Sunday, August 9, 2009

Marketing your Design Business - Resist the Urge to Propose on the First Date

Picture this: You've just met someone you really like, and your imagination's conjuring up all kinds of future scenarios of happy days spent together. It feels so right to you, you're just brimming over with the urge to get started right now on your new life together . . . But wait. What's wrong with this picture?

That's right. You have no idea how your new friend feels about you, or marriage, or anything else for that matter. So before you jump head first into the pool, you'd better test the waters and get to know each other. What will that take? Time and shared experiences.

Think about this the next time you're tempted to mail your entire brochure and every press clip ever written about your firm to a prospective client who's never heard of you and may or may not be interested in your services or product. There are several good reasons to resist the urge to do this:

First, you'll overwhelm them with more information than they have the time or interest to read and absorb.

Second, people will be much more receptive to your message if they feel you're familiar with their needs and interests. If your first communication with them is all about how great your firm is, they won't see how their needs fit into the picture, and they'll be on the defensive or simply disinterested.

Third, potential customers won't actively respond to your message until they've heard about you anywhere from five to nine times. This is because they need to feel that you're consistent, dependable, and reputable before they'll take the risk of engaging in a new business relationship. (Sounds a lot like life, doesn't it?)

Since your marketing message will be most effective if it's repeated over time, consider extending the life of your promotional materials by mailing one piece each month, with a cover letter relating the mailer to your prospect's interests. If you mail everything you have in one bulky first-time package, it won't get the attention it deserves and you won't have anything left to send out next month.

Fourth, brochures and folders and postage are expensive. If you keep your early mailings light, you'll save money and avoid sentencing your marketing materials to an early grave in your prospective client's paper-recycling basket.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Marketing your Design Business - Trade in that Broad Brush for A Laser Pen

A proactive, long-term marketing approach that focuses on particular markets and client types will yield better results for your firm than scattershot mass marketing.

Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business School professor and consultant to business and government, writing in INC. magazine maintained that "a sustainable competitive advantage comes from choosing an appropriate strategy and appropriate scope. For small companies, the operable choice is normally what is known as focus: narrowing the strategic target and dedicating every action to serving that target . . . You target all your effort on those customers, and you achieve either lower costs or uniqueness in meeting their needs."

And speaking more broadly, in his bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey distinguishes between one's "circle of influence" and "circle of concern." Our circle of concern includes all the things on which we want to have an impact: social issues, business and financial goals, etc. Our circle of influence includes only those things that we actually can affect through our attitudes and actions. Covey's point is that we can't control the issues in our circle of concern, so worrying about them is counterproductive.

Our energies are better spent working on items within our circle of influence. Like a stone dropped in a pool, the effects of our individual actions will ultimately ripple out to affect the issues within our circle of concern.

In practical terms, this means that it's more crucial than ever to have a clear idea of who you are, including your strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and preferences; where and how you're willing to go and grow; what the market will want during the next few years; and innovative ways to let people know that you can help them on an ongoing basis.

You're not only selling design and technology. You're offering an empathic, long term service relationship to people with specific needs and interests.

Start Now

Lately it seems that every week another month goes by. Business -- and life -- are moving faster than ever, but people still require time and repetition before they'll act on an idea.

The rule of thumb in marketing is that it takes five to nine repetitions of a message before the receiver can be expected to act on it. It's this little statistic that explains why the nifty brochure you sent out last week didn't result in an immediate call from several eager clients ready to begin work on new projects. And of all the mail consigned to the "to read" pile, only 10% of it ever actually gets read.

So your marketing communications must have immediate impact and must be part of an ongoing program of keeping in touch with your audience of potential clients and customers.

The Moral of this Story

If you want to develop new markets for your work or let existing friends and clients know what you're up to, you need to plant seeds now. It takes time and repetition for a message to take effect, so even though you're busy with today's project deadline, dedicating a few hours a week to nurturing your marketing program will produce results over time.