Marketing Tips from Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup

I first encountered Chris Guillebeau about a year ago when I was looking for examples of great eBooks, and came across his A Brief Guide to World Domination. Earlier this year, he launched his latest project, The $100 Startup. While intended for people starting lifestyle businesses, its marketing tips can be applied to businesses of all sizes, particularly those who want to apply agile marketing. I’ll give you a brief taste of Chris’s book, but you’ll get the full meal deal from reading the book from the prologue (another manifesto) to the fish stories appendix.

Give Them the Fish

Chris uses a wonderful analogy to explain the importance of delivering value on the customer’s terms. Let’s say you go into a restaurant on a Friday night after a long week, and you’re looking forward to a good meal, some wine and some time with friends. You order the Salmon Risotto. After a few minutes, the chef comes out and says, “I understand you ordered the salmon risotto. It can be tricky. Have you ever cooked salmon risotto before? I’ll teach you how; wash up and I’ll meet you in the kitchen in a few minutes.” Without waiting for an answer, he heads off.

As Chris points out, if this happened to you, you’d certainly be confused and maybe you’d choose another restaurant. But this is what too many businesses (and too many marketers) do every day. They think of the value in terms of the effort it took them to produce the good or service, and in trying to get the customer to appreciate the effort involved, they literally try to “teach them to fish”.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

This may be good advice for some things, but not for business or for marketing. Give the customer the fish! Sell them what they want, not what you think they need.

In order to give them the fish, you’re going to have to dig deep to uncover the real customer needs. Many customers won’t tell you, or sometimes don’t consciously know, what they really want until you show it to them. That’s the sentiment behind Henry Ford’s statement “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse”. Connect with the deeper, often emotional need.

The One-Page Business Plan

As Chris interviewed successful entrepreneurs, he found that most of them had either no business plan at all, or at best something that might have been written on a single sheet of paper. What they did have was an idea and a bias for action. They kept their costs low and got the first sale as quickly as possible. Some of them marketed the product before they manufactured it. They experimented and iterated until they got the results they were seeking. This should sound familiar, as it encapsulates some of the core principles of agile marketing:

  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Adaptive and iterative experiments over big-bang campaigns
  • Testing and data over opinions

Chris’s advice in chapters 6 and 7 about creating a one-page business plan, a 140 character mission statement and an offer that you can’t refuse are invaluable and something that every marketer should read.

Tweaking Your Way to the Bank

As Chris says in chapter 11, “The not-so-secret to improving income in an existing business is through tweaks: small changes that create a big impact.”

This is our job as marketers, finding those small tweaks that collectively add up to large increases in our business. Try a new idea, measure if it works (or not), and change based on your learnings. Tweak your way to the bank.

Chris has a number of specific suggestions, including creating a service from a product-based business, or a product from a service-based business. Remember the story of the chef and the salmon risotto from above? If the chef offered cooking classes on Saturday afternoons when the restaurant is slow or closed, he might add some more revenue.

I loved the book. I don’t have any intentions right now to create a $100 startup, but I picked up lots of marketing tips from Chris. Highly recommended.

What about you? Have you read The $100 Startup? Have you read something else lately that you thought provided some great marketing tips?

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