Topic overview

Marketing essentials

Every time you speak to someone about your business you are involved in marketing. Any conversation about your firm is an opportunity to promote your business and increase sales.

A marketing strategy will help you focus. It will identify the different ways you can talk to your customers, and concentrate on the ones that will create most sales.

It tells you what to say, how to say it and who to say it to in order to make more sales. Because timing is critical, it will tell you when to say it, too.

Knowing your customers

A successful marketing strategy depends on understanding your customers, what they need and how you can persuade them to buy from you.

There's no substitute for knowledge. Experience and regular two-way communication will tell you a lot about your customers. But targeted market research will build a more detailed picture of customer segments with similar needs. It will help you understand how to target these people so you're not wasting time on people who aren't interested in your offer.

But you'll also need to understand how your market works - where do your customers find out about your offer, for example? Your strategy should cover how you measure up against the competition and what new trends to expect in your market.

Once you have a deep understanding of the market you'll be operating in, you can decide how best to package and present your products and services, how much to charge for them and how to take them to market - whether online, via direct retail to the public or via agents and distributors, as a supplier to other businesses, or a combination of channels.

Understand your USP

Small businesses are at an advantage when it comes to finding and filling a niche. Differentiate your offering. This can be in terms of quality or product type, or offering something that isn't available in the mass-market.

Take every opportunity to stress the benefits to your customers of buying from a small operation, and include the message on all of your marketing materials - even the packaging. Concentrate on quality and exclusivity: you might be family-owned, for example, use a handmade process or provide bespoke goods or services.

Reinforcing your community ties is also important. Locally-sourced products have less environmental impact, because they have travelled fewer miles. Let consumers know if you are supporting the local community or being environmentally friendly.

Provide a quality service

Customer service is a vital selling point for small businesses, and it's an area where large manufacturers and retailers struggle to compete. Many customers value buying from somebody local who they can trust. Small firms can offer a friendly face, be trustworthy, flexible and approachable. You should focus on providing exceptional customer service.

This could include making a list of your regular customers and keeping them up to date with your products, services, offers, and news about the business. You could do this via an email newsletter as well as in person. Make an effort to attend local events, such as markets, as well.

Create your marketing plan

A marketing plan explains how to put your strategy into action. It will set marketing budgets and deadlines, but it will also describe how you're going to talk to your target customers - whether that's through advertising, online through your website or social media, via offline networking and going to trade shows, through direct marketing, and so on. Choosing the right marketing method is vital to ensure you reach customers.

Crucially, it will also tell you when to talk to your customers. Timing your activities to fit their buying cycles will save money and maximise sales.

Finally, your marketing plan should look to the future: it should outline how you follow up sales and what you're doing to develop your offer.

As with any plan, progress should be regularly measured and reviewed to see what's working and what isn't, so you can set new targets as your market changes.

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