Asked & Answered: Marketing Multiple BusinessesJune 24, 2008
QUESTION: Your Oct. 30, 2007, article described people who run multiple businesses. My problem is a little different. I am a freelance writer offering business- and career-writing services. Last year, I also started a direct-sales business (selling health and wellness products). How do I incorporate the range of services I offer under one umbrella and market it in a way that is cost-effective, but not confusing to the client? What business name should I consider? —Gloria Brown, Menifee, Calif.
ANSWER: Essentially, you want to be a one-woman conglomerate, tying together seemingly unrelated businesses into one neat package. Even big-name companies with lots of marketing muscle (think Altria (MO), Time Warner (TWX) and Tyco (TYC)) have run into trouble doing this successfully at times.
As a small-business owner with limited resources, you'll face even more challenges. The biggest hurdle? Explaining to potential customers what it is, exactly, that you're selling. "To get momentum, you really have to narrow your message, so someone says 'Oh, I get that, you're talking to me,'" says John Jantsch, a marketing coach and founder of Duct Tape Marketing in Kansas City, Mo. "When you start adding things on, it starts getting hard to explain to people what you do."
Of course, many entrepreneurs tack on a new line of products or
services to complement an existing business — and, in some cases, that
works well. For instance, a popular restaurant might open up a kitchen
store that sells appliances, cookbooks and food items that would
logically appeal to its customer base. But when the two businesses are
dissimilar, it's the "classic sushi bar and bait shop" scenario,
Jantsch says. "That's always going to be a challenge."
Some entrepreneurs dig deep to find a link. When Cindy Light wanted to combine her two services — she's a fashion consultant, plus an expert on Chinese business etiquette — she turned to a business-name expert for help. Alexandra Watkins, founder of Eat My Words, a San Francisco firm that specializes in memorable names, reasoned that both services help make Light's clients look like superstars, both personally and professionally. So she suggested that Light use her evocative last name to tie the services together. Light has since named the business Cindy Light and plans to use the tagline "Making you shine" in her marketing materials.
Unfortunately, in your case, there appear to be too few links between your professional-writing services and your direct-sales business. "I can't imagine a way to combine these two together, and for it not to be confusing," Watkins says. As many conglomerates have found, trying to operate unrelated businesses under one big heading can lead to customer confusion — and make it difficult to focus resources and manage the company effectively. For the time being, you might try building both businesses separately, and if it's too draining on your time, energy and bottom line to do both, "then just make a determination which one you really think has the best potential," Jantsch advises.
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