Strategizing for startups

How to think before you act when it comes to marketing for your company

The concept is simple: Think before you act in marketing. Getty images

If there were a joke about how entrepreneurs treat their marketing — and there totally isn't — it would go something like this.

An entrepreneur walks into a bar. Before the bartender can ask, the entrepreneur says, "I want a drink and I need it ASAP."

"What type of drink?", the bartender asks, motioning to the hundreds of bottles behind him.

"I need a drink that is refreshing, doesn't make me too drunk and makes me feel like I'm getting my money's worth."

The bartender begins listing drink after drink, and the entrepreneur, sometimes sampling the drink, turns each one down.

At long last, the entrepreneur climbs behind the bar, grabs a glass, pours in some ice and soda water, and takes a long sip.

"This is exactly what I wanted," the entrepreneur proclaims, "Why didn't you offer me this in the first place?"

The moral of the story? When it comes to marketing, entrepreneurs tend to know exactly what they want, yet they focus on quenching that immediate thirst, not knowing why they're in a bar in the first place.

The idea of your first step is nothing compared to the reality of your second. You can know something but applying those principles to starting and/or running your own business can be difficult.

When we (yes, I'm an entrepreneur too) look at marketing, we often confuse tactics with strategy. I see a problem and immediately need a tool to fix it. Hanging a picture? Where's the hammer?!

While it's tempting to lead with the tactics (i.e. website, brochure, display ad, video, etc.), they can be misguided. This can drain precious resources. Strategy can inject purpose into everyone's mindset.

Marketing efforts must be considered a sequence of events that, when lined up in the right order, produce results that are repeatable, more effective, and can lead to a predictable type of profitability.

Where careers rise and fall is the accuracy of any particular strategy. Since we're talking about accuracy, let's use an archery metaphor. Sure, you can consistently hit a target from five feet away. The farther away you get, though, the more you have to consider crosswind, the arrow's trajectory, and your own focus in order to hit that bullseye. And that's all part of a process of whittling down the variables you don't know or can't control.

It's the same with marketing. The more time you've spent preparing, studying, testing, and strategizing, the more often you will accurately target that bullseye.

Where a lot of entrepreneurs also miss the mark is not clearly understanding the core business issue. If you're lost in the forest (and it can totally feel like that sometimes), you're supposed to be quiet when hunting for food but you supposed to make a lot of noise when trying to get rescued. That's what mixing up a core business issue can do. As a process where you're whittling down the variables, marketing is a sequence, like this:

Graphic from Jarred King

Seems simple enough, right? But the process itself is dependent on the intangible pieces in between the steps. This is what happens between the "knowing" and the "doing." So, the above graph should really flow like this:

Graphic from Jarred King

Usually, the typical entrepreneur prefers to start with step four and just "get sh*t done." The problem with this approach is that it can either be the wrong solution (you're hunting with a rock instead of an arrow) or the wrong effort (you're staying quiet when you should be hollering).

The difficulty here is that the desired effect doesn't happen overnight. It rarely solves "today's problems" today. Even worse, it might require a larger investment. Without fundamentally understanding your business problem, any solution offered will be less effective, more expensive, and more wasteful of time and resources.

Instead, simply start with the business problem and then follow the above sequence to leverage "the doing" part in order to develop "the knowing" part. This doesn't have to be a drawn-out process, and there are a ton of free resources available online to help conduct your own research, analysis, and planning.

Ultimately, I'm saying "think before you act." It's not difficult to understand. The challenge for entrepreneurs is that they are faced with hundreds of important and, often, business-critical decisions each day. We can't help but to react, then decide, and move on. While our gut and grit got us to this point of success, it's strategy that will take us from surviving to thriving.

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Jarred King is the founder and president of Swagger Agency, a full-service marketing firm as well as the current president of Entrepreneurs' Organization - Houston. King also serves on the board of InnovationMap.

Houston came in at No. 5 for best cities — with populations of more than 1 million residents — for startups. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

When it comes to cities with over a million residents, Houston's at the front of the pack, according to a new study. But, there's a catch.

Last month, Commercial Cafe rounded up the 20 top cities for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs, and Houston missed the list. Now, the commercial real estate blog has broken down the data into three top ten lists based on city size, and Houston has claimed the No. 5 spot on the list of cities with 1 million or more residents.

The study took into account education, affordability, startup financial success (calculated from Kickstarter data), millennial population growth, among other aspects. Houston in particular was called out for being the most affordable major metro and for having the third best startup survival rate.

"The city is home to the fourth-largest percentage of millennial residents out of the total population, and saw the fourth-largest growth in number of millennial residents," the report reads. "Houston ranked fifth in group for the share of population holding a bachelor's degree or higher in a tech discipline. The rate at which the number of such residents has increased placed Houston seventh for tech education growth."

Outpacing Houston on the larger cities were Dallas at No. 1, San Diego, California, at No. 2, San Jose, California, at No. 3, and Los Angeles at No. 4. San Antonio also made the list, coming in at No. 7.

Texas cities were sprinkled throughout the two smaller cities list. Austin came in at No. 1 for the cities with 500,000 to 1 million residents, as well as claimed the top spot in the best cities regardless of population. Fort Worth ranked as No. 10 on this mid-sized city list.

On the small cities list for metros with less than 500,000 residents, Arlington came in at No. 6 for its location and startup density. The city also made the top 20 regardless of size, sliding into the No. 19 spot. Dallas, which topped the large cities list, came in at No. 15 on the size agnostic list for top startup cities.

Recently, Texas was named a top city to start a company by personal finance website, WalletHub, based on similar statistics.

"[I]t's clear why Texas would come in at No. 1," Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Houston Partnership, says responding to that study. "These are all areas where the Lone Star State consistently excels and why Texas continues to attract both entrepreneurs and existing companies across industry sectors."