Living in a town that has a large university, a vibrant entrepreneurial community, and one of America’s national laboratories, I have lots of opportunities to meet people with big ideas. Here is how the conversation usually goes:

ME: I love your idea but it is really going to depend on an ability to scale quickly.

NEW BUSINESS HOPEFUL (NBH): Oh, that’s easy. We’ll just add more servers.

ME: No … I mean how are you going to get lots of people from all across the country to use your service?

NBH: Oh that won’t be a problem.   This is such a cool idea that everybody will want it.

… And it usually goes downhill from there.

I am absolutely amazed at how many great entrepreneurs have no marketing plan, no budget for marketing, not even a clue that they NEED marketing.

And it’s a shame because I LOVE helping people with a good idea, a vision, and passion. But all the passion in the world is not going to make you a dime without some notion of how you are going to market your product.

This is not a problem contained to my local community.  I find it everywhere I go. Last year at SXSW I did not meet one single start-up with a decent marketing plan. With a few notable exceptions, most economic development organizations and chambers struggle to provide meaningful, consistent marketing support for new business owners.

My friend, mentor, and teacher Peter Drucker famously said that a company is only marketing and innovation … everything else is overhead.  That is an extreme way to make an important point.  Without customers, you are nothing.

I spend a lot of time mentoring new business owners because I firmly believe this is what makes the economy tick.  There is no shortage of ideas.  Capital is tight but not impossible to find.  But how do these companies access the marketing expertise they need to be successful?

Chronic marketing problems for entrepreneurs:

  • They often don’t even know they have a problem.
  • They know they have a marketing problem but don’t have the budget to address it because it has all been spent on prototypes
  • They are bootstrapping and working two jobs so even if they know they have a problem they are too tired to do anything about it.
  • They’re not too tired to learn, but some people just naturally do not “get” marketing.
  • There are few reliable, inexpensive methods to get targeted, quality advice … at 2 a.m. when they need it!

It seems to me that a national foundation for entrepreneurial marketing could go a long way toward helping worthy start-ups along and the economy right with them. Maybe there is something like this now?

What do you think?  Are you helping small businesses succeed? What are some exceptional resources that you recommend?

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