Small businesses shouldn't always go for the cheaper option – the important thing is to ensure your marketing strategy is right for your brand.
At DMSQD we often see fledgling businesses that have spent significant amounts of cash – at a time when they can least afford it – on marketing materials that end up offering a poor return on investment or, even worse, damaging their brand. When cash is tight, the temptation can be to go for the cheapest option – for example, through low-cost business cards and websites. But companies can end up paying twice when they realise the cheapest option isn't the right way for them to communicate their business brand.
Alternatively, small businesses can try to do everything at once with a scattergun approach hoping that something works, rather than employing a carefully considered strategy.
These problems are so common, we decided to set up our grassroots initiative for startups to help them avoid some of the pitfalls when it comes to marketing by giving them all they need to get going. It began life as an affordable marketing starter package comprising an editable website, business cards, flyers and, most importantly, one-to-one coaching on how best to plan and use marketing when starting a business.
Here are some of the tips we share with our clients to make sure they get the most out of a limited marketing budget. As with most things in business, you'll find research, planning and evaluation always pay off.
1. Planning Research your competitors and your market, but try to think about the market as physical people. How do they use the internet? When are they online? What are they looking for there? Develop a thorough understanding of the people you want to trade with and the issues they face. Econsultancy is a fantastic resource for marketing data, such as reports on how different consumers behave online, meaning you can direct your marketing efforts in the right areas. To work out which social networks you should concentrate on, CubeSocial is great for finding out where your potential prospects may "hang out" online.
2. Set objectives This isn't a one-off job. Set objectives for every bit of marketing you do, and give very specific timings and measurements of success. For example, your website's success may be measured by how it generates inquiries or sales. Give your printed work specific objectives, too, such as driving traffic to your website through a specific "search for" call to action. Don't be shy about rapidly assessing and amending things in order to keep on track for your objectives – measure, tweak and measure again. Tools such as the free Google Analytics work fantastically, while Hootsuite is perfect for social media metrics.
Before spending, determine what you need: don't kneejerk spend on the usual things like website, printed materials and tools such as SEO. Instead, take heed of what has been learned from your research and setting objectives, and map out the materials that you need and how they will tie together to form a cohesive structure to your marketing. Always be clear about purpose. What is the aim of, for example, leaflets or business cards? Are you looking for awareness generation, a sales tool or merely a contact card full of personality?
4. Get to know some local suppliers Local businesses might be able to service you much better. And they'll always know other people who can help you, too. Don't be afraid of asking penetrating questions about their services either. You need to know you're spending money with reputable companies that can prove their results, quality and delivery times. Consider your spending carefully and map each bit of spend to a specific outcome, which in turn directly serves one of your overall business objectives.
5. Become an expert Social networking is perfect for establishing yourself as an expert in your field. Give high value content and advice away to help your ascension to "expert" status. Create a strategy for releasing content and set up a blog as a medium for this release. A branded blog is typically better and can be directly integrated into your website – platforms such as Wordpress and mojoPortal work very well, at a low cost. For a more personal approach, try Tumblr.
Overall, remember that marketing is one of the more fun aspects of running a business – ultimately it's about telling people how great your business is – but don't try to do everything at once. By putting in the necessary research and planning, tapping into affordable expertise and utilising free online tools and help, you can make sure you're seeing that all important return on investment from your marketing right from day one.