Lead Generation for Startups: Guide for 2021

Lead generation is very important for any business. If we can’t bring any prospect, we simply can’t grow our business, period. This is why we often measure a marketer’s or marketing team’s success with the number and quality of leads they successfully generated.  

In a startup environment, lead generation is even more important since most startups are required to achieve growth as fast as possible to generate a healthy amount of cash flow. Unfortunately, lead generation is also often the biggest challenge in most startups with their limited capital.

So, how can we get around this? Is lead generation for startups simply impossible and only for those with the millions of capitals from huge VCs?

Not at all. If we plan it right, we can have a successful lead generation strategy even if you have a limited budget. In this guide, we’ll show you how. 

So, What Is Lead Generation?

First, let us describe what a lead is, just to be sure we are on the same page.

We can define a lead—or a prospect—, as someone who has shown an interest, as little as possible, to your brand or product/service. 

In digital marketing practice, however, we most commonly define a lead as someone who has given us their contact information (mainly email). When they download an ebook in exchange for their email addresses, for example, we can say that they have converted as leads.

So, lead generation is the process of generating these leads, which mainly involves two main stages: 

  • Attracting people to your platform (mainly your website)
  • Introducing your brand and your product/service, and offering them something valuable in exchange for their contact information on this platform

That’s it. 

As you can see, although lead generation might seem intimidating at first, it will always consist of these two key questions: how to attract them to your website? And, how to get them to submit their email addresses?

However, although in theory, the lead generation process should be simple, it doesn’t mean it won’t pose any challenge, as we will discuss below. 

Lead Generation Challenges For Startups

No matter what the business is and at what stages, lead generation is often the most difficult challenge. However, in a startup setting, arguably the challenge is even bigger due to three key factors: 

  • Limited capital and resources: unless you are backed with strong investors, most startups always struggle with limited time and money. We need money to stay afloat and to pay our staff at the time that we haven’t generated enough revenue. So, we are faced with more limited options in using possible lead generation methods. 
  • Experience and/or talent: related to the above, a startup might not have enough experience to use advanced lead generation methods, while at the same time might not have enough money to hire an experienced marketer. Also, every startup is unique and a strategy that works for others might not work for you, so a lack of experience can be a huge issue. 
  • Reputation: you are a brand new business without any reputation, and obviously it’s going to be hard to attract more prospects when nobody knows about us. At the same time, we are competing with established businesses and huge enterprises to capture the attention of these prospects. 

Three Main Elements of Lead Generation

Above, we have discussed how there are only two key aspects of any lead generation strategy: how to bring people to your platform, and how you can convince them to submit their contact information. However, here we will introduce a third layer: scoring or qualifying your leads.

So, there are now three core elements of our lead generation strategy: 

  1. Lead capture

Which as we have discussed, are various ways we can use to bring people to our website. SEO services for startups can be considered as a lead capture strategy, so can social media and influencer marketing. An attractive content that is found via SEO, for example, can be a sustainable lead capture. 

If you can’t bring people to your platform (mainly your website), you simply won’t bring any leads. So, make sure to carefully plan your lead capture strategy. 

  1. Lead magnet

Lead magnet is a term we use to describe the offers we give to the audience so they will give their contact information. The lead magnet can be a downloadable ebook, a webinar, a free trial, and anything your user can perceive as valuable. 

There are two main factors to consider when creating your lead magnet: first, it has to be perceived as valuable by your potential prospects. And second, it has to engage your potential prospects. 

  1. Lead scoring

The third aspect of lead generation is scoring your leads. 

Here is the deal: not all leads are equal. Some might be a better fit for your business with a higher potential for conversions, and some others might not be a good fit. 

The thing is, your resources and especially time are limited, so you’d need to prioritize only on leads that matter the most. There are various tools that can help you in lead scoring, but you’d need to define the factors that will determine your score. 

For example, you can score someone as higher quality if they’ve consumed more content on your site and keep coming back over someone who only read your email newsletter. 

At the beginning of your lead generation campaign, lead scoring might not be that important at first. However, as the number of leads grows, you’d need to start filtering out your leads. 

Very Important: Don’t Buy Leads

With so many people selling email databases and user information, why shouldn’t we buy leads instead? After all, isn’t it easier and faster? 

The most important factor not to buy leads, ever, is because they haven’t been aware of your brand. So, we can’t technically define them as leads. 

Of course, some of them might be interested in your brand in the future, but there’s no guarantee for this and there’s a higher possibility that only a small percentage will be interested. Also, in many countries and jurisdictions, it is illegal to send emails to people who have not opted for your email

People in this purchased list might flag your emails as spam, and when a lot of people flagged you, you might be put on a blacklist by the email providers. This can hurt your lead generation efforts in the long run, as getting out of this blacklist can be difficult, and it will lower your email deliverability rate. 

So, to reiterate, don’t buy an email database, and it’s far better to build your own email list instead. Again, remember that your time and resources are limited, so make sure you are putting your lead generation efforts on prospects that are actually interested in your product or service. 

Lead Capture Strategy for Startups

Inbound Marketing

What actually is inbound marketing? Although we can be all-technical about this, basically inbound marketing is content marketing combined with SEO. 

The main idea of inbound marketing is that instead of pushing your marketing message outward to reach as many people as possible (as in traditional or outbound marketing like advertising), we attract more people inwards

This is done by publishing relevant, valuable content and optimizing it through SEO so our audience can find it. Outbound marketing, like a TV advertising or a billboard, is designed to disrupt what your audience is doing. We want to watch the show, not the advertising. This is why we are so eager to skip those pesky YouTube ads as soon as possible, right?

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, won’t disrupt what the audience is doing since they are the proactive ones. They are looking for information or a solution for a specific problem when they stumbled upon your content. 

Due to this fact, inbound marketing generates more qualified leads compared to outbound marketing efforts. 

Content Marketing in Lead Generation

The core idea of utilizing content marketing to generate leads is fairly simple: we put relevant, valuable content out there so our audience can find it through the search engine and other means (i.e. when people share your content on social media).

So, obviously the quality and relevance of your content is key to a successful content marketing.

However, in using your content as a lead generation device, there are two other aspects you should consider: 

  • How you promote your content: no matter how good your content is, you won’t generate any leads unless people actually consume this content. While SEO is our primary means to promote content, we have to support SEO with other promotional channels like social media, influencer marketing, guest posting, and so on. How you promote your content is just as, if not even more important than the content creation process. 
  • Your CTA: since the focus of your content is to convince the reader to submit their contact information (by offering a lead magnet), then we’d need to place a CTA (clear to action) within the content. The purpose of this CTA is to direct readers to what they are supposed to do next if they are interested, mainly by driving them into a landing page. Where we place this CTA, the form of this CTA (a link or button), and how we should optimize this CTA are very important. 

Getting high-quality backlinks

As discussed, the main way to promote our content is through SEO, and the most important factor in improving SEO performance is getting more backlinks. However, nowadays Google and the other search engines don’t only take account of the quantity of the backlinks, but also the quality.

So, you’d need to get backlinks from big, authoritative, and famous websites/blogs on your niche to rank higher. Obviously this can be easier said and done.

How should we achieve this?While link building strategy is a pretty broad and deep discussion on its own, here are some actionable tips to implement right away: 

  1. Give them a reason to link your content

This one is the most important factor if you want to generate more backlinks for your content: give them a link hook. A link hook is a section or even a sentence in the content that is worth linking. This can be something like:

  • A unique piece of data/information (i.e., a research report) 
  • An aesthetically-pleasing content like an infographic or a beautiful photo
  • An engaging story

And so on. In some cases, the content itself can be a hook if it’s really engaging. 

  1. Build relationships

The more genuine relationships you have with other websites, press, and influencers in your niche, the easier you can get these backlinks. So, be proactive in building new and healthy relationships with relevant parties in your niche/industry.  

Join their conversations, ask relevant questions, and provide valuable answers, for example in their social media conversations. 

  1. Guest posting

When done right, guest posting can still be very effective in generating more backlinks. The key here is finding the right platform to guest post in. Again, the secret is building valuable relationships with other websites in your niche. 

Guest posting can also help in building your credibility and generating traffic to our website besides the backlinks. So, don’t solely focus on getting a backlink, but instead, take this as an opportunity to showcase your valuable content and that your brand is trustworthy. 

Social Media Marketing

Social media is where our audience is nowadays, so it’s fairly obvious that we should promote your content on your social media. Social media can be one of the best lead generation channels for startups especially if you are targeting local customers. However, the competition can also be very tough. 

In today’s social media marketing, we have to embrace the fact that we should use both types of marketing: paid and organic. 

We can treat paid options from the social media platforms (Facebook advertising, LinkedIn Lead Gen Ad, etc. ) as a way to assist our organic effort, the case of cost vs time. Organic social media efforts: building your followers and sharing your messages,  can be much more affordable and even totally free. However, it can take a very long time before we can grow a substantial number of followers from scratch. 

Paid social media options, on the other hand, can guarantee short-term results, provided you have the budget. So, the key here is finding the right balance between both options, depending on your marketing objective. 

Have an Effective Landing Page

We have discussed that in this lead capture strategy, our aim is to attract people to our platform. It can be your website, your social media profile, and so on, but after that, you’d want to drive them into a landing page. 

A lead generation landing page is, simply put, a page on your website where a visitor “lands” after clicking on a link or ad. This is where we can offer our lead magnet and convince people to convert into a lead. 

Why do you need to have a lead generation landing page? There are two main reasons: 

  1. Optimized for conversions and lower your lead generation cost

A lead generation page is solely focused on your lead magnet offer and is designed to convince the user to do a single thing: submit their contact information. So, we can really optimize this page to improve our conversion rate. 

While we can use a generic homepage design for lead generation purposes, a landing page is much more focused, so this strategy is more effective. 

Improving our conversion rate would also mean lowering the cost of acquiring the leads due to the second reason discussed below. 

  1. Landing pages=easier testing

With a specific landing page, it’s going to be easier for us to test and optimize everything on the page. We can perform A/B testing on all elements on the landing page and optimize them individually. 

Also, we can easily trace the channels that are driving traffic to the landing page, and optimize these individual channels. For example, we can trace that we’ve generated 1,000 visitors to the landing page from organic search (SEO), and 5,000 from social media. In this case, we might be able to further optimize our SEO campaign with B2B services to generate more organic traffic. 

On the other hand, the landing page can be a good way to test what you offer (the lead magnet). Ideally, your lead magnet should represent your product, so this can be a good way to test whether your product/service is also delivering real value and solving a real problem faced by your audience. 

How To Optimize Your Lead Generation Landing Page

While optimizing your landing page can be a very broad and deep topic, here are some tips you can implement: 

  1. Make sure your offer is as clear as possible

This will be closely tied to how strong your lead magnet is, so we’ll review this discussion further below in the lead magnet section.

However, the basic idea is that your offer should be as clear as possible. Your message should focus on solving your potential prospect’s problems or help them with their objectives. The stronger your offer can provide this value, and the clearer you can communicate this value, the more effective your landing page will be. 

  1. Create a sense of urgency

You can use scarcity techniques like saying that your offer is of a limited quantity or only available in a limited time. A countdown timer, for example, can create a sense of urgency and convince people to convert. 

  1. Simplify everything

Make your landing page as streamlined as possible and let your audience focus on your offer and your call to action (CTA). Get rid of all the clutter and be straight to the point. 

Also, remember to put your most important messages on the top half of your page. Be to the point and communicate the value of your offer as early as possible. Include as few steps, as few form fields as possible on their conversion process: it’s already difficult convincing them to convert as leads, so don’t add to the difficulty. 

  1. Optimize your CTA

It’s very important to optimize your call to action and make it as straightforward as possible. Your CTA should be concise and obvious, so avoid complex languages and just be straight to the point.

If you are offering a free trial as the lead magnet, then simply say “try ____ for free”, if you are offering an ebook, then say “get your____ ebook here”. 

  1. Don’t forget your contact information

Make your contact information easy to find and obvious, and provide as many ways as possible for your visitors to contact you: your email address, your phone number, and even your physical address as necessary. If you have a help center or FAQ page, you might also want to link it on the landing page. 

  1. Optimize your copy

Although nowadays, videos and images might be the focus of your landing page (or your website in general), a strong headline and copy are still very important. Make sure to A/B test the copy you use on the landing page, and optimize it accordingly. 

  1. Add social proof

This is very important in the age when 88% of customers are reading online reviews before making their purchase decision. Add testimonials from renowned clients and/or existing customers, display your accolades, and so on. However, make sure that your lead magnet and CTA are still the focus, and not these testimonials. Be extra careful to maintain the right balance. 

  1. A/B test everything, often

A/B test every element on the landing page from length (for some products, short landing pages work well, for some others longer landing pages might work better), button placement, CTA, copywriting, etc. After you’ve collected data and gotten to know your audience better, you can re-optimize the landing page. 

Also, remember that A/B test is not a one-off thing, and you should test again and again, and re-optimize your page as required. 

Lead Magnet: The Secret To Lead Generation

Above, we have discussed how we should optimize our landing page for conversion. However, it’s important to note that no matter how optimized a landing page is, it’s only going to be as strong as the lead magnet offered in it.

Your lead magnet, as discussed, is technically a valuable thing that you offer for free in exchange of your audience’s contact information – mainly email addresses. So, a lead magnet is only going to be successful when it’s perceived as valuable by your audience. 

Also, your lead magnet should be relevant for your brand and related to what you actually sell (your product or service). Think about it: if the lead magnet is $1,000 giveaway, obviously a lot of people will sign up for it, but they might not be a good fit for your brand. 

While you can be as creative as you can with your lead magnet offers, here are some of the most common—and effective—ideas to get you started: 

  • Gated content upgrade

A very common approach is to offer a more in-depth version of the content the visitor is currently consuming. For example, if the website visitor is reading an article about SEO strategy, then the lead magnet might be an ebook about in-depth, ‘secret’ SEO strategies. 

  • Free-trial 

If you are selling a digital product (i.e. SaaS), then a free-trial of your product can be an effective lead magnet. 

  • Tools related to your product

For example, if you are a service company selling investment courses, then you can offer an investment calculator software as your lead magnet.

  • Video/webinar

Another popular tactic nowadays is to offer educational videos and webinars related to our product/service (or at least, our industry) as the lead magnet.

In general, an effective lead magnet should be: 

  1. Focused on providing immediate value

To be successful, the lead magnet must be something your potential prospect actually needs, not just wants. The better you can communicate that your offer can provide immediate value, the better you can attract them. 

So, the secret in offering your lead magnet is to understand what your audience actually needs. Develop a buyer persona, conduct a market research, and design the best lead magnet based on your audience’s needs.

  1. Solving a pain point

If your lead magnet can clearly solve a problem faced by your target audience, then you can easily convince your audience that your lead magnet is valuable. 

  1. Unique

Of course your lead magnet must be unique—especially when compared to your competitors—, and the value it provides must also be unique. If your lead magnet is solving a problem that your competitors have already solved, then it won’t be as valuable. 

  1. Make it as easy as possible for them to convert

Even if your lead magnet is already attractive and valuable, if it’s too difficult for the prospect to submit their information, they’ll likely bounce. Also, make sure there aren’t any visible security or performance issues on your website and/or landing page. 

  1. Present it professionally

First impressions are always important. So, make sure to package your offer professionally and attractively. 

Lead Scoring

Now that you’ve properly generated your leads, it’s time to implement your lead scoring. 

Not all of your incoming leads are the right fit for your business, and at the same time, you have only limited time and resources in nurturing all these leads. This is why scoring your leads is very important to ensure your valuable resources and efforts only go to the most qualified leads. 

While lead scoring can be a very deep subject with various methods/frameworks to consider, here are our basic step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Define your lifecycle stages

The most crucial step is defining your stages or thresholds: a web visitor can move up or down between stages until they are finally ready to purchase (or neglect your brand. The standard stages are:

  1. Stranger: potential contact that hasn’t submitted their contact information
  2. Prospect/lead: a contact that has already provided their contact information
  3. Marketing-qualified lead (MQL): leads that have frequently engaged with your content. Marketing can offer them something to interact with to gauge their level of interest. If they ‘pass’, they are moved up to the next stage.
  4. Sales-qualified lead (SQL): leads that are determined as highly likely to make a purchase, and are ready to be approached by a salesperson

We can use a point-based system to determine whether a lead is qualified. For example, only those with above 100 points are determined as SQL. You can obviously create different stages depending on your business model, but the principle remains the same. 

Step 2: Assigning Points

 Not that you’ve defined your stages, the next step is to simply assign points to each stage. 

For example, if you are using a 100-point system, you can do something like this: 

  • A stranger/website visitor has 10 points
  • A prospect who has submitted their contact information has 50 points
  • Each of your free offers (lead magnet) is given 10 points, and a prospect is qualified as MQL when they have 80 points. So a prospect must take three of your free offers.
  • An MQL who has taken two other offers has 100 points and is now qualified as an SQL.

Again, adjust depending on your stages. 

Step 3: Identify actions worth scoring

Above, we have assumed that every lead magnet is worth 10 points, but you can also identify other actions worth scoring such as: 

  • Every email open and read is worth 1 point, important if you use email marketing
  • Clicking links on the email, worth 2 point
  • Visiting your website’s product page worth 3 points

And so on, The more details you can provide, the more accurate your scoring will be. 

Step 4: Determine Point Decay

Your leads/prospects are not static and they might change their minds regarding your brands. So, it’s important to measure whether the prospect no longer stays engaged. 

The common way to do this is to assign decays or decrease in points after a specific time the audience hasn’t taken any action. For example: 

  • After 30 days of no actions, we subtract 15 points from the prospect’s score
  • After 60 days of no actions, we subtract 50 points
  • After 90 days of no actions, we subtract all points

You should consider your product’s typical sales cycle while assigning point decays. If it’s typical for your products to have a longer sales cycle, then you can be more lenient. On the other hand, if you are selling a B2C product with a very short sales cycle, then you can be more strict and probably set all points to expire after only 60 or even 30 days. 

With this, you now have a foundational lead scoring framework in place, and you can use it to identify your most qualified leads. You can always go back and refine your scoring system as you gather more prospects so it can be more accurate and representative of your sales cycle. 


Lead generation is often the most challenging aspect of starting a startup, but at the same time, it’s a very important one or even the most important. If you can’t generate prospects, you simply can’t grow your business. 

Although lead generation is difficult especially in the case of a limited budget–which is common with many startups, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 

By following the tips we have shared above, you can definitely create a comprehensive lead generation strategy for your startup, generate more prospects, and grow your revenue as a result. 

About the author

Mike is a lead SEO strategist at Nine Peaks Media. With over 10+ years of experience in SEO and Inbound Marketing, he helped hundreds of B2B and SaaS businesses rank on the first page of Google.