The Key to Marketing Your Small Business

    One of the most critical tasks of any business – new or established – is getting the message out to prospective customers about your product or service. As anyone who has ever owned a business can tell you, or as you know yourself if you’ve been in business for some time, unless you can cost-effectively attract customers you won’t be in business long. Therefore, this article will give you some of the basics to help you Market your business in a manner to increase effectiveness while controlling costs.

    Product or service message distribution is achieved through a wide variety of methods that fall under the umbrella of Marketing, including: Advertising, Public Relations, Sales, and Promotion. The method(s) you select to distribute your message is dependent upon several factors, such as: targeted customers, budget, time available for implementation, the type of business you have and how it is best showcased, and the goal of the message.

    The most critical part of successful Marketing for any business is an item that most businesses – both new and established – overlook, and is a primary reason for small business failure – the development of a written Marketing Plan and its revision at least annually. The plan can be 5 pages or 100 pages, as long as it has been researched and well thought out. It’s never too late to write a Marketing Plan – even if you’ve been in business 10 years or more. If properly prepared, it will be your road map to gaining substantial numbers of new customers, selling your product or service, growing your business successfully, and profitability. While you may still be able to grow your business without one, your growth will be slower, more sporadic, and may come at times when your company is unprepared to handle the growth.

  • Step One to preparing the Marketing Plan is research – the foundation of the Plan. Research provides the needed information to understand the current situation of the market, your company, the customer, and the competition, as well as the costs, pros, and cons of the methodologies that can be used to market the business such as: various types of advertising, promotions, public relations, and sales. While you may believe that you already have this information, especially if you’ve been in business for awhile, I challenge you to do the research and find out what surprises await you.
  • Step Two in Plan preparation is the development of a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis of your business. In this step you must be extremely objective; it’s helpful to have employees who are not afraid to speak out participate in this process.
  • Step Three is the development of a list of goals/objectives for your business to achieve. These goals must be measurable/quantifiable and clearly defined.
  • Step Four is the development of strategies designed to reach the stated goals/objectives. Each strategy must answer the following three questions: Who is the target? What do you want to say to the target? and How are you going to reach that target?
  • Step Five is the development of tactics designed to achieve the strategies. Tactics are the what, when, where, how, and how much of the plan – the details for implementing the Marketing Plan. This is where you select the methodologies you will use to get out your message.

    Let’s look at the methodology options previously mentioned. The first is Advertising, which is the main form of mass selling. Forms of Advertising would include: radio, television, newspaper, magazine, mass mailings, billboard, signs, flyers, seminars, trade show participation, and any other sort of mass selling you can think of. Public Relations is the attraction of attention for the firm and its products/services without having to pay the cost of advertising. Public Relations ideas include: online message distribution (blogs, email newsletters, search engine optimization, websites, etc); press releases of newsworthy information about your company such as new products, large contracts, awards, etc.; other ideas are photo’s; news conferences for major announcements; newsletters to vendors/customers; PSA’s (public service announcements which are free announcements typically on TV or radio – like a listing in a community calendar); charitable partnerships; and free distribution of products/services. Sales is the individual / personalized selling of products/services to customers on a one-on-one basis by telephone, in-person, or via a website. Promotion is activities that supplement personal selling and advertising, coordinate the two, and help make them more effective, such as: sampling, displays, coupons, discounts, etc.

    Obviously, the methodologies of Marketing provide you with a vast array of options to choose from when deciding how best to market your products. Now the question is how to select from among the methodologies and bring it all together into a comprehensive plan. This is where your research, if done properly, will be extremely effective. Your research will:

  • help you to identify exactly who your customers are – or should be,
  • help you evaluate the most cost-effective ways to reach your potential customers in a timely manner, and
  • help you to differentiate your product/service from your competition, thereby helping your business grow and reach your goals.

    Every business, even those with the smallest of budgets available, can use Marketing to obtain customers and achieve growth. The less money available, the more creative the business owner needs to be in finding ways to reach customers. These business owners should consider partnerships, joint ventures, and more of a grass-roots approach to Marketing. This type of Marketing Plan should definitely include a very pro-active Public Relations plan; making sure that everything you do that is newsworthy receives media awareness through news releases or other PR tactics and every free or low-cost method of promoting your business is explored. Business owners with larger budgets should take advantage of more formalized Marketing methodologies such as print or electronic Advertising, but should still make certain that each dollar is being utilized in the most cost-effective manner possible. For example, if you sell a service that is only useful to a limited number of corporations, then television advertising is likely to be a very costly mistake for you; however, print advertising in targeted industry publications may be just the way to promote your service. Additionally, a Marketing Plan will allow you to consider negotiating bulk media purchases for the whole year (they don’t have to be paid for until the service is actually used), thereby achieving less cost on a per-unit basis.

    As you can see, these decisions are best achieved by research, research, and more research. Should you elect to take a pro-active, planned approach to Marketing your business through the development of a Marketing Plan – rather than a reactive approach, you are certain to achieve success and growth while maintaining a high level of cost-effectiveness.

Linda Daichendt

Strategic Marketing Advisor

     Future postings will provide information for those of you who would like more detailed information on the use of a Marketing Plan to grow your business and ways you can receive FREE tools including: a Marketing Plan Checklist and a detailed outline of the Elements of the Marketing Plan.

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