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As you search for the best ways to get your new business off to a successful start, you're likely to hear a lot of advice from folks who are happy to pass on less-than-sage counsel. These are typically people who say they never market their businesses and get along fine. (Of course, they're really living from month to month, with no idea what the future will bring and no written plans to get them where they want to be.) So as you listen to advice from other entrepreneurs, watch out for what I call "infamous last words." Here are three primo examples of dangerous myths that can doom your new business and the truths that will save you from them.
Myth #1: Advertising doesn't work. American businesses spend billions of dollars on advertising every year, and with the mountains of research on every facet of advertising execution, there's no doubt about its effectiveness. The truth is, bad advertising doesn't work, and creative execution should be put in the hands of experts. But while the nuts-and-bolts process of manufacturing ads is not a do-it-yourself job, there are several aspects of the advertising development and placement process that you can easily undertake on your own.
Your first step is to focus on a narrow target audience and learn as much about these prospects as possible. Discover why they'll want to buy your type of product or service; how, what, and why they buy from your competitors; and what you can offer that will encourage prospects to buy from you. Next, look at the way similar products or services are marketed for insight into the kinds of media you should use. Once armed with this information, bring in experts to create your advertising. Be sure the agency or copy and design team you hire has experience communicating with your target audience. Not all forms of advertising development require the same training and expertise.
Depending on the scope of your advertising campaign, you may be able to place your own media. You can also call in experts to help you, including advertising agencies, media buying services or list brokers for direct mail. Print and broadcasting advertising rates are based on the number of people who will see or hear your print ad or spot. The key isn't to find the cheapest advertising opportunity; it's to find the one that reaches the largest percentage of your target audience with the least amount of waste (overflow into other audiences). Plan to run your advertising with enough frequency for your message to be remembered by your prospects. Examine media kits (the sales tools used by media outlets) and meet with or talk to media reps to place a campaign that will reach your objectives.
Myth #2: Only salespeople call prospects. Countless businesses have fallen quietly by the wayside because their owners sat back waiting for the telephone to ring. Unless you're actively pursuing your best prospects, it's unrealistic to expect them to come and beat down your door. Sure, your business may survive if you simply pass out business cards, put out feelers and win the occasional project or account. Fast growth and plum accounts will go to those who actively pursue their top prospects. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must wake up every morning prepared to sell.
If you're marketing to other businesses, create your own in-house prospect list of your most desirable business accounts. Then follow the traditional contact sequence for business-to-business sales: Call, mail, call. If you're marketing to consumers, marketing communications (including advertising, public relations and direct mail) will be necessary to generate leads. Then, like business-to-business marketers, you'll contact your prospects by telephone to complete the next step in the selling process.
Your initial call will lay the groundwork for a positive relationship with your prospective client and enable you to ascertain if they meet the criteria for being a good client. Telephone contact will give you an opportunity to learn about your prospects' needs and to communicate the ways in which your company will meet them. In all, telephone contact is a vital tool for moving many prospects closer to a buying decision.
Myth #3: You only have to market when business is slow. Marketing only during the slow times puts your business on an economic roller coaster, because it's always feast or famine. Some entrepreneurs convince themselves they're too busy to market. They concentrate on the projects or clients they have in-house and work hard on them, fulfilling contracts and completing projects until they, in effect, work themselves out of business. They look around one day and there's simply no more work to be done, or they realize there isn't enough new work to sustain them. It's a vicious cycle that results in economic highs and lows. Unfortunately, sometimes these protracted slow periods put otherwise effective entrepreneurs right out of business.
Don't let this happen to you. Set up a proactive, ongoing marketing program that you can manage year-round along with the day-to-day operations of your new business. Create a written marketing plan that incorporates tactics that reach out to your prospects throughout the sales cycle. When you create your plan, anticipate at which times of the year your business will experience its busiest periods and plan activities during those times that require the least amount of hands-on effort. For example, if you communicate with your database every four to six weeks via a broadcast fax newsletter, you can prepare three or four issues well in advance so they are completely ready to be faxed during your busiest times of the year.
What's the biggest marketing mistake of all? The number-one mistake is to do nothing. If a tactic you've been using stops producing results, change it, adapt it or throw it out and try something new. Remember, when you do nothing, nothing works.