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Initial Marketing Strategies
by Robin Throckmorton, M.A., SPHR

Marketing is a critical cornerstone for any consulting practice. It is imperative to begin your consulting practice with a well thought out marketing plan. While there are many marketing tools and options, the backbone of your plan should include the development of your brand identity. With a clear-cut brand identity, you can successfully tackle the development of any marketing tool.

Developing a Brand Identity

As defined by Brand.com, "Branding — the careful selection and use of trademarks, images, and messages – is the most powerful tool in the commercial world…Brand is the proprietary visual, rational, and cultural image that you associate with a company or a product.”

Branding your business is important whether you are selling a service or a product. When you hear someone talk about tennis shoes, what are some of the companies you think of — Nike, Reebok, Skechers. We each have a brand that we immediately identify with. You need potential clients to think of you when they have a need related to your specialty.

But how do you get folks to think of you? First of all, as Linda Gravett mentioned in our last article "Where Do I Even Begin?" you need to determine your niche. Many times we want to try to offer everything to everybody because we are scared the work won’t be there. But to be successful, you need to identify a very narrow niche so you can focus your time and marketing efforts.

Next, you can begin branding your niche with your company name and logo design. Initially, my company name was Throckmorton Solutions with no logo. However, I quickly changed the company name to Strategic Human Resources to better describe the services, as well as designed a logo for my business. You may need to hire a marketing guru to help you establish your name and logo since this will be a critical piece of your business.

Once you have the name and logo designed, you are ready to begin weaving the same message into everything you do. Every tool you use to communicate to potential clients should incorporate your "look". This includes business cards, letterhead, brochures, domain name, website, articles, or speaking engagements.

As an example, let’s use Linda Gravett and my online business, e-HResources.com. We began by selecting a name for the company that described our service and gave potential clients immediate access to contacting us on the Internet. In every marketing tool we use, we include the tagline "Providing you with on-line, quick, customized, solutions to your human resources issues" with our logo and company name. Also, we have used computer screen brushes with our logo and name on it as takeaways. We want potential clients, who are usually in their offices at their computers, to think of us when they have an HR question and need a quick answer.

There is still plenty of room for us to continue to improve our brand identity with our target audience. It’s an ongoing process. Once you establish your brand identity, remember to continuously re-evaluate and enhance them. Some additional tips to help establish your brand identity follow:

A 30-Second Commercial

It is critical that you create a brand statement or 30-second commercial. There will be numerous occasions where you will need to provide a quick summary about you or your business. This may be with face-to-face conversations and networking or for your written materials like marketing letters, proposals, and fliers. You need to be prepared so it flows naturally without missing a point.

Thirty seconds doesn’t seem like much time, but you can cover enough detail to capture someone’s interest. Each situation will be different and your commercial will need to adjust accordingly. You should be prepared with your core message - what your expertise is; what have you done to help your clients; what do your clients say about you; and what experience, education, or certifications you have.

Recently, I had an opportunity to hear Robert Middleton, a marketing guru at http://www.actionplan.com, speak on this topic. He recommended that you develop this message around what people will get from you. Try to make the focus of the information you share more on THEM and how it will help THEM with their needs and less focused on YOU. While this can be difficult to accomplish on the spot, if you prepare your core message ahead of time you can customize it based on the situation with ease.

Business Cards

Business cards are the one marketing tool you will get in potential clients hands the most!!

First tip on business cards: Don’t get caught without one! Whether you are just starting your consulting practice or redoing material, you should always have your business cards with you. You never know when you will run into someone that is a potential customer. Scribbling your contact information on the back of their card, a napkin, or not at all will have a negative effect on your professional image. Even if you have to create a quick self-printed generic card in the interim, be sure you have something.

Your card should continue to build your brand identity by including the same logo, color scheme, and slogan used on the rest of your marketing materials. Key information that should be on every card includes:

  • Name (The name you want to be called and include credentials — i.e. SPHR)
  • Title (great way to market your expertise — i.e. Diversity Consultant)
  • Company Name
  • Address
  • Telephone Number
  • Fax Number
  • Email address
  • Web address
Business cards can be very unique but should portray your business image. There are a number of things you need to think about:
  • What will be the layout of your card — vertical or horizontal?
    (Do you want someone to be able to put your card the right direction in a rolodex?)
  • Will you use the front only or take advantage of the space on the back?
    (I have seen some sharp cards that use the back to list services, add a slogan, provide testimonials, or graphically continue the brand identity. Likewise, this can be a good spot for the receiver to write notes).
  • What color of paper and what type of paper will you use? (i.e. smooth, glossy, speckled, plain)
  • What color (s) will the text and logo be printed?
  • Is your font size large enough for anyone to read? (at least 9 point or larger).
There are many sources that provide business cards that you can print from home — http://www.paperdirect.com, office stores, or copy stores. If you want to be able to modify and change information or print as needed, this may be a good option. Plus, it will provide you the choice of pre-designed cards with some color. The only draw back is you need a reliable quality printer and the patience to print your cards as needed. Plus, be sure the quality of the paper is thick and professional.

Hiring a printer, office, or copy store to help you design and print your cards is another option. You’ll have expert insight along with more options on the type and color of paper. The quality of the cards will be much better than the self printed cards. Obviously the cost associated with these services tends to be higher than the self-services, especially to add color.

Additional Marketing Options

There are many tools you can use to market your business and continue developing your brand identity. While many of these can wait to be developed until you need them, you will need to have something ready to provide to them when someone says “can you send me some information?” For me, it started as a bio, then a brochure, and now a website and a folder. A brief description of each follows:

Bio
This is an effective tool to have on hand when someone needs more information about you. Plus, the information is a necessity for a proposal, website, or marketing folder. You should summarize in no more than one page your credentials, years of experience, education, certifications, expertise, skills, successes, customer feedback, related volunteer work, publications, etc. Include anything that would add value in establishing your credibility. To view a sample of my bio, go to http://www.StrategicHRinc.com/About%20Us/robinbio.htm.

Brochure
There are many choices when deciding on your brochure. You can design the layout and content yourself, or you can buy pre-designed brochures that you customize and print as needed. As I shared previously, I’ve used PaperDirect.com in the past for many of my printing needs and have been very happy with the options and quality of the product offered. However, this option isn’t for everyone and you may prefer to have a professionally designed brochure. As with anything, seek referrals and ask for references and examples of their work. As far as content, you could include contact information, summary of your credentials, list of services, testimonials, and a list of customers.

Folder
This is a tool that I found to be most effective as my consulting business evolved. You can use a folder from a local office supply store and jazz it up a bit by adding a label with your logo and company information. Or, for an even more professional image, you could have folders printed with you logo on them. While this isn’t a tool for mass mailings, it is great for including items such as - bios, brochures, comments from customers, lists of references and services, training topics, or articles.

Website
As society continues to become much more technology driven, a website becomes a very effective tool in marketing your business. You can refer someone to it so they have immediate access to additional information about you and your business. Plus, it has the capability to generate business for you anywhere in the world as your business can be found through search engines. However, an effective website can’t be designed overnight and takes much time and thinking. The key will be to continue the same brand identity throughout the site and create ways to attract customers and get them to come back on a regular basis. Look for an article dedicated to this topic in the next few months.

You will have many opportunities to use these basic marketing tools throughout your consulting practice. By determining and developing them now, it will help you when the right opportunity comes along. Some marketing opportunities you may want to consider include mass mailings; sponsorship at a tradeshow, conference, meeting, or event; speaking engagements; publication of articles or books; volunteer work; website; and most often networking. We will be discussing many of these options in detail in our future articles. The key to the success of your marketing tools will be the development of your brand identity and continuous and consistent use of it throughout all your communications regarding your business.

Thanks to Robin Throckmorton, M.A.., SPHR for contributing this article. Robin is Senior Consultant at Strategic Human Resources, Inc. ( http://www.StrategicHRinc.com) and a partner of e-HResources.com in Cincinnati, Ohio. She can be contacted at Robin@StrategicHRinc.com.

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