By Avril McArdle, Digital and Marketing Manager at Sage Ireland
1. Assume a budget of zero
So you may not have a marketing degree, a marketing department or a marketing budget. Great! This means that you can start from the best possible place in terms of thinking lean and maximising the return from any spend you do undertake. Even if you do have a marketing budget, why not give yourself three months to work on the “zero budget” plan and see how much you can achieve for no cost. Establish yourself on social media with a Facebook page and Twitter presence and start sharing content and networking. Embrace the centuries old barter system and see if you can swap services or products with your new business neighbours or contacts. Offer rewards or discounts to any customers who refers a friend or for repeat purchases. Remember the old saying that your mother probably taught you, it costs nothing to be nice.
Treat every paying customer for what they are; someone who is helping you progress your business. Appreciate their business, show them fantastic customer service and a friendly manner and let the word of mouth do the rest. Word of mouth is the biggest form of zero cost advertising and managed well it can be what really sets you up in the early months and years, especially in the digital world we now live in where word travels even further, faster.
2. ABC – Always Be Closing
The oldest sales technique in the world is known as ABC – Always Be Closing. This technique has been handed down from generation to generation of sales reps and it’s the first thing every new young, inexperienced sales rep learns on their first day on the job. In essence, it means being always switched on, asking for the sale, looking for the opportunity or creating the need.
The ABC principle can also be applied to marketing strategy. ABC -Always Be Converting. Always be converting means you too should be always on, looking for your next customer, next sale, next person through the door or onto your website. And how you do this is by converting them from a passive consumer of your message into an actively engaged state. Every single piece of communication that your company produces and every interaction you have with your target audience and potential customers should be converting them into a paying customer. Every advert should promote your website or phone number, your shop window should have your website/phone number/opening hours clearly displayed.
If you do deliveries make sure to brand your vehicle and display a call to action. If you have a social media presence make sure to put the “find us on Facebook” on every possible piece of collateral you can. If you are investing in paid advertising like print or radio then make sure to offer a discount or special offer when customers mention where they heard your advert.
Use the ABC technique to think like a salesman and ensure that every piece of marketing activity you produce assists you in also producing a sale lead and analysing where that sale originated from. This means that not only are you focusing on producing results driven marketing but that you actually know what is working for your business and you can then focus your budgets and your energies accordingly.
3. Look after your star salesperson – your website
Your website is your hardest working sales person, the only member of your team who works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your website is your shop front and is busy providing information on your company long after the shutters have been pulled down for the day. You need to remember that your website is your window to the world and it needs to represent your brand and reflect the tone of voice, design and look of your offline business so ensure consistency of service.
The first and most important rule of managing your business website it to keep it up to date. Don’t rely on a “build it and they will come” strategy for your website. You need to put in some work to drive traffic and keep people engaged. Up skill by doing some digital marketing courses with your local enterprise board, a night course or online tutorials.
Pay per click (PPC) advertising is cost effective and measurable and is also a great tool for targeting the low hanging fruit i.e. the people who are actually searching for information on products or services that you can provide. You can assign a daily budget, no matter how small, and you only pay when someone clicks on your ad and visits your website so there is a guaranteed result from the spend. Google offer a step by step guide to to help you set up an adwords account with them, find out more here.
Learn the basics such as how to measure site analytics so you can measure the traffic and visits to your site and report on it over time so you can measure seasonality and busy periods. Make sure to keep content updated and fresh, especially references to pricing or stock lists and seasonality.
Many small businesses adopt the strategy of developing a Facebook business page as their company website while they are in start-up mode as they may not yet have the resources or budget to develop a fully functioning website. This is a low cost option and can work really well but you need to remember to stay active and involved. Update your content, respond promptly to queries, thank customers for feedback and use images to promote your products/stock/offers.
4. Reward customer loyalty
Customer relationship management (CRM) is a marketing strategy that has been around for decades and is one which big organisations use very successfully to better understand their customers’ needs and behaviours in order to give them what they want. Advances in technology have made CRM systems even easier to use and more affordable and can really provide endless amounts of data. To bring it back to basics for a small business, the basic ethos of CRM is all about knowing and understanding your customers.
From the minute you start your business, you should have a customer loyalty programme in place. In its most basic form, this can take the shape of a coffee shop offering a loyalty card which gets stamped with every coffee you buy, buy six and get the seventh free. This principle should apply to every business, giving something back for a big order or repeat business is a way of showing your customers how much you appreciate their business and justifies why they should come back to you instead of a competitor next time (and there are many competitors out there who will take your customers business only too willingly). Everyone loves getting something for nothing, whether it’s a discount or a free coffee or an upgrade and it will make your customers feel good about spending their money with you.
To start taking your customer loyalty and CRM programme to the next level, you can start thinking like a bigger business and use data and technology to manage the process. Recording customer’s details and asking them to opt in to SMS offers or your email newsletter means you can start to measure the frequency of their business with you and how often they spend and what offers or incentives they respond well to so you can start to tailor your programme and segment your customer base by spend/frequency of business/location etc.
5. Collaborate with your customers
A good idea is always a good idea, even if it isn’t your own. A successful business person will always jump at a good idea and make it happen. This is why it’s so important to listen to your customers and really listen to what they are saying. There is no point having feedback forms or score cards if you have no intentions to ever act on the feedback. That’s why it’s also important to be hands on if you are running a small business, being present during the busy times and being there shoulder to shoulder with your staff and customers on the shop floor so that you can meet and greet and ask for feedback.
Sometimes the really obvious things get missed because you are too close to your business and looking at it from an owner/manager point of view. By shifting your focus and thinking like a customer by listening to them and most importantly, ASKING them for their suggestions then you really are in the best place possible to start giving your customers what they really want and now what you think/assume/hope they want.
It’s also really important to have a complaints policy, no matter how small your business. You are never going to have 100% of your customers 100% happy 100% of the time so you need to be able to respond quickly and effectively to any complaint and surprise and delight them with your response. This means you can turn the situation right around and they leave with a higher level of satisfaction and a greater respect for you as the business owner/manager for caring about their custom and wanting to keep them as a customer.
6. Work the room
When you are running a small business you need to network, network, network. Becoming part of a community of business owners in your area will help you keep on top of local issues and enable you to get involved. Join communities on LinkedIn so you can connect with similar business owners and share successes and challenges. Remember the tip about ABC (always be converting) and remember that as the business owner you have a huge part to play in that. Always have business cards or flyers on you to promote your business.
Encourage your friends and family to be advocates for your business and promote it to their networks and think about publicity and promotion opportunities. Big organisations spend a lot of money on experienced marketing and PR teams and agencies but on a smaller scale, all you need is confidence, persistence and a bit of creative thinking. Look after your local media whether that’s the community newsletter, local newspaper or radio station. Get involved in community events and celebrations like festivals and think about giving something back through CSR activities like supporting the local school or charity.
7. Blow your own trumpet
Only you can really drive the success of your business and when it comes to the serious business of turnover and cash flow, it really is not the time to hide your light under a bushel and hope that everyone notices what a great job you are doing. You need to tell everyone what a great job you are doing! You cannot be the shy and retiring type when it comes to promoting your business. Seek out testimonials from happy customers and then shout about it, publish them on your website or your shop window or on your social media channels.
Enter awards and shout about it when you are shortlisted or even better, a winner. Never turn down the opportunity to talk about your business, whether that is a speaking engagement at the local chamber of commerce or local school. You never know where your next customer will come from or who you might inspire along the way with your journey or advice. Remember to also share your successes with your team and let them help blow the trumpet too. They will value being part of a company that has just broken even or landed a big deal or celebrated their first year in business. Remember to mark every milestone on your business journey and to shout about it as much as possible.