Imagine that you are 18 again. You take a year out before university and plan a road trip – London to Istanbul, and back. A job at McDonalds provides money for an old car.
You fill the car with everything you will need for the trip, get in and turn the key but, oh no! You forgot to buy an engine!
Oh well, just cut a hole in the floor and run, like Fred Flintstone.
This unlikely anecdote is a metaphor for something I see in business all too often. An entrepreneur or aspiring small business person has an idea for a product or service, or just wants to set up their own shop. They save up for months or years, buy all the necessary equipment but when it’s time to start trading, they realise that they have no money for marketing.
Starting a business without a marketing plan or any money to spend is risky, if not reckless. It’s also unnecessary: marketing is not some type of magic that only specially trained professionals can do. Every business owner can and should market their own products and services. Hire the best advice you can afford, but you, and everyone else in the organisation, should be involved in some way.
Whether you hire a professional or do it yourself, there are three main points to remember:
1. Marketing is about more than just advertising
The late great Steve Jobs once said that marketing is about values. Most businesses only have a small window of opportunity to get their message across to potential customers, so you have to be very clear about that message. Your customers want to know who you are, what you stand for and, most importantly, what you can do for them.
These aren’t questions that you think about after the fact, these are fundamental questions that must be asked when you are designing a product or service, or are thinking of setting up a new business. They are also marketing questions.
Marketing is the process of bringing a product or service to market. If you don’t have the answers to these and other questions, you may find that you make unnecessary mistakes and waste money on ineffective advertising.
2. Marketing is an investment
I often hear business people refer to a “marketing budget”. Others will tell me that it’s too expensive, so they choose the cheapest options and hope for the best. This rather misses the point: marketing, when it’s done properly, is an investment, not a cost. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that you spend £100 on a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper, and that ad brings in business that results in £150 worth of profit. You made £50 from that ad – wouldn’t you run it again? And again and again until it stopped working? Or would you only run it until the “marketing budget” ran out?
Cynics may say that a 50% return on the initial £100 is not good enough. Yet this is taking a very narrow view of the success of the ad. A good portion of the customers that responded to the ad may have been first-time customers. This means that you have established relationships with people who might not otherwise have ever heard about you.
These customer relationships are potentially worth much more than just the profit from the initial sale – you have the opportunity to sell to them again and again and again. Not only that, these new customers may bring other new customers with them, and the opportunity to develop more customer relationships.
3. Marketing need not be expensive
There are other options besides expensive advertising. Many new business owners have a lot of time and little money, so activities such as networking meetings, exhibitions and trade shows may be the best use of time. Leafletting can also be effective, or you may be able to put up posters in shops and centres that your niche market frequent.
A good internet strategy need not be expensive, especially if you have the time to devote to social media. Pay per click advertising can be cheaper than traditional advertising, and much easier to measure. Email marketing can be very effective. Even the humble fax machine is not yet dead.
Yet some of the greatest opportunities for business growth come from co-operating with other, non-competing businesses that also serve your target market. You could piggy back on their mailings, for example, or you could endorse each other’s products. Or your product may complement theirs in a way which improves the overall sales proposition.
The definition of a business is an organisation that trades goods or services with customers. If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. And if you don’t do any marketing, then it will be as difficult to drive your business forward as if you had to cut a hole in the floor of your car and run.