Those of you who are business owners know every investment you make in your company, including your people, is expected to yield a return. Just like financial investing, you have a number of options, and you select the one(s) that: 1) produce the highest return, or 2) address the highest priority needs. The yield you get from investing in your business may be more customers, higher quality or lower costs in producing the work, employees who stay with your business long term and build a future with you, or increased revenue. In any of these cases, it is critical to define what your expectations are for the return when the investment is made.

Nowhere is this concept more important than in the investments you make in marketing your business to potential customers. I have written several articles focused on conducting effective sales meetings, tracking sales activities, and proper call planning for meetings arranged by your business development employees. Their time is likely the largest single marketing investment you are making.

That being said, there are a variety of events and activities where you invest your money and your people’s time that may not be as closely scrutinized presently.

Much of your advertising today is focused on driving business to your website. Probably some of the largest investments you make in marketing your company are in website maintenance, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media, which are ultimately about expanding your network of business contacts, helping potential customers learn more about you and your business, and driving them to your website. The investments range from fees to host and support your website, ongoing SEO work (possibly including pay-per-click programs aimed at improving or maintaining your position in results for specific internet searches), and time involved in developing new website content and social media posts and capturing customer feedback and testimonials vital to helping sell potential customers on the quality and value of your care and service.

If you haven’t totaled the monthly or yearly amount you spend on your website, you need to. Then you need to assess the return you are receiving on that investment. You likely get a monthly traffic report from your website host and/or SEO provider, so you know how many visits were made to your website. Did any turn into business? The key piece of information missing is the number of phone calls you received from those visits. Without that data, you don’t know how effective your website is. You don’t know what the return is on all that investment. You need to be sure the people handling inbound calls are armed with an intake form or script that includes questions such as: “How did you find us?” or “Where did you hear about us?”

Recently published information regarding the updates that are constantly being made to the algorithms (a fancy name for complex formulas used by search engines like Google) employed by the various search engines reinforces that it is becoming more difficult for large organizations with big budgets to simply “buy” their rankings and there are new opportunities for companies like yours to benefit from building links on the web, leveraging social media, and making sure your website is responsive to the increasing number of searches originating from handheld devices.

You may be using other forms of advertising to increase your brand awareness, educate possible customers on the services you offer, and reach new markets. Whether that includes billboards, radio ads, TV spots, or sponsoring local events, teams, or organizations, you should have a semi-annual review process in place to look at the amount you invested and assess the amount of business and new customers that have resulted from that investment.

Don’t get me wrong here. I do not mean that, if you begin a series of radio ads in January, you should expect to have generated enough new business by May or June to justify the investment. It does take time for advertising messages to have an impact. You do have to be consistent in maintaining the messages and the level of exposure over a period of time if they are to be effective. That fact needs to be part of your budgeting when you are considering an advertising program of any kind.

The last category of marketing investment I’ll cover includes trade shows and networking events. In my experience, these events—and the money and time you invest in them—are most likely the biggest culprits when it comes to non-tracked and non-measured uses of resources. If you don’t clearly define WHY you are participating, it is likely you will 1) spend more time than is justified, or 2) not make the best use of your time in that you will not meet with the highest value prospects or network connectors—or both.

Like the other business development investments we’ve covered, you should expect a return on your investment of time (preparation, travel, participation and follow-up) and money (booth fee, membership dues, expenses, giveaways, travel, etc.). In these cases, the direct return is not measured in increased revenue or new customers. Your expectation, driven by the pre-event planning that is done, should be to initiate contact with specific attendees or a target number of organizations that meet predefined criteria. “I want to make contact with six new property management companies who are focused on managing multi-family residential properties in our market.” Notice the words “initiate contact.” These events are not designed for establishing relationships. They are intended to have enough of a conversation to engage a contact, establish an area of mutual interest, and obtain the information and commitment to follow-up with the person after the event. In a networking event, the objective may be as specific as having an existing contact provide an introduction to a specific prospect or networking contact. It’s also acceptable to have maintaining contact with people where a relationship already exists as part of your goal.

The measure of success here is in both the number of meaningful contacts made and the success rate in connecting with them after the event in order to have a more in-depth business discussion. Earlier, I mentioned “pre-event planning.” Setting objectives and expectations for each of these events (investments) is critical. If you or your business development employees don’t have clear objectives or don’t know what results are expected, odds are you won’t realize the maximum return on the invested time. Another consideration when evaluating the amount of time invested in local networking/Chamber of Commerce/community organization meetings and mixers is the opportunity cost. What could you or your employees be doing with that time that may be more productive? A three-hour networking event could have been six agent route stops or three scheduled meetings. Which of these options provides the most value for your business?

 “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” Begin by evaluating where your money and your people’s time are being invested. On what organizations, activities, advertising and selling efforts are you spending your money? What are the benefits and returns for your company? Establish planning and review processes, from weekly sales meetings to planning sessions ahead of every trade show or exhibit, to set expectations for results, and do a formal debrief afterward to assess actual performance and follow up. You may find there are some investments you are making where the returns will cause you to change your plans. There may be other activities where the benefits or returns are such that you will want to increase your investments. Marketing is a critical part of growing your business. Be sure you are making the best use of the limited resources you have available.