When Elisa DiChristina and husband Kevin Kinailuk established GlowHouse Kids in 2011, neither one had a business or marketing background, so getting the word out about their Pompton Lakes-based child development program wasn't easy.
DiChristina recognized the need to promote the company, which runs social and intellectual programs for mainstream and special-needs children from its 1,800-square-foot headquarters and offsite at schools, scouting and other community organizations. But she wasn’t sure how to go about it.
“My husband is a technology professional who works for a large company, and I was a licensed clinical social worker,” she said. “I initially contacted a volunteer-services organization that provides business, marketing and other advice, but it just wasn’t a good fit. Fortunately, I was at a local chamber of commerce meeting where the New Jersey Small Business Development Center was making a presentation.”
DiChristina talked to Dolores Stammer, regional director of NJSBDC of Northwest Jersey, and Mary Adelman, its assistant director.
“They held my hand and taught me about marketing,” she recalled. “Dolores and Mary helped me to understand where we were and where we wanted to be, basically helping me with goal setting and vision development. They also connected me with a variety of public relations and other experts who provided valuable advice.”
Today, GlowHouse and its recently launched Are You a Glow Kid? educational initiative leverage social media, electronic newsletters and a revised website to reach out to people. GlowHouse typically employs from 10 to 14 part-time employees and up to three independent contractors.
“The NJSBDC saved me a lot of time, and we’ve seen steady growth, particularly since we launched a full-blown marketing effort with their help in 2014,” DiChristina said. “With our new initiative, we plan to continue to grow, empowering children to develop glowing life skills, insights and character development while learning to appreciate individuality, and develop a healthy self-concept and life perspective.”
Large and small businesses alike can easily “shoot themselves in the foot” when it comes to marketing expenditures,” according to NJSBDC’s Stammer.
“The can spend money needlessly, like one business owner that paid a website developer about $6,000 to build her an online site, but it’s very static,” she said. “Every time she wants to update it, she has to pay more money to the developer.”
Another one offers therapeutic services for horses and paid a videographer about $25,000 — more than her business’ annual revenue — to create an instructional CD that she planned to sell to clients.
“The problem is that when someone’s in a barn, they’re likely to have their phone in their pocket,” Stammer noted. “So they can stream a video, but they’re not likely to have a computer in the barn, which they’d need to run a CD.”
Before even considering a marketing campaign, “determine what you want to do, who your target audience is and what you want to say,” she advised. “Then think about what kind of digital footprint you need. Today, a web site or social media presence is as fundamental as a business card used to be. Without it, no one takes you seriously.”
For Steve Lauterback, a Morristown-based small-business growth and turnaround adviser, “marketing is a primary part of the equation, since nothing happens until you sell something, and that’s tough to do if people don’t know about you.”
He said every small-business marketing plan starts with the owner: “Everything’s integrated: your business operations have to run efficiently, and you have to communicate with your staff so everyone has the same message about your business. Everyone in your company is an integral part of providing an overall positive customer experience that will create fans, who will tell others about the business.”
But don’t over-promise.
“Your marketing makes promises that the rest of the organization has to meet, so don’t sell goods or services that you can’t deliver,” Lauterback said. “And your marketing has to nail your value proposition. Build it around your likely customer, clearly illustrate the challenge that you’re answering, highlight the solution you’re offering, and then show why your solution is better than others that are out there.”
Lauterback helps Flemington-based Commercial Snow Removal, which services just-in-time distribution centers, emergency responder locations, office parks, factories and other facilities.
“It’s a growing company, but for a long time they just used word-of-mouth advertising,” he said. “I started out by learning all about their operations and their customers, and the services that CSR offers. Once I had a deep understanding of the company, I worked with them to identify opportunities and threats, and we crafted a marketing plan that encompassed a website, social media, newsletters and online advertising. I also suggested the creation of a direct sales manager position, and helped to mentor the individual.”
A savvy business owner may be able to create their own successful marketing plan, added Lauterback.
“But often, they fall into the trap [of] making the program all about them,” he said. “It’s natural to focus on the ‘we’ or ‘us’ issues, but the fact is, nobody cares about you. Potential customers want to know what you can do for them. So write your material from the customer’s perspective — what is he or she looking for? What’s their pain? Then show how you can relieve their pain points.”