Forging the Missing Link

Joining or starting a trade association is a basic way to promote your business -- and one of the most effective

When it comes to marketing, Corporate America bandies about big words and backs them up with bigger bucks. Meanwhile, small-business owners implement major marketing efforts on minute budgets. In this occasional look at marketing strategies, Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein takes a small outfit's marketing strategy and runs it by Chicago marketing executive Meg Goodman.

The Company: McVey Public Relations, Rochester, N.Y.

The Service: Promote corporate and small business clients.

The Entrepreneur: Cindy McVey, president and owner

The Challenge: To successfully market and grow a sole proprietorship while maintaining full service to existing clients.

Cindy McVey graduated college with a degree in public relations and followed a familiar career path, going to work for a large public relations agency. However, after putting in several productive years, McVey was laid off. As a stopgap, she turned to freelancing and, after landing some fruitful accounts, realized that adversity had bestowed a golden opportunity. Figuring that it was the perfect time to pursue a dream, she hung out a shingle and went into business for herself.

However, McVey says she soon realized that even PR agents have trouble marketing their companies. "It's tough to promote a business and do client work well. It's like the shoemaker's children when it comes to promoting your own promotion business," she says.

The Solution: McVey joined her local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and formed a special-interest group for solo practitioners. The group has been meeting on a regular basis for the last five years, sharing ideas, swapping business leads and keeping each other propped up.

The Result: McVey Public Relations has been going strong for more than nine years.

The Expert's Verdict: While this column focuses regularly on the breakthrough marketing solutions employed by small businesses, it is beneficial to step aside for a moment and address a solution often overlooked during tough economic times: simply reaching out.

While Cindy McVey did not come up with a blockbuster marketing approach, her decision to form a professional networking group has helped sustain her firm and brought in a steady stream of clients through professional referrals. The approach, while simple, speaks to the core needs of many small businesses: Resources and networking. One mistake that many entrepreneurs make is isolating themselves from their colleagues -- and their competitors -- by becoming utterly absorbed in their own internal operations and day-to-day problems. Fear of revealing secrets or losing clients to competitors also keeps many small-business owners inside their own four walls, unwilling to think outside the box about new solutions, cooperative arrangements and partnerships.

"When times are tough, the first thing many large companies cut is their employees' networking opportunities," says Meg Goodman, who specializes in strategic marketing services and new-business development. "But that's the last thing a small-business owner should do." Networking, sharing resources, and becoming involved in groups such as the local Chamber of Commerce or a particular professional organization are wonderful marketing tools for entrepreneurs, and most of the time they're reasonably priced and well worth the time, she says.

"When the copier has just quit, the fax is out of paper, the computer has lost a file, the phone is ringing, you just spilled your coffee, and you have a client deadline in an hour, belonging to a networking group can remind you that you are one of thousands experiencing the very same thing. So, gather yourself together and reach out!" Goodman says.

If your marketing drive put some runs on the board, send an e-mail to Karen E. Klein and tell us what you're doing. We will choose the most interesting submissions, interview the business owners, and have marketing expert Meg Goodman comment.

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