How Much Time Do You Spend Marketing in a Startup?

Often I go out and speak with small business owners and entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping a new business.  Whenever we get to the subject
May 03, 2009

Often I go out and speak with small business owners and entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping a new business.  Whenever we get to the subject of marketing, someone will invariably ask:  “How much of my budget should I spend on marketing?”


In a bootstrapped startup, I think the better question is:  “How much time should I spend on marketing?"


The reason I emphasize time is that for bootstrapped startups, you probably have little money to spend on marketing early on.  You’re more likely to have time than money to spare.  So what happens?  You end up doing as much marketing as possible on your own, using more creativity and elbow grease than money – hence, the emphasis on time.


My answer is usually something like 20% of your time should be devoted to marketing your business in the early years.  That means if you work a 50-hour week building your business, you will be spending 10 hours a week on marketing.


When I look back at my own experience, I spent even more time – well over 25% in the first two years.  In fact, in the first few months when I had few clients, I spent closer to 50% of my time on marketing.  Later I cut back to 25% as my business grew.  Anyway, I did not have much business at first, so why not spend my time on marketing, right?


I wish I could tell you there is a scientific basis for these percentages … but I can’t.  It’s more of a gut feel about what I had to do to market my business.

Now, 20% or 25% or more may seem like a lot of time on marketing to some people.  To others, it may seem not nearly enough. 

Scott Ginsberg, the Name Tag Guy, wrote on his blog recently about how much time self-employed businesspeople spend on marketing each day – and his reaction to it:

“In the (awesome) book Free Agent Nation, author Daniel Pink cites a 2001 survey conducted by The Washington Post that indicates the following:

“Self-employed businesspeople spend an average of 43 minutes a day marketing themselves.”


“43 minutes? Are you kidding me?”

That’s 8%.

Which leads to my next question:

“What are you doing for the other 437 minutes?

ANSWER: The wrong things.

As a self-employed businessperson, marketing is everything. Period. Bad economy or not.”

As far as I know, there’s no definitive right or wrong answer … nothing that says 8%, or 20% or 25% or 50% is the right amount of time to spend on marketing.  All I know is: investing sufficient time to lay the groundwork for getting future sales should have a significant place in your business day, when you are running a business.

If nothing else, this discussion about how much time you spend on marketing should make you stop and think about where you spend your time today – and where you COULD spend your time. 

Your reaction?  How much time do you spend on marketing?