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I had the opportunity recently to attend a seminar led by an experienced marketer. He shared practical information, told interesting war stories and occasionally made some eyebrow-raising point, a conviction he wanted to be sure we ingested, digested and thoroughly embraced. My brain snagged on these points like a wool sweater on a wooden fence and spun off in a dozen random directions as I attempted to mentally weave the mess back into something sensible.
One of the statements that succeeded in unraveling in my brain came up when a fellow attendee asked, “If you have a brand new business, where do you start?” Our Dear Leader’s response can be summed up in a few sentences:
- Get a website, even if you have to put “Coming Soon” on it.
- Get business cards, and make sure your web address is on them.
- Get a tri-fold brochure as long as it looks like it goes with your business cards.
He punctuated it with the following: “Something is better than nothing.”
Nods all around, but for me it began to unravel. So I chased that statement down, wound it up, mashed it together, stuffed it into a ball and decided that Something can sometimes be worse than Nothing. Then I thought, “Wow, what a good topic for a blog!” And here we are. Today I’d like to challenge you to consider times when Nothing is, indeed, a better option, and how Something can come back to haunt you.
Your Website: Do Nothing, Unless It’s Something Constructive
I’ll concede one point: register a domain name. If you can register your business name, great. If not, work out an appropriate alternative. (Want some more advice on that? Visit our How to Find and Buy a Domain Name series.) Domain names are inexpensive and you should claim yours before someone else does.
However, do not put up a “Coming Soon” page and most certainly do not advertise your site if it’s a Coming Soon page. This is unprofessional and will not add one iota of credibility to your business. It may, in fact, make you look like the inexpert new business you are. The last thing you want to do when you’re just starting out is to reinforce your inexperience.
Even established businesses make this mistake, especially when starting out on the web. If you’ve been in business for ten years and finally decided to build a web presence, then good for you. But if you’ve lived ten years without a website you can live a few weeks or months longer until you have one worth sending prospects to.
If a prospect asks about your website, you can simply say you don’t have one yet. Don’t fall all over yourself apologizing and then direct them to your useless Coming Soon page. A confident lack of a website is much better than a feeble, apologetic one.
Here’s my (very strong) opinion: a Coming Soon page is unprofessional. It’s unhelpful. It wastes your prospects’ time by directing them to something without substance and value. It makes you look bad.
The verdict? Nothing is definitely better than something, until you can come up with something that effectively represents your business.
Your Business Cards: Do Something, But Nothing Stupid
Business cards are not that hard to do, but pretty easy to do wrong. (Want to keep your business cards out of the trash? Yet another post begging to be read.) When it comes to business cards, you really should have something. Even babysitters have business cards these days, and as long as yours doesn’t look like it belongs in the adorable Hello Kitty purse of a twelve-year-old, then something is better than nothing.
Imagine you’re waiting for a table at your favorite restaurant and you strike up a bar-side conversation with someone. They ask what you do, you happen to be a photographer, they want someone to take photos of their Chihuahuas for their holiday cards, and next thing you know you’re pulling a business card out of your wallet… oh wait, you didn’t get business cards printed? So now what, you scribble your email address on the back of a coaster? Even a less-than-stellar business card is better than a ballpoint and a coaster.
However! Before you print business cards, I want you to imagine that very same scenario and consider the impression you will make when you hand across a card that’s flimsy, blurry, cluttered, full of generic clipart, shot off your inkjet and cut into individual cards with a pair of kitchen scissors. Is that the first (and probably only) impression you want to make on someone? Before you run off to the nearest printer or leave your brand and image to an online vendor, think about what you want the card to say about your business, how it reflects on your professionalism and whether it’s more likely to earn you business or snickers.
The verdict? Get something, but don’t treat it as nothing.
Your Brochures: Something Might As Well Be Nothing
Brochures are a nice supplemental piece, and if you’ve got a specific focus in mind then they can be a good marketing tool. But they’re not an essential component, especially if you’ve got a website (and not a Coming Soon page). Many businesses treat their website as an online brochure. It’s not. Conversely, they grab an abbreviated snippet of their “About Us” page and slap it onto a tri-fold. That’s useless, and by useless I mean a waste of your energy and marketing dollars.
A brochure is not a throwaway. You don’t need to have something “to give someone”. Many a business has survived without every printing a single brochure. Before you spend time and money on one, think about why you need it. If you want a hand-out, you’re better off creating something original. If you’re doing a direct mailing, you’re definitely better off creating something original. If it’s “just to have something” then you don’t need it.
If you do have a brochure, it should indeed look like your business card. In fact, every bit of marketing collateral that you create should have a consistent look, style, color palette and tone.
During the course of twelve years in business, we’ve printed brochures (and neither the standard tri-fold) only twice – both within the past two years. They were part of a marketing campaign and we created content for them that didn’t exist on our website or anywhere else. The brochures had a purpose. If you choose to print brochures, they should have a purpose, too.
The verdict? Nothing is fine, unless you want it to be something.
My brain has since re-raveled all the wool in that particular snag and I come down squarely on the side that Something isn’t always better than Nothing. That kind of thinking leads to laziness and shortcuts. It convinces us that what we’re doing is “good enough” and ignores the fact that we should be striving for excellence in all we do. Mediocre businesses may survive. But excellent businesses succeed. Consider everything you do to be a reflection of your business, your image and your vision and treat it all as Something.
What do you think? Would you rather have “Something”, whatever the result?