“To avoid burnout, Protect your biggest asset — yourself” with Natalie Luneva

Natalie helps tech startup founders get unstuck, get motivated again and grow their startups. She is a growth and leadership coach to SaaS founders. Natalie helps startups with getting traction, growth hacking and scaling. Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, or readers would love to learn a bit […]

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Natalie helps tech startup founders get unstuck, get motivated again and grow their startups. She is a growth and leadership coach to SaaS founders. Natalie helps startups with getting traction, growth hacking and scaling.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, or readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started in marketing as a freelance admin assistant at a marketing agency. Very quickly I was handling low-level technical tasks, then supporting marketing teams with repetitive marketing projects, and shortly thereafter I began working as a Marketing Specialist. I liked doing everything they threw my way and found myself started consuming dozens of courses, books and podcasts to help improve my skills. I was ready to work more than anyone else on the team, and because of that I was given more and more assignments and responsibilities. Often, I was stretched too thin, working 15 hours a day including on weekends — but not because I had to. The truth is I was enjoying it that much. Thanks to that enthusiasm, I quickly climbed the ladder, and within a few months I was assigned multiple clients that I was managing myself.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

For one local business many years ago, I was distributing flyers on car windshields. That was my first time doing it, and I didn’t check the weather forecast, and right after I distributed those flyers it started raining. Then, within 20 minutes, angry people started calling the business complaining that the flyer got stuck to the windshield and couldn’t be scraped off. That was a total failure. I swore to never initiate a campaign with flyer distribution again.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

It was when I left my dead-end job and started working for a company that seemed to be promising. I was the only marketing specialist, which promised to have lots of room for growth. The job was demanding and there was no chance to slack off, so it consistently challenged me. Very quickly I was promoted to Marketing Manager, then Marketing Director, and within a few months I was hiring people for my marketing department. Choosing the right company to work for is very important when starting a career — it can either jumpstart your career trajectory or slow you down.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

DepositFix is a service turned into a product. Before it was built, the idea was validated with multiple companies who wanted the same service implemented for their own companies. So, before developing the product, we already had a few clients who needed it already, and only then was the project built (and not the other way around). So many founders build their product because they think there’s a need for it without validating that need, and they end up developing a product for months — if not years — only to realize that the set of features isn’t right, or that people aren’t ready to pay for the product.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I organize a local meetup for Dallas/DFW tech founders to help connect the local tech community with the founders who can grow their startups. I also launched a podcast for tech startup founders called SaaS Boss to share actionable advice.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Protect your biggest asset — yourself. If we don’t give ourselves time to replenish, have fun, enjoy life, read books, then we do ourselves a disservice and limit our potential. I learned this through my own mistakes when it took me more than a year to get back to my “normal self” because I was working 60+ hours a week at a high-stress job for too long.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person whom you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One of my former bosses saw potential in me and helped me develop by giving me more responsibilities. I gave him all that I had and even more, and for that he helped me get on a rapid growth trajectory. Looking back I wish I reached out for more help and tried to find a mentor who could be available to answer my questions and guide me.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?

The “New Coke” campaign is my favorite, which started when Coca-Cola Company announced a change to its formula because Pepsi was gaining bigger market share. Market research showed that most people in blind studies loved Pepsi’s sweeter taste, and so the sweeter “New Coke” was introduced, which turned out to be a complete failure. People were boycotting the new formula and demanded the “old Coke.” The reason I like this campaign so much is because it serves as an example that marketers make mistakes when appealing only to consumers’ conscious while neglecting to take into consideration that purchasing decisions are more often based on habits, loyalty, nostalgia, and a myriad of other factors.

If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint,” what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

One of the biggest problems I see with marketing is that lots of service providers and company leaders are satisfied with not knowing what results their marketing efforts bring; they don’t know exactly what transpired from the leads, they just care that leads are coming in.

What companies always talk about is getting more leads, more traffic, but what they don’t think about is that by fixing their customer funnel they can get so much more revenue from the leads they already have.

And so, one of our recent customers came to us because they needed more leads. I start analyzing all our clients by doing some very basic mystery shopping. Once shared with the client my findings, that their team of 20 sales people were consistently following up with the leads one week after contact form submission (while their competitors did so within two minutes), they realized how much money was being left on the table — and actually handed to their competitors. They were doing the work of increasing awareness about their services, warming those leads up, but when leads were ready to buy, they weren’t there to “pick up the phone.”

Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy.” In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?

Everyone is skeptical now and no one trusts marketers. In fact, marketers are the least trusted professionals, along with car and insurance salesmen. Think about the difference in the pictured burger and real burger you get at McDonald’s. Everyone can claim that they’re a marketer these days, too, and businesses don’t know how to dig deeper to weed out the pseudo-marketers. And so they get burned time and time again and ultimately lose trust in our profession.

I think building relationships will be the frame of marketing of the future. It’s proven to be so powerful, because everyone wants to do business with people they like and trust on a real and personal level. I believe that, instead of running those one-off ads asking for immediate sale, smart marketers and businesses will now work on building long-term relationships and allow the trust to develop between companies and consumers, delivering real value upfront to prove that we are here for the long run and not for a quick buck. And soon enough people will be much more likely to work with us after that trust has been established.

Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Know your customers better than they know themselves. Just like with the failed marketing of New Coke, it’s essential to know your target client better than anyone else, namely knowing what that client wants and gravitates toward. Often, this means knowing clients better than they know themselves. This is done with research, avatar interviewing, and by leveraging data of the marketing you do have in place.
  2. Segmentation is essential. Not all your leads will fit neatly into one bucket. For example, maybe you have multiple avatars, or maybe you have multiple product silos. By segmenting your leads and your marketing, you can give people real value by providing them with content and information that’s specifically useful for them.
  3. A career path in marketing has to be well mapped-out. Marketing is a fast-changing industry. You should ask yourself early (and learn quickly) which kinds of marketing and organizations you feel most “at home” with. For example, do you prefer corporate marketing or an ad agency? B2B marketing or B2C? Product marketing or marketing communications?
  4. Keep learning, because marketing will keep changing. If ignorance is bliss, I would have been very happy if I had started where I am now without all the learning it took me to get here. I came to consuming courses and educational material naturally, but if I could have known to start even a few months earlier, that could have meant more books, more insights, and more information that would have continued to compound until today.
  5. Marketing goes beyond marketing. Just like a tech startup owner might have “gotten into this” to code and is now faced with everything that comes with business ownership, a marketer soon discovers how much support is needed from other departments. For one, marketing has to be understood by each employee so that the company as a whole can support your brand promise.

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?

Google Analytics is the most important basic tool for small businesses. If business owners don’t have access to it or don’t login to check what’s happening with their website, they need to start doing it ASAP. Hire a Google Analytics specialist to set up goals in it and explain what you’re looking at.

Recently, when analyzing Google Analytics account for one of my clients, I found out why they suddenly lost 50% of their leads within less than 30 days-the mystery that didn’t let the owner sleep at night. Turns out that during the recent website redesign, they deleted some pages that were getting a lot of organic traffic, and so Google stopped ranking their website for multiple keywords. All this information is there; you just need to know where to look for it.

What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

I listen to a lot of business audio books, so much so that I consumed a book per week last year, and that’s in addition to listing to podcasts and taking various online courses. I shared the list of top-10 books I consumed last year on my blog. But the book that I recommend the most is The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber.

Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?

The E-Myth by Michael Gerber is a book that really hits home for startup founders. The principle idea is that not all small business owners got into the game to be business owners. Instead, most are technically-skilled people who eventually decided to stop “working for the man” and try their hand at their own business.

Michael Gerber is, without a doubt, a hero-worthy business training professional. He’s been consulting companies for decades and has continually focused his studies, writing and consultation around the small business model. The E-Myth continues to be the book I refer to people most often, and his mission to “transform the state of the small business” resonated with me on a completely new level when I started seeing the struggles of new startup founders.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Technology has revolutionized so many things — among them, education. The world is now a great, open database of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) in addition to all the books, podcasts and influencer resources I consume on a regular basis.

Using the online courses and training available, we can get access to the newest research at the click of a mouse. We can grow individually, as an industry and as a community. We can do incredible things. But this requires learning how to learn. We need to eradicate the idea that someone “pays to get a degree” or is worth only the weight of the seal on their diploma. The market is changing too fast to do anything but jump in and learn to swim.

We can do good for our industry as well as for each and every consumer by promoting the education that’s out there for the taking. We all need to “learn how to learn” to varying degrees. As long as we promote that, we will continue to grow.

How can our readers follow you online?

Visit my website, connect with me on LinkedIn and Facebook, listen to my podcast and when in Dallas, attend the events for startup founders that I host.

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