Marketing the Small Business
August, 2005 - Issue #10
When the opportunity arose to purchase an existing antique shop in downtown Newhall, friends Sue Neiberger and Colleen Henriques jumped at it. While their passion for antiques was obvious, their business experience was limited, so Neiberger and Henriques turned to the Women's Business Center for advice on a variety of issues such as permits, funding and setting up the books. The Center also offered to help them with marketing.

So far, the antique shop - Cottage on Walnut - has been advertised in local newspapers and magazines, the yellow pages and trade publications. Henriques said the ads are about all they can afford.

"Marketing is very important, but it is costing us more than we anticipated," she said. "People are always trying to sell us an ad. We pick and chose what would work best for us."

Finding the right type of advertising is often a dilemma for many small business owners. Open the phone book, for example, and there are more than two dozen flower shops listed. Then there is the internet. A random sampling of individuals indicates that using the internet for consumer information is at an all time high.

Deciding where to place ads is a challenge, said local photographer Gary Choppe. As a business and fashion photographer for the past 23 years, Choppe recently opened the Choppe Advertising Group and knows the importance of getting your company name out there.

"You have to do it all the time," he said. "Joining the chamber, issuing press releases and just going out and shaking hands with people. It's something that goes with everything you do to promote your business."

More importantly, Choppe said, a business owner must have a marketing plan in place. "We have a diversity of places to advertise in the Santa Clarita Valley," Choppe said. "You have to have a plan. It keeps you on course."

Your plan will help you identify your target market and what you have to do to reach that market, said Jeff Solomon, owner of All American Marketing. For more than 20 years, Solomon has either produced promotional products or held seminars on marketing.

"Businesses sometimes think putting a logo on a key chain will do it," he said. "But it's not about the stuff, it's about conveying a specific message. Promotional products are just the pasta that carries the sauce."

Marketing retail businesses is somewhat trickier than business-to-business promotion and retail outfits need to take advantage of in-store promotions and regular clientele, Solomon suggests.

The Small Business Administration advises business owners to never let a day pass without engaging in a least one marketing activity. April Price, vice president of business development at DiFatta Graphics, said getting involved with the community is a good way to get the company name out. As printers of everything "ink on paper," Price said the DiFatta family (in business since 1957) believes in giving back to the community and that attending and supporting community events is a good marketing technique.

"We often purchase most of our marketing efforts in trade with the nonprofits in town," Price said. "And we host special events such as the VIA Open House and our holiday party where we invite graphic designers and members of the industry. We find that our strongest business relationships come from that involvement."

"The thing I love most about this company is I get to work in the same community where I live and play," she added.

DiFatta is large enough to have a staff to help with all aspects of the business, whereas many of the graphic artists they work with are a one-man show.

"They have to wear all the hats," Price said.

Wearing all the hats can be exhausting and overwhelming, but just like hiring an attorney for legal matters or a CPA for tax purposes, many of the professionals say hiring a marketing firm for advertising is money well spent.

"A small business needs to concentrate on running the business," said Patti Fleetwood of Fleetwood Communications. "They need someone who has experience in the industry, someone who is going to take you from the ground up and think outside the box."

Fleetwood, who has been in the public relations business for the past 11 AŻ years, said a marketing communication plan is a good beginning. When approached by a small business owner, Fleetwood begins by looking at the history of the company and then has owners complete a questionnaire customized for the individual business.

"We do a well-rounded campaign," Fleetwood said. "We look at their goals, what they've done in the past and try to figure out what works and what hasn't worked for them."

Small businesses need to look beyond marketing and make sure public relations is part of their campaign, Fleetwood said. "You've got to figure that an editor is getting 50 or more press releases on their desk and you are in competition with them. We look to see what (the business owners) are doing at their company that is vastly different than others."

Costs for marketing plans vary, Fleetwood said, with most businesses billed on a per-project basis. A retainer is used for larger clients with bigger advertising needs.

It's a big mistake to overlook advertising as an expense, said Linda Jones of A.M.P. Often you hear or see virtually nothing from a business after its "grand opening" until they begin their "going out of business" ads, she said.

"Every type of business has a standard in their respective industry of advertising ratio to sales performance," Jones said. "I'm always surprised how many business owners don't know this or what theirs is. This is where you can begin to establish a budget. No matter how small or large that number may be, you must make the 'investment' consistently."

Randy Cressall, owner of Valencia Auto Spa, is a big believer in marketing campaigns. He contacted Stephanie Weiss of Strategies for Success when he opened his business nine years ago.

"He said 'I need you,'" Weiss recalls. "From there, he and I sat down and talked about our long-range goals and objectives. Giving to charitable organizations was something we were both in sync with."

Cressall designates one night a week for charity car washes (April through October) and Cruise Nights which has helped countless organizations earn money for their cause.

Weiss said every business should do a one-, three- and five-year business plan and a yearly marketing plan which is reviewed on a regular basis. Into that plan should be a yearly marketing budget.

"Often when people decide to go into business, they are concerned with opening the door and they'll get to their business plan later," Weiss said. "We used to be a small enough community and that used to work. The fact is we have grown and there is much more competition."

Business owners need to consider the big picture when deciding how marketing fits in their budgets. Through marketing efforts, decisions are made and strategies are implemented. Marketing produces a win-win situation because the customers have a product that meets their needs and healthy profits are achieved which allows the company to continue to do business in order to meet the needs of future customers.

"I needed to find a marketing specialist that knew and was involved in the community," Cressall said. "One thing a marketing specialist should do is learn the nuances of the business and the client and meld them together. I attribute a great deal of our success to Stephanie and her guidance.
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