Marketing is one of the most challenging aspects of starting a business. Often new business owners find that their marketing strategies are not giving them the results they want. Typically, they lament that they've placed some ads, but they just don't seem to be doing anything. Their efforts are not bringing them the customers, clients, or sales they desire.
That's where a marketing strategy comes in, and there are some best practices to follow when creating them.
Marketing Is More Than Advertising
The reality is that marketing and advertising are not synonymous, and "placing a few ads" is never going to generate the sales a small business needs to be successful. Marketing is a process, not an event. It involves planning marketing goals and implementing marketing strategies to achieve them.
Now, that doesn't mean marketing has to be a complicated process. But it does mean you have to know what you want to achieve and put in the necessary work. Here are six basic marketing strategies you can use to increase your customers and sales.
1. Offer Free Classes or Workshops
People love new learning experiences. Try offering classes or workshops related to your products or services—in your home, in a rented venue, or at a local educational institution such as a community college. Target specific audiences or events, if appropriate. For instance, someone with a beading business might offer special workshops on "Beaded Christmas Projects" or "Beading for Girls." A yoga instructor might offer classes such as "Yoga for Men" or "Yoga for Seniors."
2. Join Local Business Networks
Many groups, such as home-based business groups, are inexpensive to join. And the marketing benefits are huge. Once they get to know you and what you do, the other business people in your group will mention your business to others and may even give you referrals. Local business organizations are also great opportunities to create and participate in some cooperative marketing strategies, such as holding special market days or other events.
3. Get Charitable
Many people expect businesses to participate in charitable causes these days. Plus, you can get a lot of press for getting involved, which can translate into new customers. One local artist, for example, has painted paper grocery bags which he is selling with all proceeds going to a selected charity. But you don’t even have to go to the trouble of creating your own event; many charities have established events in which you can participate by becoming a sponsor.
4. Create Your Own Blog
A blog is a great way to build an audience of people who would be interested in your products or services. And creating a blog is easier than creating a website, so it takes no time to get one up and running. Write regularly about topics related to your business and what it's doing. You'll start connecting with other bloggers, business people, and potential customers.
5. Join and Use Social Media
If you have time to get to know and use a variety of social media, it's a worthwhile investment. For particularly visual businesses, Instagram may be the best choice, but if you have only limited time and visual material, Twitter is quickest and easiest to use. More than 88% of U.S. marketers with 100 or more employees use social networks for marketing purposes, so if you don't, you're squarely in the minority.
Make sure you don't use Twitter exclusively to promote your product. Use whatever platform is appropriate to find and converse with like-minded people who may be interested in what you're doing.
6. Ask for Referrals
Asking for referrals is the easiest and least time-consuming of all marketing strategies. It's surprising how often businesses fail to use it as one of their marketing strategies. If you're offering a good product or service and making some happy customers, they should be eager to point their friends and family your way. Don't be shy—you can even offer a discount or other incentive to your customers for every referral that turns into a sale.
The Marketing Rope
In most cases, advertising won't be effective unless it's part of a coordinated marketing plan. Think of marketing as a rope and advertising as one strand in that rope. How strong is one strand of rope going to be?
A mix of basic marketing strategies, such as advertising in conjunction with the strategies above, will get you the marketing results you want. None of these marketing strategies is going to draw hordes of customers overnight, but assuming you have a good product or service and you work at them consistently, you will ideally gradually see an increase in customers and sales.