Q: We have a small company, and it seems that whenever we have enough work, I'm too busy to market. Then I have to play catch-up when business is slow and really hustle to bring in work. What can we do?
A: If you're like many entrepreneurs, you're so busy doing the "work" that you tell yourself you have no time to market. You work and work until you complete most everything in-house. Then, suddenly, you're in urgent need of business. So you market heavily for a few weeks or even months until more work comes in. Finally, deluged, you stop marketing once again and the whole cycle repeats itself.
Sound familiar? If so, you're condemning yourself and your company to life on an economic roller coaster. It's always feast or famine. In fact, the very way you market your business contributes directly to these peaks and valleys and keeps you from ever finding an even keel.
Lower Your Cost Per Sale
Some business owners mistakenly use the word "marketing," when what they really mean is "sales." When you're meeting with a prospect, you're not marketing, you're selling. In fact, sales activities are all the one-on-one tactics, including phone calls and meetings, that bring you into direct contact with your prospects. Marketing, on the other hand, exists to support sales and consists of tactics that produce leads or motivate prospects, such as direct marketing, public relations and advertising.
Selling is more time-intensive than marketing, which can be largely automated or subcontracted. While some sales activities must go on continuously, such as meetings with prospects to sign contracts or make presentations, at other times, marketing tactics can take their place. Not only will you benefit significantly thanks to the amount of time you'll save, but you'll also lower your overall cost per sale.
Consider this: Depending on your industry and type of business, the average sales call can cost you several hundred dollars. So, imagine you compile a list of 100 prospects, contact them all individually by phone and then go out to meet with as many as you can close for appointments. This could take you months and cost thousands of dollars. On the other hand, during your busiest times you could send e-mail solicitations to those 100 prospects-plus 5,000 more. You'd generate leads from the most qualified and meet only with them. You'd have results in a matter of weeks, not months, and expend considerably less time in the process.
Do Advance Planning
The key to maintaining a year-round marketing program, without those nasty peaks and valleys that can cost you so dearly, is effective preplanning. Have you written down your annual marketing plan? It doesn't have to be elaborate-just an outline will do, so long as you also schedule your tactics in a contact management software program or even on a paper calendar. Contact managers are indispensable when it comes to tracking both sales and marketing functions, and the granddaddy of all programs, ACT!, is priced affordably for most businesses.
With an outline and schedule for your basic marketing tactics, you can "gang" production and planning. For example, a monthly e-newsletter is a terrific way to maintain contact with prospects and takes less time than making individual phone calls. Each quarter, you can plan three issues at once, picking your topics and compiling content so that on the designated monthly mailing dates your newsletters are ready to go.
Choose Time-Saving Tactics
Some marketing tactics take more time than others. Public relations, for example, can be more time-consuming than advertising. Small-business owners rarely have the significant PR budgets necessary to hire agencies and tend to handle public relations in-house. And there are so many hands-on steps involved-such as compiling the media contact list, creating press releases and press kits, sending them out at the appropriate times, contacting the media and supplying information for stories or interviews-that they add up to hours upon hours of time. An ongoing advertising program, on the other hand, can be preplanned and booked once or twice per year with the help of an ad agency or directly with the media reps.
There's no hard and fast rule telling you exactly how much time you should spend marketing your businesses. In the fastest-growing businesses with sales of $1 million or less, the owners tend to spend from about 25 percent to nearly 40 percent of their time in sales and marketing every week. However, if your business is new, you may need to devote about 60 percent of your time for a while to get it up and running. The most important thing is to maintain a consistent effort. This will keep your growth rate steady and enable you to more effectively build your business over time.