You finally uncovered or discovered that ‘big’ idea’; the idea that can change your life! But now you need to build a marketable business that allows you to execute your idea. Businesses require design, planning, and strategy development, whether you are for-profit or not-for-profit. Before you get started, there are some critical questions to answer about your idea and business. Neglecting to answer these questions can impact the marketability and profitability of your company so take the time to read, learn, and organize your thinking with our marketing case study.
A friend who manages a 10-year old non-profit asked me to attend a meeting with one of her volunteers named ‘Joe’ who wanted to pick her brain about how to get his non-profit idea started. She thought that, given my business and marketing background, I could lend some relevant business knowledge and ideas to the conversation. I agreed to meet with them!
I attended the meeting without any information about Joe or knowledge of the project at hand.
One spring afternoon as we sat down to talk about the idea, my friend who invited me to the meeting was pulled away for an urgent family matter. Joe and I jumped into a conversation about his idea.
Joe, a certified social worker, was passionate about developing a non-profit that centered on helping people who suffer from mental health challenges. His organization would help them through programs focused on treating the mind, body and soul. Based on his professional and personal experience and expertise, he strongly believed that all three – mind, body and soul – needed to be addressed for any healing process to be effective. Joe’s idea resonated with me as I had recently experienced the tragic loss of a good friend to suicide. My friend who passed away was always in search of healing that focused on the mind, body, and soul, and struggled with finding options that effectively addressed all three areas. I viewed this as a great opportunity to help Joe launch this business in honor of my friend.
Treat Me Like A Business
You may be launching a for-profit business and believe that this case study is not applicable to you. Or you may be launching a non-profit and think that you don’t need to know all of this information because you are doing it for a cause, not for a profit. Well, here is why you should keep reading
A non-profit is a business first; it’s just a business that is recognized differently by the IRS. Many non-profits are inspired by a personal event that occurred. And that inspiration will usually motivate the launch. But, if we don’t treat the non-profit as a real business with a strong business plan and marketing strategy, we begin to experience struggles in sustaining the non-profit over a period of time, especially in today’s demanding world. So, the important message here is that your ‘big’ non-profit idea needs to be turned into a marketable business regardless of the IRS 501c3 designation!
Therefore, whether you are deeming yourself a for-profit or a not-for-profit business, both are real businesses that need to identify their whats, whys, audience, revenue generators, people network, and marketing communications flow. So, let’s keep learning….
What & Why?
When initially learning about a person’s idea, there are a few fundamental questions that need to be asked upfront. Sometimes these simple questions are tough for an innovator to answer, but they are mandatory before moving to any next step. That’s why it is so beneficial to work with a professional strategist who can help you clarify these answers especially when you are struggling to answer them. Here are 3 initial questions:
- ‘What’ problem are you solving?
- ‘What’ is the idea (and go into additional detail)?
- ‘Why’ do you really want to do this? What is inspiring you?
Let’s start with the problem.
When it comes to your idea, can you answer any of these questions?
- What problem are you trying to solve in the world?
- Can you identity the ‘pain’ someone is experiencing in which you have a solution?
- What product or service is experiencing significant demand and how can you supply that demand?
Explaining ‘WHAT’ your idea is to solve this problem is critical.
Suprisingly, when being questioned about their idea, many people can’t explain it well. Keep it simple – identify the need, state how you will meet that need, and explain why this is important to you.
The answer to the ‘WHY’ is critical.
This is the fuel that continues to inspire a business, especially when it suffers through periods of challenges and struggles. Think about what your ‘WHY’ is –
- Is this something you are super passionate about?
- Does this business energize you regardless of the day of the week or time of day?
- Is this idea something that leaves you with a feeling of fulfillment?
Personally, when I start working on a project that I am passionate about, my energy increases, I will work on it any time of the day and any day of the week, and issues become challenges that I know I can find a solution for. These women chocolate makers in the Dominican Republic identified their why.
Let’s get back to Joe’s What and Why…
In his work as a social worker and through some personal experiences and observations growing up, Joe saw a significant community need for mind, body soul programs for people who don’t have access to or don’t want typical medical-based mental health services. He just stated the PROBLEM that he wanted to solve and WHY he wanted to solve it.
As he began to explain the concept, we had to dissect the idea to further define WHAT his business really was and what it was not. Joe had a vision for three integrated programs including:
- Mind – Individual and group mental health classes and counseling to address psychological challenges.
- Body – A community food pantry focused on nutritious food, recipes, and classes to support the physical part of healing. In addition, a community garden would help to supply the pantry and would be a place that recipients of the program could volunteer at.
- Soul – Spiritual classes for recipients to restore and build ‘faith’, regardless of personal religious affiliations.
Since Joe felt that each of these services were required for his organization to be effective, I emphasized that he needed to ensure that the mind, body, and soul goals were always marketed as the main message, regardless of what segment of the program he was delivering. In order to differentiate his community programs from other nutrition programs, spiritual initiatives or mental health counseling options, he needed to emphasize the opportunity to access all three disciplines– unlike many individual programs that already existed. I reminded Joe to keep his primary differentiators and ‘reasons why’ evident and consistent in all of his messages and communications.
Another critical component was to hone in on ‘WHO’ really needed these services and who would use these services. This is not always an easy process for innovators like Joe to figure out. I often hear from clients that their product or service is ‘for everyone or anyone.’ Some have not figured out how to reach their identified audience. And some don’t realize that the desired audience may be unreachable without significant funding.
How should you think about defining your ‘WHO’? (Also referred to as your target audience, target market or ideal prospects.)
Let’s first think about who will use your product or service. Be as specific as possible. And then think about whether this is an audience you can communicate to or with. For example, if you invent a new toy for children ages 5-7 years old, it needs to appeal to 5-7-year-old children when they are walking through the toy store, when they see it being played by other kids, or when they see it advertised. However, you will also need to communicate with parents and ensure that it meets all the parent safety considerations for selecting a new toy. Therefore, who is your real target audience in this case? The parents and/or the kids? Maybe we just need to refine our questions about the target audience. Let me explain…
When Joe and I dove into the target audience discussion, we had some difficulty really defining who his target audience was. Many of the people in need of mental health services, especially people that are open to a more well-rounded approach to mental health, are not always out in the open about their mental health condition. So when we first started talking, Joe’s target audience could be ANYONE. So we thought about it in a different way.
WHO would use his service?
A person experiencing any form of mental health challenges that cannot afford traditional mental health services or is searching for different healing options.
Then we asked, “WHO can help us identify this population?” This is the target audience that we need to focus most of our marketing efforts on. This marketing audience which includes local social workers, therapists, hospitals, and non-profits focused on mental health, has the ability to refer the people in need of Joe’s services. So, you’re target audience when it comes to your marketing, may not always be the person who will be the recipient of the product or service.
When thinking about your target audience, ask yourself these two questions:
- Who will use or need my produce or service?
- Who do I need to market to to reach the people that need or want my product or service?
Let’s go back to the new toy example and answer these two questions:
- Who will use or need my produce or service? Children ages 5-7 years old.
- Who do I need to market to in order to get in front of these users? Marketing would need to be targeted at children, but appeal to the parent’s needs at the same time. Therefore, a television commercial would need to be kid-friendly, air during the 5-7 year old children’s cartoons, and have clear safety messages for parents.
Every scenario is unique. Discussing it out loud with friends, relatives or a marketing professional can easily help you to reveal the answers!
Who Do You Know?
Once we further defined Joe’s what, why, and target audience, we had to focus on building a relevant network to lead and support his vision which included, in his case, a Board of Directors:
- Who should serve on the Board?
- What types of skills were we looking for when compiling a new Board of Directors?
- Should we add an Advisory Board?
- Who did he know in his network of people?
Tapping into the resources and people who believe in you are key to launching a new idea. I asked Joe about his connections. Since childhood, he happened to have a very strong connection with a very successful non-profit business owner named ‘Mike’ who was very influential and well known throughout the community. I coached Joe on how to speak to Mike about his idea, what to ask for, and how to ask for it. We identified things that Mike could help Joe with, things he could ask Mike for feedback on, and advice on speaking to Mike about how to secure a startup location
We build strong bonds, relationships, and rapports with many people throughout our lives. Maintaining those relationships with people we care about is very important. Those relationships are built out of care, concern, listening, favors, reaching out, and just being there. When you are in need of some advice, think about your network and their many skills and connections.
- Who can help you take steps towards your vision?
- Who can you speak to that might know someone else that can help you with a specific need or resource?
When you actually take the time to think about it, you will realize the breadth of people you are connected to.
Hesitating to Connect
However, once connections are identified, people find reasons to not connect. People hesitate to ask others for help because they think:
- They are burdening them,
- They may have already asked for favors in the past,
- They fear rejection, or
- They think that the person does not have the time for them.
Always turn the question on yourself. If that person asked you for a favor or for a connection to help them with a business idea, what would you do? Would you take the time to help them? Would you feel burdened by them? I am hopeful that you would take the time and that you would not feel burdened in any way. However, if you would feel burdened or would prefer to not take the time for that person, then take them off the list!
How many times should you ask if you don’t hear back the first time?
I always email someone and then follow-up with a call the same day or the next day. Today, people prefer various forms of communication. If you know the person you will know the best way to reach them. If they don’t respond the first time, never assume they are blowing you off. It could be that they were ready to respond and were distracted, totally forgetting about your email, which was then lost at the bottom of the lengthy email list. This is a simple oversight that was not intentional. A follow-up call or email is always a great recommendation. And most people will thank you for the reminder!!
Let’s get back to Joe. Joe setup time with Mike and entered the discussion with some detailed write-ups about his vision and plans. He also had specific questions and requests. To Joe’s surprise, Mike generously offered Joe the use of one of his Board Rooms for his initial group meetings and two other additional locations for his programs and food pantry as a way to get him started. Mike also offered some very relevant advice based on his business experience and gave Joe a few pointers on where he needed to focus his energy. Joe now had some decisions on which building spaces he preferred given the needs of his organization and how to fully utilize those spaces. Several positive outcomes came out of utilizing a great connection, being prepared and focused, and asking for specific help.
Act Like A Business
One other key item that I tutored Joe on was how to think about raising money. For Joe’s not-for-profit, grants were an option and I connected him to a friend who specializes in securing grants. Grants are fantastic. However, keep in mind, that you have to do a lot of work to secure them, they may offer a minimal amount of money, and they are not guaranteed the following year in many cases. So you will need to repeat the entire grant application process again which can be very time consuming and tedious.
Every day there is a new fundraiser that we are all being requested to attend and donate to. It is so difficult to keep up with all of the fundraisers even if they are topics of real interest. Fundraisers need to be relevant, fun, creative and you need to identify reasons why people will need to attend – whether it be a key speaker, someone they want to meet, something big they can win, great food, free wine and beer, etc… I recommend that people minimize the number of annual fundraisers to one or two and focus all of their energy on creating impactful and money-generating events. Also, fundraisers take time to build. Out of the gate, year one can be very successful or it may not. Even if successful in the first year, you need to focus on building momentum and not losing the initial first-year excitement for the second year. Stay focused on a few great events and success will follow. In today’s current environment, events have had to transition to a virtual status which has had a tremendous impact on the results of the events.
Business and individual monetary donations are not easy to come by. It takes time to identify individuals, garner their interest, build a relationship and secure a donation. Make your mark with your new marketable business, show people that you know what you are doing, demonstrate that you are committed…and the people and funds will follow.
One way to raise money is to BE A BUSINESS.
Sounds strange because you are already a business. Why do not-for-profits only rely on fundraisers, grants, and individual and business donations? Why not turn something you already do into a service or product that you can produce or sell, and raise money through those means? This is something to really think about. It seems so obvious, but most not-for-profits avoid doing this. They rely on the typical fund-raising methods that take them away from what their business is focused on.
For example, I volunteered at a local farm for over 10 years. They produce organic produce that is donated to food pantries. They have a greenhouse and they produce a variety of fruits and vegetables. Instead of 5K races, fairs, movie nights, and other crazy fundraising ideas that are very time-consuming (and end up costing a lot of money), why not take a percentage of their produce and sell it to local restaurants, grocers and/or wholesalers? Why not use the greenhouse to grow herbs or microgreens that are in demand? It seems so obvious – it’s what you do every day – why not let some of it be used for sales so you can grow more and ultimately donate more.
Joe and I discussed this concept at length and we identified some ideas that could work for his organization. Just remember, reliance on the old methods of non-profit revenue generation is not like it used to be. Be innovative and think like you are a marketable business. After all, you are a business!!
Every Communication, Every Interaction is A Marketing Opportunity
One other key topic that Joe and I reviewed was the Marketing Communications Strategy. He had a simple website that he developed and he was planning on using a graphic designer to build an even better website. My antennas went up right away. Graphic designers design websites. And in a few cases, graphic designers know how to code websites or utilize a content management system.
Unless your graphic designer sits down with you to understand the entire flow of your business and all your customer touch points and discusses how search engine optimization will be integrated into your website plan, I would reconsider whether the designer should be building your website. Websites are key marketing tools that need to be designed and built with a focus on their utility and marketing potential.
Let’s take a few steps back to talk about some marketing fundamentals. One of the most important things to remember is that every single interaction whether it is via phone, email, text, Facebook post, or tweet impacts your business and leaves an impression with the people you are interacting with. Never forget that!
Many retail business owners view the 16-year-old counter person as part-time help that makes $11 per hour and is not critical to their marketing strategy. I disagree. That 16-year-old is probably one of the most critical pieces of your marketing strategy as they are the front line of the interaction with YOUR clients and customers. The same applies to the customer service representative that answers phones and addresses customer issues and concerns about your product or service.
Some people only view marketing as advertisements, promotions, and social media efforts. Every interaction including your voicemail messages, timeliness of your follow-up, relevancy of the information you regularly convey, and optimal customer service significantly contribute to your business marketing strategy. Let’s get back to the website discussion…
Your Website is the Home Base for Your Business
Every marketable business needs a website and sometimes multiple sites. However, the purpose of the website may vary depending on the business goals and marketing strategy. Look and feel tends to be the highest priority for many business owners. In my opinion, your website focus needs to go way beyond the look and feel. I agree that look and feel is important, but it is not the most important piece of the website strategy. Pretty websites don’t always contribute to the bottom line.
Before you invest your funds into a new website, get educated. There are many simple online website tutorials and resources available. Research competitor websites and the tools they are using to communicate with their customers.
If you are hiring someone to develop your website, find a professional who is proficient in design, building, and search engine optimization (SEO). With some learnings and the right support, you will be able to effectively collaborate with someone to build a tool that delivers the marketing, customer service, relevancy, and searchability you need. Also, remember that, with the content management tools of today, you an easily build your own, user-friendly website. Coupled with some graphic design and content help, and simple SEO education, you can develop a very professional, inexpensive, design-friendly, marketing-focused website.
Are You Relevant?
In speaking with Joe, we needed to figure out how he would target his audience and build an audience that gave him permission to market to them. Joe and his team started building his audience with friends, family, coworkers, and targeted organizations. It quickly spread from there. Once in progress, what’s next? How do you keep your audience engaged and interested especially in a world where we are overloaded with information from every communication channel imaginable?
Build a compelling, relevant, and fun communications flow.
Think about the following questions when determining where and how to communicate:
- When someone registers for your newsletter, what happens next? What do you say to them? Did you thank them or offer them something?
- How are you using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and any other social media platform to communicate your messages?
- Are all your messages consistent?
- Are your communications emphasizing your main messages and do they include a call to action?
- What does your voicemail message say? Is it friendly, inviting, and does it demonstrate a sense of urgency to get back to people?
- What happens when someone emails for information?
- How is your product or service delivered?
- What communication follows the delivery?
- Do you request feedback? If yes, what do you do with that feedback?
- Are you doing different things to ‘wow’ your customers or clients?
The answers to these and other marketing communication questions are all a part of your communication strategy once you receive permission to speak to someone. Just create a simple flow chart of all the customer communication touch points and start filling in what you want to tell customers at each touch point.
In addition to his communication flow chart, Joe’s business had several mental health months that were highlighted by the industry. Joe has integrated these timeframes into his communication plan.
My advice to clients who are beginning their marketing communication process:
- Keep it simple!
- Maintain consistent messages.
- Keep the information you are putting out there extremely relevant and helpful.
- Have fun with developing and executing your communications plan!
- Being on every social media platform is not necessary. Think about where your audience is and select 1 or 2 platforms to start out.
- I will reiterate the two most important points– keep it simple and consistent!
Fast Forward Joe’s Business Three Months…
- He incorporated his non-profit idea.
- Applied for the non-profit status via the IRS.
- Built a search engine-friendly website.
- Developed a Facebook page and Twitter account that are all integrated with communication strategies aligned with his industry.
- Created a monthly newsletter.
- Had reached out to mentors in the field to secure new Advisory Board and Board Members.
- Planned introductory meetings with key referral businesses.
- Cleaned out a location and area to use as the Community Food Pantry and Nutrition Center.
- Developed and launched group programs with his team.
- Launched a nutritious cookbook as a fundraiser.
- Planned an official launch party (fundraiser).
Not bad for 3 months…with the help of a marketing strategist.
Joe continued progressing on his business journey. His enthusiasm and excitement were contagious and inspiring. Whether you have a mentor, business partner or prefer to hire a marketing and business development professional to help guide you through your business journey, continue to reach out for help and support..
We have applied this thinking and these strategies to all of our clients. We can’t wait to learn about your idea and help you turn your idea, farm, or food product or service into a marketable business!