When cash gets tight, one of the first things business owners look to cut are their marketing budgets.
Big mistake, says Mat Rogers, who does social media and marketing for Killingsworth Environmental of the Carolinas.
For as long as Rogers can remember, the company his father founded 20 years ago has had a commitment to marketing. And he credits that commitment with helping grow the business through good economies and bad. (He anticipates a growth rate this year of about 20 percent.)
I met Rogers at a recent Hood Hargett Breakfast Club event, where I shared with him privately that I wished I had a more substantial budget to buy radio and billboard ads to pursue new customers.
Rogers listened then offered some advice: The size of my current budget, he said, is less important right now than my basic commitment to marketing.
In other words, he said, no matter how small a business is, a set percentage of its profits should be set aside for marketing.
At Killingsworth, he said, his father, Mike Rogers, has been practicing (and preaching) that concept since he founded the company in 1993.
“You have to find out where your demographic is congregating and how you can talk to them there,” he said, echoing his father’s words. “Marketing is a necessity.”
Rogers said his father developed his appreciation for marketing in Pensacola, Fla., where he once sold advertising. He said his dad saw a correlation between companies that spent money to market themselves and those that each year turned healthy profits.
In many ways, the Killingsworth story is a quintessential tale of an American entrepreneur: Mat Rogers said his parents moved to Charlotte in ’93 to start what was then a pest control company. His father worked alone from a Toyota pickup while his mom made cold calls using a telephone jack in the family’s laundry room.
Working primarily with construction contractors, the company grew alongside Charlotte’s housing boom, and the elder Rogers began offering additional services such as lawn care and fire and water remediation. Even when recession hit in 2008, Mat Rogers said, the company continued to see growth.
“He started small and really humble and wasn’t afraid to spend some money to make some money,” Rogers said of his dad. “He is constantly thinking about something and trying something.”
For small-business owners looking to start a marketing plan, Rogers offered these tips:
Start small, if you must
Commit each year to spending a certain percentage of profits to attract new business. Don’t worry if you can’t afford a major campaign; the dollar amounts will grow as your business grows. What’s important for now is that you commit and get started.
Not every advertising medium is right for every business. Know your clients and meet them with an effective message where they congregate. For some, that may mean the Internet; for others, it may mean radio, newspapers or even professional events. For those with small budgets, Rogers said social media can be a good place to start.
Don’t assume that your efforts are effective. Talk with new clients to find out how they heard about your business. If you are spending marketing dollars and not finding results, don’t be afraid to try something new.
Effective marketing takes time. Rogers also said business owners must avoid the temptation to cut back on marketing when times get tough. At Killingsworth, he said, some of the best growth years came during the Great Recession.
Finally, Rogers said, business owners must remember that customer service is equally important. A slick marketing campaign means nothing if customers are not happy with the product or service you offer.
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, a news site for Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Observer business editor.
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