Faith, hope and charities

Welcome to the brave new world of the Big Society, in which charities and voluntary groups are asked to become more business-like in marketing and selling their products and services. In Worcestershire there is an excellent Changing Futures Fund scheme to help local charitable and not for profit organisations become more like a small businesses – charging a viable commercial rate for the work they do in the county. As a marketing expert, I’ve been privileged to work with some amazing organisations over the last year, helping them to meet some of these challenges.
Most of them have shoestring marketing budgets and rely on volunteers to plug the gap between what marketing activities are ideally required to raise their local profile, find & retain customers and what resources they currently have in house.
So, based upon my experiences, here are my top tips for shoestring or small business start-up marketing.
1. Have a business and a marketing plan (this could be the same document). It will, of course, change over time, but you need to start with a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve.
2. Be realistic about what your marketing activities can cost. Many start-ups are lured by unrealistic promises. For example, a new website can cost anything between a few hundred and many thousands of pounds. If you’re at the lower end of the scale, it won’t deliver many enquiries because the website build is just the beginning. If you’re serious about online marketing you will need to bear in mind that search engine optimisation or paid for advertising will be in addition to your set up costs. E-commerce, done well, is expensive too!
3. Be realistic about what your marketing activities will deliver. Whilst Facebook and Twitter generate many leads for some companies, this is not always the case. It isn’t free; you need to invest some of your time into them, time which could be more productively spent doing other things. It will take a while for your messages to reach enough of the right people, at the right time for them.
4. Make use of the goodwill of your community, stakeholders and trustees. You may have volunteers who are skilled in particular areas and will provide support in kind rather than in cash.
5. Make good use of free IT resources. I recommend mailchimp for newsletters, which can be used to send bulk e-mails to targeted groups on your mailing list. It also monitors who opened your campaigns and what they were interested in reading. This is useful information to revise and refine your marketing next time. A word of warning – do not load databases of e-mail addresses as you may be in breach of the Data Protection Act. Contact either a marketing professional or a commercial solicitor for advice before you start.
6. Most local newspapers will use stories. If in doubt about what would interest them, contact them and ask their reporters or, as a minimum, read through previous editions.
7. Listen to your customers and be prepared to make changes. A small business can be much more agile in meeting customer needs than a large corporation. It can be easier and much more revealing to get an independent person (ideally an experienced marketer or researcher) to talk to your customers on your behalf.
8.Hard copy leaflets, brochures, even business cards will quickly date during the first few months and years. Resist printing if possible until you are really sure what people need and what you want to say. Use small print runs or go online with your brochure. To keep print costs down try a on-line digital supplier e.g.
9. Finances. Be aware of your financial situation and pilot activities before committing a large proportion of your precious marketing budget to them.
10. Last but certainly not least – measure and monitor. Your marketing plan should have some methods to check whether what you are doing is delivering the right results. If it hasn’t, go back and revise it.
So, the Best of British Luck to your new venture and keep smiling through the (almost) inevitable set-backs.