Let's start by looking at some real hard facts about marketing a small business... Marketing is a Necessity Especially for start-up companies and new businesses and furthermore, if you're just getting started, you'll need to spend more time marketing than an established company. Why? Because no one really knows about you yet. Your marketing is what Gets the Word Out about your business. Your competition is already out there, and you need to 1. Establish your Unique Selling Proposition (what sets you apart), and 2. Communicate that message to the RIGHT audience.
When you decided to make the move and open your own business, you likely considered the specialized skill set and experience you had in a particular field (accounting, cooking, automotive repair, painting, retail, etc). You probably also considered that being your own boss carried with it certain benefits like making your own hours, setting the tone and culture for your company, flexibility and freedom when it comes to vacations, benefits, procedures and processes. What you may not have considered is that working for yourself also includes a particular level of commitment that you didn't have until you were self-employed. You must be committed to doing what it takes to make sure you have enough business to pay the bills, and enough in savings to last until you can also pay yourself. You may have found as well that your budget didn't allow for outside contractors to help you with things like Quickbooks, tax preparation, legal help, HR, and yes, marketing. As an entrepreneur you are probably wearing those hats as well as your specific skill hat in order to make your business function within its means. As your business grows, you'll find yo have less time for those "contractable" tasks, and you'll need to rely on the skills of other business owners in your network to help you. To get there, you'll need some marketing advice, and that's what we can help with here in this blog post.... for free.
Let's start by looking at some real hard facts about marketing a small business...
Marketing is a Necessity
Especially for start-up companies and new businesses and furthermore, if you're just getting started, you'll need to spend more time marketing than an established company. Why? Because no one really knows about you yet. Your marketing is what Gets the Word Out about your business. Your competition is already out there, and you need to 1. Establish your Unique Selling Proposition (what sets you apart), and 2. Communicate that message to the RIGHT audience.
It's not WHAT you know, but WHO you know that's Important in Marketing
A well-developed network of family, friends, business associates, vendors, and networking partners is a valuable asset. Being well-connected in the community, in your industry and in related industries will aid your marketing efforts. How? A good network is key for gaining referrals, collaborations, product and service testing, testimonials building and more. You'll want to always make sure your first customers are WELL-SATISFIED, so that they in turn will help spread the word and give you a basis for showing how well you please clients.
You should be spending a reasonable amount of time engaged in networking activities to build your contact list, and to feed your pipeline. It's not unreasonable to consider being a member of one closed networking group, one civic group, one local charity, your child's PTA, and of course, your local Chamber of Commerce. Set up a coffee or lunch with at least one new person a month. Preferably someone who can connect you to future prospects. And remember, it's not enough to just JOIN. You have to ATTEND, PARTICIPATE and VOLUNTEER. Why? well, because...
Word-of-Mouth is MORE EFFECTIVE than Ever Before
Social Media is just that...social. And there's nothing more powerful that a nod of the head in your direction when it comes to a satisfied customer or client. Gaining referrals and testimonials is the best way to promote future business via word of mouth, as is mentions on Facebook, Four Square, LinkedIn and Twitter. A referral from a trusted friend, family member or business association is so much more effective than an ad in the paper or other marketing. You have to be sure you're consistently outperforming your competition when it comes to service to make referrals happen for your business. Of course, if you're spending too much time fussing over your financial statements to provide top-notch service, you're missing the boat on this opportunity.
A few more thoughts on Social Media Marketing
The best way to take advantage of social media is to do so in moderation. Take a good class on Facebook Marketing for Businesses (next class coming in January), and learn how to market through social media effectively without getting lost in it. If you plan your overall company marketing strategy and include your Facebook fan page, Twitter and even blogging, you'll be much more efficient with the time you spend on these websites. It's easy to flounder around and find the clock ticked away on other effective forms of marketing your company. Keep in mind that social media marketing is still a form of networking. So you just don't go out there and self promote shamelessly! You wouldn't do that in a referral group meeting or Rotary Club?! Be smart and offer people what they're looking for - information, offers, new ideas, opportunities to voice opinions, and other useful content.
As with word-of-mouth, social media marketing takes time to work. You have to have a plan for offering useful, timely and unique content that builds confidence in your fans, then learn to interact with them in a way that makes others want to connect with you. Planned correctly you'll find that social media will be a very successful and cost effective tool for your marketing arsenal.
A Good Website is Still Viable and Necessary
Social media has NOT taken the place of a well-designed, fast-loading, easy to navigate website that represents your company, its products, services, satisfied customers, completed work, and call to action. A website is really a 24 hour salesperson for your business. Visitors to your website will judge you by your website's look and feel, how it works and how quickly they get what they need. You're definitely going to want to invest in a professional website to showcase your business online, and you may want to include marketing tools for it like SEO (search engine optimization), a product or service gallery, or online sales and maybe even a blog...
To Blog or Not to Blog?
Is that a question? Studies show that sites with blogs get up to 55% more traffic than those without blogs. Google LOVES fresh content and what better way than to offer it in blog post format, where you can write as little or as much as you like, as little or as often as you wish, while using keywords like marketing, website design, graphic design, social media marketing, etc As a learning tool, blogging can't be beat. Bloggers learn self-discipline, writing skills, editing skills and can even learn how to use a computer more efficiently. As with social media, blogging has to be a part of your bigger marketing plan. Use it in conjunction with your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn posts by discovering on social media the topics to write about in your blog. Encourage comments and use them to engage in conversation with potential clients and existing customers.
Traditional Marketing is Still Important!
When starting your business, the most critical element to have PROFESSIONALLY done for you is a logo. Talk in person with a designer who you feel grasps the concept, culture and personality of you and your business. Discuss colors, feels, and the message your logo will communicate and be sure your contract includes multiple options, revisions and final files (.eps, .png and an RGB .jpg). Save these files on a CD off your drive.
After that, you're ready for business cards (critical for networking), maybe a brochure, flyer or postcard. Maybe it's pens, magnets, coffee mugs... whatever collateral your company can use to Get The Word Out, that's what you use, nothing more, nothing less. You'll also want to look at event marketing, publication ads, sponsorships, and eeek... considering direct mail.
Building a Client List Serves You in Many Ways
Your current or past clients are often your best clients, so stay in touch through emails, phone calls, mailings and other touches. Build your list in store or online so that you can utilize Email Marketng and Direct Mail Marketing to their fullest. Adding a quarterly newsletter of USEFUL information, mailings about specials, events and new products/services is great fodder for these pieces. So is a thank you card, birthday or holiday card! Stay in Touch!!! In this economy it's super critical to let your customers know your doors are still open!
Excellent Customer Service STARTS with a Response
I can't stress this enough - ALWAYS respond as soon as possible to anyone who contacts your business - including and especially referrals!! The sad truth is many business owners are slow to respond to inquiries, so showing eagerness by rapidly responding gives you a better chance at making a sale, and sets the tone for the entire business relationship - you're basing it on Customer Service! It's what sets the best companies apart from the mediocre!
Time Spent Marketing is Time Not Spent Working IN your Business
Yes, marketing is a necessary part of running your own business and you'll spend a lot of time getting it done and getting it done right. Of course, I recommend starting with professional help, because you need to focus on your skills (after all that was your focus when you considered self-employment). At Inspired 2 Design, our goal is to minimize the amount of time you spend on marketing, and make our professional design services so affordable, so fast, and so effective, that you can't possibly find it cost-effective to do it yourself.
Most business owners don't want to spend the time it takes to make their marketing work effectively, or they just simply don't have the skills to build an effective website (no matter how fast and easy they make it look on TV). Whether it's us or someone else, get help in this area.
In the meantime, put yourself out there, get involved in the community, make connections and find those clients and customers. Some of these marketing techniques take more time and skill than others, but they're all critical for your company's success. Consider the trade-off between doing it yourself and paying a contractor to do it for you, what marketing can you handle or should you handle alone? Do what you can, and call us for the rest. Then spend your time doing what you enjoy and what you're trained to do, and together we'll grow your business!