If you think marketing isn’t a key issue for start-ups, think again. Marketing drives sales by ensuring that your business name is in front of the right people at the right time, both online and offline. Marketing helps a new business to get exposure and build a reputation and it can enable a fledgling firm become a more established player in the market.
The first step is understanding your target market. Effective marketing is underpinned by sound knowledge of (potential) customers and competitors. Only by knowing your customers' needs, wants and aspirations can you hope to satisfy or delight them – and possibly even lure them away from your competitors.
Carrying out market research for your start-up business needn’t be complex or expensive. Finding the answer to the most basic facts is key and a simple conversation with potential customers can reveal much. You need to find out what they think about your products and prices.
Market research isn’t complete unless you weigh up the competition, of course. Start by carrying out a quick Google search, then ask around to find out how your rivals are perceived in your sector or local area.
Market research can enable you to tailor your offer to fit a gap in the market (‘niche’). Being the best supplier within your niche (or one of them) should be high up on your list of ambitions. Remaining close to your customers enables you to stay in tune with their needs.
You’re more likely to succeed if you have a marketing plan, which sets out your objectives and explains your marketing strategy.
Marketing success is underpinned by the Four Ps: Product; Price; Place (ie distribution channel); and Promotion. Together, they form the ‘Marketing Mix’. Get it right and you’ll maximise the success of your marketing efforts. You also need powerful messages and a unique selling proposition (USP) that convinces customers to buy from you over others.
You must promote your business effectively and it’s a never-ending task. Online marketing is now at the heart of many business’s promotional efforts. When done well, it can help to attract and retain large numbers of customers, often for relatively little investment.
Online marketing of course involves making best use of your website (including optimising it for search engines such as Google), as well as including email marketing and e-newsletters, online/pay-per-click advertising, and using social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram and Vine.
Key offline marketing options include advertising, direct mail, leafleting (which still works very well for some businesses), public relations (PR) and networking (including visiting and having a presence at fairs, trade shows and exhibitions). The most potent promotion comes from satisfied customers, so it pays to ensure your customers are delighted if you want to ensure word of mouth recommendations.
In business, the ability to convince customers to spend is arguably the most valuable skill. To some small business owners, it comes naturally. Others get better with time. There are a number of techniques that can be learned; above all you need to be able to recognise buying signals and learn how to close the sale.
Marketing isn’t something you do occasionally, it must be part of the everyday fabric of your business. You need to assess your sales and marketing activity continually, learn from your mistakes, build on your successes – and remain open to new methods.
Find more articles, videos and tools on sales and marketing in the Resources box.