Well-executed marketing can have tremendous value for your business. At the same time, poor or ineffective marketing can hurt you as much, if not more, than no marketing at all. The following marketing tips for small business owners are a great place to start.

The following foundational principles will guide you toward the best marketing decisions that yield the strongest results.

1. Remember That Marketing Is About Your Customers

The first priority for any business is to make sure you really understand your target market and what matters to them. “Target market” is another way of saying “a group of customers or potential customers who share some traits or commonalities, and as such have a good chance of wanting your product/service.”

The key for small business owners is always remembering that your target market is made up of individuals. One at a time, they will notice your business, investigate it, and, ideally, make a purchase. Each of these purchases depends on a single person saying “yes” at the right moment.

When you come up with a marketing plan or invest in a marketing tool, look for something that will speak to your customers, one person at a time. A useful exercise might be to put yourself into the customers’ shoes by asking yourself the following three questions: 1) What’s the key problem my business solves for my customers? 2) What do my customers say they like best about what I sell? And 3) If I were a potential customer, what types of marketing messages or materials would interest me? You should analyze each marketing possibility through this customer lens; it’s the best possible lens to use.

2. Create Your Marketing Message

No matter what type of product or service you offer, the way you present your business and what you’re selling is vitally important.

Presentation of your marketing message is about how you communicate with the outside world in every way, from the sign above your door to the image on your Twitter account, from the attire and attitude of your employees to the language on your website. The key is that the presentation is consistent across all of your communication channels so that your customer has a unified experience.

Before you create a single marketing piece, be it a Facebook page or a printed flyer, put some thought into the presentation of your marketing message. The seemingly small details, such as fonts or colors, descriptive language, and image choices, matter a great deal. Make sure that the piece works with the other visual references they have- when they get the flyer and go to your website, will it feel like the same company or two different ones? You want it to feel like the same company.

Get a second opinion if you’re feeling stuck about whether a particular choice reflects well on your business. And always spell check and proofread written materials more than once.

3. Customize Your Marketing Plan

Some marketing needs are nearly universal: nowadays, almost any business needs a clean, well-designed website. Not all the trends that float across the marketing space, however, are a good fit for your business. Determining your optimal “marketing mix” is critical in creating an effective strategy.

Should you invest in SEO? Print and distribute mailers? Pay for online ads? Develop a time-consuming social media strategy? These strategies are all helpful for many businesses. But that doesn’t mean they’re the right options for getting the word out about your products, or communicating with your customers. It could be that hosting local events and placing ads in the community paper might be just as effective for your business. It all depends on your business and your target market.

Any offer for a generic marketing tactic “guaranteed” to boost your business – from any firm or person who doesn’t know the details of your business – should be treated with skepticism. The need for marketing is universal; but the best ways to market are specific to each business.

 4. Work Your Marketing Into the Operations Of Your Business

It’s easy to think of marketing as an afterthought. First I need to get the business going, you think, then I’ll invest in some good branding, and finally, get a marketing strategy together. It’s as if marketing is a decorative element you can add to an already-constructed building.

In fact, marketing isn’t decorative; it needs to be built into the structure, or else it’s ineffective. Good marketing means building into your business a format for communicating what you offer to the world. A way to know whether you have a good built-in strategy is that every one of your employees, from the managers to the busboy, knows what your business has to offer and how to share that offer with anyone interested, be it their neighbor or a stranger on the subway.

When you can see marketing as an integral part of your business, you will start seeing the natural and effective paths to communicating with individuals who are looking for the products or services you offer.

5. Be Sure to Measure Results

With any form of marketing, there’s an element of prediction: you won’t necessarily know before you start what’s going to deliver the best results. So one of the most important tasks in marketing is measuring how your current campaigns and materials are doing. Which means you need to create a way to measure the impact of your efforts.

You don’t need to buy fancy tools to do this — there are a few basics available that any small business owner can use. One easy measurement tool is your voice — simply ask each customer how they found you. For marketing on your website, use Google Analytics, a free tool that lets you monitor traffic to a specific website, to give you information such as the number of people visiting, the time they’re spending on your page or pages, and where they’re coming from (a Google search, a referral from Facebook, etc.). Or if you send out emails, track the people who respond to them as well as consider investing in an email tool that can help you measure engagement such as email open rates or click through rates.

From the moment you opened the doors of your business, you have been saying something about what you have to offer. Now is a great time to start defining and strategizing your marketing, so you can say what you want, in a manner that best communicates your message, to the audience you want to hear it.

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