Entrepreneurs often regard marketing and sales as the most exciting aspects of running a business. It's hard to beat the buzz of landing a big contract or seeing your name in a national newspaper. But not everyone has a natural aptitude for these disciplines and some of us have to work at them harder than others.
The principle purpose of marketing is to generate more sales for your business, but you will only be able to do this if you are completely focused on your customer. This means understanding what your customer wants, why they want it and how much they are prepared to pay for it. That's why it is crucial to invest in market research, both when starting out and later as your business grows.
Market research will give you the vital insight that you need to create the kind of 'brand' that your customs are looking for. And it is important never to underestimate the importance of 'the brand'. The brands of certain companies - Apple, for example - are worth billions and some experts argue that marketing is even more important than the product itself.
Whether you agree with this or not, there are some obvious steps that you can take to market your product or service and thereby drive sales.
- Create a brand for your product or service. This doesn't have to be an expensive exercise. If you use the online service 99designs, for example, designers all over the world will compete to design logos, letterhead stationery and business cards for you at very reasonable prices.
- Set up a website. It's a reality of modern life that customers expect anyone who is in business to have a website these days, or at least turn up in a Google search. If you are going to build a website, you want one that looks professional and uncluttered and contains plenty of appropriate keywords in the copy so that it's picked up by search engines. You can use comparison sites such as marketingquotes.co.uk to invite competitive quotes from website designers.
- Experiment with social media. Twitter and LinkedIn are the most obvious social media to use for business purposes. Twitter is a good way to engage with customers, suppliers and even competitors if you choose while LinkedIn is a useful channel to keep up with your contacts.
- Advertise. You will almost certainly need to do some advertising to make your business's presence known. It doesn't necessarily have to be expensive though. Listings on online directories such as Yell.com and Google Maps are free. Local magazines are also usually reasonably priced.
- Network. This simple but - to many - terrifying activity is one of the most effective forms of marketing that you can do. It is well known that people buy from people so nothing actually beats getting out there and meeting them. Start off by joining trade associations and bodies that are relevant to your business activity, and also the local Chambers of Commerce. If you run a company that really takes off and generates annual turnover above £250,000 you could join the Institute of Directors.
It's one thing to generate leads; it's another to turn them into sales. If you don't think selling's your bag, invest in some training or buy a book that can help you. You may be surprised to discover that you are a more gifted sales person than you initially thought.
One final point on sales and marketing. At some point along the way, you are likely to start accumulating customer data through your sales and marketing efforts. You have a number of legal obligations to protect that information under the Data Protection Act 1998. This can be done through the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).