Perhaps the most challenging potential clients for our advertising-supported business are new start-ups who (a) have very limited budgets and (b) truly uncertain understandings about the value and effectiveness of paid marketing and advertising.
We can quite easily suck virtually every spare penny these neophytes have to spare, and perhaps some more, and (sadly) the individuals who give us this money usually don’t last the year. This results in an ethical challenge which we’ve resolved with some rules for our own sales practices: If a business owner doesn’t really know what he is doing, we must not “oversell” the individual and always should advise on the most inexpensive and effective strategies to get started — and this usually includes relevant association membership and direct one-on-one selling efforts by the start-up owner. In other words, I tell my sales staff to turn the business (for us) away, and focus on genuine counselling.
These values, of course, relate to what I’ll call the “cliff” in marketing expenses. There are some things you can do relatively inexpensively; namely develop a referral program, create a “wow” experience to generate incredible client satisfaction, and (if you are in a professional field) build up your public speaking and conference presentation portfolio, as you develop a solid website.
Then things get more expensive. Paid advertising can suck money at an incredible drain rate; competing for challenging long-range RFPs may consume many hours, and if you do it right, will require significant resource allocations beyond the actual RFP submission — you need to build those relationships first.
And all of this expense often is for a highly uncertain result: You are at the first stage of a process that might, if all goes well, lead to profitable client business.
This means you have a challenge once you exhaust the easy and obvious marketing and business development strategies. When/where do you spend the rest (if at all) of your marketing resources?
There are three approaches you can take to this challenge. First, you can access your competitors/peers and see what they are doing, and emulate them. But that leads you to a me-to model and probably won’t get you very far.
The second approach is to budget based on benchmarks, and then engage the services of fee-paid consultants who can help you make your choices (and who hopefully aren’t in the pocket or employed by marketing businesses with their own self-serving agendas.)
The third model builds on an extension approach. You review your best clients, their communities, interests and values, and figure their engagement points. Then you focus on relevant associations and media to build these connections, leaving enough money in the budget for the inevitable trial, error, and failure along the way.
Regardless of what strategy you pursue, you’ll inevitably find that at the cliff point, the risk/reward of marketing expense is much more uncertain. However, if you can stomach the challenges, you will reach the break-through point where you’ll know your costs, truly be able to assess your results, and achieve a competitive advantage because your competitors won’t know the secret sauce that went into the trial-error-success of your marketing initiatives. It can be a scary ride, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.