Your No. 1 Marketing Tool

Whenever people start talking about marketing for start-ups, this issue is one of the first to arise: Making do with less. How to get the most out of limited resources is a question that many of us wrestle with, so my column this week will continue the conversation on overlooked, inexpensive, and underused marketing tools.

Today’s tip: Look in the mirror.

Yeah, you. You are your company’s best and most important marketing tool. But as a scarce resource in your own right, you have to manage how your time is best used to achieve your marketing goals. That said, your ability to aggressively network yourself and your business can help elevate your company by connecting you to people and companies that can partner with you to accelerate the growth of your business. Here are a few tips to help you network more effectively and leave that all important good first impression.

Get your elevator pitch down cold. I know, you’ve heard this a million times, but humor me. Right now, in a compelling, natural way, try to describe what your company does in 30 seconds or less. This is not easy, yet who’s as passionate about your business as you are? Your ability to successfully communicate the nature of your business can enthuse, excite, and enlist support for your business from those around you. Make sure your pitch is light on the jargon and “Dilbertspeak.” You don’t want to sound overprogrammed and stiff.

Pick and choose your events wisely. Since your time is important, pick and choose events and conferences to attend carefully. Who is going to attend, and what can these folks bring to the party once you’ve met them? Typically these events and conferences have outlines that discuss who will be attending. Also ask around for advice on what events have worked well for other people looking for the “right” contacts.

Work the room. It’s important to meet as many people as you can while making a good impression and having some level of articulate discussion. Often, however, people allow themselves to get trapped in prolonged conversations at networking sessions. I’m not advocating quantity over quality, but it’s absolutely OK to tell someone at an appropriate break in the conversation that it’s been great meeting them and you are off to meet some more folks. Most often, they are trying to break off the conversation to do the same as well and will appreciate the notion.

Be a good listener. It’s great to get your message out, but people notice when you hear their message and make them feel listened to. Paying attention is important and is an essential part of marketing what you and your company are all about.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are able to engage an individual who can add value to you or your company, make sure you ask for help. Most people want to provide assistance to and support people they like, but they can’t read your mind. Be direct, and — most important — be clear on what you need and when you need it by.

Leverage each contact for more contacts. You learned this in your high school job-training classes as it relates to interviewing, but it works just as well for growing a business. Although someone you have met may not be able to help you, he or she may know someone who can and will. Make sure you ask for personal contacts and then follow up to get them.

Marketing is an aggregation of outreach efforts; don’t forget that you are an important element to the mix. Now get out of that office, and go meet someone.

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