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5 Ways to Grow Your Startup by Focusing on Mindshare Cultivating relationships with a few key influencers is a faster route to success than competing for mass market attention.

By John Ruhlin Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


While growing your startup, metrics serve as your markers for success. When you can command a sizable market share, you know you've made it. Right?

Not exactly. Many entrepreneurs fall for this flawed thinking and get distracted from the metrics that really matter.

To build an amazing business, you may only need 100 of the right people to know and love you. If you can grow to become a $10 million company with 20 percent net to the bottom line, who cares if you're only reaching 1 percent of the market? Instead, you need to refocus your thinking on staying top of mind with those 100 key relationships -- or gaining mindshare. Often, this is when companies really take off.

Prioritizing mindshare over market share doesn't mean you have to ditch your metrics mentality. Mindshare focuses on long-term ROI grown organically from a small group of key influencers. When you build an army of brand advocates, sales will naturally follow.

Word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to attract clients. Even the biggest brands in the world, including Apple and Starbucks, deliberately focus on wowing clients and inspiring referrals rather than mass advertising.

Strive to dominate the thoughts of the few, and you'll turn 100 raving fans into salespeople. But these niches must be intentional. In the gifting industry, for example, we could essentially market to anyone in business who wants to show appreciation to important clients or colleagues. After narrowing our scope to a few key niches -- longstanding financial advisors, professional sports teams and entrepreneurs of fast-growth companies with at least $5 million in revenue -- we've started to become known in these circles and be referred amazing opportunities.

Today's digital landscape is crowded and noisy. Staying front and center with a handful of influencers is much more effective than adding to the commotion. But that can only happen when you concentrate on the few vs. the many. Here's how to shift your focus from market share to mindshare:

Related: 6 Reasons Your PR Is Failing

1. Remember that less is more.

Dominating mindshare among thousands as a small company is next to impossible. Instead, pare back the numbers, and allocate 80 percent of your resources toward your core clients.

2. Become your audience's new normal.

Pick your places to stand out in consumers' minds, then go 5 percent further. Seth Godin talks about this in his book "Purple Cow." You're either remarkable or invisible. Your brand has to truly be different if you want to attract raving fans, so don't hold back.

3. Embrace the artifact.

Many people consider gifts to be a piece of swag. But swag is simply a tangible reminder of your brand, often in the form of cheap pens or USB drives that go untouched. Artifacts, on the other hand, are meaningful reminders of the relationships you've established.

I prefer to give world-class, practical pieces that include the entire family and are regularly used outside the office. Some of my favorites include handmade personalized cutlery sets, leather totes and reclaimed wooden headphones (yes, they exist) -- unique but universal gifts that people have never received before.

Related: 6 Ways to Build a Rabid Following on Social Media

4. Show that you're human.

People buy from people, not companies. Connecting with clients outside the office is imperative. The deeper the connection, the more ingrained you'll be in their daily thoughts. Ideally, you want to invite clients and their significant others to your home, perhaps for dinner.

5. Don't limit your love.

Dazzle the entire office, from interns to admins -- not just executives and decision makers. Leaders are busy and easily forget. A powerful way to stay on their radar is to build relationships with their staff, especially their assistants. Shower these people with genuine attention, and they'll make sure the executive is thinking about you as well.

Don't let short-term metrics cloud your long-term vision for your startup. By nurturing relationships with a few influencers now, you'll appear authentic and approachable. And when these people get a taste for the exceptional company you've built, they won't be able to help but share the love with others.

Related: How to Build Your Brand by Awarding the Influencers

John Ruhlin

Founder and CEO of the Ruhlin Group

John Ruhlin is an entrepreneur, international speaker and author of Giftology. More relationship and referral strategies can be found at Giver's Edge.

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