Marketing and Sales for the Small Business
An entrepreneur writing about a marketing strategy on a whiteboard
Marketing and sales are the lifeblood of your business, and successful businesses begin executing a marketing strategy before they even open their doors. If you want your business to thrive, you must begin your marketing plan as soon as you choose your business and start to develop your idea. Here are some recommendations to get you started:
1. Get feedback on your idea.
It takes time and money to start a business, and you can’t afford to waste your resources on an idea that won’t sell. So before you even develop your business plan, it’s wise to get some initial feedback that your product or service is one that people will pay money for.
Begin by sharing your business idea with your friends and family, and ask for their honest feedback. If they aren’t “wowed” by your idea, that’s a sign that your idea either isn’t profitable or needs more work.
2. Perform market research.
Once you have refined your idea based on feedback, it’s time to research your target market. What is the size, growth, and opportunity?
Who are the biggest competitors, what products and services do they offer, and at what price? What is their annual volume of sales and annual revenue?
What are the current market trends?
What are the greatest risks and challenges in the market?
Who are the current customers? What is their gender, age, ethnicity, location, income, education, profession, and lifestyle?
What are the current customers’ greatest needs? Are they being met?
The goal of your research is to determine if there is a need for your product or service in the market. There are many ways to gather this data, including contacting trade associations, reading trade publications or researching online.
The United States Census Bureau has a Small Business Edition that is free and can generate reports with key information pertaining to your location and type of business, such as demographic information of potential customers, information on competitors like the volume of sales and finances, and an overview of consumer spending patterns.
You can also interview experts in your industry, observe customers, conduct focus groups and surveys, or simply go talk to your most successful competitors (or even go work for them).
3. Identify your target customer.
From your research, you may have identified several customer groups, with different backgrounds, locations, and needs. The next step is to narrow your target customer, so you can focus on a few, key benefits that will be especially relevant to them and will make you stand out from your competition. If you try to market your small business to everyone, your message and product offering will be vague and ultimately less desirable. Each customer should feel like your product or service is exactly what they want and need.
4. Test your idea.
Once you understand your market and your target customer, you need to put your idea in front of them to see if there is a demand for it. If you’re selling a product, give your customers a prototype or a sample to try, and then get their feedback. If you’re offering a service, give your customers a free trial. You can also create a website with a “preorder” or “learn more” button to gauge interest.
Use the feedback you received from your prototype or trial offer to improve your product and positioning. You may find that there is little demand for what you’re offering and that you need to change your idea dramatically before pitching it again. This is why at MOBI we recommend performing market research and testing your idea before developing your business plan, so you don’t need to rewrite your business plan over and over again as you change your product.
Continue to refine your product or service and test it until you have convincing evidence that your customers will buy it. Once you have a product or service with demand, you can continue with your marketing strategy.
5. Develop your brand.
Now that you have a viable business idea, take some time to brainstorm your business name and logo. Your name and logo will announce who you are and what you stand for, and a compelling brand will enhance your image and help with marketing your small business.
A good name:
- Is easy to remember.
- Is simple to spell and pronounce.
- Clearly says what you do.
- Stirs customer interest.
- Doesn't confuse you with a similar business.
- Has a positive ring to it.
- Evokes a visual image.
- Doesn't limit you to a geographic location or to a product.
A good logo:
- Is creative yet simple.
- Includes two to three colors that match the tone of your brand.
- Clearly conveys your brand image.
- Stands out from the competition.
- Is timeless.
- Looks good both horizontally and vertically.
- Looks good in black and white as well as in color.
Before settling on any title for your business or logo, be sure to get feedback from friends, family, an industry expert or even your customers.
6. Promote your business.
Whether you’re in your first year of business or your tenth, you always need to promote your business. There are many channels to deliver your message, such as:
- The internet. An online presence is necessary for attracting new customers and increasing sales at a small business. Create a professional website, and then choose one to three social networking platforms to regularly post on and communicate with customers. If you own a brick-and-mortar business, claim your business on Yelp, complete your profile and respond to customer reviews.
- Live events, conferences, and trade shows. Speaking on stage is a great way to spread your message and attract new customers. If you don’t want to present, promote your business by networking or renting a booth at a conference or trade show.
- Radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. Media publicity is free and helps to create a positive image for your business. Newspapers could be interested in writing a feature story about you because of the widespread interest in entrepreneurship and the fact that you are a successful startup. Local newspapers, even the free ones, are very effective. Editorial space is much more valuable to you than display space…and it's free!
- Direct mail. Create brochures, newsletters or postcards and mail them to prospective customers. Consider including a special offer.
- Every entrepreneur learns through experience the most efficient way to spend advertising dollars. This can be hit or miss for the beginner and very costly. So, learn from the previous mistakes of your competitors. Find out and follow how your most successful competitors advertise and promote their products or services.
- A basic rule in promotion and advertising is, "Do what you do best, and hire for what you don't." Hire someone to design your logo or write your press releases if those tasks are outside of your area of expertise.
- Discuss your advertising plan with your vendors. They may provide you with co-op money if you follow their rules and use the money properly. Even the smallest advertiser can get up to half of their advertising costs reimbursed.
7. Build long-term relationships with your customers.
Selling is about building relationships with customers. Today’s customers are more informed than ever before and competition is fierce. The customer needs to feel that you are there for them to provide the best product, with the best value and the best service.
Here are some tips to make sure you are successful in increasing sales at your small business and building long-term relationships with your customers:
- Maintain a positive attitude at all times in front of customers.
- Make sure your staff is well dressed, smiling and positive.
- Have a plan. Prequalify your targets, research, and have a minimum outcome goal that you expect to achieve during a meeting or call with a prospective customer.
- Qualify the customer immediately! You should be able to tell in 30 seconds if this customer is able or willing to buy your product or service. Maintain relationships, but do not chase customers that have no intention of buying.
- Talk about benefits, not features. What problems can your product or service solve for the customer? What benefits will they get from your product or service?
- Let the customer talk. Match their needs with the proper solution.
- Always be closing. Always ask for the sale or a confirmation of movement in the sales process.
- Don’t give up. You will hear no. Be cordial, thank customers for their time, ask for referrals and follow up. While it may be a “no” today, no one knows what needs may arise tomorrow and you want to be that business that is top of mind when the need does come up.
Now that you understand marketing and increasing sales at a small business, develop a marketing and sales strategy of your own and complete section 13 of MOBI’s business plan template, “Opening and Marketing.” For more information, sign up for MOBI’s Starting a Business course, which covers everything from creating a business plan to expanding and handling problems.