I always encourage any business owner, even a small solopreneur virtual assistant practice to have a solid marketing strategy and plan… and to review it every quarter. If you don’t review it periodically, how will you know what is (or is not) working? If you continue to marketing by means that are not returning on your investment, and remember that time is money, then you are throwing money out the window. That’s not smart.
A flawless marketing strategy defines effective and professional business actions. That is the why one entrepreneur will be confidently leading a budding business and another business owner stuck in survival mode. I know which business owner I’d prefer to be.
Instead of spending time on important issues that will improve tactical performance, the most owners of busy small businesses get caught up in day-to-day actions like maintaining a website and blog, advertising, sending and answering email and scouring through social media. Nothing gets done to improve the marketing performance when you do that.
In order to improve a marketing strategy, decisions needs to be taken to enhance tactics. The foundation for a great marketing strategy includes awareness creation, interest generation, new contract executing and continued engagement with customers.
From there, the culture of the company, the combination of services, the products as well as pricing will be guided by the marketing strategy.
Company Culture… for a Company of One?
Yes! Build your business as if you had a staff of 10, or 20, or 50. What would your culture be? Is that culture and actions something you would want repeated 10, 20 or 50 times over? Think about it.
The five most important decisions
Here are the five most important decisions to be made to help the owners of small businesses grow sales and create stability in their businesses are:
1. Who, in narrow terms, are your target clients?
2. What category of business does your company deal with?
3. What is the most distinctive benefit offered by your company?
4. Who is the actual competition?
5. What differentiate you from competitors?
Decide on a simple, clear answer to these questions and make the commitment not to change them for at least a year.
Say it with me again: Decide on a simple, clear answer
This will ensure focus, the only thing that will bring about the transformation needed to move from a business that is at a standstill to one that grows commercially. Just hoping that next time the email will be more effective will not help you to develop a realistic strategy and a strong focus.
Who, in narrow terms, are your target clients?
Defining the target customer is the first decision that needs to be made in strategizing about marketing. You need to clearly define who the company is serving before a tactic can be effectively executed. If a potential buyer does not fit the narrow focus of the business, just say no. It will take time to cultivate this discipline, but effective marketing is not possible without it.
Even though it might be uncomfortable for the first time to focus on a clearly defined target clientele stay focused and keep on going. Instead of being an accountant who does taxes for clients in Atlanta, change it to an accountant who does investments and taxes for law firms only – a specific customer with specific needs. Expect to grow the business, narrow the range of services offered and strengthening the company’s pitch.
A clear indication that the target market has not been defined narrowly enough, is if the effort of spending money and time on marketing is not driving sales. The whole business will be more effective if the market is defined narrowly enough to ensure the focus stays on the customers that the company can serve best and the others that can offer the best service to the company.
What category of business does your company deals with?
In other words, give a description of the kind of business the company deals in. Write down a few words that come to mind when describing the business. For instance, Facebook is “social media platform” or the accountant is simply “tax accountant for law firms in Atlanta.”
The effectiveness of marketing is weakened if a business owner over-complicates the description of their company. This will leave people uncertain about what the company actually does. A simple fact is: if a business acquaintance cannot remember the description of a company’s category a month after they were told, it proves that they were never sure about what the company does from the start.
Sales and marketing efforts will be amplified by a clear definition of a company’s category. Ask yourself what must be done for your company to take the lead, to be the best in the category? Not currently the leader? You’ll have to narrow the category definition (or the focus on the target market) until the company leads. Just like a laser focused on a steel target a distance away, can melt it and the same laser, unfocused, has no effect, a company should focus laser-like.
What is the most distinctive benefit offered by the company?
The target customer only wants to hear about the one of two most distinctive benefits (products or services) offered that is actually delivered by your company. Refrain from giving an extended list of the product’s every feature.
A competent company will know what their customers want, not just the product but also how to save time and grow sales. They won’t describe every feature of a product or the range of benefits, but keep their focus on their one or two distinctive benefits in their day to day workings. The more unpretentious the description, the more their marketing improves.
Who is the actual competition?
Potential clients are consumers of your services… and consumers know how to easily compare products/services. When they are ready to commit to contracting your practice, they are also checking our other virtual assistants to remedy their task management problem. The problem? Most small entrepreneurs do not specifically define their actual competition and their messages thus do not differentiate clearly enough between them and their competitors. This weakens the company’s efforts at overall marketing and frustrates the potential client in the process of making a decision.
Get a clear mental picture of who the prevalent competition is. Is the main competition to the aforementioned tax accountant really other accountants, financial planners and CPAs? Or the Do-it-yourself tax software, customers manually doing it or other national accounting firms? For each type of competitor a different comparison can be made, so it has to be narrowed down to at the most two leading types of competitors.
What differentiates you from competitors?
Once the competition has been defined, compile a list of the things the company does better as well as differently. Next rank them by their importance to the target customer. Select the leading one or two for the homepage of the company’s website and make sure to include these in the elevator pitch or short summary to quickly define the company.
Over-complicating this will be a mistake. Only one or two pointers are enough to move customers to a decision. What is the cost? How fast can it be delivered? Is the service the most personalized? Are law firms in Atlanta exclusively served by the mentioned accountant?
Create a Marketing Strategy Statement
By putting the five most important decisions about your marketing into a sentence, it will look like a proclamation where the blanks could be filled in:
The company’s name is the prominent category to provide distinctive benefits to target customers. The company differentiates between unique customers, its competitors do not.
Some companies have reported that their growth rate have doubled since they turned their focus and commitment to this pure and unassuming marketing strategy.
Now, create a statement that will formulate your company’s marketing strategy. Ask your best customers and some friends and employees for their perspectives. Make decisions after listing the options. Say it aloud for a couple of times. The feeling of power and clarity will come through. Some things that your company could stop doing to be more focused will also be revealed.
If your marketing isn’t laser focused, sending that broadcast email, writing that Tweet or the building of a website will make no sense. The right customers will not be attracted by doing all these things without the map – the marketing strategy. Sales will not grow unless time is invested in the implementation of a marketing strategy that is focused and concise.
The true secret to successful companies is the extreme discipline with which they stay true to their clear marketing strategy. It is not what big companies do after reaching success, it is the first thing small businesses should do to obtain growth and prosper.