Old-school lessons in marketing

I was reading a Q&A column today in the LATimes by Karen E. Klein on new business marketing. A reader had asked her, how do I as a new small business owner selling designer hats get the word out about my business. The answer from Karen: “promote yourself online as a fashion expert.” As a small business owner myself with forays into social media, I am surprised by how much Karen’s advice did not ring true for me. Surely not all of the answers to our business marketing needs are now to be found online?

Perhaps Karen was feeling rushed (not a lot of column space for the advice she might have given were this reader sitting across from her in her office). Or perhaps Karen was feeling high on all the energy that Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are generating these days. I know I often do. But, still, I don’t buy it. And were I Karen, I might advise another path.

Hm. Good idea.

Dear ChicHatDesign,

Speaking from old experience in nonprofit fundraising, there are two key principles to live by. One, ask. Two, ask your friends first. While the promise of online marketing will help you grow your business, getting the word out should start close to home with those who know you, trust your work and want to support your success. That means letting your friends and family know that you’ve launched your new business and asking them to pass on the news to their friends (word-of-mouth campaign). That means (re)connecting with old colleagues to update them on your new business venture (networking). That means researching and making appointments with the businesses in your local town or city that could be promoters for your products as distributors or partners.

This doesn’t mean that you should forgo the fast-growing online marketplace. Absolutely not! This plan above presumes that you’ve done some infrastructure work that will make venturing further afield more viable and less frustrating. You’ve taken photos of your products, put together a print and online catalog, and even printed your business cards for those face-to-face meetings with the storefront sellers.

Still, and while it may be a matter of opinion, I believe there are plenty of people who see buying from their friends and from locally owned businesses as much of a priority as buying organic and they are willing to pay a premium for the opportunity.

And isn’t the point of all this social media about building strong relationships? Why start then with strangers?


Flickr photo credit: Arend Kuester and a nod to Karen, who does great work.