Lesson 7: Marketing

What You’ll Learn: There’s no reason to go into business if no one knows how to find you. Marketing is a key component of your strategy for success. In this segment, we’ll lift the shroud of mystery surrounding marketing and show you proven tools and techniques for getting the word out to your target customers, even if you’re doing it on a shoestring.

Marketing (continued)

Toolbox Essentials

Develop a scalable plan and budget. Your plan doesn’t need to be extensive, but it does need to be effective. Build the plan so it fits your startup budget and then scale it so it can easily take advantage of those strategies that pay off near term and are extensible long term. Focus on your product or service and put your money there first. Without it, you’ll have nothing to market. Remember, the plan isn’t chiseled in stone. It needs to be flexible enough that you can update it easily as your business grows and customers change.

Have a great product or service. This is something of a “duh!” but the market is flooded with great campaigns for crummy products. To be authentic, your product or service needs to be aligned with and deliver on the promise you’re making, the one that is going to solve the customers’ problem.

Build a trustworthy brand. A brand is not your logo. It is the sum of the experience people have with your company, product, service and even you, the owner. Invest in developing a brand with an unparalleled customer experience. Being bland with your brand is a shortcut to failure. Invest in a strong, professional brand that is in line with who you are and what your customers aspire to be.

Get a website. In the old days, a website was a luxury. Now it is your 24-hour a day storefront. Make sure your website has the information your customers want and need to make a purchasing decision. Be honest and transparent. Customers can smell a phony miles away. Be sure to offer a customer support function. At the bare minimum, a Frequently Asked Questions section and a contact form. Better yet, add real-time customer chat. If you are selling products, an online store is a must these days. Customers expect it.

Make a solid pitch. You should be able to answer the question “What do you do?” in a couple of short, powerful sentences. If you can’t explain your business using a traditional elevator pitch, you need to simplify it so that anyone can understand your unique place in the market. It needs to be punchy, memorable and serve as the core of the story you’re telling.

Get social. Social media is free. That said, don’t make it all about you. If all you do is pitch your business, product, or service in social media, you’re going to lose your audience, and worse, prospects. Use social media to share expertise or great ideas, demonstrate new ways customers are using your product or service, post videos of customer testimonials or share limited-time offers. Create added value whenever you can.

Data is your best friend. This goes back to knowing your customers. You should track every interaction with your customers so that you can market effectively to them over time. A prospect isn’t always ready to buy when they first come into contact with you, but mastering the data will help you stay top of mind as they go through the buying cycle as a prospect turns into a customer. A well-maintained customer database can help you effectively target emails, social media posts, offers and e-newsletters to specific segments of your audience at specific times.

Invest in sound design. Make sure your signs, sales materials, uniforms, tradeshow booth, etc. all match. This is not a time to cut corners or have your 12-year-old nephew design your business cards. If you want to be taken seriously, be serious about your marketing materials and spend the dollars to make your business shine in the mind of your target audiences.

Additional Low-Cost Ideas

You don’t need to rob a bank to mount an effective marketing campaign. There are plenty of guerilla tactics you can use to build awareness of your company and your offerings. Some of them take a bit more sweat equity, but when you’re starting a business, there’s often more time than money available.

Networking. Relationships, particularly in some professions, are everything. Make sure you take advantage of networking opportunities, including local chamber or business development meetings, networking organizations and fundraisers. Get your face and name out there so people start to associate a product or service they need with you and your business.

Sponsor something. Supporting a local event, festival or charity is an excellent way to get your name out. As you look for opportunities, take a good look at their promotional package to see what you get for your money. Some levels offer above the title sponsorship (Presented by…) or advertising space in a program. Before you settle on one level, look at the one above it. Often the additional cost gives you way more bang for your buck.

Public relations. If your product or service is newsworthy, get to know a reporter first who may be interested in your business. See if you can get an interview or follow up on a press release you send them. This works well in smaller markets. If you’re in a metropolitan center, don’t waste your time unless you found a cure for cancer. Promoting that your business exists is not necessarily news, so think hard about what story you have to share and look at the media you’re targeting to see what kind of news they are interested in. You want to be strategic and not wear out the welcome wagon with superfluous “news.”

Blog up a storm. A blog on your website is a great place to share your expertise. Tie the blog into your social media channels and post links back to your website from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. You can also do a video blog, post it on YouTube and share it with your targets. Providing something for nothing is a great loss leader, especially if you’re relatively unknown in the field. Get people to subscribe to your blog so you can build a targeted mailing list.

Host seminars and webinars. This is another excellent way to share your expertise. In a world where Zoom has become the norm, host your session online to attract a larger customer base than you could reach in a physical room. Invite others to be part of a panel so that it’s not just about you and your products or services. Use your database to invite guests to your event.

Become a speaker. The current environment is a perfect time to create a presentation and become known for public speaking. There are a lot of events being held online right now that are desperate for new speakers with new perspectives rather than the same old same old. Perfecting your public speaking chops now will make it easier to transition to large-scale opportunities once stay-at-home orders are lifted. You could just be the next TED Talk star.

Other low cost suggestions:

  • Provide electronic coupons. Research suggests that four out of five customers use coupons frequently, online and in-store.
  • Provide giveaways and samples. Everybody loves to get something for free. You can send a free sample out to reviewers or influencers or offer a buy one/get one promotion for a limited period of time on a product or service.
  • Conduct a raffle or a contest. This is a great way to generate qualified leads for your business. Just make sure the contest is legitimate and that the prize is worth someone’s time. Nothing is worse than running a rigged contest or offering up a prize that looks amazing but turns out to be cheap crap.