Harpist Heather Keller from Washougal, WA, and marketing and strategic branding consultant Debbie Laskey from Los Angeles, CA
Starting a business when the economy is down can be difficult, but starting a business in a niche industry can be daunting at any time. Just ask harpist Heather Keller, who performs music for funerals and memorials. Fortunately, when she connected with mentor Debbie Laskey in September 2012, Heather was an eager entrepreneur ready to tackle whatever challenges came her way.
“Starting a business takes courage, dedication, and persistence,” Heather says. “There is a delicate balance between staying true to one’s own vision while utilizing smart tools that will allow a business the opportunity to thrive.”
Debbie, a brand marketing strategist in Los Angeles, begins all her mentoring relationships the same way—by asking the mentee to provide five objectives for the mentorship.
In this case, Heather, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist based near Portland, Oregon, wanted to build her business and brand in the following ways:
- Networking with funeral directors to create a steady referral stream for engaging the service of harp music during funerals and memorials.
- Partnering in some capacity with funeral homes to become a preferred vendor.
- Creating a presentation for use at conventions to show the impact of harp music at funerals.
- Building a website.
- Starting a marketing campaign featuring word of mouth and social media.
Together, Heather and Debbie developed a branding campaign with letterhead, envelopes, business cards, and brochures with a look and feel appropriate to funeral homes and their clients.
“Every entrepreneur is unique, so it’s critical to get to know what makes someone tick before applying cookie-cutter business development or marketing strategies,” Debbie says. “Heather has an amazing drive combined with talent in a very unique niche. I wanted to make sure that her unique attributes as an individual and musician were obvious in all of her marketing outreach.”
This outreach includes more traditional elements, such as consistent branding across all promotional material and an enhanced website and social media presence, as well as clever personalized touches, such as leaving behind memorable chocolate harps when Heather visits a potential client. Since implementing the campaign, Heather has networked with 14 funeral homes that now promote her services and now receives a steady stream of referrals for memorials.
What’s more, on Debbie’s suggestion, Heather expanded her outreach efforts to include weddings and other special events. She also developed a specific section on her website and other focused marketing materials to incorporate these new business avenues.
What began with a list of business goals has developed into mentoring relationship that continues to this day—more than a year later. Debbie praises her mentee’s efforts, saying that Heather “has built a brand that lives up to her objectives.”
“Debbie has a refined lens through which she is able to see the potential of a business and thus can support the cultivation of systematic, step-by-step growth,” Heather says. “As an entrepreneur, it has been incredibly valuable to listen and learn from Debbie’s deep well of expertise. In each conversation, there has been a sensation that together we are mining for the gems.”