At this busy time of year, it’s easy to get swept up in the Christmas rush and find yourself entering the New Year with no formal marketing plans in place. However, when it comes to promoting your small business, preparation is everything – especially on a limited budget.
Engaging marketing campaigns aren’t just for major corporations; there are plenty of cost-effective ways for SMEs to entice new shoppers, and build the value of existing customers. The key to success is planning your time and resources carefully, to maximise value without compromising other elements of your overall experience.
To help you create an effective plan for the year ahead, here are our top tips for creating a 2016 small business marketing strategy that delivers results:
1. Know your customer inside-out
Putting customers at the heart of your business is the cornerstone of growth, and therefore you need to plan marketing activities around your core shoppers. Rather than trying to please everyone and falling short of the mark, don’t be afraid to set a target demographic, and tailor your marketing activities around that group’s needs and desires.
2. Define what makes you special
Once you know who you’re marketing to, you need to agree the key messages that you’re going to communicate. What separates your business from other, similar companies? List your strengths and play to them – if you’re a family run firm with a long heritage, for example, this is a great selling point.
With local companies especially, people buy from people rather than brands, so you need to tell your story and celebrate your uniqueness.
3. Create a calendar
Mapping out the year ahead will make it much easier to keep on top of marketing requirements. It’s also a great opportunity to note down seasonal events and promotions – anything you’re planning to do from a sales perspective, which you’d like to promote.
This will also help you tailor your workload to your capabilities. For example, if there are only a handful of you in the company, there’s little point trying to create promotions around five or six events per month, as you’re going to struggle to maintain the pace. Be realistic about what you can achieve, and be tactical; try and tie-in marketing activities with promotions you’re going to be running in the store.
4. Find some free marketing tools
One of the best things about small business marketing is that there are a huge number of tools available at no cost to your business. For example, if you want to start emailing your customers with special offers, there are free emarketing platforms likeMailchimp. These create a more professional impression than simply sending messages from your email account.
Social media is another great way to boost your business profile with little or no investment. Set up a Twitter and/or a Facebook page and invite friends, family and customers to follow it. You could even launch a competition in-store to stir up interest.
5. Don’t be afraid to delegate
As with all marketing activity, consistency and frequency are key to success. If you send one email out every six months, you’re unlikely to see much reaction from your customer base. However, if you email them once a fortnight, they’ll come to expect and look forward to your messages.
Feel free to delegate marketing responsibilities across your business, to lighten the load and allow each member of the team to specialise in a particular area, such as email marketing or social media. However, make sure they are well briefed and sticking to the schedule at all times. There should still be a single voice of authority on how the marketing strategy is run.
6. Learn as you go – and make the most of your milestones
One of the best things about being part of a SME is your dynamism. Unlike big brands, which have complex guidelines and lengthy sign off processes to adhere to, you can react to your customers quickly. If you’re getting a great response to a particular marketing activity, increase it. Conversely, if something isn’t working, ask your customers why and tailor your output in response.
Plus, although you have a framework in place for the year ahead, you should be prepared to add the odd impromptu campaign based on your developments and achievements.
For example, we install chip and PIN machines to a lot of small business that previously only offered cash payments. This is a great opportunity to notify customers that they can now pay by credit or debit card, and remind them of the convenience and ease of service that comes with it.
Does your business run a website? Download our SME guide to launching online for some online marketing guidance.