Small businesses need a sound marketing plan

Published 7:55 am Monday, October 19, 2009

Many people often equate “marketing” with sales and advertising. These are, of course, important elements of a marketing strategy. But there is a host of tools and tactics that can increase both the visibility and attractiveness of your business to potential customers. And as with your overall business structure and strategy, successful marketing also requires careful research, planning, and a wise use of resources.

The key is to think of marketing not as a single action but rather a combination of steps designed to identify, attract and retain profitable customers, and to differentiate your business from the competition. It encompasses everything from your company name, logo and service lines to advertisements, public relations, presence at trade shows, and community involvement.

While it’s helpful to use comparable businesses as a guide, what works for them may not be appropriate for you. Marketing strategies need to be tailored to your business and target customer base. To prepare yourself for marketing, create a detailed profile of your ideal prospect. As you create your marketing message, aim it at them and list the benefits they will receive. Be certain your marketing message highlights the special knowledge and expertise you offer.

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Look for ways to make the buying process easier for your customers. What roadblocks can you remove? Simplify everything; eliminate potential interruptions in the sales process and make decision-making as painless as possible for your customers.

Put your marketing budget in proper perspective. You might, for example, think of marketing as your ace-in-the-hole rather than merely a “cost.” Try to set a budget and a pace that lets you market continuously. Customer memories are short, and they are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages and images daily. Your effort must be ongoing or people will quickly forget. Some folks call this keeping your company in your customer’s “top of mind.”

Match your marketing to your primary market. If it’s a local market, then that’s where your marketing focus should be. Broadly focused advertising, for example, might be the wrong choice. Instead, consider marketing neighborhood-by-neighborhood or city-by-city.

A good place to find marketing help is the American Marketing Association’s Web site, The site’s Best Practices section found in their Resource Library contains valuable guidance for small businesses in the areas of research, Internet marketing, advertising, public relations, customer service tips, and many others.

To learn more about marketing your small business, contact SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” These volunteer counselors provide free, confidential business counseling as well as training workshops to small business owners. The fall schedule of SCORE workshops is available through Rochester Community Education as well as on the Web site.

Dean L. Swanson is the chairman for the southeast Minnesota chapter of SCORE, an acronym for Service Corps of Retired Executives but the full name is no longer used.