Friday, June 28, 2013

Marketing and your business: Where to begin?

New technology, new trends, a constantly changing landscape of marketing "opportunities" and services - if you are a small or even medium-sized business, it is hard to know where to begin, or perhaps even if to begin at all.
Most small business owners feel that a marketing strategy would be nice to have, but not at the expense of the daily activities involved in running a company such as order fulfilment or other activities tied directly to the money coming through the door. Though there is nothing wrong with focusing on the things that have the most immediate impact, the reality of this situation, based on what I have heard directly from small business owners, is that they would prefer to have some kind of marketing plan in place but don't have the time, expertise or resources to do so.

So, to help those of you who are interested in marketing their business but are unsure of where to start, here are two key pillars to have in place that will aide in planning out a strategy to market your business. Defining these pillars will form more than just a base for your marketing initiatives; it will also form a solid foundation for your company.

To know where you want to go, you have to know where you came from

I'm not an avid believer that this phrase is universally applicable in every situation, but it certainly helps clarify things when considering goals and defining the success of your company. This stage lays the groundwork and really takes stock of where you are now. Looking at past successes, scrutinizing past troubled patches for lessons to be learned from the experience and evaluating where you are now, are absolutely essential to marketing but also to the overall vision you have for your business. Some questions to ask during this phase:

  • Do you have measurable success markers in place? If so, have they been working? What have your successes been? Make a list.
  • If you do not have measurable markers in place, what would they be if you could implement them tomorrow? Sky's the limit at this point; do not self-censor.
  • Was there a particularly difficult period for your company in the past 12 months? Can you isolate what may have caused this? Would having measurable markers for evaluating your business have helped avoid this problem? And most importantly, end on a positive note: what did you learn from this experience?

Sometimes it is surprising what will emerge from a period of solid and honest reflection and evaluation. Like meditation for a  business, the process of taking the time to take stock is essential to determining where your company is going.

Now that you have an idea of where things are and why, who are you selling to?

Now that you've taken stock of your businesses' performance and set some future goals, but the next step is examining who you are targeting as customers and what you are providing them. Looking at your client base is essential to uncovering potential opportunities for your business. Creating a profile of your target market is an excellent way to get to know your typical customer. Some questions to ask:

  • Who is my main clientele? What are some of the reasons they come to my business?
  • Are there customers who come to me who I didn't anticipate attracting? What makes them different and motivates their decision to do business with me?
  • How do my customers find me?
  • Is there an opportunity to expand beyond this clientele?

A lot of this information is likely stored mentally through the interactions you have with your customers, but it really should be recorded or catalogued as it can provide great insight into who you are reaching and their motivation for coming to your business. By writing it down, you can better pick out key information when it is in front of you rather than when it is stored away mentally. Remember, each interaction with a customer is chance to learn more about your business (I will do a training session on this topic in Stittsville. If you are interested in attending, please email me at Registration is limited to 10 people. Date to be determined).

Summary: By taking stock of your recent business history, evaluating where you are now and profiling your target market and customers, a lot of insight can be revealed that is just waiting to be applied. Put this information to use! Let it serve as the base for your marketing decisions and how best to reach your most valuable potential customers.

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