MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS 1. IDENTIFY YOUR ORGANIZATION’S GOALS The best GPS in the world won’t help if you don’t have a destination in mind, and the same concept applies to your marketing. Lila Wallrich of Wallrich Creative Com- munications begins conversations with po- tential clients with a clear understanding of what they want to accomplish — a market- ing campaign designed to sell tickets and solicit donations for a fundraiser will be fun- damentally different than selling a subscrip- tion package for a spa. Clarity begins with knowing who you want to reach and how you intend to reach them. Only then can you discuss the best marketing tactics. Consider where your best customers come from, suggests Anne Staines of Sagent marketing and communications agency, because “you might assume you just need more customers. In fact, you need more of your best customers. Eighty percent of your profits will come from the top 20 percent of your client base.” Staines reminds business owners that they can also market exclusively to existing customers to create repeat busi- ness — a strategy that reinforces, instead of introduces, your products or services. If you’re completely overwhelmed, all is not lost. Ann Bouchard from Bouchard Communications Group notes that few cli- ents come initially knowing exactly what they need, but most will have an immediate problem to solve. Addressing those prob- lems with a marketing firm is a solid step to developing your strategic plan and setting goals in place. In other words, it’s a fluid process, so don’t be afraid of getting expert help. 2. SET YOUR MARKETING BUDGET Choosing what part of the plan you can ex- ecute is often a matter of money, as small businesses and nonprofits don’t have un- limited funds to test out their marketing. Marketing is an investment that should be measured for its effectiveness, and 102 comstocksmag.com | March 2019 working with a marketing firm can be the push your business needs to get clear on the numbers and consider what’s actually working. Lance Loveday, CEO of Closed Loop, recommends first getting a solid grasp on your unit economics, how much can you spend on marketing per sale without cutting too far into profits. Once you know the acceptable marketing cost to acquire a new customer, you can plan for the ex- pense. He notes that the lifecycle of the business plays a big part. Newer compa- nies need to focus on lower cost acquisi- tion and get scrappy with their marketing because smaller marketing budgets must be spent judiciously. Staines always looks to the client’s marketing goals first. For example, if your business can’t handle more than five new clients, don’t create a marketing budget and strategy for 10. Often small businesses don’t target the easiest, lowest cost and highest oppor- tunity marketing first to gain momentum. “Buy the most valuable traffic first,” Love- day says. “If your costs really do need to be contained,” Loveday warns, “it may not be worthwhile to hire a firm at first. You can direct that budget towards a talented freelancer where you get more time and attention at a lower price point.” 3. ASSESS IF A MARKETING FIRM IS THE RIGHT FIT When it comes to finding a marketing firm that’s the right fit for your business, re- member that you’re buying the people be- fore the expertise, according to Bouchard. “Make sure they understand you and what you do and really understand your product. You need confidence and connection with the person you’re working with — it’s so much more important than the portfolio.” When you’re gathering info, book meetings with firms to get to know the people and if you enjoy working together. Before making a decision, get references, contact past clients, and look at the firm’s portfolio and available case studies. Wallrich recommends ensuring the types of marketing you use align with the experience of the firm, such as digital, print or exhibit. Some firms offer a wider range of capabilities and may charge more per hour, an expense which can be offset by the efficiency of seamlessly integrating multiple tactics or adapting your strategy. Consider that the marketing may not all be done in-house, but by qualified free- lancers and contractors. If this is a con- cern, ask about it in your initial meeting. By this point, you should have a clear picture of what you want to achieve, a bud- get in place, and a marketing firm that can meet those needs and understands your business and clientele. The last piece be- fore signing an agreement is perhaps the most important to your long-term success. 4. SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS AND A MEANS TO MEASURE SUCCESS Every expert we interviewed echoed the same theme when it came to client expec- tations: Using a marketing firm should be a relationship that you invest in, and the results are rarely instantaneous. Loveday says the marketing world “is data driven, so we are accountable for results, even in a short time frame,” but the results you see will be determined by your budgetary reach and the realistic limitations of the marketing. Loveday says they set the cam- paign up “and let the data come in before making changes.” Staines adds that when working with a marketing firm, “There’s a learning curve and relationship in both directions.” She suggests being clear from the first meet- ing what responsibilities the client and firm will each take on and reminds her clients that as the results and budget grow, the marketing team can take on more tasks and implement additional strategies.