Tips For Small Business – The Dos and Don’ts

In today’s tough economy with layoffs and slow economic growth, many people are looking to start their own small businesses. Over 600,000 new businesses were started last year. An alarming number of these businesses fail within the first year. The main reason: lack of money. Another significant reason: poor advertising and marketing. There are those lucky few companies that develop a great product or idea and can manage great success without a lot of advertising. But for the rest of them, they have to do significant marketing. In my experience I’ve seen some good ideas go to waste due to poor advertising and marketing efforts. Small businesses don’t need to suffer as much as popular belief would tell you. You could actually be successful in a short amount of time if you follow some steps and learn from other’s mistakes.

Here are some common mistakes that I have seen:

Inconsistent branding. I have seen new companies suffer from major identity crisis by not having a consistent brand. No logo and different names everywhere. You don’t have to be Starbucks to have a solid brand. In this one case, their web page, Facebook page, and Twitter account all had different company names and no logo. It was very difficult to establish what the actual name of the company was. In fact, the owner’s business card had a @yahoo email address. Nothing says “I’m a small unestablished business” like a freemail address on your card. His DBA even had a different name on it. It would be the same as introducing yourself to every person you meet with a different name. Establish the brand and be consistent with it, everywhere. Get help from a professional graphic designer to help you design and build a logo and identity. Just because you own a copy of Microsoft Publisher does not mean you’re a graphic designer. Let a professional do it. They know what a good logo and identity can do.

Another one, no marketing at all. Just simply relying on the premise of “build it and they will come” doesn’t work. Word-of-mouth advertising can only work so well. Not to be confused with Social Networking word-of-mouth, which we’ll talk about in a minute. I have seen a company with no web site and virtually no web presence at all and relied primarily on referrals. They couldn’t understand why their growth was so stagnant. Today’s small businesses have to market in the space where their customers reside, which for most businesses is on the internet. The Yellow Pages are all but dead. People these days go to the internet first to look for business and product information. That’s why the large companies are there! Sites such as Yelp are a great place to find information about local businesses. Even despite their recent legal issues, there is still some great information on their site. You have to get your word out to the masses. Build your presence. Build it where your customers reside. Get a good web site. Work on your search engine optimization so you come up high in search results. As mentioned above, get a good graphic designer involved.

Some best approaches:

Just because you’re small, doesn’t mean you have to act and think small. Developing a consistent brand, as discussed above, is not just for big companies. Your brand is your identity. It’s who you are. Make a strong statement. Be aggressive with your marketing. Get involved in social networking. It’s not just for big companies. Many small companies have shown great success with Facebook and Twitter strategies. A Los Angeles-based bakery called Kiss My Bundt is a great success story using social media to build their business. Over 75% of internet users are involved in some form of social media. Once again, your audience is there. According to a recent study conducted by ROI Research, over 33% of Twitter users talk about a brand at least once a week. 32% give recommendations and 30% seek advice or recommendations. With over 100 million users on Twitter, that’s a lot of brand talk. That’s real word-of-mouth advertising and that’s just on Twitter. Facebook is now the #1 visited website on the internet. With close to half a billion users, imagine how much talk about brands there is on Facebook. Build a Facebook fan page (or Like page as some like to call them) and engage yourself with your audience. Make sure your customers are talking about you, but obviously saying good things. One of the great things about social media is it allows you to listen in to your customers comments and engage with them and respond to the negative comments as they happen.

Spread your message as far as you can. Take advantage of free press releases and free blog posting sites. Use HARO (Help a Reporter Out). You never know what kind of exposure you can get from one of the reporters.

Some of the worst approaches

See Inconsistent branding example mentioned above. When the owner of this business was calling on new prospects, many of which were old contacts he had, he wasn’t even using the company name. He was introducing the company with his name because even he had no idea what his brand was and thought his name had more weight than his company.

Other suggestions to build your business

Network as much as possible. Attend local networking events. Check meetup.com for events in your area. Tell everyone you know that you’ve started a business and ask for referrals. Maybe even offer a referral fee or reward program for referrals. Customer loyalty programs are great way to encourage repeat business. Social network site Foursquare is making this easy. Expose your business as much as possible. Be thorough. Get everything in place before you launch, for example your website, your business plan, and your marketing strategy. Be prepared to hit the ground running and think big! Think and act like a bigger company would. That includes heavy exposure and marketing. A company with the best product in the world will fail if no one knows it’s there. Write blogs that demonstrate you’re an expert in your industry. Write press releases to tell the world you’re there. You never know where it might get picked up. Then, follow through on what you promise. Deliver what is expected and more. Under promise and over deliver. Run you business with honesty and integrity. This one I can’t stress enough. Especially in the beginning, dishonest practices will absolutely kill your business. Negative words will spread faster than positive words and your business will be dead before it can get started. Cheaters never prosper!

So Mr. and Mrs. Small Business Owner, don’t be afraid to make that dream of being a business owner a reality. But please do it right! Don’t be a negative statistic. Market yourself correctly! Build a solid and consistent brand. Get involved in social media. Encourage your customers to tell others about how great you are. Spread your word. If you don’t know how to do it, seek out workshops, seminars, or even consultants. Use whatever resources you can to help you succeed.