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It All Starts With a Plan . . .

Timing is everything they say, and the timing was perfect last spring when Jim and I began to plan our new business venture: Persnickety Pet Portraits. Our planning coincided with my development of a worksheets for Marathon’s new Strategic Marketing Plan Workshops. So I decided to use Jim and myself to test the process. First, I had Jim complete all 12 of the work session worksheets to assure that the questions were easy to understand. Then I completed the 12 worksheets myself. Finally, we worked through the worksheets together to iron out any differences we had in our approach to creating the new business.

I can’t say enough about how valuable this process was in helping us to achieve absolute focus on the task at hand; Jim and I have built two businesses together: The first one—Countryhouse Studios in Annville—could rightly be called a monument to planning failure; but we had learned our lesson when we created a strict financial and marketing plan for the Monteith Portrait Studio and Gallery in Lancaster. Using the worksheets to help us plan Persnickety, however, made our work so much more focused and in the long run a great deal easier, because it covered on all the elements necessary to build a meaningful brand, and I am far more confident that the marketing strategies and materials that we selected will be effective and will truly add meaning to that brand.

The process itself assures that you stay focused on the brand you are building by asking you a series of questions contained in a self-extracting computer application that Marathon helped me to develop. Each worksheet tackles a different marketing issue, and when they are completed, the worksheets can be printed out (as you see from these illustrations) so that you have a reference document in front of you to keep you on task as you implement marketing strategies. By the time you have completed the process, any copy you will need for marketing pieces is virtually written for you in the form of “selling points.” These worksheets, of course, are what Mark Weber and I use during the work sessions at the Strategic Marketing Plan Workshops that we teach together. The next workshop is scheduled for
May 18 and 19 in Minneapolis, and I strongly recommend that if you are struggling with any aspect of marketing your business, this workshop will put you on the right track. I can assure you there is no more effective resource in the industry.

Getting your marketing act together is especially important during challenging economic times, when the tendency is to “pull back” because the market is uncertain. What I learned during the recession that was on when we started our Lancaster business is that my marketing was doubly effective, because competitors were lying low. Ironically, the recession actually improved our visibility in a new market.

An example of one of the work session exercises is the completion of three strategic directives about your business that will help you to stay on course when you are marketing. These three elements our briefly explained below, and I have included the actual statements I developed for Persnickety Pet Portraits after going through the process.

Building a Mission Statement
The purpose of a Mission Statement is to help the business stay on course. Well-managed organizations look to the company’s Mission Statement when approaching strategic decisions by asking: Will this action be consistent with our Mission? A Mission Statement contains the following elements (in any order): the business purpose (the opportunities you address); the business itself (what you do to address these needs); and the values (principles or beliefs that guide your business).

Persnickety Pet Portraits Mission Statement

Our mission is to reflect the joy pets bring to the lives of our clients through personalized, decorative art and accessories that honor the compelling bond between pets and the people who love them.

Establishing Your Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA)
The purpose of a Sustainable Competitive Advantage is to summarize how the business intends to survive against competition over time. A Sustainable Competitive Advantage is derived from an organization’s Core Competencies—those areas of specialized expertise that:

  • Provide specific consumer benefits.
  • Are difficult for competitors to imitate.
  • Are capable of developing new products and services.
An organization’s Sustainable Competitive Advantage typically is expressed in bullet points that should be easy for anyone associated with the business to remember.

Persnickety Pet Portraits Sustainable Competitive Advantage

  • Our photographers are nationally known for their skill and artistry in creating exceptionally pleasing, heartwarming portraits of pets and the people who love them.
  • We understand why pets are so important to the lives of our clients because we are pet lovers too.
  • We are experienced dog handlers, and we understand cat psychology.
  • We create custom heirloom-quality portrait art rather than cutesy calendar-style photos.
  • The studio and grounds are totally pet-friendly.
  • Our business has grown through the referral of satisfied clients.
  • Something WONDERFUL is always happening at Persnickety!

Creating Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
The purpose of a Unique Selling Proposition is to sum up why consumers should purchase from you rather than others. Written in sentence form, it should be brief, succinct, and compelling enough to persuade consumers to give you a try. Much of the content of your USP is likely to be derived from your Mission Statement and Sustainable Competitive Advantage; but this statement must contain persuasive marketing content as well.

Persnickety Pet Portraits Unique Selling Proposition

Through our unmistakable expertise in photography, our comprehensive knowledge of pet behavior, and our proven ability to earn the respect of our clients, it is our pleasure to honor the compelling bond between pets and the people who love them by creating personalized decorative artworks designed to touch the heart and warm the home.

In future posts, I will be showing other marketing pieces that grew out of these strategic directives as well as the plan Jim and I created. I believe that they will help you to recognize just how valuable the process was in helping us to refine our marketing focus.


Creating a Marketing Foundation: Getting Started

I’ve observed that most studio owners start to create marketing pieces before they have a well-formed business concept, a focused market target, and an appropriate business identity. Typically, when this happens, it becomes impossible for the studio to build a meaningful brand that gets the business recognized by the desired clientele. Therefore, long before the “foundation” marketing piece for Persnickety was conceived, Jim and I completed a marketing plan that covered the three vital elements I just mentioned. I’ll be explaining these steps and other planning aspects in future “About Persnickety” posts, but I wanted to show you the piece first, so that you can see the result of this important process.

I got the inspiration for our piece from a nifty mailer that Sarah Petty designed for Marathon’s BellaGrafica line; she sends hers to new parents, and you can see the piece by
clicking here. My mailer does not use the die-cut window, but what I love about the design is it’s interactive feature: the recipient has to unfold each of the four flaps in order to view the images and read the message on each, then inspect the inserts that rest in the center portion of the marketing piece.

The illustration above shows how the piece appears when it is removed from its envelope. The two images below show the outside and the inside of the mailer.

This mailer is more expensive than the cards or brochures that I have used as client acquisition pieces in the past; but I’m confident that it will be cost-effective for numerous reasons:
  • It will be mailed to a highly targeted list of names provided to us by several local pet professionals who have identified their most qualified clients.
  • It’s pretty hard not to notice a marketing piece this intricate.
  • I’m using an appealing offer (a $100 gift card), which should attract attention of people who have seen our work hanging in the stores and offices of places they frequent with their pets.
  • Some of the mailers will be used as handouts at an open house and for members of a local dog training club in which we participate.
  • The piece is quite versatile, so it can be used for purposes other than client-acquisition mailings, and I will explain each by way of the illustrations shown below.
The first illustration shows the way the two sides of the press sheet are configured for printing. Note how the inserts fill the spaces in the four corners of the mailer.

Here’s how each of the inserts will be used:

The insert shown above is what the target-list recipient will see when the mailer is opened. It contains a glue-dotted laminated gift card for $100. Because we have a well-established reputation in the community for our pet portraits, I believe this will be an effective motivator for the clientele we are seeking to attract.

This insert will be included whenever the marketing piece is used, as it contains information about our business: the fact that our product focus is wall decor, as well as information about our accomplishments as pet portrait specialists.

This handy insert will be used as a note card, and it will be helpful for fulfilling requests for information or for other occasions in which a hand-written note is appropriate.

The final insert from this printing is one that will be used to fulfill requests for charitable marketing. We will provide each organization with 10 to 20 of the folders that include the insert that they can sell to attendees at their fund-raising event at a price they designate: we suggest that they consider a price between $20 - $50 to assure that all certificates are sold. The purchaser will receive a portrait session and a small “keepsake” portrait; and the charity must agree to provide the studio with a list of names of the purchasers so that we can get in touch with them to redeem the certificate.

But wait, there’s more! The folder also will serve as a “jacket” to house the circular Persnickety gift certificate shown below.

The certificate is a two-panel circular note card format that is part of the mPrint press-printed product line.
Click here for more information.

And here’s the back, which repeats the design of the inside of the gift certificate, but using different images.

So I’m pretty excited about the look of the piece and how we’ll be able to use it for all these varied purposes:
  • A mailer and/or handout for client acquisition
  • A fulfillment piece for information requests
  • An insert that can be used for hand-written correspondence
  • A client education piece to use during planning sessions for portraits that include people
  • A handout to donors who purchased a session and gift-size image at a charitable event
  • A “jacket” for our circular gift certificate
As I said at the beginning, it took a lot of planning to get to the point that we were ready to commit to this marketing piece. I’ll tell you about that process in my next post.

It's Not Like I've Never Seen Promotions, But . . .

During last week’s meeting at Marathon, I got a look at proofs of all the marketing materials now in production for Persnickety Pet Portraits, Jim’s and my new business venture, which will open in late spring, or as soon as we get some studio renovations finished. The contractors were here this week to take a look, and I’m eager to hear what they have to say, as we are going to stick to a very strict budget on this project. Then there’s the business of clearing out the place first: not fun to think about, but it will be a load off my mind and a real sign of progress when it’s finished.

Getting to see the new marketing pieces was itself sign of progress, but this one was really fun . . . as usual. I’m shown here with designer Brian Headley, who did the initial designs for Persnickety. After all these years, it’s still a blast to see new pieces as they develop—especially when they are mine :-). As I said when I started this series of posts on Persnickety, I decided to keep a record of all the steps involved, because I’ve observed that most people underestimate the amount of time and preparation it takes to build a business and get the marketing off the ground . . . especially when you’re busy tending to current business issues. In the next few posts, I’m going to show off the “foundation” marketing piece for Persnickety and explain what had to be in place before we could get started designing it.

What to do During Recession? Start a New Business!

Some readers of this blog at a lot of my students know that since last spring, Jim and I have been working on a new business that we plan to open sometime this spring. Last April we made a commitment to narrow the focus of our business to the product line that we like best: pet photography. We agonized over a name for several months and finally settled on Persnickety Pet Portraits. It was a relief to come to all of these decisions; you’ll understand why I said this if you work with a spouse or partner :-).

The current economic climate has not forestalled this decision; after all, we opened our first two businesses (the Annville studio and the Lancaster location) during recessions. After the struggle we experienced in opening Countryhouse in Annville, you might wonder why we forged ahead in Lancaster. Well . . . by the 1982 recession, we had learned what we needed to know about business: how to create sales, sessions and expenses forecasts for the new venture; how to minimize risk by purchasing a building with a good rental history and using only a small portion of it for our business; and how to get the attention of the market we were seeking to attract. We are following similar strategies as we scale down the Annville studio to actively market only for pet portraits, while continuing to service clients of long-standing in other product lines.

Building a new business takes more time than you might expect, so I decided to start a series of blog posts to record the the step-by-step process of creating Persnickety in the hope that some readers will find this feature to be instructive. This is the first of these posts.

Among our overall goals in starting Persnickety was to minimize risk through careful planning and accurate budgeting. The planning began last April when Jim and I ran the numbers then put ourselves through the same process that Mark Weber and I teach at the two-day Marathon Strategic Plan Marketing
Workshop. I’ll be writing more about our 2009 workshop schedule shortly.

So creating a business plan that is both on paper and in our heads was step one, because nothing minimizes risk and keeps you focused better than a plan.

Step two was to hire a contractor who was willing to do some exterior upgrades to the studio for a good price while he was between jobs.

Last fall, I had Marathon create a dedicated website for Persnickety. I chose one of their HTML Packages that cost only $495, and I didn’t have to do anything other than provide the photographs and copy. It did take me a long while to round up all of the images (I ordered three extra galleries to the site), but the good news was it took less than two weeks for Marathon to have the site up and running, and I was delighted with the results.

In November, we took delivery of a new sign (see top image) that incorporated the Persnickety identity but doesn’t lose the brand equity that we had achieved through Countryhouse.

The next step? Most all of our Persnickety marketing products have been designed, and they will be printed shortly. As each is finished I will present it and explain the strategy behind it, and I also will talk about the strategies that are part of our overall marketing plan to get Persnickety off the ground. I hope you will this series as much as I have enjoyed starting this new venture.