Marketing from Scratch: Part 1

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

Your small business is growing and you suddenly need to consider long-term marketing tactics. If you already have a website and any basic promotional materials, you’re off to a good start. However, it is important to devote resources to high quality, specifically driven content. Unfortunately, your budget won’t allow you to hire an experienced marketing professional, so what do you do?

I began working for Express Trade Capital with no prior finance experience. In fact, I hadn’t worked in an office at all. I was already a capable writer, but had yet to write anything journalistic or formal beyond written assignments in college. Initially, I thought this job would be a stepping stone and a good place for me to get my feet wet as an office worker. I hadn’t the slightest notion I’d move up in the company or stay long-term. Then, the business needed a marketing department and things changed very quickly.

Step 1: Look for hidden talent in your existing workforce.

When I began at ETC, I was the receptionist. Most of it came naturally; I’ve always been an extrovert and had worked in service previously, so most of my initial learning was devoted to familiarizing myself with trade finance. Not long after I started, however, my superiors decided to investigate my other skills. Within a few weeks, one of the VPs asked me if I would be willing to write a blog post for the company website. I immediately agreed, eager to demonstrate my value as a writer, and soon I was producing blog entries at least once a week. Gradually, I took on more and more new responsibilities.

The primary lesson here is that you should never take your administrative employees for granted or assume that they won’t be willing or able to do more. Offering me the opportunity to use one of my strongest skills, especially in an unexpected context, gave me a new perspective on my job. Suddenly, moving up in the ranks didn’t seem so unlikely. When you discover valuable skills in your existing employees, you gain on-site resources, save the money and hassle involved in hiring someone new, and encourage your workforce to take advantage of their strengths and grow with the company.

Step 2: Research, research, research.

If you’re building your marketing department from scratch, meaning you don’t have any employees with marketing experience and don’t plan to hire an experienced marketer, research is key.

In my case, I came in with the ability to write well, but with very little marketing knowledge beyond that of an average person who encounters ads and branding every day. When I was still in my original role, I researched as many marketing methods and resources as possible and worked with my boss to form a plan. Although he also had minimal experience in marketing, he is a lawyer with several years of experience in our industry, so he provided context for a lot of our efforts. I then spent the bulk of my time researching marketing techniques best suited to smaller, niche businesses and building a database. Throughout the process, my boss and I spoke periodically to fill each other in and brainstorm effective ways to use the methods I’d researched within the scope of our business.

Ideally, you want to have at least one person responsible for marketing skills and at least one person with more experience in your specific industry so that each can fill in the other’s knowledge gaps. Communication is key. If the two (or more) individuals fall out of contact even for a few days, the whole process can be halted. Don’t adhere yourself to deadlines too severely, especially if you’re building on scant knowledge. It’s always better to take care in structuring your marketing plan than to rush to implement systems you haven’t adequately researched.

Step 3: Plan budgets and targets carefully.

Marketing budgets can get out of control very quickly. If you don’t plan carefully, you could find yourself spending too much on components that won’t get you anywhere. If your business is rather small, it is particularly important to be extremely selective with your choices and vet thoroughly.

You should not try to compete with heavy-hitters in your industry unless you have an exorbitant marketing budget to work with. Try to gather a side-by-side comparison of your budget and plan with a competitor that deals in similar amounts to your business. See what businesses like yours are doing and, if possible, how much they’re spending on advertising and marketing. Look for comparable businesses that you would like to emulate and find a similar approach.

Beyond choosing marketing components, you should also select your audience and marketing channels carefully. Consider whose attention you’re trying to attract. Are you selling a consumer product that could be considered an “impulse purchase”? If so, you’ll probably want to invest in advertising on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. If you are a B2B business and require contact with executives to make sales, you’ll probably want to focus more of your attention on sites like LinkedIn and review sites like Yelp. LinkedIn allows you to curate your ad’s audience to specific industries and job titles, so you can target businesses that might require your service and the decision makers within those businesses. Yelp and similar review sites help to simplify your prospects’ efforts in vetting you before they get involved.

Step 4: Don’t outsource unless you must.

Although this step is just a word of caution, it warrants some explanation. Varied degrees of outsourced marketing – whether you’re just hiring a graphic designer to make a logo or signing on with a full-service marketing firm – can be a brilliant resource for small businesses. Understandably, not all companies can afford to pay an entire department to build a website, extend their reach, and continually produce content.

The problem is that when you outsource, it’s often difficult to know exactly what you’re getting. This may seem obvious, but a marketing professional won’t be as familiar with your industry as someone on your staff. In other words, they may know how to market businesses generally, but they probably won’t have any detailed knowledge of the innerworkings of your business.

Different kinds of marketing companies will approach marketing for your business differently. Basic SEO will usually offer suggestions and amendments to your online content to include more keywords and move your site up in search engine rankings. More comprehensive marketers will come up with a fully-fledged marketing plan, including branding. If you absolutely must outsource aspects of your marketing, vet marketers thoroughly and insist on case studies and/or references from your industry before you sign anything. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. Failure to fully understand your outsourced marketing resource’s strengths and weaknesses can result in your wasting a lot of money (particularly if you are bound to a minimum contract with them) without gaining any useful materials or customers.

Check in for part 2, coming next week!

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