Small Business Guide: How to Market Your Small Business

MBeVier“Fail to plan? Plan to fail,” he’d say. As a teenager, I used to roll my eyes when a friend’s dad would drill us with questions about logistics of an upcoming camping trip or some other event we were jetting off to. Oh, we’ll be fiiiine, I’d think. And then I’d kick myself later when we’d forgotten the flashlights or didn’t have enough firewood.

Although it took a while, I eventually – begrudgingly – admitted he had been right all along. Now, as a full-fledged grownup, that mantra runs through my head constantly. “Fail to plan? Plan to fail. Fail to plan? Plan to fail.” But the lesson applies to more than just flashlights and firewood.

Effective marketing begins with strategy: understanding where you are now, where you want to be, and how to get there. Developing a solid plan can take the guesswork out of marketing and provide you with tools to make sure your strategy is on the right track.

Know Your Business: Try A SWOT

You know your business, right? But do you really? Understanding your business is more than just spouting an elevator speech or knowing how much money you made last year. As the first step toward your marketing plan, take the time to perform a SWOT analysis to look deep into the internal Strengths and Weaknesses of your organization and the external Opportunities and Threats you face in your market.

Not sure of the best way to gather all of the ideas for your SWOT? A brainstorming session with your team is an excellent starting point. A word of warning, though! Be ready to have an open mind and accept some criticisms. You want a realistic view of your business.

Know Your Customer: Who and Why

Now that you have a clear understanding of your business and your role in the market, it’s time to establish your audience – into both demographic and psychographic categories.

Demographics explain “who” your buyer is, while psychographics explain “why” they buy. Demographic information includes gender, age, income, marital status – the dry facts. Psychographic information might be their habits, hobbies, spending habits and values. The combination of both sets of data forms a detailed picture of the people you work with now, and would like to work with in the future.

A clear understanding of your audience helps you know how and where to reach the people who are most likely to become your customers. Eventually, this will help you develop the messaging for your marketing tactics.

Set Your Goals: Measurable, Specific, Realistic

Promise me you won’t skip this next part: setting goals. If you don’t know where you’re going, then how will you know when you get there?

Just like any other goal, marketing goals should be measurable, specific and realistic. Consider what you want to achieve with your marketing. (Refer to your SWOT for guidance!) Is it evident that you have to improve a qualitative goal like customer satisfaction? Or does your analysis point to a quantitative goal like sales dollars, acquisition of new customers or client retention? Maybe a few of each?

Once you’ve decided on the goals you are working toward, assign each a specific numerical target and a deadline. Don’t just keep those metrics in the back of your mind. Your marketing goals should be recorded, preferably in a space you and your team will see on a regular basis.

Develop The Plan: Keep it Simple

Breaking up your marketing into manageable pieces can ensure you make progress toward achieving your goals. This part doesn’t need to be overly complicated. In fact, one of those huge binders filled with complex ideas and lot of words will almost always end up collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. (You know the ones I’m talking about!)

Instead, take each goal and develop a list of actions your business will take toward reaching each metric. Assign a person and deadline to each tactic. Try not to get distracted by a variety of seemingly good ideas or fun promotions that don’t help you make progress toward the objectives you have determined to be the most critical for success.

Track Your Progress

In order to evaluate the success of your plan, track everything… and do it on an ongoing basis. Depending on the metric, you might check in daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. Don’t wait until the end of the year rolls around to realize that an action plan was off track and wasting your valuable resources.

Stick to your guns and be ready to commit to a plan, even if it seems challenging. However, be flexible and open to making a change mid-course if the tactics aren’t working. And for heaven’s sake, be sure to celebrate when you hit your numbers!

It might seem like a hassle to spend your valuable time planning, especially when you are managing the never-ending demands of a small business. But doing so will ultimately result in more efficient marketing efforts with exceptional results. Plan not to fail!

Marika BeVier is a Traverse City-based strategic marketing consultant. With more than 15 years of advertising and marketing experience, Marika will help your organization identify goals, create a plan, and get results. Services include developing and implementing annual marketing plans; creating key messages to build your brand; conceptualizing, directing, and managing your graphic design projects; writing and editing your marketing content and communications; and tracking and reporting results. For more information, visit