Now They Know

How Much Should You Spend?

Theories on how to set a marketing budget range from a certain percentage of net revenues to whatever is left after all the bills are paid. While there's no formula to tell you the "right" number, these guidelines can tell you whether you're in the ballpark.

1. Check out your competitors. With a bit of sleuthing, you can discover how your competitors are reaching their customers and estimate their expenditures. If their efforts appear to be working, you might consider matching their marketing dollars.

2. Find similar noncompeting businesses and find out what they're doing. Industry associations and even the Net are great ways to find people who do what you do in noncompeting markets. You may be surprised that many business owners are eager to help each other-especially when they're not vying for the same customers.

3. Budget more for a start-up. It takes more effort-and often, more money-to make a name for a new business.

4. Review your plan periodically and adjust your expenditures accordingly. Just because you have a plan doesn't mean your expenses are written in stone. Be sure to review how your marketing dollars and time are being spent to see what's working and what needs to be modified.

The bottom line when it comes to your marketing budget is-well, your bottom line. Be sure the amount you dedicate is going to be manageable for your business.

Marketing Mishaps to Avoid

While there are plenty of ways to mess up a marketing campaign, new business owners typically fall prey to four particular pitfalls:

1. Saying too much: When you jam too many messages into any one marketing vehicle, you risk losing your audience entirely. Focus on one or two key messages for each marketing effort.

2.Being inconsistent: If each piece of your print marketing materials looks as if it's from a different company, you're not likely to be effective.

3. Cutting your marketing budget first: When cash flow dips, it's more important than ever to keep up your promotional efforts. Don't be tempted to make marketing your first cut when it's time to slash expenditures.

4. Hiring a big agency with a small budget: Like most businesses, advertising, public relations and other marketing consulting agencies come in different sizes and price points. If you need to hire help on a shoestring, look for a small to midsized agency where your dollars and your business will be treated with the respect they deserve.

Gwen Moran helps small businesses with marketing through consulting and writing.

- Best Businesses to Start in 2005
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Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Now They Know.

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