Should I Advertise?

The whys and wherefores of marketing for owners of woodworking businesses. 1998

by Anthony Noel

Yes, absolutely. But remember that advertising is just one facet of a total marketing program.

Advertising. The word often strikes fear in the hearts of small business owners. Visions of winged dollars, never to be seen again (at least in the form of a return on one's advertising 'investment,' as the ad sales reps call it) fill the owner's mind.

Questions that arise - seemingly impossible to answer - only cloud the issue further. What's the best kind of advertising? Where should I advertise? Can I (should I) rely only on word of mouth?

It's no wonder decisions of what to do about advertising are often avoided, or at least put off for as long as possible, by many small business owners.

Compounding the problems for woodworkers is the fact that many start off believing that they'll be able to find a niche only they can fill - a market just waiting for them to exploit it. Another common misconception is that they'll be doing mostly woodworking and only occasionally be dealing with questions of how, where or to whom to sell their work.

While part-time woodworkers may dream about the day when they can quit their regular jobs and have a shop full of work the next day, anyone who has begun a full-time woodworking business can attest that nothing could be further from reality. Whether you've been in business for five days, five weeks, five months or five years, you've no doubt wondered if there isn't more you could be doing to market your company's services. The answer, of course, is yes - and the operative word is 'market.'

I firmly believe that all phases of a business are in some way, directly or indirectly, linked to one another. But I also think it is critical to maintain enough of a distinction between each phase of the operation so you can develop systems that let you achieve optimal results in each area

Maybe you read the five-part series titled, 'A Selling System.' Although it touched on ideas for advertising and marketing, its primary focus was dealing with client contract situations when a sale is on the line.

There has been a move in recent years to group sales and marketing together, treating them as two elements of the same pursuit. They are not the same, and you would do well to remember that.

Selling is what you do (hopefully) after you have captured a prospect's imagination. Marketing is what you do to capture their imagination in the first place.

Certainly, sales and marketing are directly linked. But they are two different things. Don't be lulled into believing that 'marketing' is just another word for 'selling.' The current trend toward making the two interchangeable can be traced to a fear (completely unfounded) among sales reps that 'sell' is a bad word, to be avoided at all costs.

'If we call it 'marketing,'' this rationale goes, 'we soften our approach and increase our chances of success.'

What a bunch of baloney!

Whether it is in a business-to-business (which some of us remember as 'wholesale,' but which had to be softened, because there was that word again...) or retail situation, people know when they're being sold something, despite popular theory shouted in top-selling books by 'sales gurus.'

If the salesmen who ran out to buy this tripe would only stop to think for a minute, they'd realize that the only sale it helped to close was the one at the cash register when the book was purchased. Sure, there are certain invariable factors that increase the potential of success in any sales situation. But to sell successfully, you need to work consistently at developing a system suited to your particular business, one that takes into consideration your customers' needs.

And just as developing and refining a selling system is the key to closing a greater percentage of sales, paying careful attention to how you market your business - how you get your foot in the door - will translate into more doors opening for you.

So let's look at marketing. We've already defined it as what you do in an effort to capture prospects' imaginations. While that may sound a bit overboard, it really isn't. You have hopes and dreams for your business, and the people you'd like to attract as customers have certain objectives, too. Marketing means letting potential customers know that you have the ability to help them get what they want, which is just another way of saying 'capture their imaginations.'

Advertising is an important facet of marketing. Although we might think of advertising as either an ad in a newspaper or magazine, a brochure or a TV or radio spot, these familiar forms only scratch the surface.

What about business cards and your company letterhead? Direct mail and telemarketing? The Internet? And let's not forget the most powerful kind of advertising for any business: word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth advertising is powerful because it constitutes the most believable type of endorsement: an endorsement from someone the potential customer already knows and trusts.

Think about it. It's one thing for a business to pay Michael Jordan to say they make the best product. But imagine you're trying to decide on a new cordless drill. As you're browsing through the mail-order catalogs in your office one day, the phone rings. A fellow woodworker is on the other end of the line, seeking your advice on a finishing problem. You help him solve his problem and recommend a particular stain to him, and afterward you ask him about his favorite cordless drill.

You've just witnessed not one, but two instances of word-of-mouth advertising, all in the same phone conversation. Not only did your counterpart tell you what drill he favors and why, but you enlightened him about a product that has served you well in the finishing room.

Which cordless drill are you more likely to buy - the one a company paid a celebrity to endorse, or the one your friend has tested in the field and can swear is the best one out there? They may be one-and-the-same drill, but its your friend who's really sold you, not the official spokesperson.

If you're a regular reader of these articles, you already know one of my favorite axioms about customer service: If a customer is happy with your work, he'll tell a few friends; but if he's unhappy, he'll tell everyone he can think of. A clearer statement of the power of word-of-mouth advertising was never spoken.

But even if you consistently produce excellent work, work that anyone would be proud to have in his or her home or place of business, how can you increase your opportunities to sell more of it? In other words, what other options should you be considering as part of your total marketing program?

Now that we've made the distinction between sales and marketing more clear, we'll address marketing options beyond word-of-mouth in the next article.

Anthony Noel writes, consults, and teaches woodworking and journalism, along with doing an occasional custom job in his shop in Macungie, PA.

Have a business related question? Visit WOODWEB's Business Forum. The Business Forum is co-sponsored by ISWonline and is moderated by Anthony Noel. All business topics are welcome, from sales and marketing to dealing with difficult customers.

This article is reprinted by permission of Custom Woodworking Business Magazine.