Japanese advertisement company employees wear "TV helmets" to display commercials, as they walk through a street in downtown Tokyo, July 9, 2003. (TOSHIYUKI AIZAWA)

Start: Mark Evans

The right time to start marketing

Special to The Globe and Mail

For many small businesses, developing a product or service and selling it are fairly straightforward propositions.

But what about marketing? The challenge is that it's not a natural skill-set that can be easily created and deployed. Marketing involves two fundamental questions: When is it the right time, and what does it entail?

For different companies the answers can vary depending on the type of product or service being sold, and how sales are doing. Some companies have a product ripe for marketing campaigns, while others need to be more opportunistic and creative.

April Dunford, a product marketer whose experience includes working with Nortel Networks Corp. and IBM Corp., says many new businesses and start-ups have a difficult time because they often invest far too much in marketing too early in the process, or they pretty much neglect marketing altogether.

The solution, she says, is to be focused in the early stage on finding a good fit between a product or service and a market.

“Once a company has that, they should focus on their sales process to make sure they've optimized their close rates and the revenue they can drive per customer,” she adds. “Once that's been done, it's a great time to invest in marketing, including bringing on some marketing staff, to scale the business. How much you invest will depend on your market, your product and the resources available to you.”

While marketing can be a challenging and sometimes daunting exercise, Ms. Dunford says new businesses and start-ups can become more comfortable and confident by making sure it's part of the mix at every step along the way to build visibility and engage with the marketplace.

“Many of these [activities]can be done for very little money and don't even require dedicated marketing staff,” she says. “I believe it's really important for startups to hold off on making a large investment in marketing until they have had enough early customer experience to know they have a product that people actually want and they understand who those people are.”

April 14: Ms. Dunford talks about how companies should assess their marketing priorities, make sure the right people and resources are in place, and evolve their marketing activities. Look for it on the Your Business home page.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers ‘stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences .