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Conversations With a Teen Entrepreneur

Conversations With a Teen Entrepreneur

Ben Cathers shares his tips and tactics for successfully marketing your business.

Devlin Smith, Entrepreneur

Ben Cathers was just 12 when he started his first business, a Web marketing and advertising firm geared towards teenagers that eventually grew into two offices and 10 employees. Not ready to stop there, Cathers also launched a nationally syndicated radio show, again with teenagers as his target audience.

Now 19 and a student at the Boston University School of Management, Cathers is launching his third venture, a software company that recently raised a round of venture capital. He’s also written Conversations with Teen Entrepreneurs (iUniverse Inc.), a book of discussions about business topics-from marketing to funding-with experienced teenaged businesspeople.

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Because marketing in particular is such a crucial part of business success, we decided to speak with Cathers about it, focusing on some of the common mistakes teen entrepreneurs make in order to learn the essentials of successful marketing.

Q: Is there one main marketing mistake you see teen entrepreneurs making over and over?

Ben Cathers: The main thing I see is, [entrepreneurs] just not knowing who their customers are, not knowing who they’re marketing to, not knowing what they want. Sometimes entrepreneurs take the cheapest route possible thinking, “Marketing is marketing,” but I’ve seen a lot of people who have skimped on their marketing budgets and have had just absolutely no results [compared to] the people who put a little extra out. You can buy ads online, just a general ad that will appear on any site that’s not that expensive, and think, “I’m marketing, I’m advertising. Obviously, I’m doing well.” But if you do that, you don’t know who your customers are-you’re just doing blind ads.

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If you don’t know who your customers are, if you don’t know how you’re going to market to them or what they want, then there’s absolutely no way to reach them. I had somebody on my radio show advertise once. He was representing an eye care company, and he bought the ad because we offered him a good package, but he didn’t get any sales, and he complained to us and I said, “Look, you knew that all the people listening to the show were teenagers. You marketed a product toward 45-year-olds-there’s obviously not going to be a connection.” Mistakes like that are what really hurt people in marketing.

Q: How can teen entrepreneurs figure out who their marketing should target?

Cathers: They should first develop a marketing plan-they should really research who their customers are and see what they’re doing. If they’re targeting teenagers, they have an advantage because they know how they get their information: They know that teenagers don’t really click on online ads, that they look more at magazines, that they like getting fliers handed out to them.

If they’re marketing to adults, they need to do some research. For example, if they’re marketing to 25- to 30-year-olds, [they need to determine how] they’d rather get their messages: Would they rather get them through a magazine, through TV, through radio? They need to research that target market first to understand what influences them-is it word of mouth, should you start a guerilla marketing campaign where you have people telling them what to do, should you do a push campaign or a pull campaign. If you don’t research your target market and you don’t know how you [should be] marketing, the probability of it working is low.