Who should be the first marketing hire in a startup?

Before you recruit your first marketing hire, assess the growth needs of your startup and ability to compete. Answer these seven questions first.

Rob Boyle
September 19, 2021
Before you recruit your first marketing hire, assess the growth needs of your startup and ability to compete. Answer these seven questions first.

So you think you’re ready to hire a marketing person? Answer these seven questions first.

At whatever size, your first marketing hire is key to how you build your ideal team

But deciding who to hire requires answering some questions about your growth strategy.

  • What will be your route to growth?
  • Do you have a marketing plan?
  • Is your product hedonic or utilitarian?
  • Do you have the capacity (or ability) to train marketers?
  • How much can you afford to pay?
  • What is the skillset of the founder and the rest of the team?
  • How competitive is the market?

The initial marketing hire should be someone who can fill the role as it grows. This person typically has experience in content creation and will work closely with your CEO and co-founders to develop the strategy.

What will be your route to growth?

Do you have existing clients or need to scale fast?

  • If it’s the former, you may want to consider someone experienced in retention, engagement or community. 
  • If you have no customers and are in a competitive market, you may need a pay per click (PPC) ad specialist.

Another consideration you should make is the complexity of your product. If it’s a fast-moving consumer good like chocolate bars, then detailed explainer videos probably aren’t necessary. 

However, educational content marketing is essential if you are selling a product that is difficult to use. An excellent example of this in practice is the HubSpot Academy and blog, which upskill marketers and teach them how to use HubSpot.

Do you have a marketing plan?

Do you have a clear plan for growth and an understanding of the marketing channels available? In that case, you can hire a junior and direct them. 

But, if you don’t understand marketing or are swamped with other tasks, hire someone experienced who can take ownership. You will appreciate someone much more when they hit the ground running and free you up. 

Alternatively, hiring a marketing consultant or agency will be a better way to craft your strategy.

Is your product hedonic or utilitarian?

If you are selling a product purchased emotionally or rationally, your marketing channels and skill needs will differ. 

Ariyh describes these different buying decisions as hedonic (an emotional purchase like fashion or a candle) or utilitarian (rational purchases like accounting services).

The two approaches need a different online presence. Hedonic products require an extensive social media presence and an engaging product page. 

Utilitarian products require a focus on search engine optimisation (SEO) and third-party review and comparison sites. Hire according to the emotional or rational decision making related to your product.

Will you provide training?

Another factor in whether you hire juniors or experienced marketers is training. Could you hire juniors with the intention to develop them? Or will you pay more for the right talent?

You can access funding to hire marketing apprentices in the UK and collaborate with training providers and accredited bodies like the Chartered Institute of Marketing

Apprentices give you the best of both worlds in that you can develop inexperienced talent alongside experts. Bear in mind that you will still need to dedicate time to training, mentoring and guiding your employee.

What is your budget? Can you afford the average marketing salary?

How much you can afford to pay should be a factor in your talent planning. Glassdoor estimates the average marketing manager salary to be £45,000 and a marketing coordinator to be £32,000. 

Junior roles, often called executives or assistants, are usually advertised at £18,000 to £25,000.

Specialists in PPC can vary from £22,000 to £42,000, and an SEO specialist salary ranges from £20,000 to £51,000.

By comparison, a marketing apprentice would cost between £8,000 and £16,000, depending on their age and any apprenticeship levy funding you can access.

These ranges can vary depending on the industry you work in and the availability of skills. It is typical to see lower pay in a marketing agency or sales-driven organisations and higher in consumer goods where marketing is essential to commercial success.

What is the skillset of the founder and the rest of the team?

Complementing the skills of the founding team is key to hiring talent that succeeds.

Is the business product-led by creative visionaries with little business experience? Then hire a strategic marketer able to map the market and where you can win.

If the founder has years of experience building brands, then you should hire differently. A performance marketer with expertise in paid advertising and lead generation may be what you need.

How competitive is the market?

Competition in the marketplace should drive your hiring decision in two ways.

Access to talent. Are you able to attract the best of the best to work for you if rivals have a stronger employer brand and pay more? You may need to hire unproven talent or pay more.

Ability to compete. Do rivals have larger marketing budgets and a strong brand? You will need to hire someone data-savvy that can experiment and identify new channels for growth.

Navigating marketing job descriptions (and job title inflation)

Be wary of giving early hires unnecessarily inflated job titles like Chief Marketing Officer or Head of Marketing. 

HireBetter has some good advice on the pitfalls of job title inflation. Two particular challenges are:

  1. Giving an inflated title to a hire who is then out of their depth.
  2. Giving an exaggerated title to someone who feels too important to step back to a lesser role or salary.

Both issues will make it harder for you to employ more experienced heads later and hire a marketing team

Generalist vs Specialists

Start with a generalist for your first marketing hire...

Your first hire will likely need to generalise in a range of startup marketing roles. This role will need to be someone who can see the big picture but isn’t afraid to roll their sleeves up.

Their responsibilities may include:

  • Email campaigns
  • Community management
  • Social media
  • Paid search/social
  • Content marketing
  • Competitive strategy and analysis
  • Partnerships
  • Affiliate marketing

And more...

Wearing many hats is a big ask but is expected in smaller teams where funding is scarce, and it is not clear where you can compete. 

However, please don’t put up a job ad with a laundry list of ‘essential’ duties your generalist marketer will ‘need’ to do. An experienced marketer will know that the expectations are unreasonable. 

In the job description, it is better to state that you are an early-stage startup looking for an early hire that can wear many hats and develop as you grow. Only list 1 or 2 of the main priorities you want to address to focus your recruitment.

...and hire marketing specialists later

As you grow, you should start to specialise and hire for areas and channels that are most profitable. Here is where you would hire a specialist for each channel like SEO, PPC, Social, Creative etc.

The specialists you need to hire later will depend entirely on the nature of your business. 

A fast-paced eCommerce may need email and paid ads. But, an organisation selling complex engineering products B2B may need a content marketer and blogging strategy to drive demand.

The T-shaped marketer

You may be lucky and find a T-shaped marketer who varies slightly from a pure generalist or specialist. 

A T-shaped marketer has a firm grounding in a range of marketing fundamentals but excels in 1 or 2 areas. 

They are a generalist but with one specialism that they excel in. This could be a content marketer with expertise in SEO, copywriting and email campaigns. Or a paid media specialist that understands the intricacies of Facebook/Google/LinkedIn’s ad platforms.

When you hire marketing talent, you need to plan your current and future strategy

Plan your first marketing hires around where you are and where you plan to go. It is best not to rush into recruiting a lousy fit because you don’t know what you want.

If you need small one-off jobs, then outsourcing to an agency or consultant is best. They will provide specialist expertise without a long term financial commitment.

Do you know what positioning and strategy will be (and you can provide training)? Then you can hire a junior marketer that can grow into the role.

If you need help crafting and executing your strategy, an experienced marketer could be a good fit. Although, I would be mindful that they may not want to get their hands dirty. Ask at the interview when was the last time they set up a campaign or wrote ad copy. They may not have done this in decades as they would have delegated to a larger team.

The last point is a crucial thing to remember. Your first hire will need to be a generalist that wears many hats until you can afford more headcount and specialise.

About the author

Rob Boyle is the founder of Jigsaw Metric and oversees content strategy and research projects. 

As a child of small business owners, Rob understands the challenges of growing without resources. He set up Jigsaw Metric as a side project to help more small businesses grow from 10 to 1,000 customers. 

For Rob, digging into the data and seeing KPI charts trend upwards is the most rewarding part of the role.

When not devouring business plans and books, Rob enjoys playing guitar and spending quality time with his infant daughter and toddler son.

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