The Top 5 Reasons to go Above and Beyond with your Annual Report

Earlier in the year, we produced an article about best practices used when creating an annual report, “Short, Simple, and Sweet – Rules for Effective Annual Reports.” Today’s article goes into further detail about why you should follow those best practices and how to take your organization’s report to the next level.

Consider going above and beyond because:

1. It’s a reflection of your organization’s strength

  • Originally annual reports were created to inform investors about the financial health and viability of a company through financial documents and strategic goals. They continue to serve in this capacity to this day but have evolved into a much more complex combination of documents due to SEC regulations and best practices. Now 82% of companies include narrative content in order to build rapport with readers (Deloitte). Companies do this because they realize the impact annual reports can have on potential supporters and want to stay ahead of their competition. To further reinforce this fact, many nonprofits have adopted producing annual reports for their supporters—making it a critical part of their marketing strategy.

2. Brand reinforcement

  • Your brand is more than just your organization’s logo and business cards. Branding is also about your organization’s culture, attitude, and the effect it has on its target market/community. When aligned with your organization’s branding, an annual report is an excellent vehicle for showcasing what your organization is passionate about, how it goes about doing its business, and what separates it from the rest of the herd.
  • Following a consistent theme—with text, photos, layout and color scheme—will drive your organization’s brand home with readers and shows them that your organization is on top of its game. It also gives them a good idea of what your organization’s momentum will be like in the future.

3. It provides clarity to current supporters

  • Investing in your organization’s annual report so that it is easily accessible and easy to read is critical. According to a study by Deloitte on annual report trends, “only 14% of readers felt companies produced a cohesive (annual) report,” leaving 86% of readers feeling the report was disorganized and up to the reader’s interpretation. Now, what if your organization could capture half of those readers who didn’t understand and draw them into supporting your organization? Even if your organization only gets a fraction of that 86% your organization would still be attracting a considerable amount of new supporters/investors. (Deloitte).

(Pro Tip: Using pictures and captions that are in line with the overall theme of your report enables readers to skim through it and still understand what your organization does and what its impact is).

4. It showcases the human side of your organization

  • For larger companies, annual reports are a rare opportunity to showcase the men and women that work behind the scenes. Having a human face attached to your report creates empathy with readers and reminds them that your organization is not just a well-oiled machine, but also an organization of people united towards improving the lives of other people—and that in itself is an incredibly powerful message.

5. It highlights social changes that your organization rallies behind.

  • Taking #4 a step further, modern annual reports can include information about your organization’s environmental impact, executive compensation and other relevant social issues. In fact according to an article in Forbes, 52% of Fortune 100 companies include social responsibilities in their 2010 reports. They do this because, when it is done well, it can have a positive effect on their organization’s brand and on its bottom line.

Here are collection of reports that were big hits in 2013: Show Me. For more information on annual reports go to our News and Tidbits for the rest of our series and more marketing tips and trends for nonprofits and associations.

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3 Short, Simple, and Sweet Rules for Effective Annual Reports

Association Coffee GraphicIt’s that time of the year again when nonprofit staffs eat a lot of pizza in the conference room and drink a lot of lattes during late night breaks to produce their annual reports. In honor of all of those marketing coordinators, membership directors, and executive directors who are working tirelessly to convey a year’s worth of effort and make sense of a 5-year marketing plan in a few amazing paragraphs, here are some tips for creating an effective annual report that attracts new members and donors in 2014.

1. Keep it Short

Annual Reports—just like any other piece of marketing material—are designed to convey a message to their readers. Don’t include material that might dilute your message? You want to quickly and easily engage readers, explain what you do, and convince them that your organization is worth contributing to.

(Pro Tip: The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” holds particularly true regarding annual reports. Images and infographics are nice way of keeping your content short and streamlined and still convey a lot of information.)

2. Keep it Simple

Fortunately, nonprofits aren’t stuck with all of the SEC requirements that their for profit counterparts have to deal with, but that doesn’t stop non-profits from unknowingly cluttering up their annual reports. Organizing and labeling key sections, combined with simple language (around an 8th grade level is recommended), and summaries at the beginning of each section will allow readers to pour through the text heavy sections of your organization’s report quickly and efficiently.

(Pro Tip: Infographics can be a great tool when utilized properly but having infographics for the sake of just having them is considered clutter. (Yes, even if they look really cool). If you use infographics in your report, make sure their designs are in-line with your message and that they convey information that emphasizes the theme of your report.)

3. Keep it Sweet!

There are a myriad of great nonprofits that are working hard to improve our society—so why should readers donate to, or volunteer for yours? Convincing readers to commit to your cause is no easy task. Here are some tips to make it a little easier.

• Tell a story that is centered on the impacts your organization has on people and the community. Show them the results your organization achieved.

• Create a world for readers to dive into by using pictures and testimonials of the people whose lives your organization has changed.

• Remember to highlight the human element of your organization’s work. Images, quotes and stories from volunteers and staff will go a long way towards connecting readers to your cause, as well as enhance your organization’s image.

A simple and great example of this, that is often seen on Facebook, are the before and after photos of dogs that have been rescued by the local humane society. In only a few seconds, viewers can see the dramatic difference the humane society has made on that dog’s life. Parallels can be found in almost any organization.

Short, Simple and Sweet, if your nonprofit follows these three tenets you are well on way to producing a great annual report. Many organizations struggle with principle one and two because they get lost in their passion for their cause. In these circumstances, it’s a good idea to hire outside content developers and designers. They will ensure that your message and passion gets across, without any unnecessary clutter.

That is it for today but for more marketing tips and trends relating to Annual Reports keep it locked on True Creative Services. Check back in next week for our “ARTICLE TITLE.”

 

 

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Nonprofits, How Do you Rank on These Three Influential Websites?

Association Rating GraphicWith annual reports coming out soon, many nonprofits are spending a great deal of time, energy and money developing and strengthening their brand messaging and image for this year. They will be taking care that their reports convey their desired theme and checking that their social media and other marketing materials are aligned. But have they considered that social media is more than what they publish online about themselves? It’s also what others say about them

Have you updated your organization’s profile on these up-and-coming information hubs for nonprofits?

1.    GreatNonprofits (www.greatnonprofits.org)
This website is like Yelp for nonprofits. Founded in 2007, this nonprofit is dedicated to helping potential volunteers or donors connect with nonprofits that are making an impact. Users can rate their experiences of over 1.8 million nonprofits. Since its founding, GreatNonprofits has collected over 170k reviews from users and that number keeps on growing. If you haven’t already, we recommend you check your organization’s reviews to see if they are in-line with your perception and your organization’s mission.

2.    GuideStar (www.guidestar.org)
GuideStar is another nonprofit dedicated to informing people about other nonprofits efficacy, financial information, and objectives. GuideStar is unique in that it collects 990 Forms (Mandatory IRS Form) and publishes that information to their website. Users can then look up financial information for any nonprofit that completed these forms and evaluate how well they are serving their mission. GuideStar’s website also includes information on each organization’s missions and specific campaigns they are running. Nonprofits can then update their profiles with new campaign information and financial data. Unfortunately, a quick search will reveal that many nonprofits have not taken the opportunity to do so and are likely missing out on some savvy donors.

3.    Philanthropedia (www.myphilanthropedia.org)
While GuideStar is concerned with relaying financial and operational information to users, Philanthropedia (a division of GuideStar) takes this one step further by giving its users recommendations, helping them decide which nonprofits to support. It is a win-win for both sides. The upside for users is that they get easy-to-understand recommendations regarding which nonprofits to support and nonprofits benefit in that they get free evaluations and recommendations regarding how to increase their effectiveness in the future.

Transparency and efficacy are becoming the determining factors that potential donors and volunteers are looking at when it comes to deciding which nonprofits to support. Like Yelp and LinkedIn, these websites are likely to become go-to stops when evaluating which nonprofits to support—so best get ahead of the curve and start building your organization’s online reputation now!

For more marketing tips and trends for associations and nonprofits, check back next week for “3 Short, Simple, and Sweet Rules for Effective Annual Reports.”

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5 Reasons Why Your Organization Should Produce an Annual Report

Annual Report Chameleon GraphicModern annual reports are economical marketing chameleons streamlined for readability, accessibility and branded in-line with an organization. Public companies produce them as a way to laud successes and present the numbers. But many nonprofits also consider them to be a major element of a successful marketing campaign and produce them every year—even when they have no obligation to do so.

If your organization has not produced an annual report yet, here are 5 reasons you should start:  

1.    Demonstrate your Organization’s Accomplishments
An annual report is an amazing vehicle for showing current and future supporters why your organization is great. Your organization’s report should focus on the impact it has had on its community and relate that as a story so that readers resonate with it on a personal level. Using photos of your team in action and testimonials from those who benefitted from your organization’s work are effective ways of achieving this without taking up a lot of space.

2.    Celebrate Supporters
Regardless of who is supporting your organization, whether it is volunteers for or donors for non-profits or investors for publically owned companies, you will want to thank them in one way or another. Your branded annual report can tell the perfect story. The report is one of the best methods of saying thanks because it shows what you have accomplished throughout the year with their contribution—working to reaffirm their decision to support you again this year.

3.    Show Financial Accountability and  Organizational  Strength
People who are supporting—or considering supporting—your organization, want to know that their money is being spent effectively and responsibly. In the case for nonprofits they also want to know that your organization has a strong financial base and their money will be reaching the community. This is where financial figures are essential. Make sure that the financials provided are easy to understand and provide explanations written in layman’s terms for those who are less quantitatively inclined.

(Pro-tip: Financial figures accompanied by an infographic are effective tools for conveying a lot of complicated information, clearly and in a small amount of space. They also help break up the monotony of page after page of financials.)

4.    Fundraising
Like any piece of marketing, you should seek a return on investment. Keep in mind the return may not be dollars but rather awareness or an increase in volunteers. This is where your organization going above and beyond in creating a compelling annual report shines through. A compelling report creates excitement for your organization, solidifies current supporters and attracts new ones.

5.    SEC Regulations
If you are a publically traded company you should know this already, but in the rare chance this is news to you—sorry, you have to produce these for your investors. If this is the first year you are producing an annual report for your organization you should check out the SEC guidelines here.

When done properly, annual reports are effective tools that all nonprofits and associations should be utilizing in order to retain and capture supporters. In a single document, your organization can envelop readers in your mission, by highlighting the impact your organization has on its community, showing its strength and celebrating the men and women who make it all happen. Check back next week for more information on association and nonprofit marketing trends and tips.

Be sure to check back in next week for our next article for non profits and associations “Nonprofits, How Do you Rank on these Three Influential Websites?”

 

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Non-Profit and Association Marketing and Communication Trends 2014

AssociationChartSPT and True recently reached out to over 100 associations and non-profits headquartered in the metro Washington D.C. area, in order to determine how the slow economic recovery and rise in new technologies have affected marketing communication strategies over the past three years and expectations for 2014. Our association and non-profit sample included organizations with both national and international members in a variety of professions and industries.

As expected, and as seen in other industries, the down economy and the rise of digital media have caused some serious changes in the way associations and non-profits approach communications.

The Long Road to Recovery

Our survey found that approximately 60% of associations and non-profits felt their organization was negatively effected in some way in the last three years.

Fifty percent felt a dramatic impact due to some regulatory change in their industry including the Affordable Care Act. The other 50% attributed the impact to purely economic forces.  One communications director we surveyed stated that, “Financial constraints on our constituents have resulted in the loss of over 25% of our members,” highlighting the fact that many organizations will be facing a lean year in 2014.

Success GraphicA Bright Future

Fortunately, this isn’t the case for all non-profits and associations. Forty percent felt little to no impact in that last few years and do not foresee any major impacts in the near future.  In fact, 71% of all the associations and non-profits surveyed believed that next year will be the same or better than the previous three. Only 14% stated that they believe it will be significantly worse in 2014. The other 15% only believed it would be slightly worse.

Further evidence of non-profits and associations’ resiliency is indicated by the number of major events they plan on holding and the number of materials associations and non-profits plan on producing in 2014. Over 90% of the organizations surveyed said that they would make no changes to the number of major events—held at an average of two per year. They also plan on maintaining the same quantity of marketing materials produced per year—at an average of twenty pieces annually per organization. Sixteen percent plan to add new content into to their rotation in 2014.

BudgetSqueezeBudget Squeeze

Association and non-profit budgets will not being staying the same. Fifty-seven percent anticipate operating with a reduced budget in 2014, with the other 43% maintaining their budget from 2013.  Of the organizations with decreasing budgets, 40% attributed it to the lower production costs that are associated with digital materials. The other cause of decreasing budgets is financial hardship—40% cited this for their organization’s reduced budget in 2014. The remaining 20% is due to shifting marketing material production to an in-house team.

Associations and non-profits need to adapt to a changing environment, but one thing they must not do is skimp on the quality of their marketing materials. Brian Hefner, Director of Membership and Business Development for the Truck Renting and Leasing Association, says, “Over the past few years, we have seen our associate members pull-back or eliminate their marketing through the association due to the economy. However, most others stuck with their marketing programs, even during tough financial times. Many of those that stuck with their marketing budgets are thriving today, while the others that did not, have to rebuild their marketing programs aimed at our regular members.”

Brian’s message is one that we truly believe in as well. Organizations cannot let up on marketing efforts even when faced with financial uncertainty or constrained budgets. What is the saying again, “Doing more with less?”

GroupCommunicationEffective marketing is what connects members to the associations and non-profits they choose to belong. This connection should be strengthened in order for support to continue. High-quality marketing and communications materials such as a user-friendly, mobile-ready website, social media strategy, and flagship industry newsletter or magazine draw individuals into your cause, creating enthusiasm and commitment to your organization. Poor quality marketing materials and a disjointed communication’s strategy or a lack of any strategy, do the opposite by diluting your message or worse, turning an important cause into spam that gets passed over completely and is forgotten.

Robert Garber, Director of Marketing for the Cato Institute underscores the importance of high quality, professional communications when he says, “We have seen a 100% increase in article downloads each year for the last two years due in large part to our incorporating  the work of outside designers into converting our written materials in all of the different formats readers and consumers use. It’s important that we use quality designers so that both our print and digital media are in high quality, error-free formats—for those who read us in print, on their laptops, to those who read our work on smart phones, iPads, and everything in-between.”

So how are associations and non-profits able to maintain the same number of events and materials when over half of them are dealing with significant financial strains?  By going digital of course! The reason behind this can be attributed to an upward trend toward more digital materials and less traditional marketing materials (printed materials).

SignsOfCommunication“Online communications does more than save an association or non-profit money in printing and mailing costs,” says Sharon Ritchey, Owner and Creative Brand Director for Home Row Editorial. “The initial savings from moving online are important,” says Ritchey, “but they are soon absorbed into another budget and forgotten. The boost comes from the ability to target communications to various users within an organization and deliver current, important content to members where they want to see them. When news happens, whether an important award or something needing crisis communication planning, an organization with an online delivery strategy can immediately distribute their voice, their message, and their benefits to members.”

We found that of the associations polled, all of them had an existing digital marketing strategy. What is interesting though, is that they planned on increasing their digital marketing presence by an average of 7.5%, which is nearly twice the amount of growth digital marketing saw between 2012 and 2013, which was 4.2%. Associations are focusing more on their digital strategy because it allows them to focus more on the quality of their materials, by spending more money on the design side and by hiring talented graphic designers. In fact, 83% of those surveyed said that electronic newsletters represented the majority of their marketing materials.

CreativityHow Content Is Created

Approximately 60% of the associations and non-profits surveyed use a combination of in-house creative teams as well as outsourced work to freelance design teams. The other 40% use only their own in-house team. All of the associations hiring an outside design team in the last year did so because they felt that there were serious limitations to what their in-house design team could produce. Ironically, those associations and non-profits that do not use an outside designer felt the same issues, but believe that they cannot afford to hire outside designers due to budget limitations.

It is interesting that almost all the associations and non-profits polled felt the need to use outside designers. This highlights an increasing demand for talented individuals and that organizations are recognizing that high-quality marketing materials are necessary to attract and sustain their members.  Janet Haley-Varre, a professional event planner at Exclusive Designs 4 You, LLC, told us that “as an event coordinator with over 10-years of experience planning and organizing specialty events, conventions and fundraisers for associations and non-profits, I see time and time again, a direct correlation between professionally designed marketing and communications materials and successful events.” She adds, “If organizations want great results from their events, they need to invest in their image and their messaging. If you don’t have top-notch talent in house, hire a professional design company—experienced with associations and non-profits—to provide you with this level of service. Your results depend on getting your marketing and communications right.”

If you or your organization would like its voice heard in this matter, we would love to hear from you to add to the results of our survey. Please reach out to us at 703-539-2195 to get your voice heard!

 

 

 

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Public Service Announcement: Heartbleed Bug

heartbleed graphic

Last week a major bug was discovered in the widely used SSL source code.

SSL code is used in many different security products and secure web browsing—think websites that start with https:/. Dubbed “Heartbleed,” this bug allows malicious users to steal small bits (64kb) of data from users and website hosts without being detected. In fact many popular websites like, Facebook, Google and Youtube, were compromised. By continually mining this exploit, malicious users could possibly extract information like usernames, passwords, security keys and tokens. When done strategically, this leaked information would setup hackers with the means to carry far more destructive attacks like identity theft or transferring funds from you bank…scary, right?

Now, before you panic, this doesn’t mean all of your information has been snatched up by diabolical masterminds like Dr. Evil. While it is possible for malicious users to get your information, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have. The mechanics of Heartbleed attacks work in a way that they can only steal a small piece of information from the local memory on your computer for a short duration of time. This means that if there was no personal information on that memory during their attack they won’t have any of your personal information. You should still be wary however, because a dedicated hacker can repeat these attacks over and over again until they have that information they are looking for. So don’t panic…but tread carefully.

For the technically inclined here is an explanation on how it works.

What should you do about it?

Thankfully, many sites have already started patching their software so that Heartbleed is no longer an issue. As a precaution you should check to see if the websites you commonly visit utilize SSL source code and if they do, make sure that they have updated their SSL code to version 1.0.1g.  Here is a list of popular sites that were vulnerable before but have now patched.  If you have visited a website that was vulnerable you should take the following steps:

  1. Reset your username and password (Make sure that the website has been patched before you do this, otherwise you will increase the possibility of exposing this information).
  2. Check to see if a site you are visiting uses SSL before inputting critical information. (CNET has a tool you can use to determine whether or not a site is safe to use).
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When Great Branding Just Isn’t Enough

Q: When does top-notch branding NOT deliver?

brandFirst, some background… We were recently engaged by a client to develop the branding for a start-up company in Northern Virgina — logo design, website design and development, brand messaging, corporate identity materials, etc. We always begin our professional process with a detailed questionnaire that we use to better understand our client’s needs and business model.

In this case study, our client is the CEO and a sophisticated woman with all the pertinent answers a branding company could ask. She told us her perceived target market, her target location, her mission, her vision, her income goals, etc. The target market was clearly defined and the concept well articulated — the usual competitor and client research would lead to an overwhelming endorsement of the products and services she was proposing to offer.

And then came the killer question that most branding companies don’t have the strategy expertise to analyze — what were the financial projections?

Since TRUE creative services has partnered with Strategic Practical Thinking — creating SPT and TRUE — we have the unique skill set to investigate this pivotal area of a company at a critical stage of growth and development. This fundamental tie back to the numbers is the critical difference between “business consulting & branding” and simply “branding” (it’s the Practical bit of Strategic Practical Thinking). As we explored the broader strategy here’s what we discovered:

  1. The “well defined marketing segment” was simply not large enough to sustain the overhead for the business.
  2. Further research revealed that a much larger adjacent market segment was readily available BUT they would not respond to the intended brand message or image.

As a result, before our client spent her precious investment dollars on improper branding, we redefined her market segment, modified the products and services and established a financial plan that was credible and but her on a path to success. This preliminary strategy consultation lead to a significant brand shift — including a new company name, refocused messaging, new image and interior design for the building, all tied into the website.

The outcome for our client — almost $1M saved in misplaced investment.

So, when does top notch branding NOT deliver?

A: When the underlying business plan isn’t fully explored

For more information on how to build a successful brand that fits with your business strategy please contact us before investing your branding dollars.

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Is Your Website Losing You Business? Responsive Web Design — The Latest Advantage for Your Business

Mobile devices for responsive web design

One of the biggest challenges in designing and developing for the web is the amazing and ever-changing technology. When it all started to gain popularity, having a website was just “cool” and meant you were “on the cutting edge”. Now, if you don’t have a website, your company may as well not exist at all if a potential client goes to look for your website and you aren’t there. It is no longer a status symbol, it is proof that you are a real company.

In the beginning it was a fancy splash page leading into basically an on-line brochure — now we want as few clicks as possible. Then Flash became the trick of the day — now avoided due to the challenges a flash site poses for search engine rankings and SEO (not to mention usability) plus restrictions from government agencies and mobile devices. Then we needed to use cascading style sheets and web 2.0…

The list goes on. And now, it’s all changing again.

In the recent past, most websites have been designed with what is called “adaptive design”. This means the sites are designed at a certain width, height and pixel number (with those standards continually changing as well). According to the Economist — an online authoritative source offering insight on international news, politics, business, finance, science and technology — by the year 2014, more people will connect to the Internet via mobile device than a laptop or desktop computer. Taking this into account for business success, our focus should be on whether or not the mobile and tablet user is getting the best viewing experience as well as the desktop or laptop user. One of the questions to ask ourselves is “how much of my target market makes their buying decisions on a mobile device”? The easier it is for your potential customers and clients to gain immediate pertinent information with easy-to-navigate information, the higher your chances of converting visitors to customers. If viewers have to pinch and squeeze and push and pull and squint and cuss (and they will!) just to get to the pertinent information they consider your service or product, I guarantee, they will quickly move on.

Responsive Web Design (RWD) is a website format that is optimized for a beautiful and friendly user experience across all devices. No more small print, pixilated images or the need to zoom in and read one word at a time. Unlike having to build an additional separate mobile site or app, a site built upon RWD changes its dimensions and content based on the browser window of the device. In RWD, the device speaks with the “media queries” and then optimizes the web page for that specific device. A site that’s not built on RWD will either give you a mobile version, a mobile app or the same website for desktop that is a royal pain to navigate.

The problems with additional mobile sites and apps are,
• We are creatures of habit who like to stick with what we know. When our customers open a mobile site or app, there is a learning curve or download time before they can get the information they need. You have just added a barrier and a negative experience for your “I want it now” viewer.
• Addition of considerable cost to your website development as basically two sites, or an additional app need to be developed, not just one site that reformats itself intuitively.

If you want to make sure that you are converting visitors to your website into clients and customers, you must be responsible for adapting to the ever-changing world of technology. You must make the path for your prospects as quick and easy as possible without expecting them to do the work. We live and market in an “I want it now and faster” world. A website created with Responsive Web Design will give your mobile device viewers the instant gratification and user experience that will assist you in gaining new customers and clients.

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Virginia Winery, The Winery at La Grange — Website Design Success

Winery at La Grange Home

We have received wonderful feedback from the folks at La Grange Winery in Haymarket Virginia as well as from winery staff and visitors of other Virginia wineries in the area.

We were so pleased to add another VA winery to our client list. We are proud supporters (winos) of the VA winery community and continue to do our part to help the community succeed (we drink a lot of wine). We would love to be a part of the marketing efforts of all Virginia wineries! (We really like wine!). We highly recommend everyone experience the pleasure of visiting the fine wineries our area has to offer.

Here are some helpful links for your own Virginia Wine tour:
Virginia Wine
The Winery at La Grange
Swirl Sip Snark

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Our Successful Partnership With Strategic Practical Thinking

EnjoyJourney Graphic

We are very excited about our partnership with Strategic Practical Thinking (SPT)!

Our combined strengths, experience, knowledge and skills — banded together — allow us to offer our clients the most important and cohesive solutions to help businesses grow and succeed through business planning and strategy, marketing planning and strategy, business consulting, and all of the print and website design and implementation support needed for success. We have graphic design, website design and development and business consulting packages available to suit the needs of growing and start-up business in Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC and beyond.

Working with owners of small to medium size companies, Simon Turner (president of SPT) provides the clarity, focus and practical tools to grow both the sales and the overall value of the business. Through our partnership, we offer a number of strategic packages to fit an array of budgets and requirements. Simon can also operate as your company’s virtual CMO handling your strategy, sales and marketing needs – the perfect alternative to the huge expense of an in-house executive and/or marketing department.

Our key goal is our client’s success – their success is our success! Let’s get growing!

TCS and SPT are located in the DC metro area, serving clients nation wide.

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