Unlike a financial audit, a marketing audit isn't a final event. But like a financial audit, it drives change. "The goal is to identify marketing opportunities the business is uniquely positioned to exploit," says John Byrd of Matrix Group Marketing, Reston, Va. A 10-page audit from his company covers marketing strategy, organization, system productivity, advertising, price, competition, and other considerations.

Bruce Wentworth of Wentworth-Levine Architect-Builder, Silver Spring, Md., says all its marketing programs grew from an audit. Although he didn't have solutions for everything, the audit helped find and clarify answers, he says. "In some ways, it's like therapy. You talk about it until it gets clear."

Byrd charges $65 an hour and says for 20 hours, or about $1,300, a small company can get a good audit. Audit questions include the following:

* What is the public's attitude toward this company?

* What are the characteristics of major buyer segments and expected rates of growth?

* What's happening to the size of these markets?

* How will competition affect this market?

* What are supplier trends?

* What's the profitability of company services, markets, lead sources, project types?

* Do any marketing activities have excessive costs?

Wentworth now has a month-by-month marketing plan that includes direct mail, mailings to specific areas around the jobsite, advertising, and Web site promotions. The audit's modest cost, he says, was well worth the investment. The key is investing in the right marketing once the audit is complete, then pacing yourself so you don't overspend.