Quitter to Winner

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

INTERVIEW: Marketing + startup best practices with Bidwell ID

You’re starting your own small business. Congratulations. Overwhelmed by “expert advice” on marketing and business best practices? Understandable.

That’s why we spoke with John Bidwell, strategic marketing and branding whiz, and founder of Bidwell ID. He’s seen what works for his own business and his clients. John offers valuable marketing insight to startups, and shares small business do’s and don’ts: from how to keep clients to weathering down markets.

What branding advice do you have for startups?

I don’t recommend investing too much into branding until after a year or two in business. If you’re looking for investors, you should focus on creating a solid, professional-looking business plan. If you’re launching a product or service into the marketplace, I recommend the following approach.

1. Choose a name. You can brainstorm on your own, or buy some “trusted advisors” dinner to help you come up with names.

2. Due diligence. Google the selected name to see if a url is available. I also strongly recommend running the name by a lawyer. They’ll do additional due diligence to see if the name is already taken. I’ve seen big, costly mistakes with companies having to change their name because they didn’t do their homework.

3. Create a logo. I don’t recommend getting too fancy during the launch phase. Work with a freelance designer to create a clean, simple mark. Be sure to use it consistently.

4. Know your audience and what you want to tell them. Ask yourself:
a. Who is my audience?
b. What do they want to hear?
c. How is my offering relevant?
d. Is the audience large enough to support my model?
While it’s costly, market research is valuable in helping answer these types of questions.

5. Take good notes. You’ll learn a lot about your business and customers in the first year or two. Use that information to shape your brand and message.

Bidwell weathered the recent economic downturn. What suggestions can you offer startups to help them stay afloat?

1. Focus on sales. It’s easy to want to spend a lot of time on branding. It’s fun and creative. It also helps define how you talk to your customer. But if you’re not drumming up business, it’s not the best use of time.

2. Watch your spending. It’s wise to evaluate your expenditures. That varies in each business. For us it’s time management. We don’t sell widgets. It’s our time that’s billable.

3. Maintain existing relationships. Remind clients that you care, and that you want their business. Never take them for granted. Schedule a formal meeting, or meet them for coffee. Tell them you appreciate their business and you look forward to more work.

4. Keep their trust. Never squander a client’s trust. You can’t get it back.

What are some ways small businesses can build long-term client relationships?

1. Work with people high up the ladder. The more integral you are with the decision makers, the better your chances of staying on their radar.

2. Remind them you care. It seems obvious, but letting clients know you value their relationship and the work goes a long way. Keep in touch with them formally or informally.

3. Find the right match. Ask yourself what type of clients is the best fit for you and your company.

4. Hire good employees. Attitude is just as important as aptitude. Getting a bad fit is an immense waste of time. Look for team members who are optimistic, enjoy working with clients, and are persnickety yet willing to roll with the punches. If you need help starting the hiring process, the Employers Association is a great resource.

Tell us your thoughts about the social media buzz.

Absolutely. While it’s free, it requires a decent amount of time and effort to do it right. I’d say it’s a half-time job to do Facebook, Twitter and a blog justice. Some of the work is certainly a good project for interns. Pay attention to the metrics and the types of people following you. Are they potential customers? Will they pay for your service? Tailor your posts and tweets about your business to your audience.

Why did you start your own agency?

I always wanted to run my own business. Both of my grandfathers had their own businesses. And my father started a local insurance agency. I had a strong family model for doing your own thing.

I starting working as a designer for several publications and marketing agencies, but I also had strong writing skills. Problem is that most companies see creatives as writers or designers, but not both, and designers never move up the ladder beyond the title of creative director. Leaving my career in other’s hands was far too limiting. Opening my own shop was a way to avoid falling prey to all of that. It allowed me to control what I’m doing and where I’m doing it.


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