We often hear from our customers that it had always been their dream to own a business - whether that’s opening their own store or starting their own restaurant. Like most entrepreneurs, the goal is to turn a passion into a career.
However, many people are held back by the fear that they won’t be able to manage their business successfully. It takes a leap of faith to open a new business, and it takes business savvy to keep it open. In a series of posts, I'll explore common challenges small business owners face and how to solve it.
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One of the first hurdles a small business owner faces is getting the word out about her new business. Or, if the business is established, growing the business and attracting new customers. At the heart of driving sales is marketing. For business owners without marketing experience, this can seem overwhelming. The good news is there is a lot a small business owner can do to market a business easily and efficiently.
1. Define your unique value proposition (UVP).
The first step in marketing a business effectively is understanding your capabilities and the white space your business is filling in your industry.
Inevitably, you will face competition, so take the time to outline what sets you apart from your competitors. Become as informed as possible on your industry. Sign up for industry newsletters; read relevant trade publications; and consider participating in industry events. This will allow you to identify trends, and stay up-to-date with important news. It will also help you identify your competitors. Take a close look at what they are doing and how they present themselves to potential customers.
Then determine who your target customers are and what they want. This is important - one of the biggest small business marketing pitfalls is to assume you know your customer without doing research.
Clearly identify the service you are providing and the problem you are solving for your target customers. This will help you define your UVP - the unique benefit you are providing for your customers.
You’re not trying to sell to everyone, which is a good thing. Your goal is to clearly define who you are targeting, why they want your product and how best to reach them. Once you know that, your job is to consistently execute your marketing plan.
2. Maximize your online presence.
Armed with a clear understanding of your business and its industry, it’s time to market it to potential customers.
While there are many marketing channels to consider, typically the most efficient and cost-effective are online.
Take time to audit your online presence. An easy place to start is your website. Make sure the website design is consistent with your brand and that the site is easy for customers to navigate, and find the information they’re looking for.
If it’s appropriate for your business, make it easy for customers to sign up for a mailing list. This will enable you to build a database of customers, who give you permission to reach out to them regularly with product updates, interesting news or coupons.
In addition to listing your products or services, consider adding a blog to your website to provide tips and product or service updates to customers.
Beyond your own website, be sure to build your presence on and spend time managing review sites, like Yelp and Angie’s List. These help validate your business and can boost sales. You can even share good customer reviews on your website.
Whether you’re communicating via your website, a blog, an email, a third party review site or social media, be sure to keep a consistent voice. Every customer touchpoint is an opportunity to build your brand.
Related: 4 Low-Cost Marketing Strategies Every Business Should Know
3. Start a conversation.
Social media channels are a low-cost way to get the word out about your business and build relationships with your target audience.
Choose a channel, which your customers are already on. Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn serve very different purposes, so be smart in your choices, and think about the kind of content you like to post. Using platforms specific to your business makes it easy for customers to find and interact with your business online.
When it comes to posting on social media, consistency is key.
Create a schedule to ensure you are posting regularly so your audience knows to expect content. For example, plan for three posts a week, which you can draft in advance.
In order to keep content dynamic, take a three-prong approach:
- Talk about yourself and your business,
- Talk about your customers,
- And talk about your industry.
Share updates about what’s happening at your business, such as a new shipment you’ve received or a peek behind the scenes. Be sure to thank your customers, and engage them through questions.
Finally, share interesting news articles, and invite your social media followers to share their thoughts. In all social media posts, make sure you’re authentic and realistic so your audience can connect with you.
4. Consider paid content.
The paid aspects of social media can also be a great way to boost your business’ profile, and get in front of new customers.
For instance, you can target the exact type of customer you are looking to attract with advertising through Facebook and LinkedIn campaigns, based on the information individuals have shared on their profiles.
Related: 10 Free Marketing Tools Every Entrepreneur Should Know About
If you have the ability to incorporate this tailored approach into your budget and cash flow, it is an option worth exploring to supplement your free social media efforts. Sometimes a small campaign can make a big difference.
Regardless of size, every business owner can use the tools available to market their business successfully. Small business owners can be their own CMO, even without a marketing background, by developing a keen awareness of their industry landscape, building out their social media presence and developing their brand identity.
Haijian Hu is Head of Headway Capital Business Lending, where he helps small businesses take charge of their finances. He previously worked as an enterprise resources planning solution architect helping small-to-medium businesses...