The Big Marketing Challenges Startups And Small Business Owners Face | Startup

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 an established brand, such as Dove, is one thing. Trying to start a , create a product, find clients,  and finance it all is much more difficult. To understand the marketing and general new , I turned to Dan Smith, who founded Smith Publicity 20 years ago and has transformed the one-client, one-man operation into one of the most prolific book publicity agencies in the industry. Below is his unique perspective on building a from the ground up.

Dan Smith, Smith PublicityDan Smith

Kimberly Whitler: What marketing challenges did you face as a business owner?

Dan Smith: I started my business without any formal business training. So, not having any experience, I wasn’t really prepared to understand what challenges would hit when. The first issue I faced was figuring out how to get the word out. Although I had read books, I really didn’t have a plan. Because I had very limited resources, I originally relied on word of mouth. I started with one client and then he told some authors he knew and so on.

When I became more established, I realized I needed to be more proactive. The challenge at that point was identifying the right venues where prospective clients would be located. In addition to figuring out how to reach prospects, deciding to invest in marketing was daunting because of the cash flow challenges that most start-ups face. I had to invest in marketing through loans and credit card debt without any idea of whether it would work.

But I knew that I needed more than word of mouth to build the agency. About six months after launching my business, I decided to invest in testing different marketing tactics. I started by focusing on paid search and trade shows. In particular, there is a key one that most authors attend—Book Expo America. I started with a limited presence and a table and paid for it through credit card. And it really helped.

Whitler: What marketing lessons did you learn?

Smith: The biggest lesson I learned was the power of what I call “touch point marketing,” which I realize is basic branding. For example, we may speak with an author at a trade show, follow-up, and then don’t hear back. That same author then sees our name come up during an Internet search, and remembers talking to us at the trade show. That author still may not engage us, but then attends a function where a Smith Publicity representative is either speaking or part of a panel. Now, after this third touch point, the author reaches out to us and then becomes a client.

I’ve learned that even if a big marketing expenditure – such as exhibiting at a major trade show – doesn’t lead to a flurry of immediate new clients, our presence there still has significant value. It’s about branding, with people telling us “I see you guys everywhere,” and also about creating word-of-mouth awareness. It’s often not about an immediate positive ROI when marketing, and that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned.

Key Lessons for Beginning a Marketing Campaign

  1. Test. Smith didn’t start with a big, expensive campaign. He started with one tactic that he thought would give him access to most of his target.
  2. Measure. Smith then measured the test performance (e.g., how many contacts did he make, what happened after the trade show, ultimate conversion rates, etc.) to see if it appeared to payout.
  3. Long(er)-term View: Smith understood that a connection made at a trade show may take multiple interactions before they become a client. He didn’t expect a sale from a trade show, but rather the beginning of a relationship. He knew it was his responsibility to cultivate the relationship over time.
  4. Be Ruthless. A mistake I often see in marketing is a lack of focus. Because there are endless tactics marketers can employ, it can become difficult to focus on the few activities that will yield the biggest impact. Smith did just that. He didn’t have the resources to engage in a lot of tactics and so he had to be ruthless in his actions. This actually helped force him to identify the biggest impact, lowest effort, affordable activity and put all of his energy into making it work.

Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler 

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Marketing an established brand, such as Dove, is one thing. Trying to start a business, create a product, find clients,  and finance it all is much more difficult. To understand the marketing and general business challenges new business owners face, I turned to Dan Smith, who founded Smith Publicity 20 years ago and has transformed the one-client, one-man operation into one of the most prolific book publicity agencies in the industry. Below is his unique perspective on building a business from the ground up.

Dan Smith, Smith PublicityDan Smith

Kimberly Whitler: What marketing challenges did you face as a small business owner?

Dan Smith: I started my business without any formal business training. So, not having any experience, I wasn’t really prepared to understand what challenges would hit when. The first big issue I faced was figuring out how to get the word out. Although I had read books, I really didn’t have a plan. Because I had very limited resources, I originally relied on word of mouth. I started with one client and then he told some authors he knew and so on.

When I became more established, I realized I needed to be more proactive. The challenge at that point was identifying the right venues where prospective clients would be located. In addition to figuring out how to reach prospects, deciding to invest in marketing was daunting because of the cash flow challenges that most start-ups face. I had to invest in marketing through loans and credit card debt without any idea of whether it would work.

But I knew that I needed more than word of mouth to build the agency. About six months after launching my business, I decided to invest in testing different marketing tactics. I started by focusing on paid search and trade shows. In particular, there is a key one that most authors attend—Book Expo America. I started with a limited presence and a table and paid for it through credit card. And it really helped.

Whitler: What marketing lessons did you learn?

Smith: The biggest lesson I learned was the power of what I call “touch point marketing,” which I realize is basic branding. For example, we may speak with an author at a trade show, follow-up, and then don’t hear back. That same author then sees our name come up during an Internet search, and remembers talking to us at the trade show. That author still may not engage us, but then attends a function where a Smith Publicity representative is either speaking or part of a panel. Now, after this third touch point, the author reaches out to us and then becomes a client.

I’ve learned that even if a big marketing expenditure – such as exhibiting at a major trade show – doesn’t lead to a flurry of immediate new clients, our presence there still has significant value. It’s about branding, with people telling us “I see you guys everywhere,” and also about creating word-of-mouth awareness. It’s often not about an immediate positive ROI when marketing, and that’s one of the most important things I’ve learned.

Key Lessons for Startups Beginning a Marketing Campaign

  1. Test. Smith didn’t start with a big, expensive campaign. He started with one tactic that he thought would give him access to most of his target.
  2. Measure. Smith then measured the test performance (e.g., how many contacts did he make, what happened after the trade show, ultimate conversion rates, etc.) to see if it appeared to payout.
  3. Long(er)-term View: Smith understood that a connection made at a trade show may take multiple interactions before they become a client. He didn’t expect a sale from a trade show, but rather the beginning of a relationship. He knew it was his responsibility to cultivate the relationship over time.
  4. Be Ruthless. A mistake I often see in marketing is a lack of focus. Because there are endless tactics marketers can employ, it can become difficult to focus on the few activities that will yield the biggest impact. Smith did just that. He didn’t have the resources to engage in a lot of tactics and so he had to be ruthless in his actions. This actually helped force him to identify the biggest impact, lowest effort, affordable activity and put all of his energy into making it work.

Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler 

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