Marketing doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task

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More about small businesses
The Associated Press
June 1, 2004

New York — Marketing can seem like an overwhelming prospect for a small business owner — there’s research to do, publicity campaigns to pull together, mailings to send out, and more.

But small business owners and marketing consultants say the task can be made easier and less daunting by breaking it down to some basic elements and keeping the process simple.

Barbara Findlay Schenck, co-author of Small Business Marketing for Dummies, said the first step toward making marketing more manageable is for a business owner to determine what his or her goals are. She suggests owners ask themselves questions like: “How much business are you trying to gain?” “How many clients do you want to add?”

Knowing your goals will prevent you from overcomplicating your marketing efforts and help you target the best prospects for new business, said Schenck, who is also a marketing consultant. For example, an accountant looking for clients should figure out how many he or she needs, and begin having lunch with people likely to need his or her services.

Public relations executive Rick Frishman said small business owners can make marketing less bewildering by being sure they understand the difference between publicity and advertising — they are not the same, and not every company needs to be doing both of them. For some companies, advertising might be a waste of money, with time better spent getting the company mentioned in a story in a local newspaper, said Frishman, president of Planned Television Arts, a division of the public relations firm Ruder-Finn in New York.

No matter what kind of marketing you opt for, Frishman said your chances of success will be greater if you keep your message short and simple. That means really knowing your product or service, and being able to get a prospective customer interested in it quickly — Frishman said owners should be capable of making a pitch in the amount of time it would take to make a short elevator ride.

And be ready to market anytime, anywhere, he said.

“You have to have your product with you,” Frishman said. “You never know who you’re going to meet — a chance meeting on a plane or in an airport can change your life.”

Ed Paulson, a small business owner and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business, recommends business owners learn to make another distinction: between marketing and sales.

“People need to understand that marketing and sales are two different things,” Paulson said.
“They need to think of selling as the act of going out and actually getting business. Marketing is what they do to make it easier to sell.”

He also suggested zeroing in on your best prospects: “Find the group of people who most accurately reflect your most likely buyer. Marketing helps you do that.”

The way to do that is through market research, perhaps another behemoth of a topic for a small business owner. But Paulson said that also shouldn’t be frightening.

“Market research has a stigma of being incredibly complicated and something that is the purview of marketing professionals and not for small business owners,” he said. It also has the reputation of being expensive, another fallacy, Paulson said.

Paulson recommends using the Internet and public libraries to find Census Bureau and other demographic information that can help business owners find whether there’s likely to be enough demand for a product or service in their locales.

Trade organizations can also provide information, not just on consumers, but on businesses that would make potential customers.

You can also accomplish some marketing research by networking, relying on the experiences of other business owners who can tell you about other opportunities.

While you’re prospecting for new business, Schenck suggests there’s some marketing to be done close to home — with your current customers.

“Are you selling all you can sell to your current customers?” she asked, reminding business owners that “it’s five times cheaper to keep a customer than to get a new one.”