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10 marketing tips for your small business

7-minute read

An advertising guru once said, “when you’ve got what people want, selling it is easy”. Marketing is all about identifying those people, understanding what it really is they want, and convincing them you can satisfy their needs. Here are some tips for doing just that.

Key take-outs
  • Carry out market research before formulating your marketing plans
  • Market your product/service from a customer needs perspective
  • Be responsive, unique and consistent
  • Consider the need to both acquire customers and retain them

1. Listen and learn

Are you sure you know your market? It’s best to avoid making subjective assumptions about your potential customers and their buying/choosing behaviour, as you may miss out on important opportunities.

 

Conducting market research is a key part of developing your marketing strategy, and it can be done on whatever scale matches your business – from informal conversations to online research and your own structured surveys. Collecting pertinent information and data provides an insight into the way customers think, what their needs are, what their buying patterns are, and where they are located.

 

Additionally, research can help you monitor market trends, gives you an idea what competitors are doing, and may reveal gaps in the market you can exploit. It can also assist in the preparation of sales forecasts, which you’ll need for your business plan.

2. Establish and look after your ‘brand’

Even if you are simply Sue Smith the Plumber you are a ‘brand’, and that means much more than a logo. That said, all design elements associated with your business are an important part of its brand and influence how memorable it is.

 

A well-articulated brand should help create an emotional connection with your customers – which is a valuable marketing asset – as it represents and conveys who you are, what you stand for, and how you can improve their lives/businesses with your product or service.

 

An integral part of your brand is a set of attributes and values. In Sue’s case these could be expertise, efficiency, integrity, cleanliness, timeliness and friendliness. In marketing your business it’s a good idea to start with a list such as this, so that you can measure your messaging – and your performance – against it.

3. Consider your marketing goals and set your budget

Establishing goals for your marketing – which could range from a percentage increase in business to capturing a significant share of a market – can help you focus your efforts efficiently. It’s a good idea to make them SMART:

 

  • Specific – so you’re not adopting a scatter-gun approach to marketing
  • Measurable – so you know if individual marketing activities are effective
  • Attainable – so you’re not tempted to set the bar impossibly high
  • Relevant – so you’re not spreading your activities too thinly
  • Time-based – so you are giving yourself the discipline of deadlines

 

Next is to establish a budget for your marketing activities. Some companies base this on three to five percent of expected turnover, though much will depend on the nature of your business – and if you’re a start-up you may have to invest much more.

 

When preparing your marketing budget, you’ll need to consider the cost of elements such as:

 

  • Logo design, plus business cards and other stationery
  • Leaflets, brochures and signage
  • Advertising and PR
  • Website development and maintenance
  • Social media and search strategies and execution
  • Donations and sponsorships
  • Marketing staff 

4. Think of your markets as individuals

Your target market may be a group, but remember you’re talking to individual people. So, whenever you are creating marketing materials – from social media campaigns to fridge magnets – have a clear idea in your mind who you are addressing, which may be a variety of audience types (marketers call them ‘personas’) identified in your research.

 

Picture yourself standing face to face with each potential customer and think about what you would say to them about your products and services to get them excited, and the type of language you would use. Don’t forget, you are representing your brand, so you want the person you are talking to walk away with the right ‘feel’ about it.

5. Be unique

The very best tool in the marketer’s toolbag is their USP – Unique Selling Proposition. It can be the one thing that’s different about your product or service, or you can at least be the first to claim a feature or benefit.

 

A USP is good as it differentiates you from your competitors, making it easier for customers to choose you over them. It also helps you stand out from the crowd.

 

Your USB doesn’t have to be a tangible feature. It could be the special skills and knowledge you possess, your speed or cleanliness, a price advantage, or something designed to make each customer’s life easier. Imagine telling a stranger about your business and what you’d say to most impress them.

6. Listen before talking

Many advertisers make the mistake of telling the world what they want to say, rather than what their potential customers want to hear. Take, for example, the launch of a new widget with ten features that each have a fancy name. These features will mean an awful lot to the people who developed them but will mean little to customers unless you present them in the context of ‘benefits’.

 

For example, “Now with Astroenzymes” may keep the R&D department happy, but “Get a whiter white with Astroenzymes” will have more resonance with consumers (of detergent).

 

The lesson is that whatever business you are in, listen to what matters most to customers and target your marketing messages at these ‘needs’. 

7. Invest in search and social

Many small businesses rely on social media for the bulk of their advertising, while filling their websites with words they hope customers will be searching for. The reality is that the companies that run the social and search platforms are in it to make money, so relying on their algorithms to give you free marketing may leave you short on visibility.

 

It’s worth investing time in ensuring the content you publish – such as posts, blogs, images, videos and articles – is interesting, relevant, topical and shareable. But you could also consider investing in paid advertising on social media, which can be very accurately targeted, and buying key words from search engines.

 

You’ll find information about how to do this on the websites of all the platforms, many of which offer analytical services so you can track what’s working and what isn’t.

8. Be consistent

Customers like to know exactly what they can expect from a brand, so consistency of messaging is important. Whatever mediums you use for your marketing, make sure each exposure opportunity builds on the last, so that core messages are repeated and emphasised.

 

It can take neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain structure to change in response to experiences – to alter engrained buying behaviour, and repetition and consistency in advertising plays an important role in achieving this.

9. Look after your best customers

It generally takes far less effort and expense to retain a customer than to acquire a new one. Providing customers with exceptional service will help keep them loyal, as will Customer Relationship Marketing. CRM can take the form of:

 

  • General communications with customers via social media, blogs and e-newsletters
  • Personal communications including after-sales follow ups
  • Personalised information about customer-relevant products and services
  • Requesting and responding promptly to feedback
  • Telephone calls and face-to-face chats

 

The better your relationships with your customers, the more likely you are to receive glowing testimonials you can share in your marketing materials.

10. Network relentlessly

Word of mouth is a critical business generation tool for many companies, as is personal contact with prospective customers. Both can be achieved through a commitment to networking – either through organised local groups (which you can search for online) or by simply taking every opportunity to promote your business in work and social situations.

 

One of the reasons social media has become such an important marketing tool is that today’s consumer prefers to base buying decisions on the opinions of their peers, rather than the promotions of companies. The more you can influence those opinions in face-to-face situations the better.

 

 

Make sure your business plan features a marketing plan, and update it frequently to accommodate new ideas, budget adjustments, opportunities, and any changes in your business landscape.


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Things you should know

This article is a general overview and should be used as a guide only. We recommend that you seek independent professional advice about your specific circumstances before acting.