As a small business owner/operator, you are likely very good at making your product or providing your service. You may not have much experience, knowledge or even interest in marketing. However, you know you have to do something. In order to survive or even thrive in this ever changing, highly competitive marketplace, some action is better than no action.
You can find assistance working with various types of marketing professionals. They come in all shapes and sizes – from experts in websites, SEO, blogs, backlinks, social networking and email to writers, designers, printers and strategists. They operate as individuals, in an alliance of smaller two and three person shops, or as multimedia and ad agencies.
Today, more than ever, small business needs lead generation (finding new customers) and business development (building up current customers) tools. At the small business stage, marketing tools usually take the form of an internet presence, email, blogs, social networking activity, business cards, letterhead, brochures, flyers, newsletters, posters or advertising.
You can find suppliers to help you with acquiring prospect (potential customers) lists, database development and management, contact management software, lead generation and sales presentation tools, all internet related activities, telemarketing, direct marketing, sales training, marketing planning, strategic planning, strategic alliances, and the list goes on.
At the early stages of a small business, it is more likely that you will act as your own Marketing Manager. The alternative is to hire a qualified marketing person as your outsource Marketing Manager. It is similar to hiring an accountant to help with your bookkeeping and banking, or a contractor to help build an addition to your home.
1. Determine your needs either on your own or with the help of a professional. When I meet a new prospect for the first time, I ask the question – How can I help you get what you want? Make sure you know what you want to achieve. Be open to new ideas for reaching this goal.
2. Open your business to a supplier. Don’t make them guess at the information. No one can help you if they do not have the whole picture.
3. Develop a short list of suppliers. Do not rush to work with the first one that sounds like they can help you. Be wary of the “I can do it all myself”, or “I’m selling this particular method today” suppliers. Interview at least three suppliers.
4. Think activities through. Look for the suppliers that ask good questions – see below. If you do not have the answers to their questions, the supplier should help you find them.
5. Clarify the job, and make sure you have an agreement in writing. Every prospect I meet has at least one story of a less than productive experience with marketing, and it is not always the fault of the supplier. Understand your own experience. Be realistic and above all be clear on your objectives.
6. Be open to suggestions. After all, you are seeking out the help of a professional who has had more marketing experience than you. They may not know your market as well as you but they should have some ideas you may not have considered.
7. Work with them at every stage in the development of your marketing tools. Learn as much as you can for the next time and make certain these tools represent your company as accurately as possible.
8. Pay for what you need when you need it. This is much like working on your home. You might need to paint a room or build an entire addition. Determine what you are going to do, and then hire the best people you can find. Make sure you are comfortable with them as people and confident in their abilities. Your future depends upon it.
I have lost more sleep than I care to remember because I selected a supplier who did not or could not do what they promised. If your instincts tell you something is wrong, check it out. Talk to friends and business associates who have had more marketing experience than you or have developed a similar marketing tool. Call another supplier and discuss the project to get a different perspective. (You should have discussed this job with at least three potential suppliers before making a selection.)
QUESTIONS A SUPPLIER SHOULD ASK – The more information a supplier has, the more effective they can be in helping you reach your goals.
1. What is your real objective (what you are trying to achieve)?
2. What strategy will you employ (how you are planning to do it)?
3. What is your budget?
4. Clarify your target group(s), and be aware that your target group is not everyone. Find out who is actually buying your product or service. Is it the president or the shipper making the real decision?
5. What are your sales objectives? Are they realistic? Do you have staff to reach these objectives?
6. How does your product or service stand up against the competition? Who is your competition?
7. Why is your product or service different and why should I buy it?
8. Are you open to new ideas?
9. Is your desire to do marketing, short-term or long?
10. Are you looking for a long or short-term supplier relationship?
11. What marketing experience or existing materials, (for this product/service), do you have?
12. What past marketing successes or failures have you had with the product or service under discussion?
QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK A POTENTIAL SUPPLIER
1. What exactly is your marketing supplier going to do for you?
2. How long will it take?
3. How much will it cost?
4. How do the services they offer fit in to the total marketing program?
5. What additional services can they provide – either directly or through associated companies?
6. Who will be working with you directly? Is it the person you are meeting now or someone else?
7. Are there going to be any additional costs?
8. What if the supplier goes over budget/estimate, are you liable?
9. What do they know about your industry?
10. How much experience have they had in your industry?
11. Do they think your expectations are realistic?
12. Can you see their past work?
13. Can they supply recent references?
14. What type of clients do they specialize in?
15. Do they offer a guarantee?
16. What rebates or discounts do I qualify for?