Questions about marketing for a startup with 2 per cent market share

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We’ve been publishing our newest title, Ontario Construction News, for a little less than two weeks. It’s still far too early to make firm calculations and projections, but right now it looks like we’ve achieved 2 per cent market share — hardly overwhelming, but really close to my original business plan projections of 2.5 per cent market share through the first two months of publication.

Our new business has unique marketing challenges and opportunities. For one thing, we can determine the exact market size, at least in the number of sales because our formerly-monopoly status competitor publishes its market data openly, in a searchable database. And since the legal notice advertisements we are publishing are required by statute and regulation in Ontario, we know that we can’t expect to grow the market beyond what we see (unless of course the overall construction market grows and there are more projects completed or otherwise subject to the required legal notices.)

For the past few days, I’ve been vacillating between hope and excitement and frustration about our marketing and business development process. After all, it is quite a lot of work to produce an eight page daily PDF newspaper when we may have one $250 paid ad occupying about 1/16 of a singe page every two days. On the other hand, our costs are so effectively under control that even at the absurdly low market share (and with pricing upwards of 50 per cent less than the competition) we can hang on without depleting capital with the ability to pay key cash costs out of operating revenues.

Still, the question arises — how can we grow from 2 per cent market share to 5 per cent, to 10 per cent — to, wouldn’t it be great — 20 per cent or more?

And this is where things get challenging. While we have a good idea of who our customers “should” be — it will take some effort to break the inertia and satisfy them that we are delivering the promised value.

Consider these points:

  • Our sales are a one-off deal, though some clients need to purchase the product several times a year;
  • The day-to-day function of placing orders will generally be delegated to a clerical/accounting person, without much decision-making authority;
  • The person placing the orders will generally not be spending her/his own money;
  • The budget line item significance of these ads, in comparison to an overall project value, is insignificant;
  • Some advertisements are placed by much larger organizations and government agencies. Finding the decision-maker who would actually set the rules and processes will be like finding a needle in a haystack; and
  • Finally, there is inertia: The old system works, it is safe to use, so why change

Our approach to overcoming these problems includes:

  • Strategic alliance with, which has a solid list of potential customers, and also helps by providing crucial project information data;
  • Self-marketing in our own publications (obviously);
  • Association strategic alliances (just getting started, and may prove to be effective); and
  • Google AdWords — In theory, these ads should be inexpensive as there is no keyword competition, but Google uses artificial intelligence to set “what the traffic will bear” prices. It is still early but we are getting some business this way.

At our weekly planning meeting yesterday, we discussed some other ideas but I’ll keep these under wraps until they are proven — I realize I am writing in an open place and the competition can read every word. (But everything here should be clearly visible to the competition, whether or not I write this note in public.)

Here’s a question for you. Given the details here (and any questions you may wish to ask by comment below or direct email to are there any things you would do differently in the circumstances?

It seems quite unusual for me as a marketing expert to ask for marketing advice from my readers, but right now I’m living through a real-life start-up experience and good ideas are welcome from everywhere I can find them.

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