5 things I learned while running a Marketing & Promotions Business

  • Oct 4, 2017

or...Avoid business potholes before they even show up

Over the past 40 years in marketing and promotional products, my partners and I have learned much about running a business – most of which we wish we had known before we began. So, if you’re just starting or experiencing bumps in the road, feel free to benefit from the top five lessons we have learned along the way! 

5.) Choose your business name wisely. Your company name will become synonymous with your brand. When we chose the name On Target Promotions we realized we would a lot to live up to: 



·         On Target customer service

·         On Target quality

·         On Target branding

·         On Target delivery

·         On Target value

·         Absolutely everything we do needs to be On Target.  

Before selecting your brand name, consider what you want your business to stand for. To arrive at the answer, ask yourself some questions:

Who is my target audience?

What is my market?

What are my business goals?

What will make my company stand out?


Entrepreneur Magazine offers these suggestions for developing a business name: “Naming a business is a lot like laying the cornerstone of a building. Once it's in place, the entire foundation and structure is aligned to that original stone. If it's off, even just a bit, the rest of the building is off, and the misalignment becomes amplified.”

The decision about what to name a company is so crucial, many entrepreneurs hire pricey naming agencies to conduct research and come up with a creative title for their startups. A lower cost option for this are crowdsourcing platforms such as SquadHelp, InkandKey, and NamingForce, which enable business owners to host competitions for business names, tag lines, logos and other marketing projects.

Thousands of freelancers across the globe compete by suggesting creative ideas. At the end of contest, the business owner selects the winning entry. The winner gets paid and the client benefits from the collective wisdom of creatives across the globe. 

4.) Get involved in your community. Wherever you are based, take time to develop partnerships on both sides of your business.

Corresponding Industry Associates: No one gets you like other professionals in your industry. Connect with each other in meaningful ways – digitally as well as in 3D. These relationships provide much needed provide support, advice, and potential opportunities for collaboration.   

Supplier Partners: In business as well as life, nothing beats a win/win scenario. Work hard to develop good relationships with supply partners who will have your back, grant favors when you need them, and value you as a person who will act in kind.  


Community and Target Market Associations: Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are too busy to take time to build relationships in your region and in target market associations. You might be surprised at the valuable reciprocity of referring clients, making timely payments, and volunteering along with people who would be just as happy and likely to take you to lunch as you would them.

3.) Put God and family first. Make sure you follow a worthy moral compass. When you face tough decisions about making more money or doing what is right for your clients or employees, this is where the rubber meets the road. Customers prefer working with companies that have a moral compass. So, while everyone may not understand the basis for some of your decisions, they will value your integrity and service-minded attitude. Employees prefer working for organizations that demonstrate high principles.


According to an article in World Economic Forum, Over recent years there has been a steady rise in the number of companies embracing purpose-led values to help them navigate this increasingly tricky business environment. Both traditional luxury brands and emerging newcomers are rethinking how they measure value and are, in-turn, achieving success by standing up for - and sticking to - principles.”

2.) Market, Brand and Advertise! (This is especially important when business and/or the economy are slow.) In 2008, when the U.S. seemed poised to head into the next depression, this piece in Forbes warned against the reflex of cutting marketing campaigns when business budgets are tight. 

The first reaction is to cut, cut, cut, and advertising is one of the first things to go,” says Wharton marketing professor Peter Fader, adding that as companies slash advertising in a downturn, they leave empty space in consumers’ minds for aggressive marketers to make strong inroads. Today’s economy ‘provides an unusual opportunity to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd, but it takes a lot of courage and convincing to get senior management on board with that.”


In 2008, we changed the marketing strategy for On Target Promotions to focus efforts on advertising and promoting to a core group of clients. This was while our competitors were closing their doors or doing was necessary to keep the lights on. We utilized the same or slightly lower ad budget to secure a core group of clients who have since accounted for 80% of our annual revenue.

1.) Enjoy what you do!

Because you spend so much time on the job, make sure it isn’t just a source of income. If you don't enjoy what you do, you'll end up missing out on the stuff of life. Studies show that people who love their jobs lead more fulfilling lives than their frustrated peers. As Mark Twain so aptly explained, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


Running your own business is not a 9-to-5 job. So, make sure feel a sense of purpose and a strong mission. This can come across even if you are selling promo products or “swag,” as some people refer to it, like On Target Promotions. We are on a mission. And that goal isn’t just to sell the cheapest widget or “make a sale” at any cost. Instead, what drives us is the desire to clients happy so happy they want to come back again. 

About the Author

Co-owner of On Target Promotions, Debbie Johnson has more than 40 years of experience in the field of marketing and promotional products. She was granted Lifetime Certification of the highest industry promotional products designation of MAS (Master Advertising Specialist) was recognized by PPAI (Promotional Products Association International) with the leadership award for service as awards committee chair, served as president of the American Marketing Association (AMA) Inland Empire, and currently serves as VP of E. Hills Bus. Council/ Riverside Chamber of Commerce

About On Target Promotions

OnTarget Promotions is a national promotional products agency based in Riverside, California. We help clients use promotional products along with other media to design and secure quality promotional programs that meet their goals and exceed their expectations. Since we believe nothing is a greater reflection of success than a repeat customer, everything we do is designed with our customer in mind. Your focus is our goal. Call (951) 682-8427 or email us to start your project today.