By Karen E. Klein Q: My small consulting firm opened two months ago and we are looking for ways to gain some visibility. Our area of consulting is vendor selection: We assist companies wanting to outsource their noncore competencies to the right vendors. Any advice from you would be much appreciated. -- J.V., Dallas
A: What you need is marketing. But before you embark on a plan, experts say you should identify your target audience, in particular its heavy-user segment. Next, decide on your budget and compare the different approaches you might pursue to create awareness and generate client leads. Finally, set goals for each marketing endeavor in terms of identifying leads and making sales, then track the results so you can decide which ones to pursue.
The easiest way to get started, and the least costly, is to establish a reputation for yourself, or someone within your organization, as an expert in the field, says Mark Pettit, CEO of Creaxion, a marketing firm based in Atlanta. "Offer yourself as a trusted source -- we call this 'face in the space.' I would also suggest networking with business groups and clubs in your area to get the word out," he adds. Make sure that at least some of those groups' members represent your target market, stresses Pettit, and then participate on panels or committees with a view to establishing a high-profile reputation as experts in the field.
Attend trade shows -- or host your own seminars for business owners. You can do this either by yourself or by teaming up with another outfit that is targeting some of the same clients with a related service or product.
THE FEAR FACTOR. A firm in a related field will also be a good referral source for you, and you for them. Clients paying for professional services tend to be nervous about what they are getting for their money and whether the investment will be justified by longer-term returns. Referrals from other professionals with whom potential clients already have a relationship can greatly reduce their fears.
You also will want to establish an inhouse database-marketing program, says Steve Rapier, vice-president of Artime Group, an advertising and marketing firm based in Pasadena, Calif. "Use an inhouse business development person in conjunction with an affordable database, such as Goldmine, to contact prospects by phone. Hire a
professional telemarketer and use a script designed within your database," he says. "It's all about numbers, so you should expect [to make] somewhere between 60 calls and 90 calls per day, day in and day out."
Don't use your existing sales team to make the calls, Rapier advises. "Most of them hate it, aren't that good at it, and will find ways to avoid it by making outside sales calls, lowering the number of calls made each day," he says. "Leads generated from business development should be given to you, your sales department, or another responsible party for follow-up."
"COVER ALL BASES." You can create publicity either inhouse or through an outside public relations consultant, depending on your budget. If you decide to handle your public relations needs inhouse, consider joining BusinessWire, which will distribute your news releases. You might want to publish some specific research or a "white paper" of interest to your target market, then distribute it through the wire service or your PR consultant.
And don't forget to get yourself listed in Web directories and online magazines that cover your industry and feature buyers' guides. Internet sites like Respond.com may also provide a source of occasional leads. "Don't expect this to replace other, more active marketing initiatives," Rapier says, "but rather view it as covering all of your bases."
Finally, if the budget allows, consider other marketing tools such as direct response mail or e-mail and advertising. "If planned correctly," says Rapier, "these methods can create awareness faster than other methods, often at a lower cost-per-impression." Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 46th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.