Marketing and Advertising Basics for the Small Business Owner

Basics to remember before you start your business.

One of the most important aspects of any successful business is the ability to understand the value of marketing and advertising and how it can impact your bottom line. In real estate, they say the three most important words are location, location, location. Well, in business it's market, market, market!
Here are a few basics to remember before you start your business.
Where to Start:
Step 1: The first step of any successful marketing effort is figuring out exactly who your customers are. This is called your target market. You don’t want to waste money by getting your message out to the wrong people.
Step 2: Once you know your target market, you will need to speak to them directly. That means coming up with a message that fits your customers. If you are an accounting firm in a major urban city, you may need a marketing and advertising campaign that has a more cutting edge look and feel. You want to talk to your customers in a language that they'll understand.
Step 3: The hardest part of marketing is figuring out how to reach your target market. For small businesses, it's a good idea to use local advertising and outreach.
— Short radio commercials on a station that is popular with your customers may work well if you have the budget to pay for them.
— Local radio and cable TV ads are relatively inexpensive and a good way to target your audience. You typically do not have to worry about creating the ad because employees at the radio station can help you develop your commercial from start to finish. They will even provide you with research about your target market.
— Local newspapers are another good way to target customers. You don’t have to post ads in a city-wide newspaper. Your town may have a penny saver or small alternative newspaper and your neighborhood may also have a local or neighborhood newsletter that is more cost-effective.
Step 4: Make sure your marketing collateral and advertisements are memorable and professional. Remember, first impressions are important. Create a funny tagline or slogan that people won't forget.
Step 5: This probably goes without saying, but having a good website is important. You can create a high-end website with all of the bells and whistles or you can develop one relatively cheaply using services such as Go Daddy, 1&1 or Yahoo! Small Business. Make sure your website has all of the information your customers need such as products and services, pricing, directions and specials.
Step 6: Don’t forget about social media. Social media has become a platform that is easily accessible to anyone with Internet access. Popular media sites like Facebook and Twitter have become effective and necessary in today’s market for firms seeking to connect and communicate deals with their customers. In addition to sharing information with customers, social media allows organizations to build brand awareness and often helps improve customer service.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do if you engage in a marketing campaign for your business is to track your results.  If you do not closely monitor your results (e.g. traffic to your site, conversions, customer actions, etc.) you will have no idea if the money you are spending is yielding a good return on your investment. If you aren't getting the results you want, determine if you can tweak the campaign, the target audience or the messaging (or all three) to drive better results.
Marketing and advertising are great ways to make customers aware of what your business has to offer, but keep in mind that there is no "one size fits all" strategy and your marketing plan should always evolve along with your business.

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(Photo: Blend Images/Ariel Skelley/Getty Images)

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