Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TIF, Freeze, NAV and RDC

I attended my first Cumberland Indiana Redevelopment Commission last night. 10 people dedicated to moving the small town of Cumberland forward (we'll find out what that means over the coming months.)

Although this was the very first meeting of the Cumberland RDC, redevelopment commissions have a lengthy legislative history. As with any government entity, I stepped onto a train mightily speeding down the track; lots of acronyms, concepts and constituents with a vision of the public role in private lives, property and progress.

I got a real education - I'm naturally curious (did you notice the title of this blog?) And this was an area that I had never considered interesting. Now, I consider it interesting.

It's like the first day of class at a new school, a new semester with a veteran teacher that knows everything about an arcane little piece of the world that so far has existed beneath my feet but beyond my awareness. (Nearly literally.) Fascinating!

I'm looking forward to nailing the final.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Marketing, Entrepreneurship, etc.

I recently facilitated a seminar on marketing for the Business Ownership Initiative.  (Slides available here.)  This non-profit helps women and minorities create businesses and become entrepreneurs.  I was happy to help.  

I've been adding to a wiki on entrepreneurship for a long time.  I call entrepreneurship Economic Alchemy because I believe it creates something from nothing.  And small businesses in particular create value for our entire economy.  The risks entrepreneurs take result in jobs, incomes, dividends, products and prosperity for our entire economy.  Their contributions can't be overvalued.

Meanwhile, I'm not an expert on marketing.  My experience has been fraught with stammers and stutters and miscues and mispent fortunes.  My great hopes for sales success reliably resulted in big disappointments.  I've spent $200K on marketing advice, programs, collateral and misadventures.  Probably 10:1 mis-spent.

Lately, I received my third $50K proposal for marketing research from as many advisors.  I don't doubt spending $50K would help - I just doubt that it would help more than $5K based on empirical evidence.   At that rate, I'd rather pay customers to accept my products - at least we'd start to capture market share!

The latest marketing consultant seemed annoyed with I responded that I'd rather try 10 marketing campaigns at $5K each, then try research at $50K.  I've never found anyone in the marketing business that would give me a guarantee.  So I figure they're all making educated guesses about what works.  I figure I've got a 1:10 chance of discovering a campaign that works based on my experience - and that's at least as good as they can reasonably offer.  And trying 10 different campaigns will result in learning how at least 10 marketing tactics don't work and learning from 10 mistakes.  (Trying something is called a 'tactic.'  Thinking about it is called 'strategy.')  

Finding out how one campaign doesn't work for $400K (the research was $50K - the estimated follow-on campaign was $350K - a modest campaign mind you,) versus 10 campaigns that don't work for $50K sounds like a better deal to me now.

The moral of the story is painfully obvious: you ought to be able to figure out how to market your product by asking your customers why they buy, how they found you, analyzing your competitors' strengths and weaknesses and depending on your own instincts.  That may not propel you to the Fortune 500, but it should prevent you from wasting $200K like I did.  

Just run your marketing budget past me before you write the check.  I'll be happy to scream at you for being stupid before you make the same mistakes I did!  For free!