The three-step secret of small business marketing

Ah, the allure of owning your own business! It starts with a dream and a passion paired with buckets of heart and soul. Yet sometime after the initial steam wears off, we find ourselves wondering why our endeavor isn’t as fruitful or successful as we had dreamed.

By Christie Kerner

Assistant Director, Center for Entrepreneurship

 

Ah, the allure of owning your own business! It starts with a dream and a passion paired with buckets of heart and soul. Yet sometime after the initial steam wears off, we find ourselves wondering why our endeavor isn’t as fruitful or successful as we had dreamed.

Worry not: you most likely made the common error of thinking marketing is something you only do to get your baby on her feet. But whether you realize it or not, when you signed up to be an entrepreneur you also agreed to become a king (or queen) of marketing. As a small business owner, we are often required to be a jack-of-all trades. Through a combination of entrepreneurial intuition, diligent research and experience from the school of hard knocks, we learn to run a business successfully.

Coming from a background heavy in accounting, I believed that marketing would be my nemesis in business. I like the math involved in exact cause-and-effect relationships.  Marketing is not like that.  Although some things are predictable, choosing where to spend our time and money as we grow our businesses involves some risk. Nothing drives me batty faster than something that makes perfect sense but turns out to be ineffective — except maybe when something you’d hardly expect to help turns out to be fabulous. That, my friends, is the beast we call small-business marketing.

Here’s my special recipe:

1. Always, always, always use strong branding.
Do you have a constant, memorable logo? Do you use your themed colors, fonts, feel and messaging on everything from your business cards to your newsletter? Many small businesses let this slip. We all know it takes a few impressions before people take action, but unless you connect those impressions for them, your potential customer may see your marketing over and over and still not remember you. Make sure to look at your branding from your customer’s perspective, and then stick to it 100 percent of the time.

2. Know your customers and be where they are looking.
I know that sounds like a given, but we often overlook it. Do market research to identify what group is your target client base and then walk a mile in their shoes. Where are the places they should see information about you, what would make your messaging memorable and when are your customers most likely to retain it? Educate yourself on marketing options and then test and track the ones that make sense. Don’t underestimate the many free options out there. For example, a great rating on Yelp will do wonders for most businesses.

3. Be diligent.
In my version of the perfect world, marketing would be something that we only have to do once. But alas, I have come to peace with the fact that this is not the case. So you submitted a news release last month? Well, do it again! Keep it fresh, fun, and interesting — and frequent. This principle applies to communications with your customers as well as the local media. Send out your newsletter regularly. Create reasons for clients to choose you, and broadcast them. Show your current clients how much you appreciate them and their referrals.

If the gal who hated marketing can do it, you can too.

Christie Kerner is the assistant director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. The center’s 19th Annual Spirit of Enterprise Awards Luncheon is Nov. 20 at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. For registration go to asufoundation.org/spirit. First published in The Arizona Republic, November 17, 2015.