I took a road trip a couple years ago through Arizona, New Mexico, and into Texas on Interstate 10. For those of you unfamiliar with that route, it isn’t extremely populated and you can go miles and miles between towns. Along the freeway I began to see billboards for “Coldest Drinks in the State Exit 125″, “200 Types of Beer Exit 125″, “Hungry for Snacks? Exit 125″…on and on a billboard for the same store about every mile, and we were 30-40 miles from Exit 125. Anyway, after seeing no less than 40 of these bill boards we just had to stop at the now famous (to us) Exit 125 and grab something to drink. The place was pretty well packed with other travellers stocking up on cold beer and sodas. I asked the guy behind the counter if he was staying busy and he replied “Yeah, ever since they put those billboards up”. I said, “no kidding, they made a difference huh?”, and he replied “Yup, I guess marketing works”

I think that story sums up what most small business owners know about marketing and advertising, it works! But for a lot of us we don’t know where to begin, and how to market our small businesses in the most effective fashion. All marketing campaigns have similar steps and processes that you will need to work through when you begin to market your business. Whether you are advertising your small business in print, putting together a small business email marketing campaign, or cross marketing using various media types, working through the steps below will put you on the right path to success, as well as help ensure you get the desired outcomes from your marketing work and dollars.

Identify the Target Market

It’s not a coincidence, and shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that most concepts in small business start with target market. You need to have a good understanding of who is buying your products and services and why. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to drill down into this and get a good handle on it before you proceed with marketing. Without a good understanding of your customers and their motivation to buy from you, any marketing plan you prepare is destined to fail.

For example, if you sell ice cream shakes and notice most of your customers are coming in from the Weight Watchers clinic next door, you would need to understand the motivation for them coming to before you marketed to all the Weight Watchers clinics in the city. In this case it’s easy to see you’re getting their business due to your proximity to the clinic not because your product would necessarily appeal to anyone in Weight Watchers. Knowing your customer well, and their motivations behind buying from you is a critical step in getting your marketing campaign headed in the right direction, and using your marketing dollars most efficiently.

Set Your Budget

Realistically evaluate how much money you have available for marketing. Don’t be discouraged if you are in a position where there aren’t a lot of dollars available, most of us are in that same position. Your goal in creating your marketing plan is to maximize every dollar you do have, so that if you spend $50 on marketing it brings in $75 worth of business. Set a comfortable marketing budget and then stick with it. It will be easy to tack on a little bit extra here and there, but the point of marketing is the most bang for your buck and that is independent of budget parameters, so don’t think that spending more means getting more.

Specifically State the Desired Outcomes of Your Marketing Campaign

You should set a goal for each marketing campaign you undertake, and programs like MS Project are a great way to track, evaluate and improve productivity. Well isn’t the goal of all marketing to get more business? Typically yes, but if you do not state exactly what outcomes you want to see, you’ll never know if your marketing was successful or not. More business can come in many different ways. Maybe you have a new product you need to get the word out about, or possibly lure clients from a specific demographic or region. Getting specific will help you focus, and provides the benchmark metric to analyse success.

Identify Potential Forms of Marketing

For every form of marketing you can find, ask yourself these questions:

1. How does this reach my target market?

2. Is there another form of advertising that would reach my market more effectively?

3. How many potential eyes in my target market will this reach?

4. How many of those potential customers will act on my marketing?

5. Is it within my budget? (This question will eliminate more potential marketing outlets than any other)

The exercise of asking these questions in regards to every kind of marketing available to you will help you weed out the bad ideas, and focus your marketing budget on those ideas with the greatest chance of success.