How do I market the products/services of my business?
Marketing is everything you do in your business to attract and retain customers. It can be as simple as keeping your premises clean and neat to establishing fair and easy to understand return policies to quality control to customer service training for yourself and your staff and on to advertising and sales promotion. A marketing plan is needed to guide you through the elements of marketing your products/services and your company. Research is the key to completing the following six steps necessary to prepare your plan.
Step one: The Five Components of Market Research
- Service/Product-Why would someone use/buy this?
- Company- Sales figures, sales persons’ reports, warranty cards, etc.
- Customer- Customer profiles. Potential customers/prospects.
- Competition-Who are they? What is their market share?
- Marketplace-Seasonality. Economic trends. Environmental issues.
Step Two: Establish Your Objectives
- Marketing goals for next five years-Dollar sales, unit sales, profits.
- Marketing problems-Rank in order of urgency.
- Opportunities/obstacles during next five years-Prioritize.
- Competition-What will they do in next five years?
Step Three: Determining Your Market Mix-Be sure to encompass the Five P’s of Marketing in your evaluations:
- Product/Service-Desirability of your work or product.
- Price-Attractiveness of fees or product price.
- Place-Convenience and appearance of your business.
- Promotion-Ad campaigns, word of mouth, internet.
- Positioning-How you set your business apart from others.
Your SCORE Counselor can provide information to help you do a marketing audit.
Step Four: Strategy and Execution
- Constrained by the realities of cash flow and budget considerations.
- Complete your cash flow projections to determine spending limits for advertising.
- Prepare a task list and schedule.
- Don’t be overwhelmed by choices.
- Your SCORE Counselor has, “100 Marketing Ideas to use Today”.
- Track results to see that you are spending marketing dollars wisely.
Step Five: Prepare Your Written Marketing Plan
- A compilation of all the previous steps.
- Plan will provide you and your employees a schedule to work from, criteria by which to measure success of strategies and a foundation for revising you strategies.
Step Six: Track Your Results
- Evaluation provides the basis for your next set of objectives.
- Provides the basis for future research and makes it easier.
As you develop your marketing plan, spend a disproportionate amount of time determining how your business is going to be different and better than your competition. The more you can differentiate your business, the more likely you are to succeed.
Your SCORE Counselor can provide a booklet called, “Business Basics” which further details the preparation of the marketing plan.
While the marketing plan is very important, you will need to address other aspects of marketing early on in the life cycle of your business.
In a small business, everybody is a salesperson and a customer service representative so everyone needs to be trained. They need to know the product or service inside and out and they need to know how to service customers. This is true even if the only person in the organization is the owner. Local schools conduct classes at reasonable cost and at convenient times. Online training is available at www.smallbizu.com and information is abundant on the internet especially at www.score.org, www.sba.gov, and www.about.com.
Good marketing begins with the policies the business establishes:
- What level of quality can a customer expect from your business. Make sure everyone in the business knows what your quality expectations are and sign on to deliver that measure.
- Your product return policy needs to be fair and easily understood by customers and employees and the owner should always be the final arbiter in customer disputes.
- Promised delivery of products as well as start and completion of services must be strictly observed. Remember, promise what you can do and do what you promise without fail.
- Settle customer disputes fairly and with a smile. It is self defeating to win an argument with a customer. You will lose in the end because there won’t be a repeat opportunity.
- If you are scheduled to be open for business at 8:00 a.m., make sure someone is there ready to conduct business at 8:00 a.m. Customers do not like to wait either for your business to open or for someone to finish opening up.
- An expectation on the part of the owner is required for phone etiquette. When are employees expected to return phone messages (hourly, at the end of the day, at the completion of a job and before the next one)? Customers will not wait very long for a return phone call before calling another supplier and if you already have the job or have sold the product, they won’t buy again if they get poor post-delivery service.
- How do you expect employees to greet your customers both in person and on the phone? A gruff or rushed demeanor is a put off for many even if backed by otherwise good skills.
Look at every aspect of your business from the customer’s point of view and put policies, procedures and training in effect to make sure your business is the place customers want to come to now and in the future.
The price of your product or service is really determined by your competition. Find out what your competitor’s are selling their like products/services for and you have a starting point for your pricing. The next thing to do is look at your costs very carefully to see if you can actually sell at that price and still make enough money. If you’re in the ball park, compare the products or services to determine if they are actually the same in every respect. If you plan on offering something in addition or something better, then you might expect to price your product higher, if customers actually want the enhanced product or service. Or, perhaps you need to modify your offering to meet the competitor’s level. At the end of each evaluation of pricing strategy, be sure to double check that you make enough money at that price. If you are in a retail business and prices are based on a markup, be sure the markup provides sufficient margin to cover costs and expected profit.