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Marketing and PR

This incubator has developed and implemented an effective incubator marketing plan. [View]

This incubator has implemented a wide range of activities to raise public awareness, generate support and recruit clients. [View]

This incubator showcases clients to the community through its Web site, open houses, press releases and other means. [View]

 

This incubator has developed and implemented an effective incubator marketing plan.

A marketing plan is more than a map. It’s a touchstone for you, your staff, and your stakeholders, a statement of what you believe your incubation program can achieve. It’s a checklist of what needs to be done to attract more or better clients, and new or stronger partners and sponsors. It’s a snapshot of your incubation program’s potential at a particular point in time, something you can look back on to measure your progress and renew your commitment to improving your incubation program.

Sounds a bit like a business plan, doesn’t it? It is – and it isn’t. Your business plan describes the overall goals and benchmarks for your incubation program. The marketing plan supports your business plan as one way to achieve particular business goals.

Just how elaborate your marketing plan gets is up to you. Business incubator marketing plans range from one- or two-page checklists to twenty-page documents packed with charts and tables. It’s not important how long or detailed your plan is; what matters is that you have a usable document that outlines your marketing goals.

For example, Jasper Welch’s marketing plan for the San Juan College Enterprise Center in Farmington, New Mexico, is a list of fifteen marketing strategies, all in support of the incubator’s overall goals: to “educate the business, college and San Juan County communities about the benefits and goals of the business incubation program at the Enterprise Center and attract viable start-up companies and quality emerging companies to the Enterprise Center.”

It makes for a short plan, Welch says, but it’s enough for his needs – and it sets an example for clients. “When companies come in and act all brain-dead about marketing, I can whip this out and say, ‘At least do this,’” he says. “It’s kind of hard for us to preach the need to have a marketing plan if we don’t have one. Even if it’s on a shoestring, at least we have a plan.

Adapted from Colbert, Corinne, A Practical Guide to Business Incubator Marketing, NBIA Publications, 2007, p. 27-28. The book covers conducting market research, creating a marketing plan, marketing methods, and media relations; it offers a CD filled with marketing materials created by dozens of incubators from around the globe. All examples have been vetted by NBIA staff. Designed specifically for incubator managers, the Guide offers expertise by many top professionals who have excelled at marketing tasks. (Available from the NBIA Bookstore.)

Most incubator marketing plans have elements in common:

  • An executive summary (usually for longer and more complex plans)
  • A statement of the incubator’s overall business goal or vision
  • A description of the incubation program and its current services
  • A description of the overall market and the incubator’s role in that market
  • An analysis of what the incubator does well and where it can improve
  • A list of specific marketing goals and strategies to achieve them
  • A timeline of marketing activities, often with responsibilities assigned
  • An estimate of the expected costs associated with each strategy or activity
  • Some ways to measure the success of marketing activities

Adapted from Colbert, Corinne, A Practical Guide to Business Incubator Marketing, NBIA Publications, 2007, p. 28. (Available from the NBIA Bookstore.)

For the first six years of his incubator’s existence, Jasper Welch—director of the San Juan College Enterprise Center in Farmington, New Mexico—gathered feedback on his program and services with short questionnaires and informal discussions. By 2006, however, he was ready for a more formal approach.

“We felt we had enough history that we could ask our customers how we were doing,” he says.

For $2,000, Welch hired a professional market researcher to interview fourteen stakeholders such as local bankers, politicians, college officials, and the directors of local Small Business Development Centers. In personal interviews lasting thirty to seventy minutes, the researcher asked just eight questions about the stakeholders’ perceptions of the incubator; their willingness to refer clients to the incubator; what is and is not working in the program; the program’s value to the stakeholder’s organization; and whether their organization could support the incubator financially.

The results were both gratifying and eye-opening. Stakeholders held the incubator and its umbrella organization, the Quality Center for Business, in high regard. The problem, they said, was that the incubator did not promote itself as thoroughly as it could and that Welch was stretched too thin.

As a result of that study, Welch implemented a regular review of the incubator’s marketing plan, which is updated every two years. He also stepped up publicity efforts in the regional business journal. In terms of staffing, the survey helped him make the case to his board to beef up his personnel; he now has a half-time coordinator and a half-time secretary, a one-third increase in staffing.

“The stakeholder interview process was very helpful in moving our program forward,” Welch says.

Excerpted from Colbert, Corinne, Dinah Adkins, Chuck Wolfe and Karl LaPan, Best Practices in Action: Guidelines for Implementing First-Class Business Incubation Programs, Revised 2nd Edition, NBIA Publications, 2010, p.16. (Available from the NBIA Bookstore.)

For further information on marketing, see:


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This incubator has implemented a wide range of activities to raise public awareness, generate support and recruit clients.

Good marketing can help keep your incubator full, and maintaining a full incubator is the linchpin of a sustainable program. “Success depends on keeping a steady flow of viable clients into the incubator,” says Charles D’Agostino, executive director of the Louisiana Business & Technology Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Even when your incubator is full and you have a waiting list, though, you still need to market the program. Marketing isn’t just about clients. It’s about distinguishing your incubation program from your competition, whether that competition comes from other incubators or from other economic development initiatives or commercial landlords. (Remember, you’re competing not only for clients, but also for funding and other forms of support.) Marketing is how you establish and maintain your program’s reputation within the community. Through marketing, you not only attract new clients, but also partners and sponsors who can support and sustain your incubation program.

Good marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. Some of the most effective marketing methods are low- or no-cost options: networking, cultivating relationships, using the Web and e-mail. Remember: anything you do that puts your incubator, its achievements, and its capabilities in front of an audience that can affect the incubator — potential and current clients, stakeholders, partners, the public — is marketing.

Of course, some marketing tasks do require money. But there are many incubator managers who have leveraged their relationships with partners and sponsors to cover part or all of the cost of big-ticket items such as design, printing, advertising, or catering for large events.

You don’t necessarily need a big staff to market effectively, either. Members of your board of directors, partners and supporters, and students from a nearby college or university all can help you spread your message. “We’ve made it a part of our policy that we hire interns [from nearby Southern New Hampshire University] every semester” for marketing, says Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Amoskeag Business Incubator in Manchester, New Hampshire. She’s built relationships with the university’s career development department, as well as individual professors. “I have two interns now just because teachers said, ‘I have someone good for you,’” Gustafson says.

She also calls upon her board of directors, especially during events held at the incubator. “I try to get the whole board to attend events because I can only do so much,” she says.

What marketing will cost you, however, is time. The incubator managers interviewed for this book estimated that they spent between 15 and 30 percent of their time in a given week on marketing activities. That may seem like a lot, especially when you’re overextended as it is. But you’re probably already doing many of the same things these managers are: writing and mailing press releases, speaking at Rotary lunches, meeting with stakeholders.

While that’s a good start, truly effective marketing requires thought and planning. “Shotgun marketing is mistake I see a lot, where there’s no proper identification of [who] the audience is,” says Evan Jones, director of the @Wales Digital Media Initiative in Cardiff, Wales. “It’s nice to see your ad in papers or hear about your incubator on the radio, but [you have] to say, ‘How many potential entrepreneurs are going to hear this? How many are in digital media? How many are going to read our ad or listen to it while turning right at a busy junction?’”

Excerpted from Colbert, Corinne, A Practical Guide to Business Incubator Marketing, NBIA Publications, 2007, pp. 1-2. This book, one of NBIA’s newest publications, discusses how incubator managers have conducted market research and developed marketing plans; it also covers marketing methods and media relations. A CD that accompanies the book provides more than 40 examples of real incubator marketing products that have been vetted by NBIA, including Web sites, brochures, advertisements, signage and much more. In addition to discussing incubator branding, marketing methods, advertising, direct mail, outreach, public relations, publications and networking, the author covers many topics such as harnessing the power of testimonials, tips for better publicity photos, what to put on your Web site and much more. (Available from the NBIA Bookstore.)

Every year, the Advanced Technology Development Center in Atlanta, Georgia, produces a T-shirt bearing the names and logos of all current clients on the back, the ATDC logo on the front, and the name and logo of the T-shirt sponsors on the sleeve. “I want to get enough out there that I’ll be at the grocery store and see somebody wearing one,” says former General Manager Tony Antoniades.

Excerpted from Colbert, Corinne, A Practical Guide to Business Incubator Marketing, NBIA Publications, 2007, p. 30. (Available from the NBIA Bookstore.)

These twenty questions can help you get started on your incubator’s marketing plan by encouraging you to see your program the way your customers do. These questions focus on potential clients, but can easily be altered to apply to partners, sponsors, and stakeholders.

  1. Who is your most likely client?
  2. How is that potential client different from the general population?
  3. What events trigger the need or desire for incubation services?
  4. When does this trigger occur? Can it be predicted?
  5. How does that potential client go about deciding whether to enter an incubator?
  6. What are the potential client’s key decision factors?
  7. How do you compete with other service providers on these factors?
  8. Are these differences known to the potential client?
  9. Are these differences meaningful to the potential client?
  10. How can your incubation program be exposed to your most likely customers?
  11. What other noncompeting organizations share this target market?
  12. How can you promote your incubation program to existing clients?
  13. What other new services could you sell to existing clients?
  14. What is your competition doing to lure potential/current clients away?
  15. What are other incubators doing to increase their client base?
  16. What current nonsales-producing costs can be converted into sales-producing investments?
  17. What can your partners or sponsors do to help you improve your current services/awareness/occupancy?
  18. What emerging social economic or technological trends can be turned into new client opportunities?
  19. What new markets could be served with a slight modification of your current facilities and services?
  20. How can you make your incubation program easier to enter or use?

Excerpted from Colbert, Corinne, A Practical Guide to Business Incubator Marketing, NBIA Publications, 2007, p. 30. (Available from the NBIA Bookstore.)

For further information on marketing and public relations, see:

  • Colbert, Corinne, Dinah Adkins, Chuck Wolfe and Karl LaPan, "Integration into Broader Economic Development Goals" and "Marketing Assistance," "Joint Publicity Program," and "Weekly Newspaper Stories on Clients," in Best Practices in Action: Guidelines for Implementing First-Class Business Incubation Programs, Revised 2nd Edition, NBIA Publications, 2010, pp. 17-18, 109-110. (Available from the NBIA Bookstore.)
  • Phillips, Jim, “Web 2.0: Using new media to reach tech-savvy entrepreneurs, NBIA Review, June 2008. This article is available free to members in the NBIA Archives or as a PDF Quick Reference document from the NBIA Bookstore ($5/members; $10/nonmembers).
  • Jackson, John Bradley. First, Best, or Different: What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know About Niche Marketing, Dog Ear Publishing, 2006.
  • Tapscoff, Don and Williams, Anthony D. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Portfolio, a member of the Penguin Group USA, 2008.
  • MarketingSherpa.com
    MarketingSherpa: Practical Case Studies & Know-How
    Articles, reports, job listings, events and other information on marketing
  • Entrepreneur.com
    Marketing Materials
    Links to a number of articles about marketing
  • About.com: Marketing
    Do Your Marketing Materials Sell?
    Article about ensuring your marketing materials are effective
  • TechCrunch.com
    Instant Marketing Materials With BrandDoozie
    Article about an online tool for designing marketing materials
  • Marketing Resources, Ltd.
    Tips and Articles
    Links to a number of articles on marketing
  • Inc.com
    How to Advertise Your Small Business Online
    Links to articles on marketing and advertising

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This incubator showcases clients to the community through its Web site, open houses, press releases and other means.

At minimum your incubator’s Web site should include:

  • Your incubator’s history and mission statement
  • High-quality photographs of your facility, both inside and out
  • A list of sponsors and partners
  • Compelling information about your program’s economic impacts, such as the number of jobs created, wages paid to employees, etc.
  • A list of your board of directors and/or advisors
  • A list of client companies with links to their sites
  • A schedule of upcoming events
  • Complete contact information for the incubator, including names and titles of primary staff members, phone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses, and the incubator’s physical and mailing addresses.

To make the most of your site, consider including:

  • Incubator press releases
  • Case studies about successful clients or graduates
  • Your newsletter and/or brochure in downloadable format
  • Links to news articles about your incubator, clients, and graduates
  • A video tour of your incubator facility
  • Guidelines for application, including tips on preparing a business plan and the actual forms potential clients must complete and submit
  • Links to relevant resources on business incorporation, business planning, funding sources, regulatory agencies, etc.

Another possible use of a Web site is to create a clients-only section accessible with assigned logins and passwords. A clients-only section of your site could include:

  • Specific incubator policies and procedures
  • An internal directory with names and contact information for all client companies
  • Copies of your incubator logo for clients to include in their own marketing materials
  • Contact information for partners who offer low-or no-cost services to incubator clients
  • Business planning templates, tips, or software
  • Forums where clients can exchange information and share ideas

Excerpted from Colbert, Corinne, A Practical Guide to Business Incubator Marketing, NBIA Publications, 2007, pp. 63. This book, one of NBIA’s newest publications, discusses how incubator managers have conducted market research and developed marketing plans; it also covers marketing methods and media relations. A CD that accompanies the book provides more than 40 examples of real incubator marketing products that have been vetted by NBIA, including Web sites, brochures, advertisements, signage and much more. In addition to discussing incubator branding, marketing methods, advertising, direct mail, outreach, public relations, publications and networking, the author covers many topics such as harnessing the power of testimonials, tips for better publicity photos, what to put on your Web site and much more.
(Available from the NBIA Bookstore.)

A reporter’s interest in the people behind local businesses has turned into an opportunity for readers of the Grand Junction Free Press in Grand Junction, Colorado, to get to know clients of the Business Incubation Center.

Sharon Sullivan, a reporter with the newspaper, has been featuring stories about the incubator’s clients—one client per week—since July 2008.

Among the entrepreneurs who have been featured are a former chef who now does business as The Computer Lady; two longtime friends who decided to start their own tool supply company after they lost their jobs; and a woman who worked as a waitress, bartender, and dental assistant, all the while dreaming of opening a women’s clothing store.

According to former incubator Executive Director Christina Reddin, the articles are a hit because “they are about the people, not so much the businesses.”

Reddin says the articles started after Sullivan attended an incubator event at a local coffeehouse. There, Sullivan met several entrepreneurs and wrote a human-interest piece for the paper. She asked Reddin to let her know if she had other potential human-interest stories.

“I told her we had fifty-two in-house clients alone and that I could easily supply her a story a week,” Reddin says. Sullivan agreed to continue the series as long as Reddin could supply newsworthy stories.

Reddin provides Sullivan a draft lineup and contact information a month in advance. “And I tell my clients to make it as easy as possible for Sullivan to do the interview,” Reddin says.

According to Reddin, the articles have generated interest in individual clients and the incubation program. “It’s better than people just becoming more aware of our logo or our name,” she says. “They’re gaining an understanding of what we do.”

For example, Reddin says the articles have helped local readers better understand what business consulting can mean. “Some people think consultants are expensive people who prepare fancy reports about things you already know,” Reddin says. “This helps people understand what type of business consulting [we] do, and how it might be helpful to their business.”

Excerpted from Colbert, Corinne, Dinah Adkins, Chuck Wolfe and Karl LaPan, Best Practices in Action: Guidelines for Implementing First-Class Business Incubation Programs, Revised 2nd Edition, NBIA Publications, 2010, pp. 17-18, 111. See also in this book: "Joint Publicity Program," "Government Relationships for Construction Firms," "Made in Central Valley," and "Entrepreneurs' Happy Hour," pp. 107, 109-111. (Available from the NBIA Bookstore.)

Practices most represented among high-achieving programs are having a written mission statement, selecting clients based on cultural fit, selecting clients based on potential for success, reviewing client needs at entry, showcasing clients to the community and potential funders, and having a robust payment plan for rents and service fees. All of these practices are highly correlated with client success.

Excerpted from Lewis, David A, Elsie Harper-Anderson, and Lawrence A. Molnar, Incubating Success: Incubation Best Practices That Lead to Successful New Ventures, University of Michigan, 2011, p. 7.

For further information on marketing your incubation program and its clients, see:

  • Jackson, John Bradley. First, Best, or Different: What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know About Niche Marketing, Dog Ear Publishing, 2006, pp. 149-159.
  • Phillips, Jim, “Web 2.0: Using new media to reach tech-savvy entrepreneurs, NBIA Review, June 2008. This article is available free to members in the NBIA Archives or as a PDF Quick Reference document from the NBIA Bookstore ($5/members; $10/nonmembers).
  • Catalyst
    Creating an Effective Web Site
    Article about how to clarify the goals of your Web site, organize necessary information and implement consistent layout
  • SmartWebby
    Web Design Tips – Useful Tips for Effective Web Design
    Suggestions for creating a professional, high-quality Web site


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