or PayPal (if you really have to).
7. Set up a payment processor. We’d recommend Stripe (the best option on the market) or PayPal (if you really have to).
8. Set up Analytics. You can pick between Google Analytics, MixPanel, or other alternatives.
9. Set up a business email. We recommend using G Suite. Dealing with your hosting provider’s email service will be a pain when scaling.
10. Launch a blog. If you’re planning on using content marketing or SEO for your marketing (which, in 2020, most product companies do), you’ll need a blog.
📈Step #3 - Do Some Pre-Launch Marketing📈
If you have the extra time and resources, you can start marketing your product way before you’ve even launched. Usually, this involves the following.
1. Add an email capture on your landing page.
2. Incentivise early adopters. Offer them something extra than just a “we’re going to email you once we launch!”
3. Drive traffic. Usually, the best channels to use for pre-launch marketing are content marketing, SEO, and PR. More on each channel under “Ongoing Marketing” below.
🚀Step #4 - Get Some Initial Traction🚀
Once you have an MVP, you want to validate 2 things: that your product works, and that it can drive conversions (and hence, revenue). Here’s how to do it lean.
1. If you did pre-launch marketing, launch an email to anyone that pre-signed for your product.
2. Cold call your first 50 customers. The easiest way to get your first customers is to do some cold calling. After all, if you can’t sell your product on a one-on-one call, how will you sell it to strangers on the internet via text?
3. Find leads on social media. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to find leads on social media and pitch them with a direct message.
4. Run search ads. If you have a flexible budget, you can run search ads on direct intent keywords. E.g. if your product is a resume builder, you advertise on the keyword “resume builder.”
👨🚀Step #5 - Prep for Launch👨🚀
Every startup gets one “launch” in its lifetime. Here’s how to make sure you get it right.
2. Gather a list of journalists that wrote about your competition
. You’re going to email them during launch and ask for a feature. Use tools like Hunter.io
or Clearbit Connect
to find the journalist’s email addresses.
3. Create a list of all your acquaintances that use ProductHunt (PH). You’ll want to ping them and ask for support once you launch on PH (more on this in the next step).
4. Create a list of all your friends and acquaintances who might have connections to your target audience. You’ll reach out to them during launch.
🔥Step #6 - LAUNCH!🔥
Time to hit that big, shiny red button and LAUNCH!
1. Reach out to all the journalists
you listed in the last step and pitch your product. The PoV of the pitch should be “hey, you wrote about [competitor x]. We have a similar product, but here’s how ours stands out…” To learn more about this approach, check out this article
3. Reach out to all your friends and acquaintances we listed out in the last step, and ask for a share of your product landing page. For the best results, you should also give them the EXACT text they should use when sharing the page.
➡️ Step #7 - Ongoing Marketing ➡️
BAM, you launched. If you did everything right, you should already have some initial traction.
However, you’re far from done. In fact, you’re just getting started! From here on out, you should be doing ongoing marketing to drive growth for your startup. You can use any of the following marketing channels…
- Content Marketing
- Google Ads
- Affiliate Marketing
- Referral Marketing
We're going to deep-dive on how to do it down below!
🔗 SEO 🔗
SEO generally involves 3 things:
1. Creating high-quality articles aimed at ranking for specific keywords
2.Optimizing your website to Google best practices
3. Getting high-quality backlinks pointed towards your website
Here's how to do all that.
1. Create a list of your competitors that have good rankings on Google.
2. Do some keyword research
. Come up with keywords that you want to rank for with your blog content (e.g. topics surrounding your product), as well as your landing pages (e.g. direct search terms people use to find your product). You can use the following tools for this:
3. Optimize all your web pages for SEO. You can use one of the following tools:
4. Publish SEO-optimized content on the reg. Here’s how to do that…
5. Create landing pages for each of your use-case.
📄 Content Marketing 📄
Content marketing = creating content aimed towards your target users needs / paints / problems, and promoting it to make sure that they get to read it.
E.g. if you're a resume builder SaaS, you'd create content on how to write the perfect resume.
Here's how to do content marketing:
1. Learn some basics of content marketing
. The general process, though, involves creating and promoting content to drive traffic and leads to your product.
2. Come up with (potentially viral) content ideas. You can use the following tactics for that:
- Find viral content in your niche with BuzzSumo
- Reverse-engineer the best content ever published on Hacker News
- Borrow content ideas from some of the best posts on Reddit. To do this, find the most active subreddit for your niche, and check for the most popular content published there. E.g. for /r/entrepreneur.
3. Create a list of channels you can use to promote your content. Some of our favorites include:
- Facebook groups. Whatever your niche might be, there’s probably a ton of Facebook groups around it. If you’re in the SaaS, entrepreneurship, or marketing niche, check out our list of 100+ best groups.
- Reddit. Find the most popular communities for your niche, and repost your content there. Keep in mind, though, that for most subreddits, you have to reformat your blog post to fit the Reddit post format (and NOT just submit a link to your blog)
5. For each content piece you publish, look for people who wrote about similar topics, and reach out to them asking for a share.
6. Read some case studies:
🔎 Google Ads 🔎
Does your product already have an audience looking for it?
Then Google Ads might be the right channel for you.
The general process here is identifying keywords your ideal users use to look for similar products, and advertise on them.
1. First off, get some basic understanding of how Google Ads work. Here are some of our favorite resources:
Then, here's our Google Ads checklist:
2. Find the keywords you want to run ads on
. You can use Google Keyword Planner
for this. We recommend finding keywords around your product’s main use-case and running ads on those.
3. Decide on your budget
. This is a lot easier than you’d think - check what’s the average CPC for your keywords, decide on the # of clicks you want to buy in order to see if you’re getting a positive ROI or not and calculate the budget accordingly. Alternatively, you can just use our PPC calculator
4. Create a landing page for each (significantly different) keyword. E.g. if you’re advertising on “workflow software,” your landing page should have “workflow software” as a keyword sprinkled all around (and NOT “business process management software” or any other synonym).
5. Create 3+ ad copies for each keyword you’ll target.
6. Pick the right location, device type, and demographics options for your ad account. E.g. if you’re selling a very expensive product, you’d probably want to avoid countries with lower income.
7. Create granular ad groups. I.e. each ad set should have 1 keyword. While this is harder to manage, it gives you better control and flexibility over your ads.
8. Use Cascading Bids
. I.e. bid lower for broad match keywords, and higher for exact match keywords.
9. Add negative keywords. That’s keywords you DON’T want your ads to show up on. When you’re using broad match keywords, Google automatically shows your ads to associated keywords (which often-times, can be irrelevant).
11. Use optimized ad rotation. Meaning, Google will automatically figure out which of your ad copies work best and run those.
12. On an ongoing basis, keep track of your account and make adjustments when needed (try new keywords, add negative keywords, experiment w/ different ad copies, etc.)
👀 PPC (or, Other Ad Channels) 👀
Since there are dozens of ad platforms on the web, this sections going to be a bit more generic.
The general goal for PPC is to set up your ad account in such a way that you're making more money than you're spending.
1. Create your ad campaign. Decide on the budget and campaign goal. The latter will tell the ad platform how to optimize your campaigns. E.g. should it focus on traffic that gets you sign-ups? Conversions? Traffic?
2. Figure out your ad targeting. Mind you, though, this doesn’t mean that you should create a customer persona and replicate it using Facebook targeting. Create several target groups w/ a handful of interests each. Test which of them performs the best.
3. For each target group create several ad creative variations (i.e. ad image and copy). The goal here is to see which ad works best and double down.
Looking to learn more about PPC advertising? Here are some of the best guides we’ve read:
Affiliate Marketing means starting a program to reward companies who drive registrations and sales to your website. Here's how to do that:
1. Decide on your affiliate program structure. Meaning, you need to figure out:
- What’s the % you’re going to offer to your affiliate
- Are you going to offer a different % based on the # of signups an affiliate drives?
- Is the affiliate bonus going to be a one-time thing, or recurring?
2. Decide on the technical solution. Here are some options:
- Create your own affiliate software. Obviously, this is very time-consuming and expensive, so we wouldn’t recommend.
- Using WordPress? You can try Affiliate WP
- If you’re not, any of the following options are nice: TapAffiliate, Post Affiliate Pro.
3. Create a landing page for the affiliate program. Include a link to it on your site header or footer.
4. Reach out to potential affiliate marketing partners. For example:
- Affiliate blogs (i.e. blogs that review the best products in your niche)
🔁 Referral Marketing 🔁
Referral marketing can significantly boost your user acquisition with ZERO added spend. Here's how you'd do that:
1. Decide on your referral marketing structure. What does the referrer and the referee get? Some options here are:
2. Setup a referral marketing program. You can use one of the following tools for that:
3. Create a landing page for the referral program and include it in your header or footer.
4. Reach out to your existing users and let them know about your referral program. You can do this by sending out a mass email to your subscribers and users.
To learn more about referral marketing, check out:
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