Developing Your Small Business Marketing Plan

Along with your business plan, your small business marketing plans is only of the most important long-term plans you'll make for your small business. Some small business owners choose to ignore that advice, instead preferring to fly by the seat of their pants, so to speak, to "wing it." While some of those small business owners are successful, they're not nearly as successful as they could be had they laid out a well-defined small business marketing plan.

Small business marketing strategy step 1: Know your market

The first step in developing a successful small business marketing strategy is to make sure that you have a really solid handle on your target market. Ask yourself: Who are my customers? Once you've identified who they are, ask yourself: What are my customers' problems? What are their dreams and aspirations? The surest way to answer those questions, of course, is to ask your customers themselves. Even if you can't afford to hire a small business marketing firm that will conduct focus group tests for you, you can do your own simple survey by hitting the streets and talking to those people you plan to sell to (and make contacts at the same time!). You'd be surprised how powerful that simple task is yet how few businesses do it.

Small business marketing strategy step 2: Know yourself

The second step in developing your small business marketing strategy is to get to know yourself (your business), once you've gotten to know your customers. Ask yourself: What does my business do? How is my business different than my competitors'? How does my business help solve my customers' problems or help them achieve their dreams? Answering these questions will help you to define your unique selling proposition - those aspects that set you apart from your competitors.

That unique selling proposition should become your brand - your business's identity. Your brand is what will pervade all of your marketing materials and what your customers will use to identify you. The importance of diligently developing your brand as part of a successful small business marketing strategy can't be overstated.

Small business marketing strategy step 3: Analyze your competitors' small business marketing strategies

Once you've developed your brand - that unique identity that tells your customers who you are and how you're different - you can begin thinking about how you're going to actually market your business. First, look at your competitors' small business marketing strategies. Are there obvious gaps that you could fill (and thereby stand out among the competition)? For example, if you see that none of your competitors have websites, you could stand out with a small business marketing strategy online.

Wherever you market your business, it must be where your customers are. For example, small business marketing online will be a waste if none of your potential customers use the Internet. Likewise, you may think that writing a monthly column in your local newspaper would be a great way to advertise your services and establish yourself as an expert; but if none of your potential customers read that paper, that small business marketing strategy will fail.

At this point, your small business marketing strategy will not only be defined by where your customers are and what your competitors are doing, but it will also depend on your small business marketing budget. A full-page spread in a national magazine may be the best way to reach your target audience, but if you can't afford to shell out tens of thousands of dollars, it's not the small business marketing strategy for you.

Wherever your small business marketing plan takes you, the careful development of your small business marketing strategy - by knowing your market, knowing your business, and analyzing your competitors' strategies - will be a critical determinant of your long-term business success.

Effective Small Business Marketing For Beginners

Effective small business marketing is the lifeblood of any small business. An unsettling high percentage of small businesses fold within the first year of operation with most of the first year survivors closing shop by the end of the third year.

One of the major reasons that small businesses fail is a cash flow crisis. Effective small business marketing is one of the few business tools available to a small business owner that GENERATES cash.

Effective small business marketing starts with being able to write a simple and practical marketing plan, specifically for your business. This marketing plan then forms the basis of all your marketing efforts and acts as a reference point when you have to decide between two or more courses of action.

The result of following a well constructed marketing plan is that all your different marketing efforts form part of a co-ordinated strategy aimed at attaining your predetermined goal. That is in stark contrast to the marketing efforts of most small businesses and immediately puts you ahead of the pack.

Effective small business marketing naturally comes with some challenges - and advantages. Challenges might include a lack of marketing savvy, a limited marketing budget, time constraints especially if you are a one person business and so on. Anyone who has run a small business should recognise the danger of spending too much time working in the business rather than on the business.

There are many advantages however in marketing a small business as opposed to a corporate giant. These include a lack of a hierarchy of decision makers, no red tape to fight through to get anything done, direct contact with your target market and many more.

Effective small business marketing should and can be the cornerstone of every small business. Your simple yet effective marketing plan is the map that will guide you out of the woods towards a profitable business, irrespective of the market segment you operate in.

Business to Business Marketing on Search Engines - A Largely Untapped Marketing Tool

I'm in the business of search engine marketing, so it's sometimes easy to forget that a majority of people don't really know that the industry exists, how useful it is in business to business marketing, and what a valuable marketing tool SEO can be in general. However, the fact is that a disturbing number of business executives could not tell the difference between SEO Outsourcing and REO Speedwagon (although most would probably agree that neither sounds particularly good*). In fact, when I explain that I work at a search engine optimization company that focuses in part on business to business marketing, most people instantly assume that I have a search engine of my own and that I am somehow trying to compete with Google. I'm flattered until I see the pity in their eyes.

Even those familiar with search engine optimization have common misconceptions about the value of SEO in business to business marketing. Frequently, I encounter prospects who understand that achieving a high ranking on a search engine is a valuable marketing tool that can make an impact on the bottom line of a business, but mistakenly believe that this is true only if that business actually sells something online. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While e-commerce companies can and do benefit tremendously from SEO as a marketing tool, there are many factors in search engine optimization that actually favor B2B companies in terms of overall benefit from the channel.

The Technology

Large e-commerce sites have thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands, of individual product pages. While performing SEO on such sites does not involve (thank goodness) manipulation of each of the individual pages, each of the page elements that will be used for SEO benefit (titles, headers, text, and meta tags) have to be painstakingly entered into a database. It is very rare to find that the existing database a company has for each of its products contains all the elements necessary to use SEO as a successful marketing tool.

Once all of these elements have been added to the database, it is then necessary to make certain that the server is performing as it should. Then, you must ensure that each of the pages can be crawled by the search engine spider, so the linking structure often must be manipulated.

Using SEO as a marketing tool in business to business marketing is typically much easier, as a standard B2B site is usually built using simpler technology, and the individual pages physically exist on the server. In this case, each page is optimized for a few terms relevant to the business. While a good SEO firm will spend more time on the marketing aspects of a B2B campaign (the overall goals of the initiative and the keyphrases that will bring the right kind of visitors to the site), the actual implementation of the elements necessary for SEO success is usually much simpler.

Average Dollar Sale

There is a practical price limit, which varies from industry to industry, beyond which people become uncomfortable buying online. B2B companies typically have a higher average dollar sale than e-commerce websites, which makes it much easier to justify the cost of any effective business to business marketing tool. While a visitor to an e-commerce site might garner $12 in revenue from the purchase of a coffee mug, a visitor to a high-end B2B website is potentially worth millions. It does not take Alan Greenspan to crunch the numbers--the higher the average dollar sale, the fewer visitors you need to actually justify the cost of SEO as a business to business marketing tool (provided that a certain number of visitors actually lead to a sale).

Value of Relationship

The people that run e-commerce sites such as Amazon are incredibly smart, and they know that almost all of the products that they sell online are highly commoditized. This is why they devote so much effort toward enhancing the visitor experience on their websites with tools like personalization and one-click shopping. They are trying to develop lifetime buyers. B2B companies don't have this problem. By utilizing a successful business to business marketing campaign, the visitor you attract to your site with this marketing tool could be more valuable over a lifetime than thousands of e-commerce buyers. Offline sales require offline relationships, and personal relationships are easier to maintain, no matter how many bells and whistles an e-commerce company might add to its site.

Differentiators

There is another reason that SEO is often even more effective for business to business marketing than for e-commerce sites--no matter how beautiful the website, how secure the checkout process, and how big the company name, price will always be the primary differentiator when items are purchased online. How else to explain the popularity of online shopping comparison sites such as Yahoo! Shopping, NexTag, and Shopping.com (to name but a few)? When it comes to business to business, marketing is crucial. In a world where prices are rarely listed online, a B2B company almost always has the opportunity to differentiate itself on its own terms after the initial contact is made. With the right marketing tool, such as SEO, a B2B company can easily stand out from the crowd.

Using SEO as a Key Marketing Tool

E-commerce companies are more readily embracing SEO as a business to business marketing tool because they are technologically savvy and because their businesses already depend on the Internet to survive. However, e-commerce companies only make up a small fraction of the number of companies that are actually out there. There are many B2B industries where there is currently little or no competition on the search engines, and the ones to move first and use SEO as a key marketing tool will reap the highest rewards.