Your founding team is burnt out from wearing multiple hats, but deciding who to hire next is getting tricky.
Short answer: If you build it, they won’t magically come. You need to market.
This guide identifies two must-hire marketing superheroes to scale your startup, the hats (or capes) they can wear and the traits to look out for when acquiring marketing talent.
Who should be the first hire for my startup marketing team?
After finding product-market fit, the next focus of any startup is profit.
Marketers provide traction that drives cash flow, meaning there will be many iterations of your product after you go to market, and you need to hire people who understand this.
Focus on hiring skills rather than filling seats. Hiring one person for every role puts you at risk of premature scaling, and your startup could crash before it takes off, even with abundant funding.
One person should be able to wear at least three hats. Content marketer Esther Akinsola believes new marketing hires must understand the structure of early-stage startups, or they’ll feel micromanaged.
I’ll share six key traits to look out for when hiring marketers, but first, let’s see what hats need heads.
Priority marketing hires for growth-stage startups
To scale your marketing team, you primarily need two roles—the planner and the executor.
Here’s a round-up of what offices they could cross-function in and their expected results.
Planner: Content Strategist
A content strategist is a full-stack marketer who develops content documents (briefs, style guides, content and editorial calendars), spots competitive gaps, and creates channel-specific execution plans for marketing goals.
Strategists can wear project management hats. Two-time agency owner Andy Strote says a “super efficient, can do anything” project manager is the most important hire after writers and designers as they “alleviate all the pressure off the rest of the team”.
Strategists can also double as growth marketers and build audience connections with inbound and outbound marketing strategies, influencer outreach, and PR. They are dedicated to driving customer acquisition across all paid and owned channels.
As a growth marketing consultant, Dan Siepen admits to also wearing hats in email marketing, social and even product and UX. “It’s all part of the fun of working with startup companies”, he says.
Skills needed to wear all three content strategy hats
The ideal marketing hire here is a “specialist generalist” with experience in testing and scaling who understands that customers only buy solutions to their problems. They are familiar with KPIs per channel and have frameworks for driving results.
Their expertise also spans SEO, performance marketing, and growth. Shivasankari Bhuvaneswaran, Senior Content Strategist at Gallabox, invested in performance marketing early on and built a robust PPC system. As they scaled, so did their pipeline, challenging them to meet ever-growing customer demands.
Executor: Content Marketer
A Content Marketer bridges your startup to your audience by executing your strategy to meet marketing OKRs. They use your sales channels to build end-to-end user demand.
A great content marketer should have content writing skills and versatility in writing emails, articles, and technical content with SEO knowledge.
However, it’s rare to find all these skills in one individual. In this case, you need multiple writers for a holistic approach. Like compound interest, content writing builds upon itself to convert traffic into customers.
Content marketers often spearhead a startup’s social media. Beyond the “management”, they will be your eyes and ears online and optimizing content for SEO.
“While early-stage startups often slowly develop their marketing structures, prioritizing SEO and cost-effective content marketing builds authority and trust,” Esther says. “Combining it with paid ads can accelerate results, but the focus should always be on long-term business goals.”
Skills needed to wear all three content marketing hats
The ideal marketing hire here excels in team and customer-facing communications, from customer success to PR.
At a startup where she was hired as a content writer before joining Gallabox, Shivasankari’s PR efforts resulted in mentions “across 257 media outlets within a week.”
Other key content marketing skills include brand monitoring, writing pitches, analyzing content performance, and using available data to refine the content strategy.
Before you commit to a full-time hire, you can outsource to a fractional marketer or an agency to cover bases across cross-functional teams and build a system.
You will then have data from your most profitable channels, filter business goals and clearly understand who you need to hire to scale.
Traits to look out for in a new marketing hire
To translate your hiring efforts into customer and business success, look for attitude and aptitude in people who want to work, create and learn.
Your team’s expertise is the foundation of your startup, and you can’t simply trust your gut feeling to make hiring decisions. And just like customer acquisition, you want to acquire high-skilled talent for a fraction of the price to remain profitable.
Here are six traits to look out for before you send that offer letter.
Cultural fit is the idea that a hire will be more effective and more likely to grow with your startup if their values, behaviors and ethics align with your company’s.
Cross-functional teamwork, communication and work ethic are only three of many skillsets hinged on cultural fit. No matter how experienced a candidate is, if they dont align with your startup’s culture, it’s a ticking time bomb.
In the tweet below, a candidate who ticked all the recruiter’s other boxes was turned down because they were a poor cultural fit.
Remuneration is not the only draw for talent. Many early-stage startups offer mainly equity or ownership. However, if candidates aren’t genuinely interested in your startup, they’ll likely leave despite the stake portion.
Earlier this year, I declined a startup’s offer because working without genuine interest felt insincere.
Interest remains the strongest motivator when a candidate is practically betting on your startup’s future.
Proactiveness and ownership
If there’s no customer success team, your marketer should proactively step in to gather direct customer feedback to fine-tune strategies and align customer engagement across all touchpoints.
Tominiyi Alabi, a resilient digital marketer, had to context-switch between content writing and social media management roles at a startup. “I handled content across the board and catered to different audiences on different platforms”, she says.
For startups, delays can cost opportunities; hire those who are decisive, goal-aligned, and take ownership of outcomes.
Flexibility and adaptability
Startups commonly have undefined processes and need proper structure and documentation.
Faruq Animashaun, who juggled roles from community management to performance marketing, highlighted the constant time pressure he experiences, with “a lot to do in so little time”.
A top-tier candidate should be able to create structure from observed patterns and replicate them to save time and drive results.
While targeting high-profile candidates is tempting, your emphasis should be on hiring skilled marketers in fields that align with your startup’s proven marketing strategies. They don’t need to know everything but must be great at what they know.
Gallabox’s early emphasis on PPC (Pay-Per-Click) is a testament to this approach. As the startup expanded, so did its acquisition channel, leading to a surge in demand that eventually became challenging to manage.
It took a competent marketing team to lay the foundation that early. When hiring, understanding and aligning your startup’s needs with a candidate’s strengths will be your best bet.
Balancing compensation between cash and equity, or offering equity alone, complicates the hiring process. If you seek a solid track record outright, be prepared to pay the candidates’s worth.
Would you hire a marketer who aspires to become a founder or one who dreams of managing social media for brick-and-mortar stores in their local community?
While both are valid dreams, the former aligns better with any startup’s vision than the other. Someone with founding aspirations will likely invest more in understanding and replicating startup success.
Where to find marketing talent for startups?
The best place to source marketing candidates is via referrals. A referral comes with a level of trust. When someone from your network recommends a candidate, they vouch for their skill and reliability based on personal experience.
Next is social media. A marketer’s social media presence lets you gauge their thought-process, expertise and goals.
Don’t limit your search to startup communities and circles. Potential talents might be hidden in different niches. If their content stands out, approach them with a compelling pitch about your startup. Yes, a pitch. It’s a two-way process. You have to sell your startup to the candidate.
You can also post job openings on dedicated or niche job boards or employ a recruitment agency to take the burden of candidate hunting off your shoulders.
Hiring is an investment, and the saying “Hire slow, fire fast” holds true.
When you’re not backfilling an existing role, it takes longer, and hastening the process will cost more in the long run.
Final thoughts: Who to hire to scale my startup?
In the context of business type, such as eCommerce versus B2B SaaS, prioritize roles like performance marketing or content/SEO, respectively, Dan advises, “along with organic social media expertise and a strategist with a solid analytical and website management background”.
Overall, focus on building and marketing your product, whether scaling 0-1 or 1-10. Grow a small team dedicated to your most profitable channel and expand as you scale.
Structuring your marketing team and need a fractional content strategist to guide you for the next six months? Book a free call with me.