Q: I have a very limited budget, and I don't want to make any dumb mistakes. Yet I need some very effective marketing advice. Can you give me some intelligent basic tips?
A: I especially liked this question because it gets right down to it. Our readers need advice and support, and they need it right now. They also need sensible, well-researched marketing support. So instead of some rambling cheerleader-type answer, here are 10 things off the top of my head that I would do right now:
1. Learn all you can about marketing. Read the latest marketing books, talk to colleagues about their successful strategies, and/or pay attention to businesses that are doing it successfully. Remember the five P's of marketing: product, price, place, promotion and people.
Most important, understand that no matter how good or how well-patented your concept is, you will never achieve the success you desire without proper marketing.
2. Study your most successful competitors. Find effective means to differentiate your business either by capitalizing on untapped opportunities that your competition is missing, or by one-upping a competitor's winning strategy with a new and more powerful variation. Identify mentors who have enjoyed big success-ask them in detail how they did it.
3. Decide on a marketing vision. What is it you want to accomplish in one year? Five years? 10 years? Be specific. Do you want to promote a specific service or product? Do you need to market to a niche audience? If so, what are your most realistic projections? And remember: Be overly optimistic about your expectations, but be excessively realistic about your projections (unless you learned nothing from the great tech over-funding debacle between 1999 and 2001).
4. Know your market. If you're building an individual storefront, who lives in your service area? Single parents? New families? Industrial, agricultural, factory or aerospace workers? Is there a large population of teenagers, minorities, seniors, working mothers, yuppies, etc.?
5. Look at your location. If you have a storefront, are you in the right place for your prospects? Where do most of your customers live? Is there a barrier that might discourage them from traveling to your place of business, such as a bridge or heavy downtown traffic? Is it accessible to elderly and disabled individuals? Is there ample free parking? If you're a manufacturer, can you readily access your needed resources?
6. Do an "outbound" financial check. Have you negotiated the best lease or mortgage rate? Are bills paid on time to avoid late fees? Do you have credit card debt that can be consolidated on a low-interest card? Have you under-promised to your investors?
7. Do an "inbound" financial check. Is your billing and collection system keeping customer payments on time? Do you offer financing?
8. Define your marketing budget. Be sure you have the means to pay for your marketing. You'll need adequate start-up funding in your budget to effectively implement your marketing plan. Don't rely on projected return-on-investment income to carry you. Marketing pays off, but it can take time. Don't expend any energy or resources on your marketing until you've researched whether it will deliver an effective ROI, and then if it does show promise, do whatever it takes to support a functional and growing marketing plan.
9. Commit to excellence. No matter what your budget, never sacrifice quality or safety. Make certain your staff is properly trained, enthusiastic and dedicated to helping you achieve your goals. Invest in the best equipment, and choose the best office facilities and location you can afford. The formula for marketing success is this: A well-thought-out concept plus strong strategic planning plus strong execution.
10. Develop a well-trained team. You and your colleagues are marketing your concept with every customer interaction you have. You must always fulfill or exceed the positive expectations that your marketing message communicates. You cannot afford to disappoint, or you'll lose business and customer loyalty.
Dave Dettman founded Mr. Product LLC ten years ago and currently serves as president and CEO.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.