I had a long phone conversation the other day with a very smart and interesting pair of entrepreneurs. He was just starting a new video production business after retiring from 30+ years of being an employee, and she was a long-time salon owner looking to stop working so hard and build in some higher-revenue services into her business.
Both had lots of enthusiasm for their work, but big anxiety when it came to knowing how to market their services.
We started out by brainstorming all kinds of ways they could promote their businesses. After generating a very healthy list, the salon owner paused and said "You know what? I never have any problem generating a million ideas for how to promote my business. I go to workshops and seminars and come back all fired up, only to see my enthusiasm wane the next few days and the ideas wither on the vine. My problem is choosing one thing and actually doing it."
For new entrepreneurs, I think this is a very common problem. There are so many ways to promote your business and so many potential customers that it becomes extremely overwhelming to know how to start. Just think about all the ways you can get the buzz out about your business:
- Send your friends an email
- Start a newsletter or ezine
- Create a postcard campaign
- Attend a conference frequented by your target market
- Create a presentation about your area of expertise and start on the speaking circuit
- Put on a special event
- Create a blog
- Have a contest
- Attend a networking event
- Send out a press release
- Write and submit articles for article directories
- Join a professional networking association
- Offer free samples
- Write a column in your local paper
- Put on a free teleclass
- Propose a joint venture with someone already communicating with your target audience
- Create a referral program
- Create a Flash movie (I couldn’t resist!)
And I could go on! Feeling a bit overwhelmed already? Don’t worry.
There are some easy ways to get a handle on marketing activities:
- Spend time clearly defining your target market and niche. (More on that in last month’s ezine) If your business could serve a number of different markets, which one will be the easiest place to start? You want to define a target audience that is tight enough so that you know exactly how to reach them. So instead of "women entrepreneurs," you will choose "the top 5 women deli owners in the city of Kalamazoo."
In the case of the video production entrepreneur, he had a number of distinct groups he could market to. He chose to start with a group of 30 small businesses that were in his local vicinity. He knew they would be a great target for his services and that he could do follow up visits in short day trips in his car.
- Brainstorm all the ways that you could market to this group (the bulleted list above is one example). Then choose the one that has both the biggest chance of success at reaching your audience and that plays to your strengths as a marketer.
The salon owner chose a wonderful idea of inviting her existing clients to a special "party" at her salon where they would bring their own beauty tools (blowdryers, makeup, brushes, etc.) and she would show them how to create the "fresh from the salon" look themselves at home. She would serve hors-d’oeuvres and beverages and make it a social as well as educational event. This would create a nice atmosphere to introduce some of her higher-end services as she would have a very warmed-up and receptive audience. (I personally went wild over this idea, as I am a hopeless wreck when it comes to styling my own hair. I look like a sleek, professional woman in the hours after I leave the salon, then by the next day when I get out of the shower and try to do it myself, I look like an orangutan did my blowdrying. This gave us a clue that this marketing event would really serve the needs of her target market, as I know I am not the only beauty klutz on the block.)
- Create a specific project plan and timeline for your marketing activity to this one targeted group. Start small so that you gain the satisfaction of accomplishing something.
The salon owner first said that she could host one party a week, but then realized that she may overextend herself if she tried to do too many. So she chose one date six weeks in the future that gave her enough time to invite her current customers. If it is a success, she can set up a calendar of monthly events.
- Take your eyes off of all the other potential marketing activities you could be doing or groups you could be working with and get this activity done by any means necessary. This is really critical and is where most newbie entrepreneurs (and seasoned entrepreneurs with little marketing experience) get tripped up. Don’t worry, you will have plenty of time to try other activities once you have implemented one idea well.
- Test the results of your activities, make adjustments, then if it looks like a winner, add it to your calendar as a regular, ongoing marketing activity.
When I first started my ezine in 2004, I was not sure if I would have the time or energy to write an article once a month. I had a very full schedule and was concerned that it may be put to last priority. So I just promised myself that I would write one issue. Once I started, I found that I really liked writing it. So I continued faithfully each month all the way to this very day. Little did I know back in ’04 that I would also start a blog and end up writing multiple times a week. I would have been completely overwhelmed by that thought back then, so starting slowly was a good way to test the waters and see what would provide the most value to my audience.
- Move on to the next item on the list! You should feel more confidence now that you have successfully undertaken one marketing activity. You may choose an item that follows up on your prior activity (such as sending a postcard with a discount coupon to attendees of a special event), or one that is different. Just make sure that you choose something that is a good strategic move based on your type and stage of business.
- Remember that marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Your objective at creating a broad and effective marketing strategy is to connect with your target audience multiple times in multiple ways so that they really get to know you, like you and trust you. As my blogging buddy and marketing deviant John Dodds reminded me in a stern (email) tone the other day, "marketing and sales are not the same thing!" We often lump them together and consequently newbie entrepreneurs get devastated if they don’t get immediate sales from their first marketing activities. Pace yourself and you may just find that authentic marketing can be a hell of a lot of fun.