How to Improve Your Small Business Marketing

Small Business Makeover Lesson 3

Marketing Meeting
Image (c) George Doyle / Getty Images

No matter what the size of your business, effective marketing can increase sales and boost profits. This Small Business Marketing Makeover will show you how to save time and money on marketing by implementing effective marketing strategies. 

Look at your small business marketing from the right end of the telescope.

Too many small businesses get and stay hung up on the cost factor of marketing. The first question they ask about any marketing strategy is, "How much does that cost?"

This is entirely the wrong question. The right question is "Will that target the right market?", the market of potential customers for your products and/or services.

For instance, creating and distributing flyers is an inexpensive method of advertising that small businesses often use – probably because it's so inexpensive. Now suppose that you run a small business selling ski equipment. You design a bunch of flyers on your home computer, print them, and then go down to your local Community Centre and put one on the windshield of every vehicle in the parking lot - the night of the big Annual Horticultural Society meeting. Unless a lot of little old ladies suddenly decide to take up snowboarding, you've just wasted most of your time and energy.

Sure, it was inexpensive marketing – but it's not effective marketing.

You need to switch your small business marketing telescope around and look through it from the right end - the end that will keep you focused on customer-directed rather than cost-directed marketing.

Focus on your target market.

Dump the idea that everyone interested in your products and/or services. They're not. The reality is that only people who feel they have a need for your products and/or services will be interested in them – and those are the people your marketing has to reach. They are your target market.

Step 1 of effective marketing is knowing who these people are.

So first, learn how to zero in on your target market by using market segmentation.

Then work through Writing a Business Plan: The Market Analysis. This article, part of The Business Plan Outline series, directs you to write out your Market Analysis in paragraph form. You don't have to do that as you're not writing a business plan, but you do need to write down answers to the questions about your target market.

Find your target market.

Step 2 of effective marketing is focusing your efforts on your target market and no one else. To do this, you have to know how the people in your target market behave.

You already know a fair bit about these people from the Market Analysis you just completed. To help choose the most effective marketing strategies to reach these people, you need to know the answers to just two more questions:

  • How do the people in your target market access information?

For example, do they read newspapers and magazines, watch television, text, web search, email? Each of these ways of accessing information demands different marketing strategies.

  • Where do the people in your target market hang out?

Mainly at home? Shopping malls? Gyms or fitness centers? Skateboard parks?

The easiest way to do this is to pretend your target market is an individual. Try it. Create an avatar, a fictional person that represents a person in your target market, and answer the two questions above as completely as you can.

Evaluate your current small business marketing efforts.

Now that you know exactly who your small business marketing efforts need to reach, you're ready to judge what you've been doing.

List all the marketing strategies you're currently using. By each, write how likely your target market avatar is to see and pay attention to your marketing message.

For example, suppose that your business involves selling lingerie. You've created an avatar named Julie, who is young (30), married and working, with one young child. This is all statistical; stats say that a woman of that age would be all these things, generally.

In terms of the Step 3 questions, Julie does not read print newspapers at all; she gets most of her information off the internet through her Smartphone and spends a fair bit of time emailing and texting. She also uses Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. The 2018 Pew Center Report on Social Media Usage reveals that the average American adult uses three of the eight social media platforms measured in the survey and these three platforms had the most use. Occasionally Julie picks up a glossy women's magazine when she's going through the grocery checkout.

Where does Julie hang out? Like everyone else, Julie does things such as taking her young daughter to preschool and out to the local park with a playground. Other than that, Julie is very physically active; she takes yoga classes, works out regularly at the gym, and she and her husband participate in a lot of different seasonal sports, such as biking, skiing, and snowboarding. Julie's hobby is cooking; she doesn't have a lot of time for it but likes to try out gourmet recipes now and again.

We could go on but the point is that you want to make your avatar as complete as possible because the fuller the mental image of your target market person you have, the easier it will be for you to figure out how to reach him or her.

Now let's suppose that so far your small business marketing efforts to date for your fictional lingerie business consisted of placing:

  • A yellow page ad
  • Several different newspaper ads
  • Several radio ads
  • An on-site radio promotion (Sweetheart day for Valentine's Day)

Going over the list and asking yourself, "how likely Julie is to have seen your marketing messages?", the honest answer is "not very". She doesn't read print newspapers, remember? As for the radio promotions, she might listen to the radio in the car when she’s driving around, but she's more likely listening to preprogrammed music. In fact, these marketing efforts have probably been a complete waste of time as far as Julie is concerned – and Julie is the one you're trying to market to!

Your turn. List all your recent small business marketing efforts and for each, note how likely it is your avatar saw and noted your marketing message.

Choose and implement at least two effective marketing strategies.

If the results of the last exercise were that your avatar was extremely likely to see and respond to all of your current marketing efforts, that's excellent! In that case, we recommend choosing and implementing at least one more marketing idea that has a very likely chance of reaching your target market avatar and tweaking your current small business marketing efforts to make sure they pinpoint your target market avatar’s needs as much as possible.

Remember, most people need to see and hear a message three to seven times before they will buy, so marketing strategies that allow repetition of the message over time are always going to be more effective than one-shot strategies.

If your marketing efforts to this point have been a wash-out, as in the example of selling lingerie to Julie, the good news is that you’re starting with a clean slate. As "Julie" has never seen or heard your marketing messages before, they'll all be fresh and new to her!

You want to choose two new marketing strategies that would be most likely to reach your target market avatar and implement them. One thing you want to do is get your marketing online because that's where Julie gets most of her information.

And based on what you know about Julie, you have three main points of connection; young children, exercise and cooking. 

So a better list of potential small business marketing strategies to use to connect with Julie would be:

Set time frames to evaluate your marketing efforts.

The trick to this step of effective marketing is to make sure that your time frames are reasonable. Marketing, like exercise, does not produce instant results; it's the repeated practice that gets you to your goal.

So don't make the mistake that so many people make of implementing your new marketing strategy for a month or so and then abandoning it because "it's not getting results." Give it the time it needs to succeed.

A strategy such as placing online ads, though, would have a shorter time frame for evaluation, such as one to three months. Do what you need to do to remind yourself to return and evaluate your marketing efforts in terms of their effectiveness in reaching your target market; use a phone app, your Day-Timer, your email or whatever calendar system you use to do this on a specific date for each marketing strategy.

Add to Your Small Business Marketing Repertoire

Once you've "mastered" the new effective marketing strategies you’ve chosen (i.e. you've gotten the results you wanted out of them or made a considered decision to abandon one or more of them based on your evaluation of results), it will be time to add others to your small business marketing repertoire – always bearing in mind, of course, that effective small business marketing is targeted marketing and that a target market is made up of real people, people that need to be persuaded to buy your products and/or services.