Editor’s Note: Britt Carter is the senior vice president and general manager of Fleishman-Hillard North Carolina. Carter brings 10 years of public relations and brand development experience for clients in the pharmaceutical, consumer package goods, financial services, travel and tourism, and non-profit sectors. Carter has launched new brands, repositioned existing brands and provided a full spectrum of communications counsel to his clients, always with a focus on building brand equity, reaching key constituencies directly and maximizing budgets. This column is the latest in the Entrepreneurial Spirit series done in partnership between the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and WRAL Local Tech Wire.

RALEIGH, N.C. — As you stand on the exhibit floor of the annual (insert awkward acronym of your industry association here) tradeshow and conference, the place is abuzz with flash and fanfare and, frankly, a lot of wasted cash. Many, even most, of those companies are spending their marketing budgets inefficiently. For younger companies, the risk of misspending marketing money is great, and the consequences can be catastrophic.

As you begin building your business, you know that you need certain things to succeed: a solid product offering, effective sales program, dedicated staff, and strong management. You also need a good marketing strategy. Great! What does that mean?

Young companies represent ripe opportunities for those in the “stuff” business: logo-ed stress balls and travel mugs and laptop cases and tailgate items (I did see a branded “ride-on” motorized cooler that’s pretty cool), brochures and direct mail pieces of every ilk, tradeshow booths, web sites, as well as agencies that can do everything.

It’s natural to want everything. This is your company, after all. You’re proud of it. You have formed a team of smart people who are ready to change an industry or create a new one. You have an awesome logo. Before you start swiping the corporate card, however, take a moment to consider the things you really need, rather than what you want.

All companies, regardless of size, need a solid strategy before launching a marketing program. Here are 5 fundamentals of marketing success to consider:

  • Seek counsel: Getting advice from someone who’s been around the marketing block a few times is essential. This person can be a member of your advisory board, a staffer, or an outside consultant. A smart consultant will advise you as to the things you need, and those you don’t.

  • Build a plan: Don’t spend six months on this, but do take the time to map out your brand position, objectives, audiences, messages and metrics taking into consideration the objectives of your overall business plan. Also know that plans change, especially for young companies. Prepare to be flexible while keeping your eye downfield.

  • Prioritize: There’s a lot you can do, but you must focus on what you need to do to meet your goals. Ask yourself what is most important. Is it creating a buzz with local or industry reporters? Or is it providing basic information about your company via a web site or blog? Perhaps advertising would be an effective way to reach customers.. Whatever you do, just make sure all of your marketing materials are consistent in message and tone.

  • Start slow: This is a tough one for most people, but it pays off. Once you’ve prioritized your tactics, implement them at a reasonable pace to make sure you can measure their impact. If you start too fast you run the very real risk of overspending against an ineffective program.

  • Be open: To new ideas as well as criticism. Not everything will work perfectly, and some ideas that seemed brilliant in Q2 are clearly idiotic in Q4. Remember that counselor who helped you get started? Seek his or her perspective often to get a different view of your business than your own.
  • As your company changes and grows, so will your marketing needs. Make sure you’re being as smart about your marketing as you are about your R&D, P&L and business strategy. And when your marketing momentum is where it should be, treat yourself to a ride-on cooler emblazoned with your very cool logo.