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Notes from a small business: Once you're up and running you need to make some noise


By Guy Browning, of design agency Smokehouse

When you go into business for yourself, the one thing you’re pretty sure of is that you can actually do the business. For example, when you’re setting up as a greengrocer, you probably know your onions (and other vegetables). However, potential customers don’t know that you know your business. That’s where marketing raises its beautiful, well-designed head.

Be aware the marketing starts as soon as you choose a name for your company. This is such an important part of your marketing that ideally it should be the last thing you do. It rarely is, though, because it’s your baby and you want to name it, often before it’s actually born. You will then need a beautiful and expensive logo too, in the same way that your newborn baby will need every single item from Mothercare. 

It’s important to get your name right because you want people to use it. People who know will tell you that there is nothing more powerful in marketing than good old word of mouth. In fact, that’s exactly what word of mouth is: people who know you talking about you. 

When you do a job for a shy and retiring recluse, don’t expect a lot of word of mouth. Word of mouth spreads in the same way as colds and flu: in the office, at the shop and at the school gates. Ideally, you need to do a really good job for someone with school-age children, working part-time, who does their shopping locally and is also chatty, likes helping other people, and has an excellent memory for your name, phone number and website. There’s probably only one person like that – your partner. 

By far and away the most cost-effective form of marketing is the local newsletter. This is especially the case with community newsletters rather than freebies. People read local news intently because they want to know who’s got planning permission, who’s in trouble with the police and who’s dead. And if they can find a local handyman too, so much the better. 

Before paying for any kind of advertising, you should try for free publicity in the shape of PR. This means generating a heartwarming story for the local paper. But remember, what you find rewarding in your business may not be so for the wider public. 

No marketing plan is complete without social media, but don’t go mad. Doing a YouTube blog full of practical tips will take twice as long as your actual job. Remember, there are already lots of people doing the same thing, and they’ve probably got better teeth. 

Networking is also important for lead generation, but make sure you know who is going to be there first. I’ve been to some where 90 per cent of people turn out to be printers or executive coaches. One can only assume that printers are desperate for executive coaches, who in turn need a lot of printing. 

To meet people more useful to you, it may be worth going to a trade show or exhibition. Here the most difficult thing is working out how to display all the marvellous things your company does in a space the size of a teenager’s bedroom.

Unlike a teenager’s bedroom, you then have to do everything in your power to encourage people to come in and spend as much time there as possible. Try giving away freebies. And don’t forget to smile, even if they’re onions.