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Neil Tortorella is a veteran graphic designer, writer and marketing consultant with over 30 years' experience in developing identities, collateral and web solutions for both large and small companies. Based in the Greater Fort Lauderdale, Florida area, Tortorella Design has received numerous awards for design excellence.




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"I am in the early planning stages of starting my own web/graphic design firm. I am finding that developing a marketing strategy is one of the more difficult aspects of creating a successful business. I want clients that will enable me to be somewhat experimental and edgy with my design. Of course I don't want to limit myself, so appealing to a broader market is necessary. What, in your opinion, is the key to developing a successful marketing strategy? Any insights you have will be appreciated."

Marketing involves the four "P"s: Product (service); Price; Place (distribution) and Promotion. For the purpose of this article, let's focus mostly on the Product and Promotion aspects.

A good starting point is doing a situation analysis. Where are you at now and where do you want to be? Who is your competition and what are they up to? What kind of rates are competitors charging? How broad is your marketing environment? Will you be working locally, regionally, nationally or maybe internationally? Who are the key players you want to target? What yanks their chain and is important to them? Are there enough potential clients for you make the dough you want?

Next, you'll want to look at specialization. Are there particular industries that are a good fit with your type of work? For edgy and experimental, the music industry comes to mind. But, that's a pretty localized market. Nashville, Memphis, LA and New York pop out. I live in an area where the bulk of the prospects are manufacturers. Look at what's around you. Find what your strength are and what you enjoy doing. Also look at types of projects. Jeff Fisher, specializes in identity projects, for instance. I specialize in small business and nonprofit organizations. But, that's not all we do. It is, however, what we promote.

Next comes finding those folks who are going to let you do that work and pay you the big bucks for your efforts. There are several sources at your local library's reference desk. I suggest starting off with the Index Guide To Advertisers and the Index Guide To Advertising Agencies (if you want to do work for agencies). These are also called the Red Books. They list a lot of information - contact names, phone numbers, type of projects broken down by percentage, budgets, etc. You can find them online as well at

Some other sources are Thomas Register of Manufacturers, Million Dollar Directory, Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations, the Encyclopedia of Associations. Ask the reference librarian to point you in the right direction. If you've got dough to spend, the List is a good source. You can find them at

I'd recommend, over time, putting together a list of 300-400 qualified contacts, not just random company names. It's important to remember that people buy from people and usually people they like. You've got to have a contact person to build a relationship. You can also try calling a company you want to work with and ask the operator who handles the purchase of graphic design and web stuff. Most are happy to give you a name.

Some sort of contact manger is a good idea to keep everything tidy. ACT! is pretty good. You'll want one that integrates a calendar, contact info, notes, letters, etc. These applications tie everything together so you'll have a neat track record of all your touch points with each prospect.

Okay, so now you've got a list. What are you going to do with it? This is where the strategy part come into play. A marketing strategy, in its broadest form, is about how you plan to best use the resources you have to reach your goals. This point could easily turn into a lengthy tome, so let's par it down to refining your message and then finding the most effective methods to get your it in front of your prospects.

Lofty goals are nice, but without some action plans, you probably won't get too far. The trick with goals to write them down and then chop the big goal into smaller ones. Each sub-goal has a list of tasks you need to do to realize the goal. Pretty simple, eh?

You'll want to create many points of contact and have solid, doable action plans. Your points of contact can include, telephone calls (cold and warm), email, e-newsletter, postcard mailings, press releases, search engines and directory listings on the net, perhaps a brochure or other mailing piece, speaking engagements, awards, etc. One thing that works well for me is simply emailing a link to an article I think the prospect will find interesting. It helps to position me as a resource in their mind. Easy and cheap.

I'd recommend you put together your planning based on quarterly activities, monthly and maybe even weekly. Stick them up on the wall where you'll see them so you don't forget. It's easy to put this stuff off, especially when you get busy. Beware the "busy trap." You'll want to aggressively market your firm when you're busy, so you'll stay that way. The sales cycle for design can be 6-8 months or longer. That's the time from first contact to getting a gig. If you're not marketing in some fashion, when the well dries up, and it will at some point, you've got a lot of catching up to do. That is, if you can catch up at all.

The mailings can be done, say, once each quarter along with a press release to relevant media about new clients, successful projects, awards you've won, volunteer projects, etc.

You might want to check you ranking in the search engines once a month, along with sending out an e-newsletter.

As for weekly, set aside a certain amount of time to make phone calls, write introduction letters and emails. Oh heck, live a little and maybe take a prospect or two out to lunch.

Remember that it takes time. All this stuff has something of a synergistic effect and begins, slowly, to work together building awareness of your firm.

Beyond this is branding your firm. That's a load more than whipping up a nifty logo. Think about your brand promise. What do you consistently and effectively bring to the table? What makes you different? What can you do that the other guys and gals can't? Branding is all about differentiation and consistency — your mark, colors, how you act, how you look, your customer service, the presentation and quality of your work, etc. Your brand is your reputation that lives in your prospect's mind.

A few short words on pricing. How will you price your services? Will you position your firm on the high end? After all, much of marketing is about perception. High fees are often perceived as high value. But, you might price yourself right out of the market, too. Take the time to calculate your rate(s) and then make a judgment where you can realistically be, given your marketing environment.

Pulling this all together doesn't happen overnight. Give yourself the time to do your homework and create a killer plan that positions you at the top of the heap. Because, when the day is done, it all comes down to planning your work and working your plan.

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