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What's the best way to market your business and reach customers? Should your marketing strategy focus on blogs? Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Your website? YouTube and other video or slide sharing sites? What about direct marketing? Mobile marketing? Local networking groups? Article marketing? Publicity? Speaking? Pay-per-click (PPC) ads? Link building? Search engine optimization?
Are you dizzy yet?
You should be. Today's technology provides small businesses with dozens of marketing options that weren't available in the not-too-distant past. Staying on top of them all, let alone learning to use any of them effectively can be a full-time job and then some... a situation that has launched many new consulting businesses in recent years. In fact, you can now find consultants who specialize in social media, article marketing, link building, mobile marketing, buying and optimizing PPC ads, optimizing websites, to say nothing of all the more traditional types of consultants we are accustomed to hearing about. Not surprisingly, a certain number of consultants, when asked, will say that the best way to market your business is using the one or two marketing methods they, themselves, specialize in.
So, where does that leave you, the small business owner or self-employed expert, who wants to choose the best marketing options? You don’t have the time to sort through, test and become an expert in all the marketing methods available to you. And, hiring someone to do the work for you is either out of your budget, or not something you're sure would be a good use of your money at this time – particularly since you aren't really sure how to choose a marketing consultant for your business.
Back to Basics
At the end of the day, the real key to successful marketing is to understand your market. You want to know who your customers are, how old they are, what gender they are, what nationality they are, and what socio-economic group they fall into. You want to know what they buy that's similar to your product or service, how they buy it, when they buy, how often they make a purchase, how they find what they buy, and a whole lot more.
This is all information you need to gather (or re-evaluate if you've been in business for any length of time) before you develop or change your marketing strategy. And fortunately, much of it you can gather on your own.
Start by writing down the characteristics of your existing customers, or the people you are targeting. Then start asking yourself questions like, "Who else is a likely prospect? Who else is selling similar products? Who are those companies targeting, and how are they reaching their targeted customers? This marketing worksheet will help you gather the information you need.
Don't fall into the trap of believing your potential customers are buying and researching things to buy the same way they always have. Or that that they use the same resources and tools you do. Do the research and be open to what you learn. You may discover new markets you're missing.
Another trap to avoid: believing everyone or everyone in a certain demographic is your customer. Even if it's true, "everyone" isn't a market you can reach effectively on a small business budget. Neither is "all women over 40" or similarly large demographic groups. You need to narrow your target and focus on the most likely prospects that you can afford to reach.
Don't assume or guess the answers to important marketing questions. Ask your customers if you see them in person, or run an online survey. SurveyGizmo.com and SurveyMonkey.com both offer easy and affordable survey tools. Read industry publications and online blogs about your industry, too.
If you're new to marketing and need more help, check out the free training programs available through local resources such as the Small Business Development Center or SCORE. In addition to marketing programs, look for programs or seminars about social media and how to use it. Besides the knowledge you'll gain, you are likely to make contacts who either are consultants or who can tell you about consultants with whom they've worked.
Once you've got a good idea of who your customers are and what they look for, then call in the industry consultant if you need more specific tips on strategies and tactics. What you've gleaned in advance about your market will help you choose the best consultant for your needs, and make it easier for them to help you.
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