If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!
My new book, Starting Your Career As A Musician (Allworth Press), is scheduled for release in late February or early March. Amazon says March 1, 2013. We’ll see. What happens is one fine day I open my front door and trip over a package. Voila! My copies have arrived and I know my book is printed.
This one is a departure from my usual writing fare. Most of my audience has come to expect some article about the wonders of marketing, small business how-tos and the like. Actually, this book isn’t that far of a departure. What’s different is the audience – musicians. It actually has very little to do with music and a whole lot to do with the business of being a solo act or band.
The music business has changed radically since the old days. For today’s musical act it’s much like the opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” The rest of the quote pretty much applies, too.
On one side, there’s never been a better time for musicians to steer and control their careers and potentially make more money by cutting out the middleman and going directly to the fans. On the flip side, the competition is stiffer than ever and those going direct find themselves wearing hats they never thought they would. The thing is, there’re no record label p.r. and marketing people to do the promoting of new material, booking agents to handle bookings (unless, of course, the act decides to hire one … and pay out the commission) and all the other non-music related tasks that must be done. In a nutshell, it’s a lot of work that takes up a lot of time. Several of the artists I interviewed said they spend more time promoting themselves than actually writing and playing music. Nonetheless, the rewards can be … well … rewarding, if they have some tenacity.
Within the pages of the book, I address the current state of the music industry; defining success and creating it as a musician; musical education; branding and marketing; social media; websites and selling tunes online; selling merchandise and much more. I also delve into the more mundane issues such as accounting, legalities and copyrights.
Starting Your Career As A Musician is available now for pre-order on Amazon. It seems I’m on sale for the paltry price on only $13.57.
We’re having quite a brisk discussion about whether or not clients and prospects are devaluing the graphic design industry over at GraphicDesign.com. Swing over and join in. We’d love to learn your thoughts, insights and experiences. Here’s a taste of the article:
Okay … this is something of a rant. Bear with me or indulge me. I might be spot on, totally off, or just in a lousy mood. A friend called this morning to tell me that his grandson was considering a career in graphic design. He asked for my thoughts and opinion. I couldn’t come up with a single encouraging idea. I told him to have his grandson look into another career option. I’ve been at this design stuff for a while now. All in all, roughly 35 years, give or take. In that time I’ve watched the graphic design profession slowly erode into a shadow of what it once was.
Back in the heyday of graphic design, around the 60s and into the early 70s, designers had a seat at the Board table, so to speak. Our talents, skills and opinions mattered and were seen as valuable to our clients.
Read the full article >
Action Plans, Marketing Calendar & Budgeting
In the action plans section of your marketing plan, you’ll develop a detailed marketing “to do” list. It’s a task list that describes what will be done, when each task will begin and be completed, along with who’s responsible for accomplishing it.
The action plan picks up where the objectives leave off. For example, let’s use the objective, “Increase market awareness by 15% by December, 31 2010,” from my previous post. How can you attain that? Here are a few action plans to get things rolling:
• Article Marketing
Ongoing – Develop topics list: Ralph & Jane
July 1 – 5, 2010 – Identify publications and sites and pitch articles: Ralph & Jane
July 7 – 8 Draft first article: Ralph
July 9 – Proofreading: Jane
July 10 – Revisions & corrections: Ralph
July 11 – Submit article: Ralph
August 1 – 3 Develop topics: George, Ralph, Karen & Kim
Ongoing – Identify possible venues, make contact & pitch: Mary & Chris
August 4 – 25 Write content & develop Powerpoints: George, Ralph, Karen & Kim
August 25 – 31 Proofread: Jane & Mary
September 1 – 3 Corrections, revisions: George, Ralph, Karen & Kim
September 4 – 10 Rehearse presentations: George, Ralph, Karen & Kim
Pulling It Together With A Marketing Calendar
You’ve looked at where you’re at and how you managed to get yourself there, got a take on your competition, defined your audience, defined your product and/or service offerings and pricing, set your objectives and created your action plans. Good job! Give yourself a pat on the back.
Now you’ve got to create a way to implement your plan and keep moving forward. Trust me, it’s really easy to put all this stuff on the back burner when things get busy. But, the time to do your most aggressive marketing is when you’re at your busiest. It ensures that you stay that way and that you can start to pick and choose those clients and projects that interest you. In other words, doing what you enjoy, rather than taking on whatever comes in the door because you need to pay the rent.
Enter the Marketing Calendar. Although you can use a printed calendar for this, I highly recommend using a software calendar. Windows’ Outlook has a nifty one. Macs come equipped with iCal. Other options are ACT!, a very robust full contact manager and of course there’s Google Calendars. There are also numerous free and shareware options, too. Do a search for “contact managers calendars” in your search engine du jour and you’ll find a boat load.
Transfer your action plan tasks into a calendar and, this is key, set an alert to remind you. Setting alerts makes it easier to get things done and you’ll be less likely to have things fall through the cracks.
Set a time to work up your to-do list in advance. Some folks like to do this on Friday afternoons for the next week, or Sundays for the upcoming week. Another option is to create your to-do list for the next day at the end of the previous day. A little experimentation will enable you to find the method that’s just right for you.
Your daily or weekly to-do list will be reinforced by your calendar alerts. The idea here is to have a redundant reminder (read: highly annoying) method in place. It’s easy to get sidetracked. As you complete each task, check it off. What doesn’t get done is carried over to the next day.
I get up around 4:00 AM. Yeah … I know, I’m nuts. But it’s the schedule I’ve fallen into. I spend from around 4:30 AM – 7:30-8:00 AM working on my marketing stuff. This can be social media, writing letters, articles, posting on various online forums and discussion groups, writing for my blog, etc. Over time, I’ve gotten into a habit of doing these things. You will too. It will be tough at first (hence the reminders), but in a short time you’ll find yourself getting into the habit of consistent marketing.
You might schedule identifying new prospects early in the morning before business hours, along with writing letters and emails. Maybe you’ll put aside 30 minutes in the mid-morning to make phone calls. The point is that you should be doing some sort of marketing activity every day.
The Budget: How Much Will All This Cost?
You’re not going to get very far without digging a bit into those pockets of yours. It takes money to make money. Your marketing budget is simply a spreadsheet where you pop in each task, usually by month, and its associated costs.
I use a method called, “zero-based” budgeting. It simply means that each year you wipe the slate clean and start fresh with a new marketing budget. Some places simply use the previous year’s numbers and make a percentage adjustment across the board. Others use a percentage of last year’s gross sales – typically 2%. For a new service or product launch, they may adjust the numbers up closer to 10%. Still another method is to estimate your key competitor’s budget and then either match or exceed it.
I don’t care much for those methods because they don’t take into account the changing face of your marketing environment and the simple fact that your business is likely different than your competitor’s. Starting fresh each year ensures that you are only budgeting for what’s truly needed to meet your objectives.
Like most things in planning the trick to budgeting is selecting a task and then breaking it down into its component parts. For example, developing a simple four page, full color brochure requires several players. Here’s how one might breakout (using numbers I simply pulled out of the air):
- Copywriter: $1250
- Designer: $1500
- Photographer: $ 850
- Printing: $1850
- Total: $5450
I’ve found it helpful to create a spreadsheet for each task and then incorporate the task totals into the overall annual spreadsheet. It just keeps things concise and easier to read.
Once you’ve set up your budget, you’ll know how much money you’ll need to set aside to implement your marketing program. Also, while you’re budgeting, you may find you were a bit over ambitious with your plans and may need to cut some things out and find other, lower cost solutions.
To help you get started with budgeting, swing over to Microsoft Office Online and download a copy of their marketing budget template (Excel).
When all’s said and done, going through this exercise will not only help you run a tighter ship, it will take your marketing efforts out the mysterious and overwhelming arena and put it in the doable one. With a well-thought-out plan, you know what needs to be done, when and how much it’s going to cost. It will put you into a much better competitive position, especially against the guy or gal who didn’t take the time to plan.
Beyond this, marketing becomes loads easier and over time, you’ll learn what works for you and what doesn’t. When that happens, you can easily duplicate your efforts and kiss the feast or famine monster away forever. And that, dear reader, is a wonderful feeling.
Conducting A SWOT Analysis & Developing Marketing Objectives
A SWOT Analysis a chart showing those things within and outside your business that will make you swim or sink. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Strengths and Weaknesses (inside your company)
This requires some hard core honesty on your part. What are you good at? What do you stink at?
For instance maybe you’re well-educated, have a boat load of experience and are fairly well-funded. On the other side of the coin, you’re disorganized, shy and have a haphazard marketing strategy.
Threats and Opportunities (from Outside)
What things present potential opportunities for you from outside your office walls? Perhaps there’s a new office park under construction that will be filled up with juicy prospects in a year. Maybe your local economy has just had a major shot in the arm and is beginning to prosper.
On the other hand, what threats are there to your success? Are there new government regulations that present a potential problem? Maybe your key competitor just launched a new product or service? Does your industry have a low entry barrier that allows new competitors to crop up overnight charging a buck and a quarter?
Finally, take all these points and pop them into the SWOT chart. A review of the chart will enable you to get a better view of the big picture and formulate a strategy to play up your strengths, combat your weaknesses, seize opportunities and thwart threats.
To aid you in your SWOTish endeavors, here are links to SWOT Analyses for a few companies you may have heard about, collected by MarketingTeacher.com (Please note, these were not developed by the companies named):
Marketing Goals, Objectives & Strategies
Goals can be thought of as broad-based intentions. They’re often somewhat abstract and aren’t prone to being validated. Objectives, on the other hand, are narrow, precise, more tangible and can be validated. In a nutshell, goals and objectives are what you’re trying to accomplish. Action plans are how you’ll reach those goals and objectives.
For example, let’s say your goal is to increase sales. A reasonable goal for most businesses. Next comes the objectives to reach that goal. The trick with objectives is that they should be clearly stated, obtainable, measurable and have a time frame.
Here’s a few example objectives:
- Decrease the length of the sales cycle by 30% by August 15, 2012
- Increase market awareness by 15% by December, 31 2012
- Add a minimum of five new clients per month
If you have multiple objectives, make sure they are consistent and not in conflict with each other. Also, be sure that the remainder of your marketing plan components – the marketing strategy, budget, action plans, controls and measures, etc. – support your objectives.
Setting your marketing objectives and finalizing the remaining components of your marketing plan may serve as a reality check: Do you have the resources necessary to accomplish your lofty objectives? Or, are you going to need to tap into additional resources such as capital, staff, office space, etc. So, your marketing objectives can also become a business management tool.
Strategy & The Four Ps of Marketing
The marketing strategy section of your plan outlines your game plan to achieve your objectives. It is, essentially, the heart of the marketing plan. The marketing strategy section should include information about:
- Product: Descriptions of your product(s)and/or services
- Price: What you’ll charge customers for products and/or services and how will you leverage pricing strategies to attract customers
- Promotion: How you will promote or create awareness of your product in the marketplace
- Place (distribution): How you will bring your product(s) together with your prospects.
Let’s take a look at each.
Describe, in detail, your products or services in terms of the features and benefits they offer prospects. Also, describe what you need to have or do to provide your product or service (how it’s produced).
List the price of your products and describe your pricing strategy. List price ranges for each product or service and how that pricing effects your positioning. In other words, will be be a low price, volume provider or a high price, highly valued and specialized provider?
Describe any price flexibility or negotiating room. Outline any discounts you’ll offer for long-term customers, bulk purchases or prompt payment. Also, include the terms of sale, such as “net due in 30 days,” extended payment plans, and whether you accept credit cards, Paypal, etc.
Promotion is what most folks think of when they think “marketing.” But, as you’ve seen, it’s only one of several aspects.
A promotion plan describes the tools or tactics used to accomplish your marketing objectives.
There are lots of different marketing and public relations activities out there to choose from. Many come with aggressive salespeople who are more than happy to tell you why theirs is the best. They’re also tickled pink to take your money.
Choosing your activities can be tricky. You’ll need to find those tasks that are a good fit with your personality and reasonably easy for you to implement. Plus, it’s important that you enjoy doing the. Trust me, if you don’t, you’ll find a way not do them. For instance, I’m an introvert. As such, I don’t do a lot of schmoozing at networking events. Ironically, when I do go, I’m the guy who starts the conservation at a dead table. I also don’t have any problem with public speaking. I’ve learned to “act as if,” and it works for me. I act as if I’m an extrovert at a networking event. I act as if I’m a public speaker. But this is really a topic for a different report or article.
Some promotion tools are:
- Websites & blogs
- Social media
- E-newsletters and email marketing
- Writing articles
- Press releases
- Speaking engagements
- Brochures, postcards and other collateral
- Print advertising (newspaper, magazines)
- Cold and warm phone calls
- Trade shows & business expos
- Yellow Pages ads (If you think anybody still uses them.)
Placement (Sales and Distribution)
In this section, describe how your products and prospects get together.
Describe your sales philosophies and methods. Do you employ an aggressive sales method for a large number of quick sales, or a relaxed method where the emphasis is on having customers feel comfortable to come back another time even if they don’t buy now? Do you use contract sales people or employees? Or, are you the lone wolf who’s an expert juggler? Explain your approach to sales issues.
Describe your distribution system – how customers receive your offerings. A few points about distribution to address in your marketing plan for products are:
- Is the exchange of the product made in an office or store? Online? Through the mail? Through a direct sales representative? Do you go to the customer’s location?
- What are your production and inventory capacities? (How quickly can you make products and how many can you store?)
- Are there cyclical fluctuations or seasonal demands for your products? For example, if you produce Christmas decorations, how will you manage peak production and sales periods as well as slow periods?
- Do you sell to individuals, companies, distributors or to re-sellers? Your company may use more than one method. For example, you may sell directly to customers who place large orders but also sell to customers who buy small quantities of your product through retail outlets.
The same general idea goes for services.
Once you have a handle on the Four Ps, it’s time to draft your objectives. While going through the Four Ps exercise, you probably found some weak spots or places where you can improve your position. Those will be your first objectives – those things you can do, or need to do, to clean up and optimize your business.
As previously mentioned, two things to attach to your objectives are some quantifiable number and a time frame. Without those, objectives move back to the “nifty goal” area. Once there, they tend to get put on the back burner, if addressed at all. Dates and numbers help keep you on track. If you know something needs to be done by XYZ date, it’s easy to work backwards when creating your action plans. For example, if C needs to happen by a certain date, then B needs to done by a previous date and A before that. Pretty simple, eh?
Finally, ensure that your goals and objectives are attainable. A little loftiness is good to stretch your abilities, but keep things out of the Stratosphere. Let’s say your an solo designer working out of your house. Landing the entire Procter & Gamble account by the end of the month probably isn’t going to happen. No, allow me to re-phase. There’s no way it’s going to happen. But, making a contact there by the end of the month just might. Landing a gig by September could happen too … with the right marketing.
Next up, creating action plans, a realistic budget and marketing calendar.
Conducting Target Market & Competitor Analysis
In the previous post, I touched on conducting target market and competitor analysis. In this post, we’ll get knee deep into them.
Target Market Analysis
Critical to your success in marketing any product or service is focusing your marketing efforts on a specific target market or niche. Marketing becomes a lot easier and a niche offers the opportunity to become the big fish in a small pond. But, planning your marketing strategy without knowing to whom you’re talking to is akin to throwing a party without knowing anything about the people you’re inviting.
Describe the size of your target market
A target market, or niche, is a group, or groups, of people with something in common. It could be an industry, job title, gender, age, income level and a myriad of other things.
When it comes to describing your market, be as specific as you can. Include statistics about the size of your audience. Include information on whether the size of your target marketing is growing, shrinking, or staying the same. If the size of your target market is changing, explain why. What are the common problems or challenges they face that you can solve?
Where do you find all this juicy data? For business prospects, industry associations are a good place to start. Most have sites that provide a wealth of information. A trip to the reference section of the largest library near you is also a good source. Don’t forget to scour trade publications and newsletters. Sites such as LinkedIn, Jigsaw and Spoke can also provide some useful bits. For corporations, a few years worth of annual reports can come in handy. You can get them at AnnualReports.com.
For consumer markets, consider perusing a few online forums, discussion groups and blogs related to the audience. As with business prospects, relevant magazines and their media kits can also be useful.
For both groups, be sure to follow key players on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.
Another option is going low tech and picking up the phone. Talk to the movers and shakers and ask some open-ended questions. Those are the kind that require more than a simple “yes,” or “no,” answer. In a similar vein, surveys can help you take the pulse of a target group. Snail mail surveys and online versions are both options. But, the former can get costly. Survey sites such as SurveyMonkey.com and Zoomerang.com might just be the ticket. Both provide free versions and free is good.
Describing your target market
Once you’ve collected some information, begin to describe your target market by characteristics they share such as job title, age, income level, sex, race, number of children, marital status, zip code, etc. These characteristics are also known as demographics. If you’re targeting businesses, they can be described by SIC code (Standard Industrial Classification), number of employees, sale volume, zip code and such.
Beyond demographics are habits or hobbies they exhibit. For example, your target audience might be Marketing Managers at mid-sized companies. After doing some homework, you find that these folks are overworked, having to do more in less time with fewer resources. Your job is to find a way to stretch their resources and make their jobs easier.
Describe wants and needs they have and how your product or service fulfills them. As with the previous example, the Marketing Managers need to find ways to stretch their budgets and get more done in less time.
Describe your market’s buying habits. For example, how do they spend their budgets or disposable income? When do they buy? How much? How often? Maybe our Marketing Managers are spending the bulk of their dough on print advertising. If your business is related to communications, advertising, or other creative enterprises, the Red Books are a great resource. Also known by their formal name, The Index Guide to Advertisers and is companion tome, The Index Guide to Advertising Agencies, they list a breakdown of media spending for each company. That’s pretty handy information.
You may have more than one target market. But, it can get to be a juggling act trying to keep track of three or more. So, try to focus on one or two.
Finally, create a profile of your best client or customer. These are the folks you want to clone. I prefer to use a person rather than a company for this. People buy from people and usually people they like. Here’s an example profile:
Joe Schmo is the key contact at Mondo Big Corp. As Director of Marketing, Mr. Schmo is responsible for developing and implementing Mondo Big’s marketing strategy, campaigns and branding efforts. He manages a staff of six, many of whom are alternate contacts.
Schmo is well-organized and funded. Project briefs and RFPs are succinct. Projects are normally scheduled with plenty of lead time, with a reasonable budget and payment is always received within 30 days.
Joe’s primary concerns from a designer are objective feedback and quality work executed in a timely manner at a reasonable fee. He understands what can be done at various budget levels and is not adverse to paying more when a project warrants it or has multiple revisions.
Joe has often commented that he appreciates the information I provide in the form of useful web links, articles and such.
The Competitive Analysis is where you’ll do some digging into those pesky competitors. To be thorough, it can and should take some time to complete. Since new competitors are always cropping up and existing ones change, this should be an ongoing activity.
During your research, you’ll begin to discover your company’s competitive advantage – the reason customers do business with you instead of the other guy. Or vice versa. Once you know that, you’ll be able to effectively communicate what you bring to the table that the others either don’t or can’t. Conversely, you’ll also begin to learn where you could use some help to be more effective.
Looking into your competitors products and service offerings can also prompt ideas for innovative improvements to your product/service offerings or spark ideas for new ones.
You might find that there are some marketing segments whose needs are not being met. If you’re a photographer, for example, maybe you find there’s a lack of tomato photographers in your marketing area. Bingo! A new niche for you.
If you find that your market is saturated with capable competitors, you can avoid the costly mistake of entering a market or starting a business without adequate demand. You can then redirect your efforts toward something that will pay off instead, like tomato photography. Or, for example, your research may tell you that there’s an ample number of print designers in your marketing area already but few packaging designers.
What to address in your competitor analysis
Names and types of competitors – This may seem deceptively easy at first. The thing to remember is that there may be other groups vying for your prospect’s purse strings. For instance, if you’re an accountant, you’re not just competing against other accountants. There’s also all those indie bookkeepers out there along with storefront tax prep franchises, accounting software and such. If you’re a graphic and Web designer, you compete with other designers and firms, but often also with ad agencies, your neighbor’s cousin’s kid who does some html and the dangerous administrative assistant with a copy of Photoshop.
Summary of each competitor’s products/services - This summary should also include their location, quality, advertising, staff, distribution methods, promotional strategies, customer service, etc.
Competitors’ strengths and weaknesses - It’s important to see your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses from your customer’s viewpoint, not yours. List their strengths and weaknesses. State how you will capitalize on their weaknesses and meet the challenges represented by their strengths.
Competitors’ strategies and objectives - This information might be easily obtained by getting a copy of their annual report, if they produce one. Probably, however, you will need to do some detective work or conduct an analysis of many information sources to understand competitors’ strategies and objectives.
Strength of the market - Is the market for your product growing so there are plenty of customers for all market players? Or, is the market so tight you are selling primarily to your competitors’ customers? If so, you need to have a strong competitive advantage.
More ideas for gathering competitive information
The Web – The Web is a wonderful thing. It’s cut down research time by providing a single source for most of your researching needs. In days gone by, I’d spend a day or three at the library, sweet talking the Research Librarian. Now I just fire up my favorite browser and I’m off. Plus, I do it on my schedule, not the library’s.
Personal visits – If possible, visit your competitors’ locations. Observe how employees interact with customers. What do their premises look like? How are their products displayed? How are they priced?
Talk to customers – You and/or your sales staff are in regular contact with customers and prospects. So is your competition. People like to talk. Use that to your advantage. Learn what your customers and prospects are saying about your competitors – and about you.
Talk to your suppliers and vendors – For the same reasons you talk to your clients or customers. These folks are usually in the know and can supply information you wouldn’t be able to obtain elsewhere.
Competitors’ marketing materials – Get on your competitors mailing lists if possible. Analyze their brochures, ads and such to gain information about their target audience, market position, product features and benefits, prices, etc.
Seminars, workshops or presentations - Attend seminars or presentations made by representatives of your competitors.
Trade shows - Visit your competitor’s show space and check out their display and materials. Head over to a few hospitality suites for some informal conversation and detective work.
Check various print sources: These may include local, regional and national business publications; Local newspapers and business journals; Industry research and surveys; Annual reports; Yellow Pages and such. Look for articles by or about them, news releases, ads, etc.
Other sources: Set up Google Alerts for each of your competitors. Alerts are a very handy way to keep track of not only your competition’s online buzz, but also your clients, prospects … and you. Don’t forget to follow them on various social media.
Create a file for each competitor
Finally, as you run across things like their marketing literature, tips from sales people or customers about them or articles that mention them, place it in their file. Then, when you’re ready to conduct or update your competitor analysis, you will already have some relevant resources.
Having a solid, fact-backed understanding of your target market and competition will put you in a position to make strategic decisions about your marketing plans and efforts. It will also eliminate or at least minimize any guessing. Plus, you’ll be much better at beating your competitors who haven’t done their homework.
To make your live a bit easier, download a copy of my Competitive Analysis Form in handy pdf format.
Next up … What the SWOT is that? Conducting a SWOT Analysis and crafting your marketing objectives.
Creating & Implementing An Effective Marketing Plan
Please note: This was originally published on TheNetsetter.com, which, to the best of my knowledge, has gone the way of the dinosaur. But, I felt the content and information was of value, so here it is for a reprise.
– Part One –
A well-thought-out and implemented marketing plan is the foundation for a business’ success. You might be the best at what you do, but if nobody knows about you and your offerings … and why they’re of value … that shingle you hung up is going to come tumbling down.
The truth be told, it’s simply not enough, in most cases, to be good at what you do. That should be a given. None the less, I’m sure you’ve run across plenty of times where the guy who’s not so swift in the professional abilities department is getting loads of gigs. Why? Well, odds are, they’re better marketers. They may not keep clients over the long haul, but they’re darn good at reeling them in. Together, we’re going to nip that guy in the bud by creating a solid plan that aligns with your great abilities in doing that thing you do.
If a marketing plan is the foundation, then this concept is the mortar: Prospects want to know what’s in it for them. As such, your marketing efforts are less about you and your business than they are about your prospects, clients or customers. A good plan will enable you to effectively demonstrate why choosing you over the other guy is going to make your client shine.
During the planning process, you’re going to learn who your clients are, what yanks their chains, how to reach them and show why you’re the pick of the litter. Your marketing plan will include your market research; your choice of location (if that’s a factor); the prospect group(s) you’ve targeted; your competition, your branding and positioning; the product or service you are selling, pricing, distribution and promotion.
Here’s what we’ll be doing after we sharpen up a few pencils and roll up our sleeves:
1. Defining your business
- Your product(s) and/or service(s)
- Your industry – Is it growing, declining or holding fast?
- Your geographic marketing area – local, regional, national or global
- Your competition
- How you differ from the competition – what makes you special
- Your pricing structure
- The competition’s promotion methods
- Your promotion methods
- Your sales & distribution methods
2. Defining your prospects and clients or customers
- Your current client base: age, sex, income, job title, etc. (aka: demographics)
- How your customers learn about your product or service – Internet, email, public relations, advertising, direct mail, word of mouth, Yellow Pages, etc.
- Patterns or habits your customers and prospects share – where they shop, what they read, watch and listen to
- Qualities your customers value most about your product or service – selection, convenience, service, reliability, availability, affordability, your impeccable good looks, etc.
- Qualities your customers like least about your product or service – can they be adjusted to serve your customers better?
- Prospective customers whom you aren’t currently reaching
- Profiling your typical “best” client
3. Defining your competition
- Number of competitors within your marketing area
- Are there no competitors? If so, that’s usually a big, red flag that prospects aren’t buying what you’re selling.
- Does you industry have a high or low barrier to entry – if it’s low, competitors can crop up quicker than a jackrabbit after quad espresso.
4. Defining your plan & budget
- Previous marketing methods you have used to communicate with your prospects
- Methods that have been most effective
- Developing your strategy
- Developing action plans
- Developing a marketing calendar
- Developing the budget to make it all happen
Components of the marketing plan
A marketing plan doesn’t need to be a lengthy tome that rivals War & Peace. Yours might suffice with a few pages. But, those pages should be packed with useful information, be clear and meaningful. A good plan is one that has a lot of quality thought behind it and not a lot of fluff.
Here are the typical topics that most plans address, along with descriptions of each:
- Executive Summary
- Current Situation
- Target Market Analysis
- Competitive Analysis
- Marketing Objectives
- Action Plans
- Marketing Calendar
The Executive Summary
The Executive Summary is … well, a summary of your overall plan. This may be just for you or you may share it with others including an advisory board or mentor. The Summary highlights the major points within the plan and is handy when you need some quick reference or have a time challenged board or mentor.
Obviously, this is the last part of the plan you’ll be writing. Some of the key points to cover:
1. Introduce your company by briefly describing the nature of your business and the products or services you offer.
If your business is already in operation, state how long you’ve been in business and how long you’ve been at your current location. Describe your key business activities including services, sales and target audience. Highlight your accomplishments and successes. If your business is not yet operating, describe the experience and training you have that qualifies you to operate this type of business.
2. If you haven’t done so already, consider drafting a mission statement, along with your company objectives. In other words, why you went into business and what unique qualities you bring to the table.
Mission statements are often vague and far from what the company really does on a day-to-day basis. You’ll want to be pretty upfront with your statement. A well-conceived and clearly written mission statement will help to differentiate you from the other folks. For some help with developing yours, visit, you guessed it, MissionStatements.com.
Company objectives are more specific, such as “to be the graphic design provider of choice in the Anywhere, USA area and to increase increase the business’ client base by 5 new clients per month.”
Along with this, you’ll write a value proposition. This is a statement about the authentic value you bring to your prospects and clients. Figuring out what that value is can be tough, but when you nail it, it will become a core element in your overall marketing message.
3. Introduce your management team. (This is probably just you wearing many hats.)
- Describe the organizational structure of your business. Is it a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation?
- List your background and qualifications – school, previous jobs, etc.
- List the board of directors/advisors, mentor, business coach, etc. if you have them in place
4. Close the executive summary with a brief statement of the main marketing objectives and strategies contained in the plan.
In the Current Situation section of your marketing plan is where you’re at now and how you managed to get yourself in that position. Include what marketing activities you done and how they fared. You’ll also provide information about your location, target market and competitive environment. You’ll briefly describe the target market, competitive environment and key issues your company faces in this section. More detail will be provided in the Target Market and Competitor Analysis sections.
Describe your current or planned business location. If you do not yet have a business location, name areas or properties under consideration and the criteria you will use in selecting a location. Consider customer proximity, parking availability, accessibility by public transportation employee availability, inventory storage and movement, compliance with federal, state and local laws and codes (such as those for zoning, safety or health), security, and site expansion potential.
If you work from home, that’s fine too. I do and it works just peachy for me. Include why you’ve chosen to set up a home office and what benefits that location provides.
List any negative aspects of your location that would affect sales, such as a lack of parking, kids running about, lack of meeting space, etc. Try to list solutions for such problems. I work in a small space. That suits me fine, but I don’t have clients come a callin.’ I meet my clients either at their office or my personal conference room, also known as Starbucks or various lunch establishments.
Describe any plans for the future expansion of your business. Do you intend to move? Will you offer additional goods or services as you grow? Will you hire employees?
If you offer or plan to offer a service or product in a manner that does not require customers to visit a location, include a brief description of how you and your customers will meet or interact – how services and products will be exchanged. This may be the case if you’re like me where one of my main “products” is a marketing consulting. Much of what I do is handed by email and the telephone. Also, if your products are offered through catalog sales or on the Internet, you would describe how your services and/or products would be exchanged with customers.
With a clear understanding of your business’ marketing environment and current situation, you’re positioned to move on to the next phase of planning – Target Market and Competitor Analysis. And, you’re in luck. That just happens to be topic of the next post in this series.
Target Market Analysis
Example of Target Market Analysis
The Market Analysis
Competitor Analysis – A Brief Guide
12 Tips for Doing Competitive Analysis
Develop Your Value Proposition
In Search of a Value Proposition
Up until ten years ago, I considered myself a graphic designer and marketing consultant. As such, I left the copywriting to the copywriters. Sure, I’d whip up a couple of lines of prose here and there, but the main stuff always went out to a “real” writer.
It wasn’t until I was drafted to write the main content for Creative Latitude that I discovered I had a certain flair for the written word. Well … okay … the keystroked word. What was even more surprising was that I enjoyed it and it was pretty easy for me.
Writing has become a core tool in my business marketing toolbox. I write articles for various sites and also print publications here and there. Those drive traffic to my site and then I get requests for proposals coming into my inbox. Plus, writing articles along with copywriting and web content has become another revenue stream for me.
As a marketing tool, I highly recommend your start writing stuff. Actually, there are several other instances where some writing skills come in handy. Proposals come to mind as do business letters and email.
But, maybe you were a C- English student, can’t tell a conjunctive adverb from a coordinate adjective and, pardon me, but your modifier’s dangling. The idea of writing is right up there with having a root canal done by Dr. DeSade without any anesthetic.
Well, you could always take the coward’s route and hire a ghostwriter. Lots of folks do and there’s really no shame in doing so. A ghostwriter is somebody you pay you put your thoughts and ideas into tangible, written and usually intelligible form. They get the dough and you get your byline on the finished piece.
Or, you can suck it up and get to writing your own stuff. If you take things methodically, it’s not all that tough.
If you’re shaky about stringing together a 1500 word magnum opus, consider starting off small. Tip sheets are a great start. These are typically a single page of “How-To” topics, along with a descriptive sentence or two. If you’re even remotely good at what you do, coming up with these should be easy as pie . Tip sheets can also be excellent hand-outs, meeting leave-behinds and site content.
It’s important to remember that things you take for granted about your work and profession aren’t necessarily at the top of your prospects’ minds. You do these tasks day in and day out. Your prospects don’t, so it’s often new information for them.
When writing a tip sheet, think along the lines of, “10 Ways to …” or “The Top Hot Tips for …” Then, make up your list and simply write a couple of lines or a paragraph about each item. How hard is that? Odds are, you can whip out one of these in less than an hour.
Maybe you start out with “10 Ways,” but can only come up with eight. No big deal. Just change the headline. There isn’t any hard, fast quantity rule for tip sheets. The point is to get something into written form. You’re not going for a Noble Prize in Literature. You’re simply conveying your expertise.
Next comes that 1500 word monster. No sweat, Hemmingway. All you need to do is take a few related tip sheets and put them together. Add in a bit of editing and you’ve got yourself an article.
Take a couple of articles, put them together and now you’ve got a “report.” Ooooo! String together several reports and you’ve got the makings of a book. Holy smokes! You went from being writing-challenged to a budding author in just a few steps. Not too shabby.
I believe in taking a conversational approach to writing and adding in a little humor. I believe it makes things more entertaining. When writing is entertaining, it tends to be more digestible and memorable. But hey, that’s just me. You may find a different approach works better for you, your personality and your business goals.
The point is, find your own voice. Be yourself when it comes to your writing. Renowned adman, David Ogilvy, once wrote, “Never use jargon words like, reconceptualize, demassification and attitudinally. They are the hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” Wise words. I don’t think any of us want to come off as a pretentious ass. That’s generally a bad thing. Yet, many people do just that. They use big words in an effort to sound intelligent. They don’t. They sound like … well … a pretentious ass.
Even if your writing is published to the multitudes, it’s still a one-on-one conversation. At least it should be. Write for one person, not the masses. Plus, keep it authentic. Unlike our pretentious friend, talk to people, not down to them. Talking, or writing, down to folks is a sure way to lose an audience.
But most of all, make it fun. It you can do that, you’ll soon find the writer lurking within waiting to see the light of day.
Most extroverted folks are great at networking events. They’re all bubbly, chatty and such. They make us introverted folks cringe sometimes.
Me, an introvert?
Yup, ‘fraid so gang. I’ve always been a bit shy, even way back in the dark ages when I was but a mere kidlet. Yet, I don’t have any problem with public speaking – the task that rates higher than death on the “Stressful things to do” list. I’m also the guy who starts up the conversation when nobody else will at a club lunch. Go figure.
How did I deal with being a happy introvert in the business world? Easy. I married an extrovert who also was my business partner. She was (and is) probably one of the best sales people I’ve ever met. She can still fire up a comfy conversation with anyone.
Then, I got divorced. Ut oh …
I found myself sitting on the couch in my nifty new apartment one evening after a workday, thinking, “Gee … what do I do with myself now?” I needed to figure out how I was going to get out there and all chummy with new prospects.
Here’s what I did. Odds are, it will work for all you other card-carrying introverts out there, too.
I found the best extrovert I knew and did what he did. I acted “as if.” “As if” I was a chatty type and “as if” I was a public speaker. And guess what? It worked. And, it wasn’t too tough, either.
Simply acting as if you where a dynamic networking mogul can get you over the hump and learn the skills. When you’re in a situation, just think, “What would [insert extrovert du jour] do or say?” Picture your extrovert model person in your seat and just do and say as you believe they would. That might sound like a big lull in the conversation’s looming, but not really. Odds are you’ve seen your model in the same or similar situation and your brain will work pretty quick.
But what if you screw up and say or do something stupid? So what? It’s important to remember that everybody does or says something stupid at times. We’re all human. I usually try to say something funny and call attention to my idiotic faux pas. We all have a good laugh and move on with things. It’s important not to take ourselves too seriously at times.
Here’s a case in point. It wasn’t a major knee-slapper, but it’s stuck in my memory for about 30 years. A good bud of mine, and also a brilliant sales guy, was at the checkout counter at a drugstore with me. He pulled out his wallet and all his dough fell out onto the floor. Without so much as a pregnant pause, he said, “Oh geez, what a vulgar display of wealth.” Everybody around cracked up.
After a while it gets easier and soon you find yourself being comfortable in situations that used to terrify you. You might even find you look forward to them.
So, go forth, act “as if” and release the happy extrovert living inside of you.
GraphicDesign.com is forming an Industry Advisory Council. The members of the council will be introduced to the public in the near future.
Feedback and input from the Industry Advisory Council will be instrumental to GraphicDesign.com in areas such as site design, user experience, content topics, suggested new contributors as well as major site initiatives. Both as individuals and as a group the Advisory Council will represent voices of leadership from within a broad cross-section of the graphic design industry.
The company is already growing at an incredible rate and with the domain name GraphicDesign.com comes a big responsibility to serve the industry and provide news, articles and resources that are relevant (i) to professionals within the industry, (ii) to prospective consumers wanting to engage/hire professionals within the industry and (iii) to students aspiring or considering a career in graphic design.
Julia Wild, Editor and Marketing Director of GraphicDesign.com stated: “The GraphicDesign.com team are looking forward to re-launching the site with the right user experience and delivering the content that the target constituents of the website want to read. With the domain name GraphicDesign.com i will work closely with our writers and advisory council in order to serve the industry in a positive way”.
Watch this space. Over the next week or so GraphicDesign.com will announce more members of their advisory board. There will be a new section added to the website listing all members of the council and hopefully over the next few months with hard work and expert advice the launch of the new GraphicDesign.com will shortly follow.
For those of you who have a history of experience and leadership within the graphic design industry and who would be interested participating in the Council please get in touch with Julia Wild, Editor and Marketing Director for GraphicDesign.com. Her contact email address is Julia at graphicdesign dot com. We know everyone’s time is valuable and limited. An informal communication line to each advisory council member will be kept open and Julia will be happy to have an initial call with anyone who would like to understand more.
Follow @AtGraphicDesign on Twitter for upcoming announcements of additional members of the Advisory Council and to keep up with the latest industry news. Regular updates will also be posted here on the blog to keep you informed with the progress.
Branding and positioning are endeavors that often require a plan of their own. But, for solo professionals, they can often be addressed within the marketing plan. It helps to cut down on all that paper flying around in your office.
Branding is more than simply slapping your logo on a letterhead, sign or business card. Although there are loads of definitions, for our purposes, a brand is a promise. And guess what? You don’t even own it. It resides in the minds of your clients. It’s their expectations about doing business with you. It’s your reputation in their minds. It’s their complete experience with your business.
Will it be a good experience or a bad one?
In as much as you don’t really “own” your brand, you do own your brand assets. Those are the elements you use to express your brand promise and make a connection with your clients or customers. Brand assets can include your company name, logo, tagline, colors, typography and marketing materials such as brochures and your website. They’re all the sensory touch points that your audience has with your business. In addition to the visuals, companies are now moving toward using scent and sounds as part of their branding arsenal.
Beyond these, branding assets might also include your customer service attitude, the interior design of your location, architecture, even how you answer the phone, dress and such.
Your branding efforts should be authentic, differentiating, sustainable and consistent.
It’s important to look at your business’ touch points from the point-of-view of your audience. Are you consistently fulfilling your brand’s promise? Do you make it easy to do business with you? Are your branding elements consistent across the board?
Positioning, on the other hand, is finding that place in your customers’ psyche where your brand will set up housekeeping. Think of it as the frame of the branding house.
The concept of positioning was introduced by Al Reis and Jack Trout in 1981. Going to the source seems to make sense. Here’s their definition of positioning from their book, Positioning: The battle for your mind,
“Positioning is an organized system for finding a window in the mind. It is based on the concept that communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances.”
The thing with positioning is being first to the customer’s mind. In most cases, unless you’ve really got something new, you’re not going to be in first place. Trying to unseat Numero Uno is a tough act, if not impossible, for several reasons, not the least of which is by trying to unseat them, you’re essentially telling your prospects that they’re wrong. Folks generally don’t like to be told that. How can you spin your positioning message to find your niche in the customer’s mind?
Think about Hertz and Avis. Hertz held the number one spot. Avis, as we all know, is number two, but hey, they try harder. That’s their position – “We’re the folks who try harder.” Or what about 7-Up’s losing battle to unseat Coke and Pepsi? Enter the “Uncola.” The rest is history.
Finding your position takes some creativity. What spot isn’t owned by your competitors? Which of your strengths can you play up without directly attacking the competition or telling your prospects they’ve been wrong all along.
That might mean developing a specialty in an area nobody else is covering. Or, it might mean focusing on an under-served industry segment and learning all you can about it. In conjunction with your marketing and public relations, over time, you can become the number one choice for those prospects.
Sometimes, it can be accomplished by changing your job title or the names of your products or services. Instead of a “graphic designer” maybe you’re a “visual communications consultant,” or a “brand essence developer.” This is akin to what ValuJet did after one of its aircraft went down in the Florida Everglades. When that jet went down, their positioning quickly changed to “The risky airline.” In an almost immediate re-branding and positioning juggling act, they changed their name to AirTran. The company is now thriving as one of the top low-fare airlines.
The big idea here is to find a way to zig when your competitors are zagging. If you don’t, you run the very real risk of “me-too” marketing. When that happens, you can only compete on price and that’s a lousy place to be.