When You Do It Yourself, You Do It At Your Own Risk

"If your customers are happy with your product or service, chances are they know someone else who will be, too."

By David P. Kowal, APR

We live in a do-it-yourself world. Whether it’s drawing up a will, buying stocks or selling a house, we’ve become increasingly independent – and increasingly reluctant to pay for professional services.

The evolution of desktop publishing has helped create do-it-yourself marketing. Armed with personal computers and the latest software, self-made marketers everywhere are creating their own logos, newsletters, brochures and Web sites.

Many of these self-made marketers are getting exactly what they pay for. It’s been said that the person who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client. The same can be said about the entrepreneur who takes on the responsibility of marketing along with every other business function, from sweeping the floors to keeping the books.

For some, though, do-it-yourself marketing is a necessity. Unless a wealthy aunt or uncle is providing the financing, most start-ups don’t have the money to hire professional help. And, while marketing may not be as easy as it appears to be to the non-initiated, it is at least less risky than the do-it-yourself lobotomy or the do-it-yourself tax return.

However, those who would do it themselves should pick their shots. In general, the marketing tactics that bring the entrepreneur closest to the client are those that are most appropriate to the do-it-yourselfer. The entrepreneur can and should, for example, do his or her own networking, but should leave logo design and Web site development to the experts.

Many of the do-it-yourself tactics described here are ideal for the small company with no marketing budget. Small companies often add their customers one at a time. These tactics are less practical for larger companies. 

Low-Risk Marketing

The following are a few areas that do-it-yourself marketers can stick their fingers into without running too great a risk of losing a hand:

Seek referrals. When’s the last time you asked a customer for a referral? If your customers are happy with your product or service, chances are they know someone else who will be, too. Customers who are referred to you typically will have a higher retention rate and are, therefore, likely to be more profitable than those you pick up on your own.

Develop an Advisory Board. To gain referrals consistently, you will need to develop customers who are advocates for your business. One way to develop advocates is to invite some of your customers to serve on an Advisory Board. Their input can provide you with valuable market research, keep you aware of trends in your industry and help you to develop long-lasting customer relationships.

Present a seminar. If promoted properly, a seminar can put you in front of a room full of potential customers. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce and other professional associations and let them know you’d like to present a seminar. Most organizations are always looking for qualified speakers.

Market research. Even many mid-sized companies are reluctant to spend money on market research. Managers and entrepreneurs think they have their fingers on the pulse of their customers, yet they often fail to notice when the heart stops beating. Do-it-yourself market research is better than no research at all.

Develop an objective customer survey to find out what your customers really think of you. Seek the input of your advisory board to ensure that there are no leading questions. Repeat the same survey a year later and compare the results.

Be forewarned that do-it-yourself market research can be dangerous. If your customers know you are doing the asking, they are unlikely to give you straight answers.

Media buying. An advertising agency’s expertise is usually essential in developing a media strategy, but you may be able to save money by making your own media buys.

Often, advertising agencies have leverage because of the volume of advertising they buy. A skilled media buyer can negotiate a good price for your advertising. However, advertising agencies typically receive a 15% “agency discount” for their efforts. Some media will provide the discount to companies that do their own media buying.

Publicity. A thorough, strategically planned public relations campaign is time consuming and requires a great deal of planning. Leave it to the experts. But your company may save money by preparing its own personnel announcements and other basic press releases.

These ideas should save the do-it-yourselfer enough money to be able to afford to hire professional help for other marketing needs.

David P. Kowal, APR is President of Kowal Communications, Inc. of Northboro, Mass. He can be reached at kowal@kowal.com">kowal@kowal.com.