Help for Do-It-Yourself Marketers

Small Business Marketing for Dummies is a mostly well-stocked primer on the many ways of reaching your customers -- and finding more of them

Small businesses are different from larger ones if for no other reasons than they have less money to spend and smaller staffs to help them get the job done. The newest in the stable of for Dummies books might just help entrepreneurs take advantage of those differences.

Small Business Marketing for Dummies, published in June, 2001, by Hungry Minds Inc. and written by marketing consultant Barbara Findlay Schenck, is a how-to-style reference book, with tips on ways to market your business and reach your customers.

It picks up where Small Business for Dummies left off. The earlier book helped budding entrepreneurs determine whether they were really ready to start a business and what type to tackle. This new book assumes that the reader's company is up and running, and aims to help a one-person band -- or several-person shop -- understand, plan, and carry out marketing strategies.


  The whole point of marketing is to build relationships with your customers and potential customers. And even though a small business doesn't have the budget or staff for large-scale marketing plans, you do on the whole have contact with your customers every day. That, Schenck says, is the small-business edge.

Without even leaving the store or office, small-business owners can conduct fairly inexpensive research. Schenck sets out a point-by-point game plan for using materials you already have to find out more about your customers. Look at credit-card information to see where they live. Ask callers where they're from and how they found you. Ask customers directly where they heard about you.

And watch your customers: Who do they arrive with, how long do they stay, and how much do they spend? Answers to these questions can lead to changes in your business. A retailer might notice that women who shop with friends spend more money than those on their own, which can lead to a promotion for a special lunch for two or more on certain days.

Or if there's one spot in your entry way where customers often pause, you might want to use that area to promote a special or give them information about new products or services.

Finding out what your customers have in common can help you focus attempts to reach them. If you know what Zip codes your customers live in, you're more likely to hit the mark with direct-mail lists.


  Schenck says small-business owners also have lots of information on hand to size up their competition, set pricing strategies, even write their own ad copy. But she recognizes that you're also human. With only 24 hours in the day and a business to run, you may want to hire an ad agency or enlist the help of a marketing consultant. Or maybe all you need is help from a designer, copywriter, or media buyer.

There's no shame in not doing it all yourself, but there are certainly some right and wrong ways to find help. Don't assign the task to a staffer who just doesn't have enough to do. Do hire a pro when you're making what Schenck calls a "life-long marketing piece" -- a new logo or a major marketing brochure.

Schenck writes with the authority of a woman who has been advising clients for 20 years. But she doesn't clutter up her clean, direct style with her own ego and her points don't sound like the generalities of a business course. Marketing issues are presented as real-world problems with real-world solutions. Entrepreneurs of all sizes should be able to identify strategies they can use immediately.


  In addition to the nuts-and-bolts of traditional marketing techniques, the book has several chapters on ways to take advantage of the Internet. Getting on the Net won't solve all your marketing problems. But having a Web site might help you attract someone from across the country who has been looking for what you sell. The Web is a place you can keep tabs on your competition -- search for products or services like yours and see how they're presented, priced, or delivered.

Schenck and her collaborator for online information, Linda English, short-change discussion of the pitfalls of using the Internet for marketing. They point out how e-mail is another form of direct mail, and they even note the perils of sending spam. But they don't really have solutions to the problem of trying to hit the right target and making sure that your e-mail is opened and read.

In the four chapters dedicated to online marketing, Schenck and English present a thorough introduction to business on the Web. This section would give an entrepreneur who isn't online already a foundation from which to explore questions about whether that's right for her business and, if so, what features would make sense for her product or service. But the authors' tone is a bit too matter-of-fact -- a bit too "if you build it, they will come."


  They do suggest that business owners carefully consider whether their products will work on the Web, whether what they sell can be packaged and shipped easily, whether customers would be willing to pay for shipping. But they don't put any of this information in a historical context -- the short history of the dot-com downturn.

One theme that is consistent throughout the book: Whether you're doing traditional marketing or exploring the power of the Internet, it all requires deliberate planning and strategy, specific goals and objectives, before you begin to fine-tune the creative aspects of reaching your customers.

No matter if you're a butcher, a baker, or a computer chipmaker, it takes marketing to grow. And with this book on a handy shelf, small-business owners will be able to pick up some tips to help them compete -- even if they do have smaller budgets and fewer staffers.

By Robin J. Phillips in New York

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