Finding Balance: The Goldilocks Marketing Approach for Start-ups & New Owners

Every business owner, starters and veterans know that marketing is key to driving business, but the options and all the “must-haves” can be very confusing and start to really add up when you launch your firm or a new division. The key is understanding the options and finding the methods to connect with your clients and prospects in the most direct way. Turn your thinking around and consider your business from your client’s perspective to figure out a marketing plan that is not too hot or too cold, but just right.

Branding Basics for All: Your logo and business name are the building blocks for everything you do to promote your business. Stay away from stock images and pre-designed business cards. There is a reason it’s called “Branding” – this is your chance to create yours, or be seen as generic. Get creative yourself, or hire a designer, but above all make sure you have digital files suitable for web, print and other media.

Business cards and digital letterhead are staples for any business. Your clients will most likely see your paper trail more often than your face, so make sure your email signature, invoices, estimates and correspondence are consistent, organized and reader-friendly.

Website Wonderings: In today’s business world, having a website has become nearly as expected as business cards and a cell phone. Everyone says you need a website, but no one tells you what kind of site you need. Obviously if your business is web-based or web-related your site will require extensive planning, coding and technical analysis, so you already know what you need. The other 95% of businesses fall somewhere in between a full-scale online media campaign and a digital brochure. Finding where you fit in this broad scale starts with your customer, not you.

What are your clients looking for when they go to your website? Advice? Your phone number? Your latest special? Office hours? Your professional background? If you’re not sure, ask them! Or ask your friends and colleagues for input. List the top ten reasons someone would visit your site and start building your map around them. For example, if you offer a personal service such as massage, tax prep, dog walking or house cleaning, your clients want to know where you are, who you’ve worked for and what your rates are like? Answers to all three of these should be no more than one click away from your home page.

How interactive should you site be? The short answer: As much as possible. But this doesn’t have to mean a super-technical, high-priced website is the answer. Remember, regular updates, blog posts and announcements keep your site fresh and keep you interacting with your clients. There are a lot of low and no cost options for content management systems that will allow you to keep your site new without being a webmaster.

Think about your clients first, your business second and the technology last. Over-complicating your website is the quickest way to turn off visitors. Do you need a snazzy web-based photo/portfolio viewer? If you are a photographer, probably. If you’re a tax attorney, probably not. What about a custom flash intro? If this intro gives your clients at least one thing they are looking for and you can budget for updating it at least 4 times a year, great! Otherwise, don’t pay a lot for something that 99% of people will skip or never see because of mobile browsing.

To Print, or not to Print: The printed tri-fold brochure is not dead! But it does have its place. Once you’re up and running you want to connect with people, follow-up on leads and spread the word. For many people the knee-jerk reaction is to get a brochure printed, but is it what you need? Think about your sales or networking process and really consider when you will have a need to hand out a printed brochure or flier. If you’re counting on trade shows and conference booths to drive business, then printed material is a given. If you focus instead on one-to-one and small group networking and meetings, then a strong digital presentation and email newsletter may be a better way to spend your marketing budget.

Printed material runs the risk of becoming stale or outdated very quickly. For many, the first few years in business bring new services, new markets and sometimes a new logo or look. No one likes to see the box of old brochures sitting in a corner gathering dust. If you do need printed material, keep the design flexible to allow for new photos and information as you evolve. Also, consider in-house or micro-run printing (25, 50, 100 quantity) so you can change on the fly without wasting paper or money.

The Breakdown: Don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Focus on your business and connecting to your clients. As a rule of thumb, you should be spending at least 10%, but not more than 20% of your resources (time and money) on marketing. Certainly the first few months this percentage is higher, but don’t let it overshadow your attention to quality and service. Remember – repeat business and referrals are what create lasting success!