Marketing for small businesses needs to be carefully thought through, and often requires a multi-pronged approach.
It’s one thing to have a great product, but it will never be a success unless your potential customers know about it. That’s where marketing comes in.
Neil Addley, managing director of used-car website Trusted Dealers, which has grown by 20% over the past year, says the starting point is the same for all businesses. “It all starts with a strategy, whether you’re a small business or a much larger one,” he says. “Define what you’re trying to sell, to whom, where and when, and then work out how best to get to that target with the budget you have available.”
Doug D’Aubrey, managing director of business advisers Executive Training and Consultancy, says that many growing enterprises struggle with marketing.
“The first thing a lot of business owners will say to me is, ‘I can’t do sales.’ What they can’t do is marketing.
“They are passionate about the product and that sells. What they struggle with is getting prospects. If your marketing isn’t delivering prospects, you are wasting your time doing it.”
D’Aubrey says the next step is to understand your customers: “Where do they shop? What other stuff do they buy? That’s where you market yourself.”
Sometimes businesses have more than one type of customer in mind and have to adjust their marketing strategies accordingly. Addley says Trusted Dealers has two objectives: to get consumers on to its website to view used cars, and to get dealers inquiring about becoming clients.
For the part of its marketing strategy that is aimed at consumers, Trusted Dealers uses online advertising and email. This includes pay per click and paid search – advertising on sites such as Google and Bing – and targeted email marketing.
For attracting new businesses, Addley says marketing is focused on email, which is linked to a prospects database. In addition, social media – particularly Linkedin – is used to identify new potential clients.
“We’ve also run a series of digital marketing roadshows for dealers to get advice and updates on digital marketing,” says Addley. “These have proven an effective way of getting face to face with new clients.”
Like Trusted Dealers, Ella Riley’s Traditional Sweets and Toffees has different strategies for consumers and its trade customers.
The south Wales based sweet manufacturer regained the patent for its toffee rolls from Kraft a few years ago, and has since been trying to rekindle people’s memories of the product from its heyday.
On the trade side, the company’s marketing efforts have sought to tackle patent infringements by making traders aware of imitations. The soon to be launched #realriley’s Twitter hashtag campaign was born out of this.
“There have been a few infringements,” says Riley’s co-owner Freya Sykes. “We had a choice of going down the legal route or spending money on a marketing campaign.”
Sykes says she finds social media the best way of connecting with customers, and focuses marketing efforts on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. “With social media, you can talk to customers in a tone of voice that you can’t get in an advert,” she says.
She advises businesses considering where to focus their marketing efforts to go with social media. “I would find your unique selling point and press it home,” she says. “It is what will sell your product eventually. If your widget is the shiniest, tell people about that.”
Riley’s selling point was the product’s history, so Sykes says its marketing campaign has tried to engender a feeling of warmth and nostalgia. “People remember us from the first time round,” she says. “We have a really loyal fanbase in the 30 plus demographic. They are now telling their children about us.”
Some small businesses are abandoning traditional advertising in newspapers, magazines and radio for cost reasons. But a number have found other ways of getting their message out via local media.
Sykes, a former journalist, has secured regular mentions on local radio by putting out press releases. “Twice this week we have been on BBC radio,” she says. “Yesterday, we commented on the budget, today we put out a press release on Small Business Saturday.”
Jill Roberson, who runs Norfolk based ethical furniture retailers The Living Rooms, has in the past advertised in local media.
She now focuses her efforts on free platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, but has found commissioning a local PR consultant very good value. “He has press contacts and canvasses for two or three clients at the same time. Immediately, that makes us look more professional.”
Roberson has also adopted some imaginative strategies of her own including following Norwich City FC players and other local celebrities on social media. This strategy paid off when she recently sold a product to a well-known Norfolk resident after interacting with them on Twitter.
“The biggest challenge for smaller business is getting to the people with the money who are time-poor,” she says.
Sarah Cruickshank, creative director at Sarah Cruickshank Media Solutions, has found blogging helpful in promoting her two-year-old virtual assistant business. She says it helps her get the word out to potential customers about her services, which include audio transcription and proofreading.
“Blogging has definitely got me work,” she says. “It’s also useful for tracking inquiries.” Cruickshank says she also finds Linkedin and Twitter useful, as well as her monthly newsletter, which she sends to the 100 customers on her mailing database.
Doug D’Aubrey says that making a database of prospects and customers can help with developing marketing strategies, as well as in measuring their effectiveness.
He says a good way of measuring referrals is by using a promo code linked to a discount or another promotion. “When the prospect arrives into the sales process, you should be able to track where the prospect comes from,” he adds.
D’Aubrey says promotions and discounts can also help with marketing. He says that businesses targeting a similar market with different projects can form strategic alliances and work together.
He gives the example of a bridal shop he works with which ran a successful campaign over the second May bank holiday where people who bought their engagement ring from a certain high street jeweller received a 10% discount on a dress.
“All the jeweller did was allow the bridal shop to put a mannequin in their window with a sign and print a voucher,” he says. “For a wedding, there are so many things that work together. There are wedding photographers who work with limousine companies.”
D’Aubrey also suggests looking at guerrilla marketing strategies, including posters and stickers, which can provide businesses with clever, cheap ways of reaching customers.
This is just a small portion of what I cover in depth in Small Business Marketing Basics home study course.
Originally published on: TheGuardian.com
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