Actually, it is important to emphasize the core area of your business and learn new technology, enhance your skills and increase the scope of your knowledge. After all, the reason your opened your business in the first place is that you have a particular base of knowledge and set of skills to offer your customers -- whether your business is window treatments, interior design, or whatever.
At the same time, however, it's critical that all businesses -- especially new ones -- focus on marketing and promotion. How else can potential customers find out who you are, what you offer and why they should buy from you? To create a successful and profitable business, it's not enough merely to be good at your functional skills. When you depend only on your knowledge and skills for your business success, you are assuming that potential customers will recognize your expertise and come to buy from you. But, how can they find you if you don't publicize your skills and availability?
Starting your business is the easiest part. It's staying in business that's often tough. Over half of the businesses that don't make it past the first five years fail because they simply don't have enough business to stay open. It's clear from these statistics that you can't just wait for the telephone to ring, resting on the value of your home fashions expertise. You must focus on ways to get more business, and marketing is the tool that can help you gain new customers and increased business.
No matter what your business -- if you sell do-it-yourself blinds from a store-front paint store, operate a drapery workroom or are a high-end interior designer with a sophisticated showroom -- the bottom line is that you are in the marketing business. You market your products and services to the people who are most likely to value what you sell and therefore most likely to buy from you.
Target Your Market
Now that you're convinced that marketing is the answer, your question probably is: "What exactly is marketing?" In a nutshell, marketing is everything your customers and potential customers see, hear, feel and think about your business. In other words, anything that creates an impression upon them about you and your business.
The very words "marketing," "promotion" and "advertising" frighten many business owners because they associate these words with a confusing and unfamiliar vocabulary and with large amounts of money emptying from their pockets. Well, it isn't necessarily so.
Investing just a little bit of time learning the basics of marketing will make you comfortable with the terms. And marketing doesn't have to be expensive. Advertising and promotion should be carried out on a scale that's appropriate to each business. A large home center chain may advertise using multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, while a one-person interior design or installation business promotes by writing personal sales letters to existing customers and their neighbors.
What's important is that you determine the marketing techniques that are likely to create new sales for your business, not for someone else's.
The first step is to determine the image of your business and select your target market, then be consistent in these definitions. Ask yourself these questions:
What types of products and services do I sell?
How broad is the scope of products and services I sell? Am I a specialist or a generalist?
How do my prices compare to those of my competitors? Do I try to have the lowest prices in town, or do I choose to price at a higher level and include valuable services in my pricing?
Where do I sell my products -- in a store, from my studio or showroom, or exclusively at my customers' sites?
Do I buy my products from national manufacturers, from local fabricators and distributors, or do I manufacture my products myself?
Who is my most likely customer, what type of products is he or she most likely to buy and how can I best reach him or her?
Once you've answered these image questions, you can more clearly communicate who you are to your customers. Understanding your image will help you discover the most effective marketing tools and promotional activities to reach your customers.
For small businesses, small (and relatively inexpensive) promotional techniques usually work best. After all, you don't need to find a hundred new customers every week, just a few solid leads that you consistently bring in on an ongoing basis.
More personalized types of promotion will help you stand out from the mass marketing messages communicated by your large competitors. Sometimes the most basic and unsophisticated methods work best for small business. You should never feel ashamed that you use simple, reasonably priced techniques to get new business, or that you focus on home-spun personal networking rather than glitzy advertising campaigns. All that matters is that the marketing methods you use work for you.
Consider these types of marketing activities to help you build visibility and credibility in your community:
Send targeted direct mail to existing customers, with the focus of each mailing depending on each customer's needs and interests.
Exhibit at local home shows.
Host open houses.
Send newsletters to provide true education (and maybe even entertainment) to your customers and potential customers.
Speak at local clubs and give consumer seminars.
Join a networking group in your community.
Build a business alliance with a company in your community that shares your clientele (for example, a dry cleaner, window store, real estate agent or general contractor) and then share leads and marketing expenses.
Sponsor local charitable events, such as 10-kilometer races, children's soccer teams or public television or radio fund-raisers.
Have a sale to benefit charity.
Send personal notes to existing customers about new products, special "preferred customer" sales or new service capabilities.
Make thank-you calls and send thank-you notes to existing customers, and use these tools to ask for referrals.
If you think about it, it really is a myth that if you are good at what you do, then you will be successful and prosper in your business. Being good at what you do is just the beginning. Getting the word out about your availability and expertise is the other part. And that's really what marketing and promotion are all about.
What's important is not so much exactly which methods you choose to promote your business, but that you take action and do something now. Each and every day presents a window of opportunity for marketing and planning your promotional activities and your efforts will pay off in increased sales.
Kay Pegram is founder of Kaymar Communications, a Playa del Ray, CA-based independent marketing services firm for companies in window and home fashions and other industries. Pegram's previous window coverings industry experience includes serving eight years at LouverDrape and as director of marketing for the Tempo companies.