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Industry Veteran Barry Steelman Launches His Marketing Business to Support Smaller CRT Companies

At its core, Complex Rehab Technology (CRT) is entrepreneurial in spirit. Despite daily dealings with huge government agencies and insurance providers, so many who work in CRT — from manufacturers and therapists to providers, repair technicians and funding specialists — entered the industry for personal reasons, such a family member or close friend with a disability.

That grass-roots, can-do attitude serves CRT professionals well when they’re designing new seating or wheelchairs, or when creating unique solutions for a client with ALS or a young child with spinal muscular atrophy.

But the industry has traditionally found marketing and branding a formidable challenge.

Steelman Marketing logo

A Marketing Company from a CRT Insider

Barry Steelman is a marketing veteran who’s spent the last 20 years of his career in CRT, first in the marketing department at Permobil, then at Stealth Products.

In April, Steelman launched his own company — Steelman Marketing — with the express goal of supporting CRT manufacturers’ and providers’ marketing and branding efforts. Steelman Marketing’s tagline: Strong Concepts for Small Businesses.

While Steelman worked in larger industries before CRT and also with some of CRT’s larger companies, he’s focused on partnering with businesses that “may need marketing help, but don’t think they can afford marketing help. Or they’re trying to do the marketing themselves, but they’re spread so thin because they’re small business owners and they’re wearing 15 different hats.”

During his two decades in CRT, he noticed “a lot of smaller companies out there that need marketing help. I go to their Web sites, or their non-existent Facebook pages — things that they could be doing with a little help. And they might be thinking, ‘I can’t really afford to put someone on staff to do that.’”

Those are exactly the types of companies Steelman wants to work with.

“That’s what my passion is,” he said. “To help these smaller companies that may not have access to those resources and help them grow. Help them improve their brand. Help them develop a brand: They may not even have a brand. They might not think about what their brand is. Or they might have a brand and might not realize it. So is it a bad brand? Is it a good brand? They don’t know because they’re not paying attention to their branding.”

With his new firm, Steelman said he can offer marketing support that starts with examining a company’s priorities, as well as its existing marketing strategies. Even businesses that would claim they do very little overt marketing are actually communicating a lot to their partners and end users, Steelman noted.

“This industry doesn’t think a lot about branding,” he said. “They think, ‘I’m providing a service, I’m helping someone.’ But that’s still a brand. What people think about you — that’s your brand. A lot of companies haven’t guided people toward what to think about them. Or they don’t know what people think about them, so they really have no idea what their brand currently is.

“That’s what I can help small businesses understand. Everything that your company touches is part of your brand, from your employees to your Web site to sales collateral that you send out.”

A Customized, Modular Approach

During his career, Steelman has made contacts with professionals in a number of marketing niches, from videography to Web development to design. What his own company offers is the opportunity for CRT businesses to tap into his contacts while only paying for the services they need.

“It will be unique,” he said in describing the marketing plan for each of his clients. “There are some decent Web sites that just need a little tweaking. The key to branding is consistency and how people see your brand. Colors, how you use them, and even where you place them on a piece of paper makes a difference. Every company is not going to have the same needs. A company might have a good Web site, but they need help in their branding and how they’re presenting themselves to the end user and dealers. And they might have a non-existent social media program.”

Using a modular approach, Steelman will build a customized marketing plan to fit the needs and budget of each client. Out of respect for his clients, he won’t take on competing companies, whether they’re manufacturers making the same type of products, or providers working in the same community.

To companies that assume they can’t afford a marketing firm, Steelman said, “Don’t discount that until you ask. Because that’s not necessarily true. What’s it going to cost you not to manage your brand or develop your brand? How much are you going to struggle by not doing that up front?

“My intention is to grow with a company,” he added. “I like to be invested with a company and help them see their dreams come true, help them grow. I’m not cut and run, like ‘I helped you with this, now you’re on your own.’ That’s not the service I’m providing. My service is to help you build this and then maintain it.”

Asked why he chose to remain in CRT rather than opening his business in a larger industry, Steelman answered in a way sure to resonate with other industry veterans.

“I’ve made a lot of friends in CRT,” he said. “I’ve been here for 20 years and made a lot of contacts, but that’s not really it. The first tradeshow I went to, somebody came up to me and said, ‘Your product and what you do, they changed my life. I was stuck at home, and now I can get outside and enjoy life.’

“That was fulfillment I had never felt in any other industry I had been in. To be part of something that is changing lives is rare. You’re helping people to get back to a lifestyle they once enjoyed, or giving them a life they never thought they could have. Plus, in this industry, you’ve got competitors that in times of need will help each other out. That’s rare.”

As a new small business owner himself, Steelman wants to give back to the industry he loves. “Somebody told me when I started, ‘You’ll never leave this industry,’” he remembered. “I shrugged it off, but now I understand. It’s belonging to something that’s making a difference, and that’s what the CRT industry is.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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