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In 1995, Niles Communications Group Inc. (NCG), a New York-based graphics communication and marketing firm, spent $25,000 on traditional marketing methods. However, the firm wasn’t getting noticed. It decided to use innovative marketing techniques and utilize its budget to sponsor events that would attract new business. These parties cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000. At that time, NCG serviced small businesses, nonprofits, and government entities, and took in approximately $140,000 in revenue. Now, in 2003, after revamping its marketing strategy, the company boasts clients such as Colgate-Palmolive Co., The MONY Group, Time Warner, NYC Health and Hospitals Corp., and New York Life Insurance.
At the NCG parties, walls are decorated with brochures and displays of graphics that were designed for customers. The idea is that when clients come to NCG parties, they’ll bring managers and officers from other companies to show off the work that NCG did for them. Ninety percent of NCG sales are the result of client relationships as well as recommendations from one client to another.
This is one low-cost way to spread the word about a product or service and there’s no doubt that marketing is essential to virtually all businesses. In fact, 10% to 15% of a startup’s gross income should go toward marketing, says Naomi Finkel in her book How to Get Big Business Exposure on a Small Business Budget (Xlibris; $20.99). “If you don’t have the [marketing] money, then you shouldn’t be in business,” says Finkel.
Here are some tips the experts offer to help entrepreneurs get the word out about their products and services:
Identify your niche clientele. “You are wasting money if you don’t identify your niche,” says Finkel. “Direct your product or service toward people who need something. Position yourself as a problem solver who can address their needs.” Once you determine your consumers’ psychographics, play toward their needs by developing a marketing campaign around that profile. “Pick what your consumer likes and not what you like,” explains Finkel. Don’t rely on one technique, but choose several ideas to determine what they like best. Be open to change and stay aware of how new trends affect your niche market.
Develop strategic alliances. Small businesses can share the costs of promotions by forming strategic alliances with other businesses that do not sell competing products but target the same niche audience.
Decide what you can handle yourself. Sending out and following up with marketing is time intensive. “Distinguish between services that require the expertise of a professional and chores you can do that won’t affect the outcome of your project,” says Finkel.
Be creative but practical. “The plan got revised every week,” says Wendell Niles, president and CEO of NCG. “You have to shift and ask yourself ‘What worked? What didn’t work?'” In the beginning, Niles and business partner Christopher Mack found it futile to send brochures to potential clients. They learned to save money by showcasing NCG graphics on their Website. Instead of paying postage to mail an expensive print brochure that usually got lost on customers’