Starting a new business is a bold and exciting process! It takes a lot of courage to jump out on one’s own. Sometimes your hand is forced by a corporate layoff and difficulty finding another job. Sometimes you are pursuing a dream. And sometimes you get mad working for someone else and just aren’t going to take it any more.
Whatever your motivation, the second (maybe first) most important decision you can make is to focus on getting paying customers. Without paying customers, your new business idea is just an idea, not a real business. Many start-ups think all they have to do is just open for business and the customers will come. That rarely happens. The vast majority of new businesses fail – mostly for lack of income, caused by lack of marketing.
Here are 12 important steps you need to take to market your new business on a tight budget, based on years of helping all kinds of new businesses get up and going:
- Develop a targeted marketing strategy. Whether you have a comprehensive business plan or not, planning your marketing instead of just jumping into it, is a wise path to take. In fact these 12 steps right here can work for your business, but need to be customized. Key questions to be answered in a realistic marketing strategy are:
- Who exactly are my target customers (markets)?
- What are their needs that my business is going to address?
- How do I know that those needs are not being met by current providers?
- What am I going to offer that is clearly better than current providers?
- Do I have a sustainable competitive advantage which customers are willing to pay for?
- What is the best way to communicate with my target customers (markets)?
- Do I have the money to pay for that?
- Create a unique brand name. If your name is John Smith, don’t name your company after you. Come up with a name that is unique, so that when you Google it “in quotes” to be exact, nothing else comes up with that exact name. Such a unique name is more valuable than gold and vital in today’s Internet-driven marketplace.
- Reserve a dot-come domain name for your new brand. Less than $10 on Godaddy.com. If your domain name is not available as a .com, come up with another name. Seriously.
- Hire a graphic designer to create a unique logo and use it to get business cards printed. Do not do this yourself unless you are a trained designer. Include your domain name on your business cards. Get a logo version you can use for letterhead.
- Develop a website using your domain name. We recommend Hostgator.com but there are other good website hosts. Hostgator provides free software you can use to build your own website, including WordPress (also free and very popular). Plenty of how-to tutorials can be found on YouTube and Hostgator. Or check out Cloudwards, a great site that reviews a wide range of cloud-based hosting options.
- Get a simple flyer or folder printed outlining what your business offers. Websites are essential but lots of prospects want something in their hands. Your handout can be as simple as a one-page Word document with your new logo at the top.
- Begin Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to get ever higher rankings for your website. It does you little good to have a website if no one can find it. Hire an economical SEO firm or do it yourself. Google’s Guide to SEO is free, online, and a great starter.
- Advertise with Google Adwords to get page-1 listings immediately. Go to adwords.google.com to get started. Sign up for an account and use their online tools within Adwords to identify good search terms (keywords) and build effective ads. You can spend as little as $100 a month and get solid results from Google Adwords. (Contact us for a free coupon worth $100 in Google ads.) Later on, use Bing.com ads as well.
- Use social media including a blog, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter several times a week. If possible use your own name, not your business name, because social media are personal. Constantly reach out to potential customers or referral sources by following them or asking them to connect. Twellow.com is a great way to locate Twitter users by city or area of interest. If your Twitter site already has 10 or more interesting tweets, when you follow someone else, there’s a good chance they will follow you back. Be interesting, not overtly selling, to pick up followers. A blog is an excellent core for publishing full articles which you link to via other shorter-form social media.
- Put out press releases about your start-up and any news like new employees, guest speaking opportunities, new products etc. Use an inexpensive PR firm or do it yourself. Email copies in the email window to local newspaper and TV stations, and use free press release distribution services online to give them global distribution. This will also help raise your search rankings and brand dominance in the marketplace.
- Use YouTube videos to connect with potential customers, help your search engine rankings, and embed on your website. Record with your smartphone or camcorder for 90 seconds or so. If you are too uncomfortable with your appearance, create an informative slide show and convert it to video (PowerPoint will do this with one click). Create your own YouTube channel using your brand name or other cool identifier. Upload your video, check it out, and once you’re satisfied, tell your social network about it and embed it in your website. Be sure to include tags (using your keywords) with your video when uploading to YouTube. Put your slide show on Slideshare.com for added free exposure.
- Send email newsletters to potential customers, contacts and referral sources. This can include several recent blog posts. MailChimp.com lets you use its services for a small email list for free. Get in the habit of producing regular content for your blog and social media which you aggregate or elaborate for your email newsletter. In today’s online marketplace, content is king, and content creators rule.