One of the biggest challenges small medium sized, bootstrapped businesses (self-funded, no outside capital raised) face is balance.
Let me say right up front that I’m not talking about work/life balance. You can kiss that goodbye the minute you decide to go out on your own. When you run your own business, your business is your life and vice versa. The most successful entrepreneurs I know don’t separate their work/social/family lives; they work to integrate them (hopefully harmoniously). For the last eight years, that’s what I’ve worked towards, and you’d have to ask my wife and kids, but I think it’s gone pretty well!
The balance I’m talking about is that between marketing (customer generation) and service (customer service). Practically every self-funded, small medium sized business I’ve ever worked with has run across this challenge at some point. I know I did.
You start a business, spend some money on advertising and marketing, and if you’re lucky, end up with a bunch of new customers. Suddenly, you go from desperately needing work to having so much that you’re worried you won’t be able to deliver on what you sold!
It’s at this point that most self-funded, small medium sized businesses make a crucial mistake.
They stop marketing.
They put their advertising program on hold to attend to the customers they already have. This decision seems intuitive. Why would you continue to spend money on advertising and marketing when you’re already struggling to keep up with the work you already have?
What most business owners fail to understand and appreciate is that running a marketing program is more like pushing a car in neutral or turning a heavy flywheel or bending metal than it is operating a light bulb with an off/on switch.
When you launch an advertising program, your message is unfamiliar and untrusted. Once you start to build up some brand recognition, there’s an exponential increase in your results. The key is to get to that level of brand recognition and trust as quickly and inexpensively as humanly possible. It almost always takes longer and costs more than you’d like. That’s why it’s a huge mistake to stop once you’ve gotten there!
Even marketers struggle with balancing customer demand generation with service delivery—at least I did.
When I started Blue Corona in February of 2008, the first few months were spent hiring my first employee, working together to create our initial service offerings, build our first website, and put some basic systems in place.
Next, we put together and launched our first marketing test. It was a comprehensive case study detailing the results we’d achieved with one of our first clients. We published the case study to our website, invested in direct mail, PPC advertising, and SEO to drive people to it.
Initially, not much happened. Considering we’re in the business of marketing, I was starting to get nervous. After a few months, something changed. Finally, people started to respond. We went from maybe a phone call or two a day to the phone ringing every hour or so.
With our marketing now working (finally) we found ourselves with a new problem—more business than we could (easily) handle.
So, what did we do?
You guessed it. We stopped marketing; shifted our focus to handling the work we already had, and started recruiting, hiring, and training new people. Of course, to avoid running into a similar situation in the future, we’d hired ahead of our demand curve—figuring the increased costs could be easily absorbed by turning our marketing program back on.
Unfortunately, the second time around, our marketing program didn’t start producing results at exactly the same rate it did the first time.
It was only years later, after having tested a few different advertising and marketing strategies that I realized this: When you get a marketing program up and running and it’s starting to work, keep it going as long as you can—even if it means turning some clients away.
At Blue Corona, we’re all about data-driven advertising and marketing decisions. We track and analyze everything we can, but you can’t deny the role serendipity plays in the marketing equation.
You send a prospect a case study. It gets buried on their desk. Weeks later, they come into the office on a Saturday to get caught up. Cleaning off their desk, they come across your case study. They flip through it in the bathroom (sad, but true), and email you when they get back to their desk to schedule a meeting.
You email a banker friend through LinkedIn about a customer success story. He rarely checks his LinkedIn email, but you don’t realize this. Weeks later, he logs in, reads your success story, and pings a co-worker who has a client similar to the one featured in your success story. That client fills out a form on your website. When you ask him how he heard about your company, he says, “my banker referred me.” When he mentions the banker’s name, you have no idea who the person is. You wonder if the prospect has got you mixed up with someone else, but you say nothing and roll with it.
This actually happened to us. I sent our case study to Tim Wood, who was at the time with Capital Bank, an early Blue Corona client. Tim left Capital Bank and went to OBA Bank. He sent our case study to a colleague who worked with Len The Plumber. Len Bush read our case study; loved it, and gave it to his VP of marketing and asked her to reach out. She did and the rest is history.
The stories above are real. They’re the messy journey from anonymity to awareness. Marketing analytics reports are great, but they won’t tell the stories above. Nevertheless, those stories are happening.
Marketing momentum is real.
When you’re on a marketing wave, you want to ride it as long as you can.
Next time you’re busy and thinking about pausing a marketing campaign, don’t. Keep it going. The return you get from a campaign that’s got momentum will be exponentially greater than the one you keep starting and stopping.