How to Market a Small Business: Starting Out

I can’t believe that in all the posts I’ve written so far I haven’t really sat down to walk you through the steps I walk a client through.  When I get called in, I’m usually meeting one of two types of customers. Type A is super excited about their new product and wants to know how fast everything can be done. Type B is scared as heck at this whole marketing experience and wants to know where to start.

No matter where you are, if I were sitting with you today, this is how we would start:

1) Tell me about your company.  Type A usually can go on all day about how great their new idea is, but might need someone to write down all that genius their saying before forgotten.  Type B is usually lost as to how to communicate what they know innately.

Ask specific questions like:

  • What market are you hoping to reach?
  • Why would they be interested?
  • What makes your product more unique and attractive than it’s competition?
  • If there’s a quality difference, have you done tests or have studies/data to prove it
  • If you can’t prove the quality difference now, could you soon?
  • Do you have testimonials? Could you get some?
  • If I were the customer, what would you say to me to get me interested in buying?
  • How does your product work?
  • Can you alleviate my fears about X, Y and Z? How?
  • Why did you create your company? (and more!)
  • What is the most important thing in your business? Why?

Understand your Audience
Marketing is a Guessing Game
As Compared to What?


2) With that information, organize your products and services. Some people will have a lot of ‘copy’ already made up, but most small businesses haven’t forced themselves to sit down and really write out a lot of promotional text about what they do.  With the information from the questions above, now is the time to do the hard work of writing up that promotional text. If you have someone in your company who is really good at writing, this would be a great chance for them to shine.

Rejecting Mass Advice Might be Bad:

If I were sitting with you, I would probably take the above information and write up text, then have you go through it to fill in missing pieces and correct anything I misunderstood.  If you’re doing this on your own, run it by several people who aren’t involved in your business to see if what you’re saying makes sense, and whether it’s compelling.  Don’t be defensive here.  You want their honest input and advice on how to improve.


3) Photos! You’re pretty well on your way, believe it or not. With the now organized information you can create promotional brochures and fliers.  A good consideration would be to take a nice camera around your plant or service area and take tons of pictures for your design work.  See my articles on making a photo library and my other article about being wary of stealing photos from websites.

Don’t Be a Photo Thief:
Take You Own Photos:
Organize Your Photo Library:


4) Make a logo.  If you don’t have a logo, or if your logo doesn’t mean anything, not would be a good time to look over your summaries of products, services and what your company stands for. You know what your target audience is, and with a little web research you can probably find out what shapes and colors this audience responds well to. Barring that, at least used shapes and colors that match your brand’s message.  Don’t use a glaring RED if your company is a salon – chances are you’d want a soothing lilac or blue.

Logo Maker Review:


5) With new logo in hand, create business cards, stationary, brochures etc.


6) Make a website.  A website can be as simple as literally everything on your brochure, but if you have someone tech-savvy I highly suggest making it more interactive: adding a shopping cart, a forum for asking questions, etc. Add Facebook, Twitter and other social media and BE ACTIVE on them!  Add fresh content regularly. If you’re a salon, how about adding reviews of different beauty products or articles on studies done about the health benefits of your techniques?

Designing a Website:


7) Build a mailing list, both email and mail. I’ve written a few articles about building and maintaining a good client list that might be of use.  Of course, once you do this, be sure to keep lines of communication open, regularly without being obnoxious about it. Make sure your emails and mailers aren’t just ‘buy my stuff’.  Give your customers added value with interesting articles, recipes, do-it-yourself guides, etc.

Making Professional Emails:
Care and Feeding of a Mailing List:
Making a Mailing List:


8 ) Now that you’ve gotten all your groundwork done, don’t rest on your laurels.

Read read read. There are tons of amazing books about marketing – many with tons of good ideas.  A few include: Entreleadership by Dave Ramsey, Purple Cow, Free Prize Inside, Poke the Box and Tribes by Seth Godin, E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson and The Little Big Things by Thomas Peters.  When you’re done with all that homework, check out my Book Reviews section.  I’m constantly adding new books and new blog entries throughout this website.


9) Every month review what worked and what didn’t.  Revise, rinse and repeat.  Try something new and actionable regularly.

Do You Have an Idea Folder?:
A Different Approach:


10) When in doubt, bring in some knowledgeable help. 

I’ll be the first to admit I’m biased on this.  Far be it from me to advise my way out of a job, right?  Truth is, even with all this advice, even with programs like free logo makers and Microsoft Publisher there is something to be said for having a trained eye for designing your promotional material, managing a full marketing plan, creating all that content for your website, mailers and email news letters.  It’s a lot of work and I commend all those small business entrepreneurs who strike out on their own here.

When, however, it seems to be too big a job, or too confusing a challenge, there is always the option of bringing someone in to help.  If you do, please keep in mind this person should be asking you questions like I did on #1.  If they’re being lazy about asking for content, not trying to teach and guide you along the way, and not asking important questions that prove they want to LEARN the CORE of your business, then they aren’t going to give you anything more than a canned template design.

If you do outsource, find someone with the heart of a student, the patience of a teacher and the creativity to bring it all together.

As a note, I’m probably going to turn this post into a page on this website for regular updating. You might check there for additional helpful links as time goes by!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *