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Finding the best marketing strategies has always been challenging for small business owners. The many marketing channels available to businesses make it difficult to decide on the optimal way to market to potential customers.
Should you be blogging? What about using SEO. Do newspaper ads still work? The consumer who’s searching the web for the best price on printing business cards may never see your ad in the local newspaper. And, the woman who gets a text message at 11:15 am from a nearby deli telling her about today’s lunch special may never see the lunch coupons your bagel shop mails out.
The homeowner who needs a dishwasher repaired may look at the classified ads in the local weekly newspaper, or they might post a query in social media to see if their friends can make a recommendation. And, the middle school teacher who thinks her students and their parents spend too many of their waking hours using computers or other digital devices may never see the advertisement for a free sample of hand lotion you’re running on Facebook.
How to determine the best strategy for your business
There’s no one push-button marketing idea that will send a steady stream of customers to your door. Whether you sell products or services, you must use multiple marketing strategies to attract and keep customers.
The list below presents a variety of marketing strategies. Pay particular attention to the first five, even if you’ve been in business for years. Markets change, and it’s essential to consider whether what you’re selling and how you’re selling it matches what business and consumers want to buy now.
If you’ve been in business for a long time and haven’t changed your marketing methods over the years, look closely and the marketing methods that involve the Internet and digital marketing. No matter how your existing customers found you, businesses and consumers today regularly turn to digital media to gather information about their needs and research service providers before deciding which service provider they’ll use. You want them to find your company.
1. Define your marketing goals
Before you can choose the right business marketing strategies you need to consider your goals. Do you need to build brand awareness for your business? Be seen as an expert in your field? Are you adding a new service or product to what you already sell? Do you want to bring in more business at lunchtime or dinner time? Do you want to increase the order size (ie, sell 10 of something at once instead of 1)?
Different goals often require different strategies to achieve. For instance, if you are that bagel shop mentioned above and want to increase foot traffic and indivdual purchase at lunchtime, you might want to consider a text messaging strategy. But if tyou want to build up your catering business or sell bagels in bulk to nearby restaurants and stores, you’ll need to use a different strategy.
2. Describe what makes your products or service different
To win customers, you’ll will need to distinguish yourself from the competition in some real or perceived way. How you do that is called a unique selling proposition (USP), and it is an important part of your overall marketing strategy. Lower cost, better quality, the hours of the day or evening that you’re open, years of experience and speed of service are just a few possible differences that could attract customers. To decide on your USP, start by looking for reviews for products and services like yours and noting comments left by reviewers to see what’s important to them. Next, list the features and benefits of what you sell, then make another list indicating what your customers are most interested in or pleased about. Summarize your notes in a sentence that let’s people know why they should choose your company over your competitors.
Create a profile of your ideal customer. What type of person buys this service most frequently today? Don’t fall into the trap of believing “everyone” or everyone in a certain demographic is your customer. Even if it’s true, “everyone” isn’t a market you can reach effectively on a small business budget. Neither is “all women over 40” or similarly large demographic groups. You need to narrow your target and focus on the most likely prospects that you can afford to reach.
Do that by digging deeper. Why do they need and strongly desire this service? What is their job function? If it’s a consumer product, where do they live? How old are they? How much money do they earn? What other factors make them a likely customer? Where are they most likely to look for the service or hear about it? How much would your ideal customer spend? How frequently would they reorder? Who might they ask for a referral?
Once you answer those questions, ask yourself one more: “Where should I be networking or what should I be doing to make myself known to that potential customer or to people who give the prospect referrals.” After you’ve answered the questions, act on them.
4. Understand what the customer wants to buy
Customers don’t necessarily want to buy what you want to sell. They don’t really want the service you perform. They want the solution to a problem or benefit your service provides. Think about it. A plumber’s customers aren’t really interested in plumbing. They want a leaky pipe fixed. A web developers’ customers don’t want a database or design. They want a website that will make them look good, get found in search engines, and help them get new customers. If you need help figuring out what your customers are really buying, ask them. You’ll get better results from your marketing by re-focusing on the solutions and benefits the customer wants to buy instead of the product you want to sell.
5. Learn the best time, place and format to reach your target market
Once you have identified your target market, ask yourself where and when would that customer want to learn about the product and/or buy it. If you don’t know, ask potential customers how they discover and choose your type of product or service. Their answers can help you decide how much time and effort to put into social media, networking, getting referrals, content marketing and other tactics to bring in business. After you’ve answered the questions, act on them. Put your business and promotional materials where likely customers will find them.
Related: How to create marketing strategies
6. Make yourself a trusted resource to prospects and customers
People like to buy from people they know and trust. They also don’t like to have anything “sold” to them. Become a trusted resource to your prospects by providing information that will help them make a good choice.
7. Make yourself a resource for the media
Members of the press are always looking for authoritative sources to quote. Keep in touch with local media through online and offline network groups and subscribe to HARO to receive inquiries from media who are looking for interview subjects for stories.
8. Set up professional social media profiles
You need to have social media presences for yourself and your business on all the social media channels that are important (ie, used by) your customers. Among them: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube,Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram. Be sure each of your profiles is professional and has a link to your website. If you meet a prospect and they lose your business card, they might type your name into the search engine to try to find you. Having a profile on the biggest social media sites will allow them to find you and the link to your website.
9. Claim your place on Google Business and Bing Places for Business
Google Business listings and Bing Places for Business aren’t just for fast food establishments or retail stores. You can search for any type of service by location, and Google will show a list of companies that match the service you searched for in the location you specified. If you live in a big city, there’s no guarantee your places profile will show up on that first page listing. But having a profile gives you an edge.
10. Participate in social media discussions groups
Participating in the social media discussions that attract your target customers can be beneficial if your goal is to get known, gain credibility, or get seen as an expert. They can also help give you understand your customer better. Depending what you sell, look for topic-specific groups and/or location-based discussion groups. Set aside a few minutes a day to read the conversations. Listen to what people are asking about and what complaints they have about the type of goods you sell. This will give you insight into what people actually want to acquire (as opposed to features or products you want to sell.) Pay attention to the group dynamics and gradually start making informative comments or posting useful resources. If you don’t have time to do this, hire a freelancer or an employee help by scouting out conversations that you may want to participate in.
11. Develop a content marketing strategy
If your product or service is one that customers tend to research before they buy, you need a content marketing strategy. The same is true if being recognized as an expert in your industry is important to reaching your marketing goal.
Among the tactics you’ll use is writing articles related to the service you provide. You’ll most likely want content that answers questions customers have at each stage of the buying cycle. Put some of the articles on your own site and distribute others to other sites that reach your audience. Be sure to include an “about the author” resources box with a link to your website. (For more tips on article marketing, read Article Marketing Do’s and Don’ts.) The articles will help get yourself and your company known, and help establish your credibility. Other related tactics to implement this content marketing strategy include using white papers and other giveaways to generate leads, and creating and distributing infographics.
12. Print up flyers or brochures
Even though we live in a digital age, print marketing is still important. Print up flyers, brochures or other handouts and distribute them at membership groups you belong to, if allowed. You can get free templates from HP and Microsoft you can use to create your own. Print small quantities of flyers or product sheets yourself on a color printer. (Be sure to use good quality paper – something heavier than standard copier paper.) When you know you’ll need a hundred or more copies at a time, compare the cost of having them printed to the cost of printing your own. Be sure to allow enough time to have the printing delivered to you.
13. Volunteer to speak at local business groups
If your marketing goal is to get known or get seen as an expert, speaking a local or other business events can be advantageous. Business groups often need interesting speakers to attract members to meetings. Your talk should be about some area of your specialty, but should focus on the audience’s informational needs and the problems they want to solve.
14. Submit proposals to speak at industry group conferences
Local, regional and national group conferences need speakers, too. If you are an expert in your field, submit proposals to speak at such events. If you don’t have a lot of experience speaking, see if you can get on a panel, instead of giving a solo speech. Be sure to promote your participation in the panel before the event, and link to any videos or other after-event promo the conference planner has posted.
15. Seek referrals and recommendations
Constantly be on the lookout for ways to get customers and acquaintances to recommend you to their friends. Such recommendations bring ready-to-buy customers to your doorstep, customers who already trust you (because of the recommendation), and are therefore easier to get to buy from you.. Some recommendations and referrals happen on their own, but you can increase referrals by being proactive at acquiring them.
16. Refer business to other businesses in your networks
Giving referrals is as important a networking tool as getting them. People recommend people they like….and business people usually like other business people who send them business.
17. Co-market your business with another business
Make arrangements with another business that reaches the same customer base that you do, but sells a different product. Share mailings, give away coupons for each other, and refer business to one another.
18. Tweet, mention and link to other people’s articles and posts
You can provide interesting content and establish your own authority by helping your social media followers find good content posted by other people. Besides providing good material for your followers, it’s a good way to win social media friends, expand your network, and get your name and specialty known.
19. Build an email list and send informative mailings to it on a regular basis
Your mailing list should be made up of people who have asked to be on it. (Having a newsletter signup box on your web page is one good way to get people to “ask” to be on your mailing list.)
20. Be proactive about networking
Don’t just join networking groups, show up at some of them on a regular basis. Choose that ones that are most likely to attract your type of customers, and try one or two leads groups as well. The best source of business for the majority of small service businesses is referrals. The more often you’re seen and participate in groups, the more likely you are to be remembered when a member is asked for a referral.
Postcard mailings are great for keeping in touch with potential customers and existing customers. The person who doesn’t have time to talk to you today, may need your services (or know someone else who does) a month or 6 months from now. Keep your name fresh with regular mailings.
22. Ask for referrals
Besides asking existing clients if they know anyone else who can use your services, consider what other professionals you know who could refer business to you – and vice versa. If you’re an electrician, talk to local builders and remodeling contractors, plumbers, and people who lay tile. If you are a graphic designer talk to web designers and ad agencies, about referring work.
23. Pick up the phone and call likely prospects
Cold calling is hard and you have to be able to deal with rejection. But it does work. If you are fearful about trying it, check out this article about making cold calls easier.
24. Canvas neighborhoods
If you provide services to homeowners, knock on doors and talk to neighbors of your customers. Have handouts and doorhangers with you. Neighbors are usually curious when they see a homeowner having work done, and you may get additional sales as a result.
25. Don’t be too quick to discourage tire kickers
It’s hard to know where to draw the line with people who keep asking questions without any indication they plan to make a purchase, but sometimes those questions are used as much to size you or your business up as they are to gain information.
26. Have a website and publicize it
It amazes me, but there are still businesses that don’t have a website. I was at a Chamber of Commerce meeting a few months ago and met someone who said he was a copywriter. I asked for a business card, and his card didn’t include his website, so I asked for his website URL. Amazingly, the person who had just tried to convince me he could write copy for the web, didn’t have a website.
No matter how much in-person networking you do or how much social media networking you do, you still need a website. Your prospects will want to see samples of your work, get more information about you, and if you’re a consultant or other expert, they’re probably going to want to read things you’ve written about your area of expertise. You can control what they see on your own website. You can’t control what ads show up next to your posts or what the rules are on social media sites.
If you can’t afford to pay a web developer, set up at least a simple website using free or low cost website hosting and design tools such as Weebly or GoDaddy. Once you have a website, be sure it’s listed on all your sales literature, your business card, association member directories, and as many places as you can get listings.
27. Have a fully functioning website
Another circumstance I find amazing is the number of small businesses who join local business networking groups and have non-working websites listed in the group’s membership directory. Occasionally it’s because the directory listing was published with a typo in the domain name. But often, it appears the business that owned the domain name let it lapse – or never finished setting up the website. Don’t let that happen to you. Be sure you register the domain name yourself (instead of letting the web developer do it), and be sure that you keep your credit card information up-to-date at the domain registrar. Double check your association directory listing after it’s published to be sure there are no typos and the link works. Check each page on your site to be sure you didn’t leave up any links going to blank pages or to “under construction pages.”
28. Be Creative
Sometimes you need to think outside the box to create the best marketing strategy for your small business. Consider whether you can grow you business by marketing to a different demographic or a different industry. Or perhaps you need a new look, or a new angle to promote. Check out these creative suggestions for finding a strategy that works.
29. Don’t stop marketing
Once business starts coming in on a regular basis it’s tempting to ease off on some of the marketing and networking you do. But that’s a mistake. You need to market continually to keep business coming in regularly.
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