Once you’ve decided to live your dream full time and take your talent to market, whether want to flip real estate for a profit or take your writing full-time, as an entrepreneur you are only as good as your ability to promote yourself. Unfortunately, many a gifted writer, artist or small-business owner has failed in their chosen field, not because they lack the ability to do their business well, but because they lack the know-how to promote it effectively.
Promoting yourself correctly can be daunting and may even feel like a separate job entirely. In a sense, it is. Yet it is so crucial to success it cannot be overlooked. An understanding of what currently works in marketing specific to your field is necessary to launch, expand and sustain your start-up. If followed, these 10 steps will make the difference between a successful launch and a fail. Unless you have come up with a product or service that is widely needed and affordable and has little to no competition, or unless you can afford a professional marketing firm, you will ultimately be responsible for promoting your own business.
Plan Your Attack
First, you must get organized. You’ve got your offering down and you know how to create it. Grab your laptop or a blank sheet of paper and prepare to take notes. Then take a step away from the center of your own storm and allow yourself to examine your offering objectively. This will allow you to plan your attack, which once outlined, you will pin to your bulletin board or tape to your fridge and see every day. Your attack plan is your rudimentary marketing plan. Here’s how to create it:
Step #1: Create Your Mission Statement
While something like “I want to become a successful writer and sell many novels,” may seem an obvious statement to you, getting specific and succinct can keep you focused. Delve deeper and ask yourself why you were compelled to share your offering with the world. Go beyond wanting to be your own boss or the fact that you love what you do. Specify in no more than two sentences why doing what you have chosen to do moves you so deeply. Be specific to you.
If your offering will benefit others, explain why that will ultimately benefit you: “I am able to write rich, engaging, endearing historical fiction and providing these works to readers who will gain insight and enjoyment from my books, thereby bringing me tremendous joy.” From there, create your mission statement: “I will write rich, engaging, historical fiction to bring education and joy to both my audience and my own life.” It’s important to be absolutely clear on why you are making your offering. It is the backbone of your motivation, drive and patience when times get tough.
Step #2: Create or Find a Need
Without a clear market niche, even the greatest ideas fail. The successful entrepreneur can identify a need that previously did not exist or was under-represented, and offer it with impeccable timing. An example would be the benefits of electric cars in a world where traditional fuel sources are becoming scarce, or the beauty of the portable laptop where only bulky desktop computers previously existed. However, the entrepreneur often must create a unique need for their offering in a world where their product or service already has plenty of competition. It is crucial to differentiate between your product and what is already available. If your historical fiction novel will be geographically specific to South America, for instance, this helps you target a specific market. Without differentiation, the unsuspecting entrepreneur can be excellent at what she does, and still not succeed.
Step # 3: Discover Your Specific Market
Once you’ve determined your specific offering, you are ready to define your target market. There are several characteristics of your market you need to determine. There are the demographics, including age, gender, race, religion and even highest education level; geography, whether local, country-wide or international; or even more specific characteristics, such as “women of child-bearing age living in North America who love both history and reading.” The more pinpointed you can get your market, the more potent and effective your marketing effort will be. Be aware of cultural, economic and even language barriers. General Motors tried to introduce the Chevy Nova to Mexico, and couldn’t understand when it didn’t sell. “Nova” means “no go” in Spanish.
Step #4: Develop Your Elevator Pitch
Now you know exactly what your offering is and who is most likely to buy it. Your next task is to develop an “elevator pitch” — a clear, concise, persuasive pitch short enough to give in an elevator ride — that will communicate exactly why they should be interested in your product or service. Commit this pitch to memory after writing and re-writing it several times until it reaches a sparkling, memorable summary of what your business is and how it can help make another person’s life better.
Step #5: Differentiate Yourself from Your Competition
Whether you have developed the newest and greatest gadget for charging your IPhone on the go or you have written the great American novel, you need a way to let everyone else know why yours is better than others. Entrepreneurs have to compete for seed money as well as their place in the market. Authors must compete with thousands of other authors for the attention of the agent and the publisher and the chance to reach the coveted spot in the front of a bookstore or at the top of Amazon. What makes your offering so much better than the next guy’s? Now’s not the time to be humble. Write down everything you can think of that makes yours better, and commit these to memory as well. You might even allow this exercise to motivate you to work on your offering with even more passion and conviction, improving it along the way.
Step #6: Consider Your Timing
Before investing heavily in your new venture, consider the timing. Are you thinking of bringing out a truck with a V-12 engine that sucks gas like a fiend, just as gas prices and shortages are at their peak? Is your movie idea a farce about a terrorist attack, when tensions are escalating in your target country over that very threat? Timing is everything. Take the time to research your target market and determine a few factors. Is the market already saturated with offerings similar to yours from which you would be hard pressed to differentiate yourself? Is there a negative social stigma that could be associated with your offering? Is it going to offend any particular group of people within your market? Are you on the cusp of something new, or riding the wave of a has-been? Even the best offerings have failed because they were either too far ahead of their time or tried to slide in just a little too late. Get the timing right on a solid offering, and you will be well on your way.
Step #7: Know Your Budget
There are endless ways to promote a product or service, from billboard advertising to word of mouth. Before beginning, you need to know which advertising medium will work best for you, and which you can afford. From the moment you introduce your offering to the world, you will be inundated by advertisers anxious to get your business and your dollar. Start-ups that have unlimited advertising budgets do exist, but they are rare. Determine what, if any, funds you can allocate to promoting your offering. This will determine whether you will be building and promoting your own Facebook page or running a slick, 60-second TV spot. Without a budget, you run the risk of doing what many enthusiastic entrepreneurs have done before you: spend frivolously and without a plan, ending up with far less result and no more money for the correct advertising.
Step #8: Choose Your Channels Strategically
You have many choices when it comes to advertising. If you’re not sure which will work best for you, simply look at your competition and find out how they’re doing it. If social media is your primary medium, consider hiring a 20-something SEO (search engine optimization) expert to design a platform for you. This will include the design, implementation and measurement of a combination of social media that will best serve your business.
Marketing options to consider would include: local marketing, local search engines, business cards, a business profile on sites like LinkedIn, website development; social media such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google Plus and Twitter; traditional advertising such as radio, print, television and billboards; newsletters and handshake advertising (telling everyone you run into about it). Promoting through business contacts such as vendors also works, and even your competitors can be a great source of promotion if you can find significant and complementary differentiation between you.
Step #9: Follow Through
The problem with marketing is that it does take a significant amount of time and effort, and even after all that, your job is not done. You must follow through on your advertising by keeping up with fresh material on your social media or making sure your ads stay new. Follow-through is critical. Once you put your name out there, the world will know if you ditch it. If cobwebs take over, your potential and existing customers will see them and assume you’re dead in the water.
Step #10: Track and Measure Your Goals
There’s only one way to determine if your hard work and precious dollars have been well spent on marketing. You must track and measure how much you’ve spent and where you’ve spent it. It may turn out that no one is going to your website and the radio spot you ran has brought you 100 new customers. Or you might discover that it’s the other way around. Either way, find out what works. For an accurate measurement, divide the amount you’ve spent by the number of customers you’ve gotten out of it. Once you’ve narrowed this down, your marketing plan is complete.
All should fall into place once you are able to define your mission, your market, who you are and what you’re offering; know when the need is there and the time is right; and move strategically, efficiently and economically. Also remember to follow through by refreshing your market content regularly, and keep track of your progress. Then you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done and forge ahead while enjoying the fruits of your labor.