The second question (after "How much will it cost?") I field when proposing marketing consulting to a prospective client is, "How much time do we have to devote to marketing?"
I contend that everything you do in your business should be done with a marketing bent. Any stranger you meet, any business connection you have, any sports parent you meet at little Johnny's soccer game, should be a target of your marketing. You truly need to be an unabashed, self-promoter.
This was illustrated to me by Patricia Fripp, a San Francisco-based executive speech coach and professional speaker on the subjects of change, teamwork, customer service, promoting business and speaking skills. Author of "Get What You Want," Fripp (as everyone calls her) never misses an opportunity to market her services and/or her products. Right down to her outlandish dress, which typically includes a bright colored, wide-brimmed hat, she makes an undeniable statement.
Here's what she has to say about marketing yourself and your business.
Tobe: What's the best way for a small business to improve its marketing?
Fripp: If you want to improve your marketing efforts, you need to attend seminars, read books and articles on marketing. Talk to colleagues (professional friends with whom you share target markets but not the same product or service) about how they attract and retain their customers.
It's important to accept that many of the tips and techniques may not be appropriate for you. However, if you open your mind, you'll come up with a version of the idea that may be perfect for you and your business.
Many small businesses don't have a large marketing budget. What has worked for you that didn't cost a lot of money?
Don't overlook the effectiveness of the "schmooze factor." That's just talking and having fun with customers. I don't ride in silence in elevators or taxis, unless I'm getting unusual vibes from passengers, so I always ask them if they're going or coming from somewhere fun.
Attend everything you can. Always say the name of your organization when you say your name. Make sure your little name tag says your name AND the name of your organization or your slogan.
What is the biggest mistake that companies make when it comes to marketing opportunities?
Too many organizations let their customers forget them. Keep in touch with them consistently. One or two months after a sale, write your customers a note and ask them how they are enjoying their purchase. Call or write again on the anniversary of their purchase.
If you see something in a periodical that you think your customers would be interested in, send them a copy of it, along with a note. Write a regular newsletter. Be sure to include information that will be of value to them, as well as news about you and your latest products/services and charges. If you've gone hi-tech, create (or have someone do it for you) a Web page on the Internet. You'll reach people you might not have expected.
Marketing and sales are often confused. At the time of the sale, what can someone do to further market his or her company or services?
When I had my hairstyling salon, I trained my stylists to ask their customers if they wanted to set their next haircut appointment. It was part of our service to keep their hair looking its best. What can you do to remind your customers when it's time to consider your service/product again? Have you ever given a stack of your business cards to friends or customers for them to distribute? How often do you think the cards actually get distributed?
I don't leave anything to chance. In the hairstyling business, with each haircut, I always gave my clients three of my business cards. "One for you, two for the next two people who tell you how good you look." Two to three cards are easier and more likely to be given out than a handful. You're asking your clients to give your card only to those who ask about his or her success with you.
Any final advice for our readers?
I cannot stress enough -- keep talking, reading, studying marketing till your head hurts. Don't expect to remember or even use all that you hear or read. However, you'll find a few of those ideas can be adapted successfully just for you and your business.
Remember, life is a series of sales situations. No matter how successful your business is, don't stop marketing. You have to keep convincing your customers that, with you, they will get the best deal and most memorable service.
In the meantime, the message is clear. Marketing your business is not something you do when you can fit it in. It's something you are always doing, whether you mean to or not. What image are your people giving of your firm every time they tell somebody what they do for a living? How is your phone answered? Do your self-promotions reflect your image, or were they just the special of the day?
Being an unabashed self-promoter can literally take your business to another plateau if you set aside your modesty and truly believe in what you're doing for a living. How to reach: Patricia Fripp, www.Fripp.com
Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at www.jefftobe.com or contact him at (412) 373-6592.