Editor’s note: Steve Henke is president of Harpeth Marketing, a Franklin, Tenn., marketing firm providing consulting and outsourced marketing services in the market research industry. He can be reached at 615-415-3980 or at steve@harpethmarketing.com.

One of the biggest challenges that the leaders of every small and medium-sized research firm face is finding the time to get everything done. We wear many hats and are pulled in many different directions. As a result, marketing and sales often suffer – pushed to the bottom of our priority list.

So what happens? After realizing that we're behind on business development, we decide to try something, like writing a blog. We get all excited about the benefits of blogging and commit to writing once a week, telling ourselves "That’ll be easy – it'll only take half an hour every Friday afternoon."

And for the first few weeks, it works great. Then work and life start to get in the way. You take a long weekend and miss a Friday. You've got an employee who needs disciplining and handle that on a Friday afternoon instead. Then a big project comes in from a major client and it's all hands on deck. Another blog post missed. That once-a-week blog is now once-a-month and before you know it, it’s completely forgotten.

One way to get back in the swing is not to commit to something big but to commit to something small. Something that you could literally do in 10 minutes a day. Here are five suggestions to help you get started.

1. Add connections on LinkedIn.

According to LinkedIn, there are over 200 million LinkedIn users worldwide, with 74 million of them in the U.S. We all know the value of being connected and engaging in conversations on LinkedIn and the more connections the better. Here are two tried-and-true ways not just to connect but to connect with high-quality, targeted professionals.

  • From your profile, click on People You May Know. It will take you to a page showing everyone with whom you share connections (even if it’s just one). Target those with the most shared contacts (50 or more) and connect with a note that reads “John, LinkedIn says that we have over XX shared connections. Maybe we should connect directly.” Or something to that effect!
  • Scan through the members of the LinkedIn Groups that you belong to and view the profiles of those you'd liked to connect with. Look for those that are in three or more groups with you and send a note that reads “John, it looks like you and I are in several of the same LinkedIn Groups together. Maybe we should connect directly.”

Both of these strategies work well simply because they aren’t coming out of left field; there's a legitimate reason why you would want to be connected to these people.

2. Engage in LinkedIn conversations.

In addition to building the number of LinkedIn connections you have, expand your reach in LinkedIn Groups too. The key is joining and participating in the groups where your clients are also members. Note: I said “where your clients are also members.”

Once a member, observe for a while to see what kind of conversations take place. When you’re comfortable, start participating – but never sell! Contribute only as someone who has something valuable to say that will advance the discussion. This can build awareness for you and your firm, as well as help position you as a subject-matter expert.

Later, consider starting conversations – real conversations. No sales pitches. No help-wanted conversations. When you stray from good, beneficial comments, your credibility will dwindle.

3. Industry and competitive intelligence.

What’s going on in the marketing research industry? How about in the vertical industries you serve? What are your top competitors up to? One of the things I do to stay on top of those issues is to subscribe to Google Alerts. Every day (or less often, if you choose), Google scours the Internet to find the latest posts that match my requests. Some of my current search queries include “marketing and sales,” “social media,” “marketing plans” and the names of a few key competitors and clients.

Then, every morning, when I get to the office and sit down with a cup coffee, I scroll through my Google Alert e-mails. It’s how I keep up with the latest news in our industry, find new ideas to write and blog about and come across interesting tidbits to share with clients and prospects.

4. Talk to your clients (and ex-clients).

We’re in business to serve our clients but sometimes we get so wrapped up in delivering services that we lose touch with what’s really important to them or why they came to us in the first place. The best way to get inside the heads of your clients (and even your ex-clients) is to pick up the phone and simply talk to them. Note: I prefer phone calls but you also accomplish some of this via surveys.

During these calls, don’t try to sell them anything. In fact, tell them the reason for your call is to understand their perspective on how your firm is doing so that you can continue to improve. Ask questions like:

  • What do we do right? What do we do wrong?
  • Where can we improve?
  • What are your biggest business challenges?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What do we do that’s unique?
  • Why do you buy from us? Why do you buy from others (and who)?
  • And my favorite wrap-up question: “If we could do just one thing differently that would improve your experience with us, what would that be?”

Commit to talking to just one client each week and see what a difference it makes.

5. Run Google Analytics on your Web site and blog.

I’m writing this article from my favorite coffee shop on a Saturday morning. Every week I come here to work on my business and take care of some things not directly involved in serving clients. One of those things is running Google Analytics on my Web site.

Every week, these metrics help me understand how many people visited my Web site and blog, how long they stayed, what interested them the most, where they came from and so on. I record the key metrics on a simple spreadsheet so I can track and trend them over time. By paying attention, I can make changes to my Web site structure, keywords, content and marketing efforts that will further increase Web site traffic and stickiness.

For example, I know which of the marketing articles I’ve written are most popular. In fact, there is one from last year that still gets the most visits to this day. That tells me I need to write more articles similar to that one as a way to increase traffic. Note: Keep an eye on how many visitors come to your Web site from a handheld device – it might be time for you to create a mobile-optimized Web site.

One bite at a time

So there you have it: five ideas for doing a little something every day. Remember the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Pick one thing from the above list and go do it! Keep it up every day for 10 minutes. It’s amazing how fast you’ll make progress. You’ll also find that 10 minutes might increase to 15 or 20 and pretty soon you’ll begin another of the tasks.

Good luck and good marketing.