Chances are, if you’re a small business or a ‘solopreneur’, you don’t have a dedicated person thinking about marketing for you.  If your business is doing well, marketing is the thing you put in your diary every week, that you’ll get around to when you’ve finished the invoicing, or meeting your new supplier, or unblocking the loo!  If your business isn’t doing quite so well, MARKETING IDEAS is perhaps the title on that big sheet of blank paper that you keep shuffling around your desk…? 

The good news is that, really, marketing isn’t difficult.  Some of the tools we have access to today might be really technical and capable of very clever things, but you’ll graduate to those if and when the time is right.  So, the essentials of marketing aren’t difficult and really boil down to one phase – know your customer.  Armed with a clear understanding of what your customers want, and a plan, you can achieve a lot.   

The following tips are my guide to getting started. (I don’t know if Ladybird have written a guide to Marketing yet but, if they haven’t, consider this blog my bid to author it for them!) 

Research and data crunching: lots of questions to ask yourself.

Start by getting to know your existing customers: What do they like about your product/service? What would they change about it? how do they like to be communicated with? What (if any) social media platforms do they use? How do your customers come to you in the first place – what is their ‘journey’ to buying from you?  Your existing customers can tell you a lot about what potential customers will like about you so have all these ideas noted.  It’s also likely that you already have some data on them that you can analyse to find trends and patterns.  How well do you know your competitors and the market you operate in?  What do your competitors do that you don’t (and vice versa)? Google yourself – does the information that comes up reflect what you think it should be?

Set some SMART targets.

From your research, you should find ideas emerging about what potential customers will value about you and where to pitch these; an idea of how big your potential customer base is and whether there might be new markets you could try.  Armed with this information, set yourself some clear goals to work towards and build your marketing plan on; make them SMART so you have a chance of achieving them.  Don’t forget to identify some key measures that you can track as you go too; if you set yourself a target of getting 50 people to come to an event you’re running, you won’t know until the day of the event whether you’ve met your target.  Some key performance indicators (KPIs) such as event mentions by your audience on social media or replies to the invitation will help you monitor beforehand whether you’re on the right track and give you time to do something about it if you don’t think you are.  (Ask the team who built the Channel Tunnel how many times every day they checked their compass bearing!)

Make a plan (and allocate yourself the time to actually do it!)

List all the jobs you want to do to achieve the targets you have set yourself and start by putting them in priority order; some will need to happen before others can and some might be ‘nice to haves’ that you can do if you get the time.  Some jobs will also be one offs (like set up a LinkedIn company page) but others will be regular repeats (like posting a blog).  Think about how much time you can make to do this each day or week and block out the time. Because you have made a plan, even 10 minutes every day can take you step by step towards your goals, even though it might not feel like a lot of time.  If you miss something because something more pressing crops up, don’t beat yourself up about it; decide if the task is important enough to carry over to tomorrow or whether you’ve simply missed that opportunity and move on to the next task on your list.  Better to do less well and consistently than try to do too much and set yourself up to fail.

Use the free tools that you can access

I make no apology that this paragraph consists almost entirely of suggestions…

If you don’t have enough photography of your own to make your activities visually interesting, try a free (and copyright free commercial use) image library like Pixabay.

Use Hootsuite, Buffer or Tweetdeck (or one of the other social media scheduling tools available) to get a weeks’ posts scheduled in advance; it’s no substitute for spontaneous interaction but it does give you a ‘base line’ to work from.  You can schedule Facebook posts within Facebook but for most other platforms (certainly Twitter and LinkedIn) you have to schedule via a third-party website.

Go mobile!  Having social media apps’ on your ‘phone (or other portable device) are more likely to mean you engage spontaneously and when you’re doing something interesting.

Set up Google Alerts so you can see when people are talking about you, your competitors or your products.

Set up a Google My Business account (you can do this without a visible address if you work from home, say, but you do need to supply Google with an address for it to verify your existence).

Use the analytics tools available to you; Google Analytics is free to install (you just need someone with the technical knowledge to insert the codes ‘backstage’ on your website) and all social media platforms give you data about your interactions.  Learn from these what works and what doesn’t work for your audience.

Make marketing a habit.

Marketing should be something that all businesses do all the time, not just when they see a dip in sales.  If you can get into the habit of devoting a little time each week (now you’ve broken it down into manageable tasks) you will see the benefits.

And don’t be afraid of trying something new to see how your customers like it.  Marketers do this all the time – the knack is to be in the habit of checking your analytics often enough to recognise patterns and when things aren’t working for you.