Marketing on a Budget

Web ad designed by Affinity Express

Web ad designed by Affinity Express

When you are a small- to medium-sized business, you have a few options when it comes to marketing your company:

  • Hire an agency—“No way, that’s too expensive!”
  • Do it yourself design—“That takes so much time and I’d have to learn different software for all the online and print vehicles!”
  • Don’t do anything—“Yeah, I’m sure potential clients will find out about my company by telepathy and break down my door to buy my products and services!”

Many Affinity Express clients are large companies that provide services to small- to medium-sized businesses who are often challenged because they have limited resources for marketing—small teams, low budgets and a lack of expertise, especially when it comes to newer interactive tactics. So, as a company, we understand the problems.

But as a professional, I live with this every day.

The Dilemma

When I joined the company, and for several years afterward, “the Marketing Department” was Kelly Glass. My budget covered a salary and almost nothing else.

There was one time in 2006 that I was able to hire an agency. We had to design a new logo, letterhead, envelopes, business cards, web pages and a brochure. The only way I was able to make it work with the amount I had to spend was to: 1) build a strong relationship with the agency and ask for a lot of favors (while responding by serving as a regular reference and testimonial for them) and 2) do all of the writing myself and have our IT team implement the website.

In later situations, I didn’t have a budget but still had to get projects done on time. I tried another tactic: using our internal designers at Affinity Express. After all, we have a team of 900 professionals with expertise in more than 30 software programs. How could I not have the best looking materials in the world?

This was easier said than done. Understandably, our employees are always tied up serving paying clients whose work comes first. We are bound contractually by service-level agreements to deliver in defined turn times. I had to use whoever had a free moment on a given day, so there was no consistency while I was trying to build and strengthen a brand. That led to quite a few revisions and lots of frustration. On top of that, the turn times for me were “when we get a break in the action.” But how could I argue with putting our clients at the top of the priority list?

Yet, I had a sales team screaming for presentations, brochures, trade show materials, etc. There were also clients with the same demands of me because they need to promote our services to customers as their own.

Email designed by Affinity Express for a client

Email designed by Affinity Express for a client

The Solution

Thankfully, when he joined the company in 2008, CEO Ken Swanson agreed that we couldn’t continue to grow our base of clients without dedicating time and effort to marketing (beyond what I could do with my own two hands). As a result, we decided to make Marketing a client of Affinity Express just like all the others we serve.

Today I work virtually with a dedicated team member in Manila. You’ve heard of Melchizedek Fernandez before and I can’t say enough good things about his work and dedication. Yet, we have never met in person!

Placing Orders

I submit requests for new projects in our IDEA order management system anytime from anywhere. I can track the status, proof, upload and submit revisions in one easy-to-use portal. If and when files need to be updated six days or six months after they were created, I have what amounts to an archive of all my materials and just provide instructions referring to unique tracking numbers or file names.

Another benefit to this approach is that, when Mel is out sick or on vacation, another team member can jump in and provide support.


My contact with Mel is not limited to IDEA. We also speak through Skype, instant messaging and email to ask questions, clarify requests, change priorities and more. And there is a weekly Marketing team meeting because Unmana Datta, Mel and I get together to brainstorm and plan projects. By the way, Unmana is based in Pune, India, and has also never met Mel in person.

Dedicated Staffing

One of the reasons this approach works so well is that Mel is dedicated to marketing projects. He has become the keeper of the Affinity Express brand. As a result, I never have to tell him what colors to use, how to treat the logo or even what I look for when editing things like our PowerPoint presentations. This is a huge time-saver. Fortunately, I have more than enough work to keep Mel busy full-time. But if he worked on my projects and handled two other clients because the volumes were lighter, that would be just as effective for my purposes.

Having been in marketing my entire career, I can tell you that if you said to me ten years ago that I’d be working this way, I would have called you crazy. That’s why I understand there is skepticism and disbelief when we first engage new prospects, especially when dealing with marketing departments.


The typical objections I hear are:

  • “People in other countries can’t understand the style I’m trying to achieve here in Dallas, New York, Tecumseh, etc.”
  • “It would be too hard to communicate and explain what I need—I need to speak to someone face-to-face.”
  • “Transferring files would be too hard, especially for every new order.”
  • “I have very specific branding requirements and you can’t possibly get it right with so many other clients.”
  • “Once I see a first draft, I get new ideas or want to change things to see how they will look.”
  • “There is a huge range of support that I need.”

These are all very valid concerns and are the same ones I used to have. And I’m the first to admit you might encounter some of these obstacles, depending on the capabilities of the provider you choose.


  • A good provider trains their team members to understand North American design sensibilities and educational courses on regions, states/provinces, cities and more, as well as vertical markets, colors, fonts, holidays, sports and leisure, etc. With this information as a foundation and access to the Internet, research on local design trends is fast and easy.
  • Email, IM and free conversations remove geographic barriers. If you had all the money in the world to hire an agency, the personnel still would not be in your office and you’d have to call them most of the time. If you submit written instructions, samples and sketches you can quickly come to an understanding of requirements with a designer. Add to that an order management tool that walks you through all the minimum requirements for each product type and the system is foolproof.
  • The same order management tool should make transferring files fast and easy, while storing them along with finished products so they can be used later. Emails get lost and have size restrictions. Thank goodness there are better ways.
  • When it comes to revisions, you can certainly have an iterative process and go back and forth but doing so will come at a price because you will pay for each version. But with an outsourcing company, the initial cost of the design and five revisions will still be a maximum of one tenth what you would spend with a local agency or freelance professional. Take it from me, in time, you will actually become more efficient—there are very few projects any more that need more than two or three passes between Mel and me because I’m better at making decisions upfront and communicating, and he has great ideas and knows my preferences. I have too much to do to go back and forth between images, don’t you?
  • Another consideration is turn times. Do you have the ability to spend days or weeks working on a display ad or Facebook page? No, you’ve got to handle customer service, billing, new business and ten other things today. Once you experience turn times of 24 hours or less, you realize how much more you can get done and feel liberated.
  • Whatever you need to get done—Flash ads, video production, image editing and so on—a good provider will have the skills and capacity. No single person you hire could have the breadth of expertise of a company dedicated to marketing and advertising production. Even the best and most costly agencies often experience shortages in various skill sets.

Regardless of your business, you need to market to survive. Yes, you could do it yourself but that means you are not covering other important tasks. Even if you are in charge of marketing specifically, you should be focused on strategy, messaging, customer experience and the more high-level functions, not stuck fiddling around in Illustrator or Photoshop. Outsource the design and the headaches, and keep what you love to do. My growing base of internal customers have never been happier, I get the work done that my CEO and Board of Directors measure and value, and I enjoy my job much more since I became a client of Affinity Express.

About Kelly Glass
Kelly has been vice president of Marketing at Affinity Express for nine years now. She drives company strategy and all marketing activities.

2 Responses to Marketing on a Budget

  1. Pingback: Career Lessons from Kathryn Erskine’s “Mockingbird” « Affinity Express Blog

  2. Pingback: A Five-Step Recipe for Marketing Success « Affinity Express Blog

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