From the August 1997 issue of Startups

Do you fit this description? You have so much work to do, you tell yourself you have little or no time for marketing. A few months go by and there's less work in-house, or maybe you've completed a project. So you begin marketing heavily, doing everything you can think of for a few more months until the work starts coming in. Then you repeat the cycle all over again. You work for a while . . . market for a while . . .work for a while, then market. By now you realize you've put yourself on an economic roller coaster. It's always feast or famine.

As I travel around the country, speaking to small- and homebased-business owners at conferences and expos, I listen carefully to the challenges and problems they face. The question I hear most often concerns an area that's vital to every small-business owner's success: "How do I create an overall marketing strategy for my business?"

To develop an effective marketing strategy that will increase your income, you must do two things: First, begin a proactive and consistent sales and marketing program, and second, create a well-rounded program that reaches the full range of qualified prospects for your business. But what constitutes a proactive and consistent marketing program? Consider that, in the fastest-growing companies in the United States with annual sales of less than $1 million, the company presidents spend an average of 40 percent of their time each week on sales and marketing. If you're starting a new business, you should expect to spend 60 percent or more.

A well-rounded sales and marketing program reaches out to your targeted prospects in three typical stages of readiness--cold, warm and hot. Cold prospects are companies or individuals you've targeted to become your clients or customers, but that have little or no information about you. Warm prospects are those you've familiarized with your products or services. With a little legwork, they'll eventually become hot prospects, along with businesses that have come to you through referrals and current customers who continue to buy from you.

In the United States, businesses take an average of about eight contacts with a prospect before closing a sale. That means if you've been contacting cold prospects and, upon meeting resistance, taking them off your list, you've been missing out on opportunities to grow your business. Think about your sales cycle and these three prospect stages as if they were in motion like the hands on a clock, with new, cold prospects continuously moving around the face of the clock. The cold prospects are right around 1 or 2 o'clock. They won't move forward until you turn up the heat. Warm prospects are anywhere from 3 o'clock to 8 o'clock. Your hottest prospects are right around 9 o'clock on the clock's face. They're moving along in the sales cycle, getting much closer to 12 o'clock--the closed sale.

To get off the economic roller coaster and increase your income year-round, adopt an overall strategy that combines sales and marketing tactics. For example, sales tactics, including networking and cold calling, can motivate even your coldest prospects when used in combination with a variety of marketing tactics. Marketing tactics can include public relations, direct mail and advertising. As you turn your cold prospects into warm ones, your marketing tactics may continue as before, but your sales tactics should expand and, depending on your type of business, may include follow-up calls, individuals sales letters, direct mailings with company literature, meetings, presentations and proposals. And finally, personal selling will add the heat to close sales and convert hot prospects into customers.