The bigger your customer base the easier it is to be increasingly efficient and effective with your marketing efforts. You shouldn’t be spending on really advanced marketing solutions that integrate predictive behavior and AI if your customer size is too small for any sort of statistical significance within a reasonable amount of time for a marketing test (think 3 months max for a marketing test experiment). Here are a few guidelines for those of you new to working with startups that you might find helpful in deciding when you should start investing in bigger, and subsequently more expensive marketing tools.

Stick With Basic Marketing Tools For Each of These Channels IF

Email Campaign Management: < 25k subscribers

Email Capture: Email continues to be the highest converting channel across the board which is why I’ve separated out email capture from campaign management. No matter your size or company age you should always be refreshing, testing, tweeking, and optimizing your email capture funnel. You’re probably thinking “but developers are so expensive and difficult to manage so I couldn’t possibly have the resources to implement something like this”. The best part of marketing in this digital age are the vast amount of marketing tech that essentially replaces the need for a developer on most things and email capture testing is no exception. I’ve had a lot of experience working with an app called Sumo and I’ve found that their agile team is constantly making some pretty awesome improvements which is a definite virtue in the marketing tech space. It’s super affordable and easy to use even for the not-so-tech-savvy.  You’ll be completely addicted to customizing your test variants and crazy easy customizable display rules as the possibilities are so effortless and infinite.

Site Analytics Tools: < 100k unique site visitors per month

Social: You should be investing in tools that improve efficiency from early on because, while social is very necessary, we find that it’s unlikely to be a directly converting channel and can become a massive time suck for your team. Daily posting is critical for sustained brand awareness and tools like Buffer are super affordable to make managing many social channels a breeze. You should almost never be writing social posts at the spur of a moment or from your phone because this is so incredibly inefficient and completely distracting for small teams that wear many hats. Plan on getting at least 1 weeks worth of content scheduled out across all channels all at once. This should take you about 1.5 hours if your posting once a day to all major channels. Set up a process and stick with it!

Instagram: If your audience clearly aligns with Instagram’s user base and you’re obviously a visual brand with some sort of seasonality to your campaigns, making Instagram a major brand awareness channel for your company, I recommend using something like Later. My favorite feature of Later is that its media library exponentially increases your efficiency of content management for visual brands by automatically categorizing your photo assets by whether or not you’ve used said asset on your Instagram profile. While this sounds like a simple feature, visual brands typically find themselves refreshing assets monthly and if you do the math posting 1-3 times a day would mean anywhere from 30-90 images a month or 360-1080 new images a year! That’s a lot of image assets to keep track of… You’ll also want to have all assets edited beforehand by someone very proficient in photoshop then just directly upload all of your images to Later. Later has TONS of other extremely useful features like scheduling pre-written content, saving hashtag combinations you typically use, managing conversions, collaborating with your creative team for visual direction, analytics, and doing research. Surprise! It’s also completely free if you’re only posting once a day.


This one is a little tougher because while everyone should be retargeting, your business model, allotted ad spend budget, conversion window, paid acquisition campaigns, website conversion rate, bounce rate, and PR efforts should all help to inform this platform decision. However, as a very generic rule of thumb, if conversion rates are below industry average or bounce rate is above your time and money is better spent fixing the problem (your website or possibly even pivoting as a company).

If you’re spending any money at all on acquisition or PR you should at least have the bare minimum of display retargeting with Facebook and/or Adroll depending on your target audience. If you’re an ecommerce company with more than 30 skus you should absolutely be investing in dynamic retargeting whether that’s through Google, Criteo, FB or some other platform this is one area that should be invested in from early on. On the other hand, if you’re a content commerce brand you should be looking into retargeting with content delivery networks like Outbrain, Taboola, or even Pinterest. The biggest thing here is to remember here is avoiding ad fatigue especially if your monthly site visitors are less than 8k.


ROI. ROI. ROI. No one channel or strategy fits all for acquisition. You’ll need to test, test, and re-test hypothesis in order to land on anything remotely definitive. Your minimum ad spend for any single acquisition test should be around $200 per ad with a minimum test duration of 1 week. Meaning, if you have 10 ad variants your minimum budget would be $2000. It may sound like a lot of money, but in order to run a successful test you’ll need a sufficient amount of data to interpret. Also, it’s important to note that you’ll want to avoid making your audiences too small. It’s crucial to have a dedicated team or individual to review and tweak ads for optimization every couple of days. The acquisition manager should be expected to optimize, add, pause, etc. once ads have reach a sufficient amount of impressions. Keep in mind that agencies are expensive while freelancers tend to be a more affordable option. However, if you go the freelancer route you’ll need to ensure you have an excellent in-house marketing manager to assign and review work for ROI. IF you don’t have this capability it’s best to look to other non-digital advertising acquisition opportunities.

Web Site

If your site engagement and conversion rate metrics are far below industry average invest heavily here but invest in the right places. This is one scenario where runaway costs can bleed you dry. If your brand requires a custom site you you’ll need to invest in real professionals which is very costly. Before going this route, exhaust every other available option of working within a pre-existing theme. With a pre-existing theme you should be able to get up and running with a better converting site in a month’s time by hiring a freelance developer for minimum customizations.

If you do go the custom route, don’t try to take shortcuts or hire freelancers. It takes a whole team to build a successful converting site which is why we see some of the best sites and brands coming out of VC funded companies. You’ll need a coherent team of highly skilled developers, UX designers, and QA testers with a background of successful projects. Most importantly you’ll need to assure your project manager for any site rebuild is highly proficient in CRO. Choose your team based on the processes they have in place for project workflow and quality assurance.


Starting small is about making business critical judgement about what marketing stack you’ll use to grow over your first few critical years in existence. I hope this article has helped some of you working in startups to make better informed decisions of when and where to invest your limited resources.