During a marketing seminar I conducted a few months ago, the interest in strong marketing acumen was overwhelming. Many of the firms represented at the seminar were smaller companies that had no organized marketing effort. Following the completion of the seminar, questions and discussion continued in the hallway. A real desire to know more to improve companies' marketing efforts was evident.

To continue the focus of my recent columns, this month's content is directed toward smaller companies. Small companies with limited people often utilize staff members for many different responsibilities. This column will offer suggestions on how to cross-train staff members in a way that will allow them to continue their technical roles as well as contribute to the marketing of the companies where they work. It will also present several plans of attack for marketing.

Dedicating Marketing Numbers

A good first step in any marketing plan is to give the task of marketing a job number. This recognizes marketing as a legitimate function of the business, and keeps track of and monitors the program's hopeful success. At the end of each year, the marketing expense should be two or three percent of the new work generated during the previous year. This amount will vary depending on whether you decide to charge proposal preparation to the marketing number. Some companies prefer to show proposal preparation as a separate number. Either method is fine as long as you are not charging proposal cost to the work in progress.

Client Contact Strategy

To implement a marketing plan, you will need to take a careful look at your current client base. The best strategy is to keep your current clients before looking for new ones. Make a list of your top 20 clients according to money generated in the previous year.

Assign an individual to contact the client for follow-up on the quality and timeliness of your services. During these calls, clients should also be asked if they need any additional services, and should be updated on any new services your company offers, such as GPS or construction stakeout. Also ask the client for leads. Client follow-ups should be done on a quarterly basis.

The Marketing Personality

How do you choose employees to help with marketing efforts? Marketing is really all about "people skills." The personality type that will make calls and talk to anyone without being intimidated is the person fit for marketing. If this person also has technical skills in surveying and engineering, this is a real plus. Clients usually want a certain amount of technical information about the services the company offers. It also helps if the person is a self-starter with good ideas on how to reach out to clients. You may also assign other tasks to the individual(s) such as attending homebuilders meetings to get to know developers in your area. Having people with good computer and writing skills is a must in marketing.

Reeling in New Clients

Now that you have covered the basics of getting started, how do you go about getting new clients? Perseverance is the key to any marketing program. Start by identifying potential clients, then start a telemarketing program. You can also visit potential clients' websites and E-mail them messages. Request meetings with them. If possible, stop by clients' offices and drop off material on your services. Follow up with telephone calls to make appointments with those who contract work. Train your staff to ask clients if other jobs might require your services. Don't be shy to tell clients you want all their work in your area; many clients like to deal with only one firm. Many ALTA jobs have multiple locations in the sale or refinance of property. You may want all of these jobs, or you may want to team up with another company to deliver services in a timely manner.

Most companies have certain types of jobs they prefer to work on, according to their expertise and performance capabilities. Studying your list of jobs by money generated can retrieve this information-you should see a pattern emerge. Focus on two or three types of jobs that have made money in the past. Evaluate whether you could perform these jobs over a larger geographical area, or if you could add more clients in your local area.

Simple ideas are sometimes the best marketing tools. Consider using door hangers on houses around your survey areas. These marketing tools indicate that your crew is working in the area and that you hope they will consider your company for any future survey needs. The hanger should also include company information and a website address.

With a beneficial and solid marketing plan, you can choose the better jobs and leave behind the lower profit jobs. But remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Sidebar: Milt's Marketing Ideas

1. Agree on Objectives
Company management must agree on marketing objectives and have a plan before spending money.

2. Establish Direction of Growth
Establish direction for your company. Direction can mean size, quality of services, profitability and markets you choose to serve. Agreement must be reached on future growth and preferred markets; a larger company is not always more profitable.

3. Develop Short- and Long-Range Goals
Develop a set of short- and long-range goals, and update them yearly. Limit the short-range goals to a few items that will work toward meeting your long-range goals. Marketing plans that are three inches thick will include several items that won't be completed.

4. Select People for Marketing Roles
Individuals should participate in marketing efforts on a regular basis. They should be able to meet and effectively communicate with people, be technically competent (or know when to ask for help), and above all, be persistent.

5. Prepare a Selective Prospect List
Develop a list of clients you want to work for in the future. This list is surely one of the most important parts of your plan. Add to the list as new information about potential clients becomes available.

6. Implement the Plan
Put the chosen marketing staff to work on maintaining and finding clients. Develop a company website where you can refer clients to find out more about the company and services provided. Follow-up meetings should be held to check on progress.