Small Business

Take a Long, Hard Look at Yourself


By Karen E. Klein Q: I am the chief operations officer at a wireless-structures engineering firm, where we have about 25 customers and turn an annual profit of around $400,000. Now, we want to take the company to the next level. We have developed our customer base through personal and professional contacts that had been established before we started the company. So, how do we spread the word about our business and generate more customers and revenue? -- L.B., Ore.

A: Given today's uncertain economy, this is a good time to reevaluate your outfit's goals and objectives in order to make sure your efforts are on track and likely to stay that way. Take the time to examine current business practices, client needs, and your customer base, and then do the appropriate fine-tuning needed to secure your success in the coming years, says Jeffrey E. Barnhart, president and CEO of Creative Marketing Alliance of Princeton Junction, N.J. "Learn how your clients perceive you," he adds, "and how your company compares to your competitors."

Working with a marketing professional to implement a strategic analysis that will integrate your marketing communications is a smart idea. You can spend a lot of money doing piecemeal advertising and marketing, but implementing a calculated and coherent campaign that creates awareness, brand recognition, and solid market positioning will be far more effective in the long run.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. Such a campaign involves establishing goals -- increasing your client base, introducing new products, or targeting a new audience -- that will secure greater sales and fresh revenue streams down the road, says Barnhart. Also, analyze how your company or product is perceived in its market. Finally, look at your competitive position, which will help to identify future marketing opportunities, as well as exposing weaknesses.

Yes, it seems like a long and expensive process, but that doesn't negate the wisdom of bringing in expert advice. First, as Barnhart notes, it need not be a marathon review. Strategic planning can take as little as one day or as long as six months, he says, depending on your needs, services, and clients.

"It's important to remember that branding and positioning initiatives, as well as the marketing campaigns and creative communications that drive them, require a communal forum for discussion and consensus about objectives, target audiences, corporate strengths and weaknesses, as well as unflinching competitive analysis," he says. "The ability to create a pearl of a marketing plan is to understand what truly matters to prospects and customers, and come to terms with your strengths and weaknesses as a company."

Have a question about your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at smartanswers@businessweek.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 45th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally. Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who specializes in covering covered entrepreneurship and small-business issues.


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