a refrain that is common to all small businesses, particularly those in
the start-up mode: "How do I get my company and my product seen?" The answer
is very simple, self-promotion.
Along with new business solicitation,
product development and hiring of personnel, promotion is one of the most
vital elements of your growth plan. But it's a state of mind, an attitude.
You must be fanatical about it. In fact, you can't stop promoting for a
moment. Why? Because self-promotion only works as it gathers critical mass.
It's the cumulative effect of your promotion and publicity effects that
results in critical mass, which, in turn, leads to credibility for your
company and your product. Ultimately, if your promotional program works,
it will enable you to become highly recognized and accepted, which will
help you get through the buyer's door and gain acceptance as a legitimate
There are a number of tactical
elements that, if executed correctly, will guarantee increased awareness
for your company. The keys, though, are determination, discipline and commitment.
An effective promotional program is like a marathon whose payoff comes
at the end of a long, grueling effort. There is no room in an effective
promotional plan for short wind sprints, which are an ineffective way to
spend your marketing dollars.
You must be willing to spend--
to invest in your promotional effect. It can't be done for nothing. Assign
a line-item budget at the beginning of the year and support that budget
with a simple plan that outlines goals, objectives, strategies, responsibilities
and timing. If possible, hire a public relations counselor or firm that
can guide you in this process. Incidentally, retainer costs for public
relations counsel can run in the range of $1,500 to $5,000 a month for
a small business.
You should be willing to
take pro bono assignments. Work on boards and committees that will provide
you and your firm with high visibility. It's a wonderful opportunity to
rub shoulders with the movers and shakers. However, once you're on the
committee or board, don't be pushy. And don't aggressively solicit business.
Instead, just do good work and let nature take its course.
Join trade associations.
By joining your local trade associations, you'll have the opportunity to
work on task forces and committees where you will gain both visibility
and confidence. Surprisingly, sometimes the best source of business can
be referral from your own competitors--after they've seen you at work and
after they've learned to trust you.
Donate your product. Sometimes
you have to donate or discount your product in order to get it seen and
used; particularly if it's new. But don't go overboard. Offer your products
and services only in those environments where you know there will be a
reward in terms of visibility.
Get ink. Submit stories and
press releases incessantly. You never know when an editor will decide to
run your piece. Obviously, concentrate on publications that are specific
to your industry. And give it time. Develop a data base of press sources
and submit releases on a continuing basis (minimum: one a month). It's
a process of water torture, but eventually you may get ink.
The cardinal rule, though,
is to treat the press as you would expect to be treated yourself. Don't
lie, exaggerate or engage in unnecessary chest-thumping. See it through
their eyes--they need stories and material, but it has to be of interest
to their readers.
Try to be an expect source
within your particular industry. They'll need behind-the-scenes advice
and the occasional expert's quote.
Enter industry award programs.
Remember, these programs get you noticed and generate news. They
also support the notion that your work is a cut above the rest and that
your firm is a leader within the industry.
o Hit the speech circuit.
Be willing to talk to trade, industry and community groups---anywhere prospects
and customers congregate. If you're not giving a minimum of two speeches
a month, you're not being serious. Don't ignore local civic groups like
Rotary and Kiwanis. That's where your customers congregate.
o Conduct seminars. Learn
from the financial planners and the accountants who have mastered the art
of giving seminars. If promoted in the right fashion, you'll always attract
prospects who will come to a seminar program if they believe that they
can get the information they need. And it's a great opportunity to establish
a qualified lead that, if handled correctly, will culminate in a sale.
o Don't forget direct response.
A quarterly direct-mail program ( supplemented by outbound telemarketing)
serves the purpose of reminding your key prospects who you are and what
you do. Be willing to mail newsletters and press clippings-- any brief,
informative piece, even a postcard, that will keep your company's name
in front of the prospect.
Finally, remember that awareness
takes time to build. Self-promotion is a discipline that will only start
to pay off two to three years down the road. But you must stay with it
and have faith that it will work.
You must also have a definite
plan in mind with goals, objectives, strategies, action plans, costs, timing
and professional support, either internally ( a staff member) or externally
(public relations counselor), if you can afford it.
Don't be afraid of telling
the world how good you are. There's no room for false modesty. Too many
young companies and new products have failed because nobody knew who they
This article came from
the Small Business Monthly publication, Oct. 1995.