Marketing your new small business - how do you find your 'hungry crowd'?

When I arrived in Perth, the first thing I did was hand-deliver 12,000 flyers to households advertising my computer training services. I picked up my first client. It was a start. After more than four years, that client is still a client and retaining clients is vital to any small business. However, if I mention that only 30 people responded to the flyer, would you consider the exercise worthwhile? I did.

Marketing is such a vast subject so where do you start? It can make or break your business. For instance, if you see 20 competitors offering a similar service in the local newspaper, how are you going to stand out in that forum? Could your limited marketing dollars be spent in a smarter way?

As Grace Johnston puts it, 'How do you find your hungry crowd?', all those people willing to pay your price for the product or service you have to offer.

Marketing is all about managing the marketing mix, the major components of which are summarised by the 4Ps (Product, Price, Promotion and Place). Click here to see what Wikipedia has to say on the subject.

Don't fall into the trap of giving the market what you think it needs. You have to determine whether there is a real need for your product or service and the only proper way to do this is to conduct market research. Even if there is a demand, is it sufficient for you to make a living? Consider appointing a professional market research firm to gather the data you require, but if the cost is prohibitive try to get some advice on how to go about conducting research.

What is it customers really value about your product? For some it might simply be the price, for others it might solve a problem, whilst others might prefer the design. Can you create a 'differential advantage' over your competition, focussing on what customers really need and which makes your product stand out from the rest?

I was introduced some time ago to the concept of 'features and benefits', but this is only one aspect of the marketing mix. Quite often nowadays you see advertisements comparing one product with another, yet if you can come up with a catchy slogan this might be your saviour. One of my favourites is 'Lowest prices are just the beginning'.

There are so many different ways to advertise. I started with flyers, experimented with several publications and later developed a relationship with a retail outlet which recommended my services. The latter came about completely by chance. I could have considered fridge magnets. advertising on radio stations, Yellow Pages, lettering on my vehicle, telemarketing, sponsorships, trade shows and much more. At the start of your marketing campaign, you could try promotions and special offers (two for the price of one) but beware of attracting too much business and not being able to cope.

I've had a website for several years but it was only when I was introduced to SiteSell that I realised my existing website wasn't working properly, much as though I liked it. Hence this new website and I recommend you click on the link if you want to know how to build a website properly.

Once you've reached your target audience and acquired a bunch of clients which keeps you busy, stay in touch with them. This might be through emails, newsletters, or sending them a birthday card. Stay in their minds, even if they haven't used you for a while.

As you move forward, continually analyse what's working and what's not working. What can you improve? How can you get better value from your marketing dollar?

In the early stages, it's worthwhile attending some short courses. The Small Business Development Corporation runs a series in Perth. Apart from learning from the lecturer, you'll also find that you'll be mingling with a bunch of like-minded people and, as I found when running my own courses, people are always prepared to share ideas.

As mentioned, marketing is a vast topic. This is only an introduction. Spend time talking to other business owners, doing your research, and trying to find out what works. Always remember to spare time for more marketing, even when you're busy. There's always somebody else out there who could be your client. It's up to you to find them.