Marketing by Peter Diekmeyer

Marketing help for the SOHO Sector

In 1998 nearly 2.5 million Canadians reported working at their own businesses according to Statistics Canada, more than double the number 20 years earlier. But few will find any practical information addressing their concerns in this or any other Marketing column written in a major daily newspaper.

That's because the press is stuck in the old-economy mentality where marketing equals advertising and more specifically: big-budget television advertising. The fact that self-employed Canadians now total 16 per cent of the labor force, accounting for 55 per cent of all jobs created since 1990 is making it harder for journalists to ignore this sector.

In Smart Marketing on a Small Budget, Toronto Star columnist, freelance writer, and college lecturer Suzanne Ross turns her attention to the challenges and opportunities faced by Small Office Home Office (SOHO) businesses in marketing their products and services.

According to the Ross: "Clients...are the lifeblood of every thriving business. And compelling and persuasive marketing communicationsare the single most irresistibly powerful means to get, and keep, those all-important clients."

Marketing literature tends towards such trendy subjects as "branding," "relationships," "media strategy" and "direct response," concepts that the average small business does not have the time or money to think about.

Ross prefers to get her hands dirty by focusing on bread and butter options that SOHO businesses are constrained to by small budgets: direct mail, brochures, news releases, Internet sites and trade shows.

Proper planning is one of the most important elements of a running an effective small business. Businesses with formal written plans stating specific organizational objectives are exponentially more successful than those that have none. Hence the saying "Who fails to planplans to fail."

Use the word "plan" around the typical SOHO entrepreneur and you are likely to see him reach for a dictionary. Entrepreneurs tend to be people who prefer action to contemplating the future. Although many readers will skip the first section, Ross rightly begins by discussing the elements of a marketing plan.

The lack of adequate financing is the main constraint facing SOHO entrepreneurs' in developing effective marketing tools. Ross therefor emphasizes options that call for an investment in their time as opposed to money.

In the advertising versus public relations debate Ross thus tends towards the latter. Small businessmen rarely take advantage of media opportunities available to them. In a small town with just one dentist, a second one opening an office likely merits a short story in the local newspaper.

This can be accomplished by sending a press release to the paper's news desk along with a photo of the new offices. Local newspapers and industry journals are often starved for good stories. They not only cost nothing to the company being talked about, readers find editorial coverage more credible than advertising.

Ross devotes a fair amount of time to direct mail, another medium that requires an investment in time as opposed to money. To obtain maximum effect, the author counsels targeting each letter to a specific person, focusing on the product's benefits to the consumer as opposed to its features, keeping the text brief and ending with a low-key call to action.

The book is a little stingy when it comes to the Internet devoting a mere 16 pages out of 270 to the medium that can deliver the biggest bang for the buck to many small businesses. Noticeably absent from her list of 25 tips for a more effective web site is the crucial importance of registering a domain name.

Several aspects of this book will be frustrating to the knowledgeable business reader. The author's excessive propensity to speak in determinative lists: "The Ten-Step Marketing Plan," and "Six Stages of Web Site Development" and the two-dozen worksheets in the book's appendix may appear to oversimplify, implying marketing is a science as opposed to an art.

But that's just the point. The vast majority of the tens of thousands of Canadians who are turning self-employment each year have little business experience beyond that of their immediate trade or craft and they need basic information like that contained in this book.

The advent of the Internet and the fragmentation of work are weakening ties that once bound the employer/employee relationship. These trends will continue to fuel the migration of workers to the small office/ home office sector for the foreseeable future ensuring its growth and creating increased pressure for the marketing press to address their concerns.

Smart Marketing on a Small Budget by S.j. Ross, 270 pages, $22.99 (paperback) is part of a series of eight business solutions books targeting the Small Office Home Office sector from McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited.


Stratégies Marketing Direct won the campaign-of-the-year prize at the annual Flèche d'or awards presented by the Société québécoise de marketing direct last Tuesday. The agency was honored for its work on a mortgage-renewal campaign conducted on behalf of Confédération des caisses populaires et d'économie Desjardins. Marc Trudeau, senior director (customer and product loyalty management) at Air Canada was named direct marketing personality of the year.


Photo Caption: Toronto author Suzanne Ross


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