Whoever said, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” was lying. If the world doesn’t know you have a better mousetrap, no one will be knocking on your door. To succeed, you have to tell the world about your offering -- you have to market.

On the other hand, marketing can become a black hole into which you throw your life savings with no return. Too many marketing and advertising companies have a suite of things they offer. They then try to sell this same suite of products to every prospective customer, without regard for whether your company will benefit from them.

Because the only tool they have is a hammer, everything’s a nail. Be wary of such firms. They are happy to take your money but have little to no concern for whether your business grows. In our opinion, it’s unethical.

Related: 4 Free or Inexpensive Ways to Help Your Business Stand Out

Dollars spent on marketing are an investment, but like any investment, there are good ones and bad ones. To be a good investment, marketing dollars must have a positive return. A dollar spent on marketing should return more than a dollar. In our experience, few marketing and advertising firms are willing to hold themselves to this standard -- find one that is.

Here’s a way to think about your marketing investment. First, you are going to need a few basics:

Business name

It may be a good idea to hire someone who knows what they are doing, but don’t pay for an exhaustive study. A few hours of a professional’s time and a couple of brainstorming sessions should be sufficient. If not, you hired the wrong person.

Business cards

In most businesses, without cards, you won’t be credible. You may want to get some help designing your cards, but don’t spend thousands of dollars. Shop around for a fair deal.

Letterhead and printed envelopes

Our advice is to get printed envelopes, but insist that your letterhead be electronic so that you can print it yourself. We let a marketing company sell us a printed letterhead and have probably used about one sheet per year. By the way, make sure that whoever develops the electronic version of your letterhead sets things up so that pages of your communication beyond the first one look good.

Related: 8 Great Ways to Get More Subscribers for Your Email List


Every business needs a website. Most people will check out your website before doing business with you or becoming your employee. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to explain your business proposition clearly and concisely.

Email address

Your business email address should be yourname@yourcompany’sURL.com. Don’t use a Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail account. It will hurt your credibility.

Beyond these basics, don’t spend money on marketing until you know the segment of the market you are targeting and the best way to reach them. Answer these three questions:

1. Why should a prospective customer buy my product or service rather than a competitor’s?

2. Is there a segment of the market that values the thing that differentiates my offering and is it large enough to support my business?

3. How will I reach this customer segment with my marketing message?

Only after you have clear answers to these questions can you put together a marketing plan that will have a positive return on your investment.

Related: Here's How to Make Sure Your Company Is Ready for Online Marketing