One thing I have found in my years of entrepreneurship is that smart marketing is the key to success. I have worked with many different types of small business owners, entrepreneurs, coaches and consultants from all kinds of industries. No matter what their business is I have found that if the person does not know how to market it, and they do not get help to do so, the business will not survive.
The following 10 items are what I consider a good small business start up checklist. If you are in business or thinking about getting into business, you will want to ensure you have or are working on all of these things constantly. The right mix of these items works well to maximize your exposure, credibility, expert status as well as to build your database and help you make informed marketing decisions.
1. Realistically Defined Target Market – Most small business owners actually have too large of a target market to be realistic and to be able market to them all with their limited time and budget. Most likely, you will want to narrow your market or define your niche even further with specific demographics and psychographics. In doing so, you will begin to see unique opportunities surface in that market. Do not forget about all your referral sources. Remember, they are your target market too!
2. Marketing Plan – This plan should outline everything you could possibly do in your marketing, based upon who your target market (ideal client) is and the best ways to reach them, including various guerilla marketing techniques, ideas, promotions, and co-promotions. You will need to stick to your well-researched plan and not be tempted to steer away by random advertising opportunities. This should also include a Publicity Plan. The Publicity Plan should include pertinent media contacts, press releases, article submissions and event listings for ongoing exposure. If you are not submitting press releases regularly to the local media and/or local organizations you belong to, you are missing FREE opportunities to get additional exposure for your business.
3. Database – Input all clients, prospective clients, referral sources, and contacts you will need in one place. Be sure to include everyone you have ever known or done business with so that it is easily mail merged for one. In addition, format the database so that you can sort them by hot, warm or cold prospect or referral source. Next, stay in regular contact with your database through effective Database Marketing and Follow Up. This will allow you to be on the top of their minds when the topic of your service and/or product arises in conversation. This process can include letter and email templates, a system for following up with ‘hot’, ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ prospects and ongoing database marketing. Remember, if you do not do a quick follow up after you meet someone, you are missing opportunities and they might forget about you. You want to follow up with everyone you meet within 48 hours of your meeting. In addition, you will want to ensure you continuously follow up. You need to make this system automatic, systematic and practical so that it will get done. Delegate the process it if you have to.
4. Company Web site – Including domain name(s), hosting, reciprocal links, and Internet submission. You are missing sales if you do not have a Web site. However, a professional Web site is a must, not a home-made, amateur site as it will harm your credibility. It does not have to cost a fortune to be professional. The goal is to design it so it will inform, entice and capture your audience.
5. Email Marketing – Distribution lists, program for email marketing, newsletters, promotions – email marketing is the cheapest form of marketing that anyone can do. However, these days there are spam laws that a business must follow as well as email etiquette that you should strive to follow so that you are portrayed as a professional business. There are programs that you can use to truly make your emails pop, but remember you must send people information that your audience wants to read, not just what you want them to read.
6. Effective Ads & Advertising Plan – Including Timeline & Budget – More than likely you are not spending enough money on advertising. If it you advertise in the right places, places that reach your target market, with a good message or headline and for a reasonable length of time you should see good results. If you only try it once, go too small, or have no idea how to design your ad effectively, you will not get results. Learn about all the advertising mediums in your target area, who they reach, their demographics, what kind of circulation they have based on their cost, etc.
7. Professional Marketing Materials – Business Cards, letterhead, envelopes, brochure, sales packet, flyer, and postcard – whatever is necessary to reach your target market. The materials must be professionally designed, printed and presented.
8. Branding – Includes signage like nametags, shirts with logo, vehicle signs, banner, promotional products and giveaways – the more your name is in front of people, the better. You will want people to recognize your brand on everything you do.
9. Networking Plan – Includes any pertinent organizations, associations, chambers or other professional group that brings in referrals or is an effective venue for prospecting or business development. Pick some organizations (between 2 – 5) you believe are the best at either promoting or building your business. Join them and become as active as you possibly can so you become the well-known expert in your field. Volunteer your time generously and most of all put their events on your calendar before any other client meeting or job because these are advertising dollars that you are not spending.
10. Good, Reliable Vendors – Includes industry vendors as well as those for your business development such as printers, mailing houses, delivery services, rental companies. You would be surprised to know that you are probably spending too much money in one or more of these areas right now. Find reliable, inexpensive sources.
If you are thinking that there is absolutely no way you can get all this done yourself, or you just do not know how to do something on this list then, I would suggest that you find an expert in that field to help you. Delegate that task to someone who knows best how to accomplish it and can do it much more efficiently than you can.
Remember, the cost of outsourcing such tasks far outweighs the valuable time you spent trying to figure it out. Your marketing is the most important thing you will ever do in running your own business. If you do not believe me, save this article in a safe place. When you go out of business in 2-5 years, find it and read it again.
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