Shelton: Marketing should be priority No. 1

By Jennifer Shelton, director of Western Washington University’s Small Business Development Center

What is the one business function that brings in the money for the business to use? The accountant can argue that money management is the key to business success. The production people can argue that without a product there is nothing to sell. I argue that without proper marketing, there is no money to pay the accountant or buy the materials to make the product to sell.

Marketing is a priority. Other functions of business such as human resources, operations, sales, and technology all involve marketing to some extent.

Once you’re captured, in one sentence, what you sell and why a customer should choose your business, you’ve got your marketing message. This message provides purpose and direction for your employees and becomes a motivation and retention tool for human resource management.

The answer to why a customer should choose your business may be due to your extraordinary efficiency or service or pricing which are a result of good operations management. The operational plan of a business can become its competitive advantage. The competitive advantage of any business communicates to a customer the reason they should choose your business. That is part of a good marketing message.

Technology can also provide a competitive advantage in a business by contributing to efficient operations or to exceptional management of customer relationships. Customer service is the follow up on the marketing message. You don’t want to lose the customer once you’ve got them in front of you. Take advantage of the many tools available online that can support customer relationship management and keep the sales flow going.

Internet technology provides a host of vehicles to get your marketing message to groups of people instead of just one at a time. Part of marketing planning is to identify what the best vehicle is for your message and how to use that vehicle to generate sales.

Part of the priority of marketing is to keep at it and keep learning. An athlete doesn’t stay on top of his or her game by sitting on the sidelines and just watching. They keep working out on a regular basis and learning new techniques to stay on top of their game.

It’s the same way in marketing. You’ve got to keep sowing your seeds (marketing message) and tending to the garden (your customers), or what you have planted will get lost in the weeds that will grow up and take over.

Many small business owners will tell you that access to training, mentors and networking opportunities with like-minded people are critical to building knowledge for the continued success of their business.

A great learning opportunity is coming up on Sept. 9 and 10 at Whatcom Community College. Visit for more information. I encourage you to take a look at the bios of the instructors and keynote speakers to get a sense of the possibilities of what you could learn for your business.

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