Zach at the Cross Campus entrance

Zach at the Cross Campus entrance

We talk to a lot of startups seeking communications advice, and even hold weekly office hours for them at the lively Cross Campus co-working space in Santa Monica. And when it comes to developing a media strategy around their new products, we find a lot them are just as worried about what not to do. That in mind, here’s a quick recap of three communications mistakes startups often make -- and how to avoid them.

1. Messaging That Complicates, Confuses, or Over-Promises

Whether it’s unclear, not well thought out, or just poorly communicated, weak messaging out of the gates can be crippling to startups. And don’t overpromise. Overpromising leads to underwhelmed customers, which is likely to stunt your growth before it even begins. Instead, focus on developing simple, concise messaging that is easily digestible to a very clearly defined customer. And instead of overpromising, be transparent about what is truly possible with your product as it is now.

2. Macro Focus Messaging Before Gaining Traction

Sure, you have high ambitions to be everything to everyone, but slow down. Before promoting your product to a mass market, you need to make an effective impact on one market first, learn about your product and customer interactions, and evolve organically from there. All that has to happen before you start tackling multiple vertical markets. Find a niche focus at first, and you won’t regret it. (You probably got the same “focus on a niche” advice from a business professor or entrepreneurial mentor program, and we’d argue that it also applies in your external communications.)

3. Hasty Launch without a Launch Communication Plan in Place

You have lofty goals for your startup, and that’s great, but remember that business development is a marathon, not a sprint. The number one error we see startups make is trying to launch without crisp messaging, proper focus, and a thorough go-to-market plan in place. Far too many of them launch prematurely, unprepared to communicate what they are and why they matter -- and then get greeted with rightly deserved skepticism from tech reporters. The key to avoiding this mistake is to treat your communications strategy like you would a product rollout -- i.e., there should be closed beta, open beta, and public launch phases of your communications strategy. Involve reporters in this process, and be clear what phase you’re at. Don’t be quick to launch!

The common denominator in all three of these mistakes: A lack of planning on the communications side of the business. So much effort goes into product development, pilot programs, and fundraising, that communications planning often takes a back seat. Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, treat your communications strategy like it’s a core part of your product.