When you ask most first-time small business owners, or wannabe small business owners, how they intend to get customers and sell their products or services, most answer 'advertising'.
However, advertising is just one small component of an entire discipline dedicated to raising awareness, researching the market for your business, and selling it TO that market, otherwise known as marketing.
Whatever the size of a company and at whatever stage it finds itself, a company’s marketing plan should be on an equal footing with the business plan, and running alongside it in tandem, if the company is to have a good chance of succeeding. The two goals at the heart of a marketing plan and your business are:
• Getting new sales
• Getting repeat sales
Achieving those goals means taking into account all of the following key areas, and working out whether they are relevant to your business at the moment or will be in the next 1-3 years, how much they are likely to cost and what your budget is/will be, and how they all work together to give you the maximum return on your investment. And write it down, as you would a business plan, because yes, it really is that important.
1. Market research
The essential core of all business activity. Research establishes who your audience are, what they do and think, what they expect and like, where they shop, how they buy, what they will share with their peers (ie your prospective referrals), how to price what you are selling them, and who is the competition. As none of this is static, market research needs to be ongoing if you want your company to be a success.
2. PR and news releases
The easiest way to generate interest in your business, but you do need to have done your research and know how to write a press release (or get someone else to do it), where to send it for maximum impact, and when, and what it should be about. A PR agency that specializes in your niche will be able to offer you all of this in one bucket, so to speak, including giving you guidance on what you do PR about, which is broadly anything new, or that you are proud of or excited about, Be aware that the less it sounds like an overt ‘sell’ the more successful it is likely to be.
Digital news releases are more like communiqués to those who may be interested online. They are less about ‘big’ news and more about customer touchpoints and ensuring that the right ‘search terms’ (SEO) is out there and findable. They still have to pitched properly and are very unlikely, unless you are Google launching Wave or Buzz, to find their way on every site, but even when featured on just a few sites they will still help create the signposts back to you when the search terms are entered.
The key points for your marketing plan is that unless you are a dab hand with html, design and an ace copywriter, steer clear of doing your own website because nothing will drag your brand and reputation downwards faster than a poor website. You also need to budget in domain name and hosting costs, some decent photographs, a SEO specialist, and whether your business will benefit if you include additionals, such as ecommerce, advertising, forums and social networking, plus what these will cost to set up and maintain (in time and cost). If you want to communicate with your audience (and hopefully convert them into clients) you will need somewhere they can sign up (a login) and a decent html newsletter, as is someone to write it if you can’t do so yourself. Most of this is achievable using a blog, but again, getting it to look professional and tailoring it to your business is an art form in itself, so unless you are confident about doing a superb job, hire someone, like The Funky Agency, to do it for you.
4. Print literature
If you are offering a dog walking or house cleaning service, you’ll probably want to consider a leafleting campaign. This can range from something you do yourself and print off your computer to a four-colour catalogue created by a design agency and sent out as part of a direct mail campaign, depending on your audience, your niche and your budget, but whatever route you take make sure you get it done to the best possible standards, which brings us on to...
5. Design and copywriting
These are at the heart of the way your present your company to the world – and you thought it was the service you offer and that nice suit you bought last month, didn’t you? Well, they help, but if you are not physically present, something has to stand in for you, and that something is your company’s image, often online but also in print, even down to your business card. To get the best results, get a recommendation from someone whose brand you like or that you trust, hire people who are experts in your field and niche, who can work together or across the board so your brand is unified and integrated, and don’t skimp. It’s a false economy.
6. Email marketing and newsletters
You need to isolate who, what, why, how and when… and then what you want them to do and why they should bother!
• Who you are targeting - databases can be purchased if you don’t have this audience, but the best ones ar ethos eyou have built up yourself and refined and honed and pruned so that they are squeaky clean and very focused – focused on what? Focused on having the need you can fulfil, that’s what!
• What you are selling? Be concise, and for a start up, one offering is always better than many. Think niche, niche, niche.
• Why? It may be the same as the ‘what’, but is likely to be bigger. Basically ask yourself “what is my end goal?” and be specific about this one thing, such as ‘to raise awareness’, ‘generate more traffic’, or ‘build a database’.
• How to do it? Now consider the format. The more interesting and valuable an email or newsletter is, the better your chance of getting a response, having the recipient retain it, or pass it on. If you can make it irresistibly funny as well, you’re on to a winner because that’s the sort that can circle the globe, pulling your brand and product with it…
• When? Little and often is usually better than large and infrequently, but it does depend on your audience really. For B2B emails, research suggests you send them midweek and earlier in the day if you can; for B2C, Thursday and Friday morning seems to be the best slot at the moment, since many people ‘go shopping’ at the weekend.
• What do you want them to do? A ‘call to arms’ is essential at the end – ie ‘go do it now’, ‘go see this here’, ‘get this free with this’… whatever you want them to do, tell them!
• Why should they bother? You need to find their need, their pain, and tell them how you can fix it for them. And if they don't have a need you can fulfil or a pain you can stop, they aren't potential clients.
7. Promotions and competitions
Along with PR this is perhaps the cleverest and easiest ways of raising awareness for a product or service. There are a number of ways of doing it, from running a giveaway or offer on your site to giving a prize in a local or national competition, to doing a competition yourself in a specialist publication, on a tie in product, or on a specialized website. The key? Hire innovative marketing/PR support that knows your market inside out and isn’t afraid to take risks or be different.
8. Exhibitions and trade fairs
If it’s in your niche with people who you want to a) connect with b) sell to, then go for it. If not, don’t. If you do go for it, be specific in what you are trying to achieve – are you trying to raise your profile in your community? Then hard sell is going to a turn off, try sponsoring an area or doing a seminar within the event. If you’re trying to gather a database, run a competition; if you are trying to generate sales, make sure you have the right stock, the right personal, and the right people. In all cases, make sure your stand is dressed properly to attract the punters and that you have enough people manning it so they don’t get tired and/or bored. Giveaways are useful, especially for the browsers who doing market research or to keep your brand on their desk where they wil see it daily – and hopefully not forget you!
Obviously the best way to get a referral is to do an excellent job and give good service, at which point your client will be falling over themselves to refer you...only it doesn't always work like that. Too often they can't find your details when they are looking to recommend you, so you can make it easier if you give them a 'referral card or link', perhaps with a bonus for any new business that results from the referral.
A very good way to make friends with people who may be in a position to refer you, as you can for them, as well as find people who can do what you need doing – or need what you are doing. There are loads of places you can network, both online and offline, and it's an essential part of the marketing mix for any small company who wants to get known in what is nowadays a VERY large sea. Like any relationship there is an etiquette involved to get the best out of the process and, as always, be specific and who and why, else you are likely to end up wasting your time.
Still something of a dark art, blogging for business, and less than 10% of business people do it. Yet it can be one of the most powerful ways of getting your message out and found, although it does take commitment and passion to really turn it to your advantage – maybe that’s why so many business people just don’t bother. However, as a small business owner you are in a much better position than a large company to turn blogging to your advantage since corporate blogs are still viewed with suspicion by many people.
The best blogs are current, give the audience information or links that they may not know/find themselves, are a good read with plenty of humour, and very niche. You can set up a blog as part of your website, but it will be less effective than if you do it through a dedicated well-known blogging site, such as wordpress, and anyway the joy of the blog is the two-way conversations it triggers so don’t waste that opportunity – and don’t be scared to stir up a little controversy, it’s all good for business!
12. Social Media
Those of us who have been using social media for business since it started continue to be mystified why most business people still don’t get why you should, how to do it properly, and what the benefits are. The subject is huge, far too large to do justice to here, but suffice to say, it’s such a sea change in marketing and sales that it’s going to change the way people do business forever and as a SME you really need to be in there doing it properly – for solid research and more understanding get the free downloadable eBook “WTF can Social Media do for Your Business?” and GET STARTED!
So 12 good essentials in your marketing toolkit, as promised, but what about advertising…?
Well, while it is the first choice for many start ups, the only adverts worth doing are those that are where your target audience will see them at a time when they are in the business of buying. Sounds obvious, but when you are flicking through a magazine and you hit those adverts at the back, are you really in the zone to buy a franchise or book a holiday unless you’ve just been reading about it? Exactly.
Which is why successful adverts are generally linked to relevant editorial that is speaking directly to your target audience or in a place where it will be clocked by lots of your target audience, such as in a trade magazine or at a relevant exhibition. Stray outside these two essentials and you are likely to be wasting your money.
© Claire Burdett.
Claire Burdett is the Founder and Director of The Funky Agency, Business Midwife and Funky Angel. She is a Writer and Editor, Integrated Marketing Expert, and Business Coach and Mentor.