As a start-up business, the ability to attract and convert new customers is critical to your success. Unfortunately, regardless of your sector, there’s also a tremendous amount of competition out there, both from new businesses like you and larger, more established rivals. So how do you cut through all that noise and get your message across to consumers? That’s where marketing can help.
The good news is there are now more marketing tools at your disposal than ever before. Gone are the days when you needed a colossal budget to compete. You can now use social media, pay-per-click advertising and email marketing to compete with much larger companies, even on a shoestring budget. But before all that, you need a plan.
A marketing plan is a detailed document that sets out everything you need to know to market your business effectively. It should include:
Market research – Conduct primary and secondary research to determine the market size, market growth or decline, current trends and buying habits in the industry.
Target market – A well-defined target market will identify who you hope to sell your products and services to.
Positioning – How will you position yourself in the market? Will your products and services be the best, the cheapest or the most innovative? Determining your market position will help you clearly communicate your offering to your customers.
Competitive analysis – You need to know your competitors inside out. How are their products and services different? What price do they sell at? What segment of the market are they targeting? How do they market their products? Competitive analysis will provide valuable insights and help you stand out in the market.
Marketing strategy – How will you find and attract your customers? This should break down the marketing techniques you’ll use to reach your sales goals.
Budget – It’s essential you develop a monthly budget for your marketing spend and a return on investment (ROI) you expect to generate before you pull the plug on a particular campaign.
Metrics – How will you measure the success of your marketing campaigns? Conversion rate, cost per lead and website traffic are just a few important metrics to consider.
Setting Up Your Business’ IT System
There are few very, if any, businesses these days that don’t need to consider IT as a fundamental part of their structure. Even if you’re technology averse, this is something you’re going to have to get your head around and of course there’s a lot of help available if you need it.
For a small business, a good laptop and a cloud based server are excellent places to start. Google offers 15GB of free space in Google Drive which is an ideal place to store key documents, and organise your business. Google’s G-Suite offers best in class email also making it more than enough to manage digital communication and data storage for most businesses.
A solid antivirus and firewall is a basic necessity these days, and you need to remain vigilant with your passwords, opting for complex strings rather than using one obvious word as the key to your entire kingdom. Online tools like Password Generator are a useful start, and you can use Last Pass to remember them all.
Of course a good IT company can be a useful asset, offering hardware and software support, as well as security, backups and reporting.
How to Make the Business Profitable
Generating profit consistently is the holy grail of any business, and it begins with understanding some basic accounting. Once you’re understand the meaning of profit margins, profit drivers, and the cash flow cycle, you will have the language with which to measure your growth. Even if you have a great accountant in place, getting your head around these is a worthwhile endeavour.
Once you have a basic grasp of the financial concepts central to running a business, you can focus on strategies to make your business more successful.
Productivity – This is a science in its own right but focusing on how to get the best performance out of both yourself and your team can make a huge difference. Tech companies like Apple and Google are good people to learn from in this regard, utilising cutting edge strategies to manage time, talent and energy.
Customer Service – Companies like Zappos and Amazon have set incredibly high standards for customer service, positioning it at the heart of their company culture as well as their principle marketing tool. Zappos focus on ‘customer obsession’ eventually led to their acquisition by Amazon for $1.2bn.
Cut Waste – This is the same as productivity, in some regards, since cutting waste means making what you have go further and hence increases profits. Putting the environment first is always a good marketing tool also.
Increase Your Turnaround Time – How can you do what you do faster, without compromising on quality? Automation may be a strategy to investigate, and one with a direct impact on the bottom line.
Analyse each variable for its impact on profit – While more difficult to measure, the indirect variables such as how you generate leads/sales, the conversion process, size and number of transactions, profit margin and cost of acquisition are all supporting elements beneath your company’s success.
How to Set Up Google My Business
Google my Business (GMB) is a free business profile on Google which can help your online visibility.
Once you register for this your business will have its own map listing, meaning it can be found when people search for either your business or the services you offer.
Setting up your profile is a relatively straightforward affair and worth doing both for businesses whose customers visit them at their premises, and for brands with a registered office address.
Here are the basic steps:
- Sign into Google with the account you wish to use, or create one if you don’t already have one.
- Visit https://www.google.com/business/ and hit the ‘start now’ button
- Fill in your business details as fully and accurately as possible.
- Wait for verification postcard to arrive, then enter the four digit code within your GMB account.
- Once verified, your listing will be live.
- Optimise your listing (to receive more visitors) by adding photographs and video of your business, responding to Q & A’s, and encouraging your users to leave reviews.
Building a Website
These days, a business really can’t survive without a website. It allows you to reach customers globally, 24-hours a day, and helps you win new and repeat business. Initially, the thought of creating a website might be daunting, but once it’s up and running, it requires very little maintenance and can be an incredibly powerful and cost-effective marketing tool for your business.
The first thing to think about is the type of website your business needs. If you plan to sell products online then an e-commerce site is essential. That will allow customers to select and buy products from your website and make payments online.
There are a number of e-commerce website builders like Shopify and freewebstore that you can use to create your own site. The process is relatively straightforward but it will take time. Alternatively, you could use the services of a web design agency. They will be able to create a more professional looking site, albeit for a price. You will also have to set up a merchant account with a provider such as PayPal or even your bank.
Alternatively, a brochure website might be a better fit for your business. A brochure site allows you to advertise your products or services online and encourages customers to contact you to find out more and make a purchase. This type of website tends to be cheaper and simpler to build than an e-commerce site. Again, you can choose to create your own using a DIY builder like Site123 or WordPress, but you will achieve better results by contacting a web design agency or even a freelancer.
When choosing a website designer, you should always seek recommendations from personal contacts, look at examples of their previous work and ask for a full breakdown of costs. Crucially, once the site is complete, make sure you know how to update and add content to the site yourself to avoid further costs.
Paid Advertising and Social Networking Accounts
Like it or not, the ease and efficacy of the web for generating business leads is unmatched. While won’t work for every business, a large proportion can benefit from Google’s powerfully targeted ad platform.
Google have also invested heavily in making it easy to potential advertisers to dip their toes in the water, via £75 of free credit, and a useful helpline where specialists can talk you through the process of setting up your ads.
Of course, Google isn’t the only player in town. Facebook, Instagram and Bing and LinkedIn are all worth considering. If any of these tools are used appropriately, they can bring customers to your door both quickly and easily. Just remember to keep a tight handle on the ROI to make sure your costs don’t spiral.
Social Network Accounts
Social networks are useful for branding, customer communication, and content marketing, as well as direct sales. How deeply into this you should invest will depend on what niche your working in, and whether you have the staff and time to focus on social media.
If you do, it’s an investment which can pay dividends but you should remember that, while these networks are largely free, they take a lot of time to make work. As part of your business plan, you should consider whether you actually need this and, if so, how much effort and skill will be needed to make them work for you.
Think of the social world as a new country you’re expanding into. Just as with any geographical expansion you need to understand the lie of the land, the habits, attitudes and culture if you’re going to succeed.
Spend time analyzing the influencers in your business niche, then create a targeted plan for expanding your reach, creating content, building your audience and measuring results. Given how saturated these platforms now are, it’s also worth allocating some budget, if you can spare it, to boosting content to make it is seen
While marketing campaigns, a website and social media is an excellent way to get your name out there, sometimes nothing beats the personal touch. Networking is an excellent way to build valuable business contacts and share ideas with other entrepreneurs in the local area.
As well as making connections that generate sales for your business, you can also meet people who can provide you with the services you need to grow. That might include a local small business accountant or an online marketing consultant who can help you generate leads online.
For start-ups and small businesses, networking can become a valuable source of support and advice in those early days. You can discuss common issues like hiring and firing, legal and regulatory challenges and customer services and benefit from the experiences of those in the group.
Business networking has enjoyed a revival in recent years, and as such, there are a whole host of different networking groups and events you can attend all over the country. Some groups set specific joining criteria such as company size or professional background to make sure they host members who can be beneficial to one another.
Some of the UK’s major event organizers include:
If you don’t have the time to attend networking events in person, online networking has become incredibly popular over the last decade. LinkedIn, in particular, offers excellent networking opportunities across a huge range of sectors so you can engage with new and existing contacts.
With all forms of networking, you can only expect to get out what you put in. If you are an active member of the group and participate freely in meetups and events then networking can work wonders for the reputation of you and your business.
Keep Your Data Safe
It’s worth ending this comprehensive guide to starting a business with a note of caution. Most small business owners still haven’t either acknowledged or reacted to the threat of cyber crime. A recent report from the National Cyber Security Centre noted the mounting threats from ransomware, data breaches and supply chain weakness.
Just as any retailer security alarms and insurance for their premises, today’s businesses need to take a considered approach to protecting their activity on the web. Here’s how:
- Discuss the situation with your IT firm, if you employ one
- Be prudent about employee access to vital resources
- Use virus and malware scanning across all devices
- Backup data remotely on a daily basis
- Educate employees and train them to spot attacks
- Update your website and software regularly
Here’s the whole series:
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