Three Steps to Marketing Success for Small Businesses

For small or budget-strapped companies looking to implement an effective marketing plan, there are three steps you should undertake to ensure success. Remember the essentials: market research, your location, the customer group you have targeted, your competition, positioning, the product or service you are selling, pricing, advertising, and promotion. If you don't take into account these components, then you're practically dooming your business before it gets off the ground.

Effective marketing, planning and promotion begins with current information about the marketplace. Visit your local library, talk to customers, study the advertising of other businesses in your community, and consult with any relevant industry associations.

Once you have all the necessary information, write down your plan following these steps:

1: Define your business

Your product or service
Your geographic marketing area — neighborhood, regional or national
Your competition
How you differ from the competition — what makes you special
Your price
The competition's promotion methods
Your promotion methods
Your distribution methods or business location

2: Define your customers

Your current customer base: age, sex, income, neighborhood
How your customers learn about your product or service — advertising, direct mail, word of mouth, Yellow Pages
Patterns or habits your customers and potential customers share — where they shop, what they read, watch, listen to
Qualities your customers value most about your product or service — selection, convenience, service, reliability, availability, affordability
Qualities your customers like least about your product or service — can they be adjusted to serve your customers better?
Prospective customers whom you aren't currently reaching

3: Define your plan and budget

Previous marketing methods you have used to communicate to your customers
Methods that have been most effective
Cost compared to sales
Cost per customer
Possible future marketing methods to attract new customers
Percentage of profits you can allocate to your marketing campaign
Marketing tools you can implement within your budget — newspaper, magazine or Yellow Pages advertising; radio or television advertising; direct mail; tele-marketing; public relations activities such as community involvement, sponsorship or press releases
Methods of testing your marketing ideas
Methods for measuring results of your marketing campaign
The marketing tool you can implement immediately
The final component in your marketing plan should be your overall promotional objectives: to communicate your message, create an awareness of your product or service, motivate customers to buy and increase sales, or other specific targets. Objectives make it easier to design an effective campaign and help you keep that campaign on the right track. Once you have defined your objectives, it is easier to choose the method of promotion that will be most effective.

Source: BusinessWeek