How can you make more effective use of your marketing budget?

It is that time of year again, less than four weeks until Christmas, and Exeter is in the midst of a spending frenzy. However, this is perhaps not the case for many professional service firms who are still being cost conscious and in many instances having to work with reduced marketing budgets.

With this in mind I have put together 10 suggestions (in no particular order) on how to make more effective use of your marketing budget:

1. Know your clients

Spend time reviewing your client base to understand who are your most important clients (those you really can’t afford to lose), which clients you could potentially get more work from and those clients you would prefer not to have or are never going to give you any work. Make sure your level of marketing expenditure on these client groups is proportionate. Why do you keep inviting Mr X from ABC Ltd to all your high-level corporate hospitality events when he has quite clearly told you his firm is welded to XY Accountants and so he is never going to give you any more work?

Work out a plan for your most important clients and those with potential to grow. Marketing to your existing client base is more cost-effective, with a higher success rate and a better return on investment than marketing to potential new clients.

2. Let’s do coffee

Instead of lunching your key clients, contacts and referrers how about meeting them for coffee instead? It is quite acceptable to catch up with you contacts in this way and has the added benefit of taking less time out of the working day, allowing you to fit in more catch ups or get back to your desk to do some fee earning work.

3. Switch to electronic

Do you still send hard copy newsletters or brochures? Consider switching to email newsletters or PDF brochures. Not only will you save on print and postage costs but they are more immediate (particularly pertinent with breaking news) and you will be able to track who opens and reads your missive enabling you to be more targeted.

4. Take a critical look

Look closely at your planned expenditure and critically consider if it matches against your marketing objectives. Just because you have sponsored the same sports event for the last four years does not mean you should automatically commit to doing it again. Does it really work for you? If the answer is yes, then great, go ahead and sign on the bottom line. If the answer is no, then move on and look at initiatives that are more likely to generate success and could even be cheaper!

5. Clear out

Spend time reviewing and cleansing your CRM database. Is it worth marketing to someone that one of your partners met five years ago and has never heard from or spoken to since? Clear out the junk and concentrate on those contacts that really mean something to you.

6. Spend to save

It might seem a bit ridiculous to be recommending spending in a blog post about working with a reduced budget but the longer term value in implementing a CRM system or updating your website for example, might be worth several times more than the initial expenditure. A new CRM system could enable you to be more focused in your business development efforts and to be more effective. An improved website could result in increased visitors to your website and more potential new clients. Look closely at your budget and see if you can forgo some activities in place of a longer term investment.

7. Get online

Engage in social networking. Build a profile on social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and start to build relationships with potential customers, share your expertise, engage with your followers and get noticed! The best bit about social networking is that it is free! However, it will require a significant time investment to make it work properly so be clear on your strategy and plan before you jump in.

8. Join forces

If you feel you need to host a large hospitality event or seminar  consider linking up with another firm and running a joint event. Sharing an event with a synergistic firm (lawyers and accountants work well for example) will enable you to split the cost of venue hire, catering and administration. More importantly it will also give you access to the other firm’s client base who will be more favourably disposed to you because you are endorsed by a firm they trust.

9. Measure

Ensure that you track and measure your marketing efforts for return on investment. Record what you have spent and on what.  Try to reconcile this against new clients won, new instructions received etc so that you can evaluate the effectiveness of the various elements of your expenditure. This will enable you to plan more effectively for the forthcoming year and focus on the initiatives that work. When you get a new client ask them how they heard of you, record this on the client opening form and regularly review the responses. Don’t just file them on to the system never to be looked at again!

10. Employ an external marketing consultant

When budgets are tight can be the ideal time to bring in the services of an external marketing consultant. You get all the experience, skills and qualifications of having someone in-house but without the considerable associated costs of an employee and you only pay for the time you use. An external consultant will also be able to provide a more impartial viewpoint and can be used for short-term support, a one-off project for instance, or on a longer-term basis. The flexibility is there for you to choose.

However you choose to spend your marketing budget the most vital element is that you continue to spend. Firms which actively market themselves during a recession fare much better when the economy improves and are much better placed to expand than competitors who have let marketing slip.

If you would like to add any comments or suggestions on stretching your market budget please post them below.