Marketing biz: How to market your small business

Monday, March 15, 2010

Each month, Business Today asks local experts to weigh in on a marketing or advertising issue facing small businesses. You can submit your own questions to editor Callie Clark Miller at cmiller@semissourian.com.

QUESTION: I am running a small business. How I am supposed to have time to deal with marketing and manage day-to-day tasks?

DREW JANES, owner/producer of Relentless Media Productions

The beauty of running your own business is the freedom to be your own boss. The responsibility lies in trying to grow that business while maintaining your everyday business tasks. You may find yourself asking the question, "What did I get myself into?" or "There's not enough hours in the day to keep up." Be in good cheer. There is hope to juggle the never-ending business tasks and still successfully manage and market your company. Here are five tips to help tackle growing your business without losing time.

1. Rethink your marketing strategy.

Step one is to rethink the way that you do marketing now. Rather than try to tackle everything yourself, take a step back and see what can be delegated, shared or hired out. Prioritize your message and what lines up with the vision and direction of your company. ONLY do the things that help you take a step in that direction. Try and send the most important and urgent pieces to be handled by a professional. The "not as important" or next in priority can be handled by an employee, intern or yourself if you find the time. The goal is to oversee the process rather than try and stick your hand in every piece of it.

2. Learn to network.

Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth. Learning to network with other business owners and customers at industry or local events increases the awareness of your company and generates interest. Learning to talk about your company or services with others is a powerful and cost-effective marketing tool.

3. Hit the target.

When marketing on a limited budget or limited time, focusing your marketing is a must. It's better to have five strong marketing pieces than 20 poorly communicated or designed materials. Learn who you REALLY want to target as your customer or client and go after them with a clear goal, vision and plan. Put together a couple of good pieces and spend your time focusing on hitting your target rather than hoping to catch their attention. This will help save valuable time during your workday and help eliminate running in circles.

4. Learn how to use social networking...the right way.

Increase your online exposure for free by utilizing popular social networking sites. I'm sure we have all attempted this or even been successful at attracting new customers, but learning to utilize social networking the right way can pay off huge. Make your posts relevant and easy to understand as well as offering specials that customers can only get from posting or responding. Make it interesting and fun for your audience as they will begin talking about your company for you.

5. Keep it simple or get an intern.

One of the most important things to remember is to stay focused so you can run toward your vision or the reason you started your company in the first place. If things begin to get out of hand and you simply can't find enough time to do everything... get an intern. You can find amazing and qualified students who are eager to get real-world experience with little to no pay. We had an intern that we found to be a huge help from week one. As that intern finished, she was hired and continued the role that she had within our company. It is a great opportunity for both the student as well as the business owner.

JOHN CHERRY, professor with the Harrison College of Business at Southeast Missouri State University and 2009-2010 President of the Marketing Management Association

This question gets at something very important; that we're all vaguely uncomfortable about where we are and what the future holds. Probably like most people in business, you're working 30 hours a day, and about two-thirds of that time you feel overwhelmed with the everyday challenges of life and business. To which I'll say: take those challenges and rethink them as opportunities. This translates loosely into aligning your strengths with the opportunities that are out there. And the way to do this is to set precise and measurable OBJECTIVES for your business.

So instead of feeling pressure about what else you can do today -- which you can't really do anything about if you don't know where you're going -- take a few hours and write down the three or four single most important things you have to achieve in business. Is it increasing sales by 10 percent in the next year? Doing 10 percent more sales presentations within one year? Getting 20 percent of next year's sales from new products and services you didn't offer two years ago? You can pick the number you'll measure yourself against, but pick a number that's both challenging and realistic.

Having a clearly-identified and measurable game plan confers some distinct advantages. It focuses the mind marvelously on the first five things you have to do at work today, and takes your mind off the counter-productive stresses and doubt that are endemic to business (and life!) without a purpose. And if you need to go to the bank for a business loan, they're going to want to know specifically what you're trying to accomplish and how you're going to get there, over and above selling things and keeping the doors open.

Turning challenges into opportunities – finding the gaps between where you are and where you need to be – is easier said than done, and it will require from you some hard thought in a quiet place. But I'll end here with some concrete advice: measure everything that matters to your business. Keep score. Review your objectives each quarter or each year to be sure they remain relevant and achievable. You may have some real eye-openers, and you might even have a few nice surprises. But if you don't do anything else, keep track of your progress on those mission-critical objectives, and you might find that a lot of those sleepless nights are followed with bright days of focused effort and real progress on the things that count.

DANA HUKEL, president/owner of BOLD Marketing LLC

My initial response is, "What is the probable outcome if you don't find time?" Start with a budget of what you realistically can invest per month. Look back at what you have been spending -- is the amount comfortable? Is it getting positive return? You want to be in the right consumers' faces, at the right time as often as possible. Next, determine your target audience. Target audience is a select buyer base that has the most decision-making and buying power for your product or service. Essentially, it is finding the "perfect" customer. If you respond to this by thinking, "my consumer base is everyone," then you have missed the point.

Determine what works for your business based on past trial and error. If a campaign proved successful for your business in the past, it may just work again using similar media elements with a fresh look. If you have more checkmarks in the "Doesn't Work" column, at least we're on the right track. Determine your message. What do you want consumers to know about your business, how do you want them to feel, and how should they respond? The answers to these questions will help develop an effective message that creates branding power and a true call to action. Is brand messaging really that important? "You're in Good Hands." "The Fabric of Our Lives." "Just Do It." Trust me; it works.

Take advantage of budget neutral items. For example, Facebook, Twitter, media pitches and traditional networking are all forms of marketing that -- when done right -- can be successful.

Based on your budget, your audience and the message you want to get out, determine what avenue is going to be best for you. Think beyond traditional advertising, but don't forget about it, either. Traditional advertising has tremendous power to reach a large audience, yet a special event can be just as effective if you want to target a select few. Still feeling overwhelmed? Maybe it's time to talk to a marketing expert who has knowledge in all areas of advertising and marketing, and can develop a strategy that utilizes your budget to execute bold, response-driven creative to gain the most return on investment.

GERA LEGRAND, promotions specialist for The Southeast Missourian

I suggest this simple plan:

Step one: Take two weeks to plan your year. During the first week, meet with the local advertising representatives from any media that you would consider. Ask each of them to meet with you for 45 minutes to discuss your business and your goals. At the end of this first meeting, ask each of them to come back the following week to present plans that meet your objectives and are within your budget. It is important to share a general budget with them. During the second week, listen to all presentations and then make decision of which plans are best for you. Do not try to stretch your budget too thin across too many media outlets. Next meet with the chosen medium(s) representative and make a basic annual plan. Be sure not to commit your entire budget, I suggest reserving 10 percent to 20 percent for the special opportunities that will arise.

Step two: Take a day to plan each quarter. Meet with your advertising representatives to outline three months of scheduling, sales messages and promotions.

Step three: Take an hour to plan each month. Again meet with each representative, this time to fine-tune the advertising messages.

Step four: Take 15 minutes to plan the week. Take 15 minutes to look at the plan for the next week, just to double-check that your messages still meet your needs. (Also, that you still have the offers or inventory available.)

Test and use the knowledge of your media representatives; the good ones will help you with effective messages and schedules.

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