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The biggest mistake many new businesses make is to fail to plan their marketing strategy in advance and set aside funds for the purpose, according to Don Schilling, president of Schilling-Sellmeyer & Associates Inc.

Often small businesses become so engrossed in their building, finances, supplies and merchandise that they overlook the need to earmark money for marketing, Schilling said. But, once they begin to think about a program, it's hard to decide where to spend those precious dollars.

One good thing a business owner can do in advance is to seek consultation with a reputable ad agency, Schilling stated. He pointed out that agencies realize many businesses do not have the budget to hire a professional for their entire campaign, but most agency principals are willing to sit down with the business owner and offer advice for a nominal one-time consultation fee.

"It's important to get an opinion from someone who has no stake in the business," Schilling said. Along with the outside opinion, the business owner should go further, stepping outside of himself or herself and looking at the business from a consumer viewpoint.

To begin a marketing plan, the business must first do some research, look at the demographics and identify the segment of the market that would use the product or service, Schilling said.

For example, if you only have 300 potential customers, there's no need to reach 30,000. A business with a limited specific clientele probably doesn't need mass-media coverage, Schilling said.

"Common sense is a good approach," he added.

In reaching a special segment of the market, Schilling mentioned that clubs and associations with an interest in the product or service are a good source of potential customers.

Direct mail may be beneficial, but control is important to get the most from it. If the target market is 1,000, start with a sampling of 50 and follow up on those before moving to the next step.

Phone surveys can also be helpful when introducing a new or innovative product that has special appeal to a select group.

For a new company, market research can be done in a number of ways. Though time-consuming, most of them are cost-free, according to John Scroggins, director of public relations at Noble & Associates.

The library is an excellent source for secondary research to establish the broad scope of potential buyers when determining the target market, he said.

Government studies, graphs and tables are available to show who makes the food- or clothes-buying decisions in households, for example.

The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce is a great source for finding people in similar businesses who are not direct competitors, but can share marketing experiences with new business owner, Scroggins said.

The chamber also has a trained, highly knowledgeable staff to assist business owners with questions and direction, he added.

Scroggins said joining civic organizations and getting involved in the community is a good way to make oneself known.

Choose organizations whose members have a need for the product or service, or that reaches the target market through its membership, he said.

"Look for opportunities to get your product in the hands of the user," Scroggins said.

Scroggins said the Internet is a good place to do research, but he cautioned against using the 'Net for advertising for businesses with a local market.

Mail-order businesses are doing well on the 'Net, but all the results are not in yet as to the success of businesses developing home pages just to have a presence, Scroggins said.

If a local business wants to get its name out there, it's best to link up with a like-kind group or local bulletin board, Schilling said.

Both Schilling and Scroggins said the research and planning can make the difference in the success of the local business.

It is imperative for the business that is reaching outside the local area to do business.

The advertising program should

be well thought out and multi-functional, with alternatives figured into the picture.

"Don't put all your eggs in one basket," Schilling said.

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