PLAN the MARKETING WORK, and then WORK the PLAN
by Kevin Leahy
One of the most frequently asked question we get asked at the Clatsop Community College Small-Business Development Center is, "How can I increase my marketing efforts?" It is often coupled with THE most frequently asked question - "How can I control costs?" These are not polar opposites, as you may think. Let’s combine the two and talk about “affordable” marketing.
The first and far most important strategy is planning! There is no substitute for good planning, and there is no better way to save marketing dollars. Decide what you want to accomplish, do the research needed to meet your goal, understand the market and customer you are going after, and then design the strategies, tactics and marketing pieces you need to accomplish your goals. Plan the work, and then work the plan.
Networking is a tremendous way for most businesses to build visibility. In the Sunset Empire, there are several organizations to consider and be a part of including local chamber of commerce membership, SDDA, ADHDA and so on, but that is just the first step. Be an active participant. Attend as many mixers and events as you can, join the committees, get your name in lights, be visible. Maximize your membership with these organizations. Check with the membership director in each organization and ask for a list of free or low cost marketing and business to business tools you can utilize. Remember that these organizations survive and thrive because of their membership. When I owned my own small business, I was unable to attend lunch events as that is when we were busiest with customers, but early morning and evening worked out fine, so I was able to “customize” my involvement, and it worked very well.
Also consider bringing the networking opportunity in-house. Host a mixer, open house, charity fund-raiser. If you don't have a large enough facility, then stagger the event throughout the day. Bring in as many people as possible and let them mingle with each other and with your staff. Consistency is key. That is again why it is so important to have a Master Plan to work from, a year at a time.
An untapped FREE opportunity for many small businesses is Social Media. The 500 pound gorilla of Social Media is Facebook, with over 142 million users in the United States! A very helpful guide for navigating through the Social Media “waters” is to check out and learn more about Facebook, Email plus social media marketing, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and much more by going to a website called www.socialquickstarter.com . Check it out. FREE!
Public relations are tougher ones to plan, but think about ways to let the world know that you know your business. Write feature articles for publications that reach your target market. This positions you as a knowledgeable businessperson, gives you a forum by which you can educate your clients and provides visibility for your business.
Sponsor a team or event that reaches your target market. A drycleaner may offer to launder the uniforms of a local little league team. A toy store may donate the mascot to a leadership group. A landscaper may plant all the spring bulbs (donated from a local nursery) at the newest neighborhood park. Once you agree to sponsor something that becomes newsworthy, don't forget to prepare a press release so the entire community knows of your generosity, not just the few who are directly involved.
Finally, NEVER forget that your customers are your greatest assets.
They are the best, and least expensive, source of additional business. It is rare for a business to truly capitalize on the additional sales potential of selling more products to customers that they have worked so hard to get. When you aren't selling to the customers in your business, you should be communicating to them through a personal visit, Facebook, email campaigns, like Constant Contact, and surveys.
How about something that has really dropped off but is a secret weapon; a phone call or a handwritten note! Find out what your customers want and what they need. Make them aware of specials you may be offering, new products or services that meet their needs or finding out how there were treated the last time they did business with you. Keeping an existing loyal customer is by far the most cost efficient way to maximize your marketing efforts.
The SBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network and the Oregon Business Development Department.