Most of us build our small businesses around a basic talent, skill or passion that we assume will easily make us profitable. Yet our surveys show that attracting new customers is the main area where small and solo business owners (SBO’s) say they need help. Whether you’re just starting out or are well established, your challenge is the same as any other business, including the IBM’s of the world – identifying, attracting and keeping customers by getting a strong ROI from your marketing program. It’s imperative that you develop a strategy and plan to make your marketing powerful, affordable and successful. Yet many small businesses I’ve worked with were overwhelmed by the possibilities and were going about marketing in a very haphazard way, making very costly mistakes. Here are some guidelines to get you started.
Picture a dart board with a bull’s eye in the center. The bull’s eye represents your ideal customer – the one who loves what you offer, buys often, pays your asking price and refers others to your business. Now surrounding the bulls eye are outer circles which are still within the target borders. These are your target customers. They may not be absolutely perfect, but they will buy from you and could well be a referral source. And who knows, you may impress them enough that they become ideal.
The more you research and learn about your ideal customer and target market, the more you’ll know how to create, package and sell your offering successfully. This approach to identifying and understanding your target market is routine for big corporations, so research needs to be part of your routine as well.
The biggest mistake you can make is to assume that just because you are excited about your small business, everyone will want what you have to offer. Actually it works the other way around. First find a need that’s not being filled, then use your skills, talent or passion to fill it. If you’ve been in business for a while and your business is not growing as quickly as you would like, remember the marketplace changes at lightning speed and you may need to periodically realign yourself with your customer’s changing wants.
Once you understand what your customer will pay for, you need to know what similar products or services your competitors are selling successfully and how they’re doing it. They may have developed a successful way to reach your market. Do a Google search for your type of business, then check out competitor’s websites, particularly those that show up at the top of the search list. Note what strikes you as interesting or eye catching. What type of marketing are they doing? This information is priceless, since someone has already done what you’re trying to do. They’ve developed an approach that works.
Next you need to clearly define what truly differentiates your business from the competition. What makes you unique and valuable? This question needs to be answered from Day One. Better price and service don’t count since every business says that, so it carries little meaning. Dig deeper, refer back to your research and find out what will make customers think of you instead of your competition. Armed with the answers to these questions, develop a compelling 30 second “sound byte” that verbalizes your message, your uniqueness, your brand and use it whenever possible.
You may think that in order to market yourself successfully you need a Big Company marketing budget. But actually, many companies allocate their marketing budgets as a percentage of gross sales. So first it’s imperative that you estimate your projected yearly gross sales for the coming year. Then allocate around 5 to 10% of projected gross sales (recommended figures vary) for your marketing budget. Decide what you need to achieve with your marketing this year. For example, how much will be devoted to directly bringing new customers to you and how much for building name recognition? Consider what overall strategies potential customers might respond to. Is it print, radio, direct mail, personal relationships? Develop an overall “best way to approach them” strategy.
Make a list of the ideas that seem interesting. Think carefully about the time and money involved in implementing each. Then choose those that meet the highest criteria for meeting your marketing goals, fitting within your budget and your personal skill set. If you’re a poor writer, writing articles may not be your first choice, but if you’re a techie, marketing on the Internet may be! If a certain approach is essential, don’t eliminate it because it’s not a fit. You might be able to outsource it.
In the future, if you hope to spend less time marketing and more time making money, you need a focused, detailed marketing plan! Most small businesses don’t have one, because they don’t know where to start. Try listing each specific marketing activity you’re committed to implementing in the next six months. Note how you’ll do each, what marketing materials you’ll need, how often you’ll repeat it, how you’ll schedule it and how much it will cost. Check each to make sure it will attract your target market, fulfill your marketing strategy, fit into your marketing budget and your schedule. Then stick to it.
Every month, measure and track results so you can determine what’s working and what your ROI is. Measurement is not difficult and is essential in determining what is bringing in paying customers. If you don’t measure results you’re wasting your money. Measurement is so valuable because it allows you to make course adjustments to your plan to keep it focused and on track.
If you follow these suggestions, and get any necessary outside professional help you need along the way, you will see powerful and profitable results in your small business. Here’s to customers knocking down your door!© Copyright 2007 Janis Pettit