Hi I’m Phil, I’ve worked in several different companies as a marketing manager, marketing director and as a managing director, I even ran my own company, a direct marketing consultancy, for a few years. Most of these positions involved marketing into very small niche markets.
What advice would I give to others? Well most people when they start their own company fall into marketing without realising it; they perceive a need usually from their own experience or by chatting with their friends, they realise they can produce something to meet that need and they believe they can do it by starting their own company. There you have it in a nutshell, market research, production based on market needs and a successful coming together of the two resulting in a profitable sale. If it was really that simple the majority of start-ups wouldn’t go bust in the first three years! Set your sights on surviving the first 5 years, it will take that long to recoup your initial investment and begin to turn a profit.
What is important to realise is that at every step of the way along those first 5 years whether you intend to or not, you are building a brand, an identity, a concept in your customers’ minds of who you are, what your product is and what your service is like. So right at the beginning decide what your brand is going to be in five years’ time and make sure that every thing you do, from your very first emails to prospective clients, your first web page, your first bits of publicity, all carry the same quality branding that you want people to perceive you as in 5 years time. Once you occupy a particular place in a client’s mind; high end luxury supplier, middle of the road utilitarian products or cheap and cheerful bottom end of the market service – it will be almost impossible to change that perception later.
Once you have established your business, keeping customers and not betraying their trust in you is vital. Make sure that everything reinforces your customers’ perception of who you are and what you provide. It is far, far too easy to lose a customer or group of customers by producing a product or providing a service which does not ‘fit’ with your brand image. For example some years a go I was working in the publishing industry and one publisher produced a book which did not fit with the rest of the ideologies portrayed in their quite small niche market. Just one book, but the fall-out was catastrophic! Not only did customers and specialist bookshops complain and make comments like ‘I’m not buying any more of your products’, authors who had worked with the publisher and had several books published by them took their future manuscripts to other publishers!
It is often said that it costs 8 times more to win a new customer than it is to keep an existing one. So do whatever it takes to keep those hard won customers even if it means apologising, giving a refund or a free service – it’s worth it.
What were the highs and lows of running my own business? The highs were when a client came back for more, for another consultancy and signed another contract. The lows – well there were lots of them but mostly dealing with the government in the form of the Inland Revenue and Customs office. A constant battle and one which I quickly learned to contract out to specialists but even so it’s still you they come after and not your tax advisor! Get good advice before you start and keep getting good advice once you’re up and running.