In this post I'm hoping to save the expense (and frustration) of making an expensive rookie marketing mistake.
I want to tell you a story about a couple of friends I went to University with who started their own little It business. Their names are Tom and Dan.
And they did something in their marketing, which I think presents a fantastic lesson on what not to do.
Now, I did some work with Tom and Dan to try and help them develop their business and develop their ideas. They had some great ideas on developing software.
Sadly, none of them really came to fruition, not necessarily because they were bad ideas, I think largely because they were not great at pitching their ideas to people who could help through things like funding and also promotion.
They were, as Michael Gerber puts in his book, "Technicians with an entrepreneurial seizure". In other words, they very good at what they did but not particularly good businessmen.
Sadly, the software thing wasn't really producing any money. So they they decided to try offering IT support.
And what they did was they bought a database of 1000 local very small businesses. Now, this was back in the day when you could buy databases and it's not so easy these days.
Their marketing strategy was to write to these people and make them an offer. Not a bad idea but it's something that needs a fair bit of skill to get right.
So they hired a graphic designer to create a letter-size tickets, like the old cinema tickets. And it said on the front, "admit one". And it said on the back, "give us a call for a free IT support session on this particular number".
They used a fulfilment house to post out a thousand of these. And the exercise cost them £1,000, including printing, postage, design, et cetera. It was expensive and they couldn't really afford to waste it.
Lesson 1: know who you're trying to sell to
And out of that campaign they got one call, just one. And that was from a woman who worked on her own and couldn't figure out why her printer wasn't working. They fixed it but she never became a long term client (and was never likely to).
You see, the problem with this approach is that, first of all, they hadn't properly identified whether those businesses were particularly right for them. They just bought a database as cheaply as they could of 1,000 businesses within a twelve mile radius of where they were.
But they hadn't properly identified who their target audience was going to be. They hadn't gone through the process of looking at who is most likely to buy from us in this neighbourhood and who are the ones we can most easily reach. The rookie marketing mistake could have been avoided with a bit more thought in this area alone.
Lesson 2: start small and work up, especially with novel ideas
Now, their second mistake was chucking a load of money at an untested process, an untested technique.
What they probably should have done was started off with a sample size of maybe 200 and see how it went from there. And if it proved to be profitable, then scale up.
Don't get me wrong, £1,000 isn't a massive amount of money in the grand scheme of things, but it was a big deal for them.
The cinema ticket idea was so far removed from anything related to IT support that when I first saw the front of the ticket, I asked them what they thought they were doing. The concept made no sense whatsoever. How on Earth is this anything to do with It support?
It's effectively just a crazy idea that's not hitting any buttons with anybody in any target market.
What they should have done was to spend time and effort working out what people's problems were and then writing them a letter addressing those problems and putting themselves in prime position to be the problem solvers.
But no, they hadn't even thought of that. And sadly, out of 1,000 poorly targeted letters, they didn't get a single proper customer.
So, if you're going to try something new, start small. If it proves profitable, scale up. If it doesn't work, you can either amend it or scrap it. It's entirely up to you.
But never, ever go all guns blazing into a major campaign without first doing some testing, largely because when you run a small business or you're self employed, you literally don't have money to throw away. And Tom and Dan made a desperate effort to just get something moving.
I run Facebook ads on a very regular basis and I never just spend hundreds a month at an idea that hasn't been tested for just tens of punds a month, largely because it's easy to throw money away.
And to be honest, the likes of Facebook will happily take your money.
Lesson 3: take your time and do some research and some testing
So if you have an idea, at least try and talk it over with somebody who, you know, might be able to give you some input.
Start small and work up.
Had they spent time and effort working out a target demographic, and only then buying the database of those particular people, it would likely have produced a much better response.
If it proves to be profitable, don't just go from small to massive immediately but scale up incrementally.
And that's what I do with Facebook ads and other advertising that I've done. I don't throw a ton of money at it instantly, but spend a little and, if it works, spend a little more, and so on. And that way you can know with fairly good predictability that if it works first time, it's going to keep working.
The whole point is this: I don't want anybody who is self-employed or running a small business to waste time or money on marketing plans and marketing ideas that have little chance of success.
Funnily enough, I think about Tom and Dan every time I'm trying something new. I ask myself the following questions (and you probably should too): Am I targeting the right people? Does it say the right things to those right people? And am I using the right method to get the message across?
And that comes back down to my big message, which is know your audience, know what you're saying to them and know which channels you're going to use.
So, work on this. I don't want you to be a 'rookie marketing mistake' case study.
Want more on marketing? Check out:
Are you doing enough marketing in your social media? (post and video)