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The secret to small business marketing

So you are a proud business owner, waiting for the steady stream of eager customers to come your way. Maybe it's time to stop waiting and start marketing. Marketing can make or break a business, but with so much to learn and so many options it can feel overwhelming.

The good news is you don't have to become a marketing expert to make your business a success, and you don't need a huge marketing budget.

Let's start with some simple rules:

Know who you are selling to.Know why they should buy from you.Know how to reach your target market.Know where your sales are coming from.Keep marketing your business, always.

So what is marketing anyway?

Sell something that people want and know how to get it in front of them

When you say 'marketing' to most people, advertising and selling pops into their heads, but sales and advertising are just a couple of the pieces in the marketing jigsaw.

We can sum up marketing very simply, “sell something that people want and know how to get it in front of them.” Think about that for a moment. In a marketing led approach, you find out what people need and mould your product to meet those needs. Then target your promotions towards the people your product has been designed for. Sounds sensible don't you think?

Compare this to the typical sales led approach that many small businesses adopt. They create a product that they value and try to promote it to everyone.

Your marketing foundation

If you have a product that your target market wants, you just need to keep showing it to them and reminding them why they want it. So get the foundation of your business right from the beginning.

Your foundation includes:
Your product - with well defined features and unique benefits.
Your target market - the groups of people that will benefit from your product.
Your brand - helps you stand out while pushing your benefits and values.

I will use a cake shop as an example, because I have a sweet tooth. Lets call it 'Sweet Spot'. Sweet Spot is just a mile away from Tesco. Tesco customers can conveniently buy their cakes while doing their weekly shop. Quite a big competitor they are up against! That doesn't mean that they are doomed for failure. Sweet Spot just needs to play to their strengths and tell customers why they should buy cakes from them. First, pull out the unique benefits such as 'home-made', 'baked fresh today', 'always something new to try - weekly speciality cakes', 'something for everyone - gluten free and dairy free options '. Sweet spot can then create their unique brand identity and message around their benefits. Their logo, website, printed materials and shop signage will all convey these benefits and the values the business stand for.

Top Tip. When creating your brand, let your passion show through. Tell people why you love what you do. This will help you to attract and connect with customers who share or appreciate your values. A match made in heaven and more importantly, loyal customers who will keep coming back for more and recommend you to friends. Customers who promote your business for you? I like the sound of that, don't you?

Watch and learn

Keep an eye on your competitors and learn from how they market their products. Adapt and improve their techniques and use them in your own marketing strategy.

Brush your teeth twice a day

Do something every working day to help market your business

As a small business owner you have a wide range of responsibilities, but of all the business hats you wear, marketing must be one of the most frequent choices. High quality, regular marketing will earn your business new customers and more sales. Even if you feel like a marketing amateur, do something every working day to help market your business. Whether that's asking for customer feedback, posting on your Facebook page or sending out flyers. I tell my clients to treat marketing like brushing their teeth, short sessions every day, makes a big difference to your businesses health.

Try, measure and change

Any marketing activity you undertake should be measurable. How else will you know if you are doing the right things? On-line marketing activities such as email campaigns, online adverts and social networking are easy to track using tools such as Google Analytics. Offline advertising is more difficult to track, but methods include using special offer codes and and unique website URLs (e.g. tips.headstartdesign.co.uk)

If you can't manage any of the above tracking methods, you can ask new customers where they found out about you, which should be encouraged anyway.

By measuring your marketing activities, you build a picture of which marketing promotions and channels (e.g. magazines, radio, Facebook adverts) works for your business. Look at the number of enquiries you get and how many of those convert to sales. If a channel isn't increasing your sales, either change the message and try again, or move onto another channel.

Top Tip. Customers rarely buy from a business the first time they see the brand or product. As a rule of thumb, it usually takes three exposures to a product before the customer takes action and buys. This is why you need to regularly get your brand in front of your target market via a variety of channels.

There are so many ways to reach buyers and there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Find the marketing channels that reach your target market, spending a small amount of your marketing budget on each one, to see which work. Nurture your target market until they become loyal customers and brand advocates. So go on, dip your toe in and see what happens.

Your to do list

1) Review your brand and message. Are you pushing your benefits and unique selling points?

2) Write down a description of your target market and how you can reach them.

3) Ask new customers how they found out about you. Keep a record of where your sales are coming from.

4) Write down how much time and money you can commit to marketing each month and make sure you use those resources.

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By Kelly Jackson

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