Promoting your business is essential if you want potential customers to know you exist. But where do you start? Personal recommendations can be one of the most effective forms of publicity, which is why you must ensure your customers are left satisfied every time they deal with your business.
Online marketing involves making best use of your website (including optimising it for search engines such as Google), as well as including email marketing and electronic newsletters, online/pay-per-click advertising, and using social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn 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 taking a stand at fairs, trade shows and exhibitions).
Marketing should be part of your everyday business culture. Having a marketing plan can increase your chances of success, but it doesn't need to be complex, just something that sets out your goals and strategy, structures your efforts and enables you to measure success.
Market research enables you to identify those you want to sell to (your 'target market') or those most likely to buy from you. Segmenting customers into distinct groups enables you to finely tune your marketing.
Ahead of launch, you must make potential customers aware you're about to start a new business. Having work or sales lined up can help you get your business off to a flying start.
Features don't sell - benefits do. Focus on the main benefits your products or services offer to customers. Summarise them into a few key reasons why people should buy from you.
Drawing attention to your unique selling proposition (USP) could also help your cause. This requires explaining what makes your business special.
Focusing on your target market's habits will help you decide how best to reach them. There's no point in advertising in a glossy magazine if your target market won't read it or advertising online if potential customers aren't internet users. Advertising in a local paper, handing out flyers or doing a door-to-door leaflet drop might be much more effective.
Simple forms of advertising can be highly effective, low cost or even free. These include simply getting a sign painted on your van, putting a card up in your local newsagent's window, creating a Facebook page or having a Twitter feed for you and your business. You could even strike up mutual recommendation agreements with other small businesses.
Simply meeting potential customers face to face is often the most effective way to promote your business. Networking can also generate sales.
Word of mouth is the best form of advertising - but you must earn it. Satisfied customers can be your best advocates, which is why customers' needs should be satisfied every time. Much will depend on the quality of your products or services, of course, but how you deal with customer enquiries or complaints can be just as important.
If relevant to your type of business, simply following up sales with a brief courtesy call a few weeks later can go down very well. It also provides the opportunity to remind customers about your business and tell them about other offers. You could even offer them a reward for recommending your business to others, possibly by providing a small discount off future purchases.
Promoting any business involves some trial and error. This is why you need to have a system for measuring the success of your marketing methods, which could be as simple as asking each new customer how they heard of you or including a promotion code for specific campaigns.
If something hasn't worked, work out why and don't repeat the mistake. In future, you can concentrate your resources on more effective marketing methods.