Around 85% of UK star-ups fail within their first 3 years. Resulting from financial struggles, resource limitations and frequently from a lack of insight and analysis into their market. The 5-step approach I have outline here is designed to be relatively easy to follow and it has already helped SMEs from a wide variety of backgrounds to grow and retain their profits effectively. It’s fairly simple, you’ll know when you’ve reached each goal once you can confidently carry out each of the steps outlined below.
Nearly every business owner or executive I have worked with has found it challenging to set clearly defined goals, often unable to evaluate fully and act – especially if it would disrupt output. For example, changing the packaging or features of a product that is already in the market may affect profit in the short term but ensure your strength against competition for years to come.
To survive in such a competitive marketplace such as ours you need to be agile and aware of all internal and external factors that dictate your future success. Each of the goals below relates to understanding key parts of your overall business strategy and can help across all areas of the business.
*I will mostly focus on physical products in the examples below, but all aspects are transferable to a service-based company.
This should form part of your initial market research, it’s crucial to understand the type of customer(s) your company is trying to attract before going to market. You must first identify the problem you are trying to solve and the type of customers who will be attracted to your product through market research and industry knowledge.
In most cases you will have various types of customers who can be prioritised by their purchasing power and your ability to influence their decisions. Identifying each of your core target audiences and outlining the best ways to attract and retain their business will shape the rest of your activities and help to maintain focus.
Understanding your creation inside-out and its position in the marketplace will help you to avoid failure and disruption further down the product life-cycle. This includes its application, limitations and USP to set it apart from the competition and develop the strength of the brand.
Make sure you invest in unbiased product testing groups and get verified feedback as asking close friends and family is guaranteed to give you a biased result and your target market may not agree.
This detailed analysis of your product will help you build a robust story to tell your customers about the features and benefits of the product and any specs that they should consider when purchasing. Whilst flagging any features that will become outdated or exceeded by competition in the years to come.
Start by analysing your target audience and the channels that they are already using. This will ensure the greatest ROI on your advertising spend and time invested. Think about how they would interact with your competitors, especially which social media channels and other touchpoints already performing well
I personally target all startups and SMEs with 1-250 employees from a wide variety of backgrounds within London. I utilise all major social channels, google directories, related forums, networking events, business centres and most importantly word of mouth recommendations. In my case the messaging is always consistent, avoiding technical jargon and an appropriate length for each of the channels used. For example, Twitter has short copy, Facebook medium length and LinkedIn announcements allow for a little more detail and are just shorter than direct email campaigns.
Create a list of the top 10-15 websites and other mediums you would like to focus on. There are hundreds to choose from but it’s worth starting by creating a google maps / business page to help google rank you and kickstart your SEO campaign. (SEO article being released soon). Social media is unavoidable most campaigns must be visible on either Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn and usually more than one. If you have product review video’s or similar video content to share; make sure to be visible on YouTube and VIMEO.
Top Tip: Most people make purchases based on reviews and peer experiences which significantly increases the trust and attractiveness of a product. If people love your product then make sure you get testimonials and google reviews to back this up and to engage your audience. You can take this even further once you start building traffic to your own site by building your reputation on Trustpilot.
Word of Mouth is a powerful tool when expanding your reach and breaks down barriers to entry as naturally people will trust a friend’s opinion over general advertising that can become saturated. Local forums such as Nextdoor, Gumtree & local directories can even create business opportunities without the need for paid advertising or constant social updates. If you provide residential services such as plumbing, DIY or gardening then it’s likely someone locally will be interested. Create a simple listing if there is an option and search for enquiries.
Offline Channels may seem outdated for many and this is where knowing your target audience and product inside-out really pays off. For example, if you have a wide target market of all ages then a mixed offline and digital marketing campaign will create more touchpoints and opportunities to generate business. Direct Mail and Telemarketing offer a personal touch and help to make you stand out from the “noise” created by online adverts and email marketing.
Truly understanding your competition is the golden rule of marketing and with the vast array of online tools like https://alexa.com it’s never been easier to understand your strengths and weaknesses against the competition.
Other external factors such Brexit and GDPR will disrupt the way businesses operate in the UK for years to come. Bringing new regulations for small businesses and constraints to your marketing methods. This is a crucial time to do your research, even seek professional advice if you have an international business or are planning to import/export.
The generic SWOT analysis has been around for many years, but it remains a crucial part of every marketing campaign. Once you understand the four main parts and how they connect to one another it can become a powerful tool for continuous improvement within your business. Strengths and weaknesses link to internal factors and Opportunities and Threats look at the external.
Here is an example from my own SWOT analysis to give you a template to get yours started.
There are endless tracking tools and reports that you can get online but think smart and choose the ones to suit your ability and time constraints. It’s best to perform these reviews on a monthly or weekly basis and I can help you create a robust review system that takes less than 2 hours per week.
It’s important to analyse results and strive for continuous improvement so here is a list of some of the main tools used once you have identified your main KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
Analysing your performance is only the beginning – now it’s time to decide if you need to act or drive change from the results. These changes can help to shape your next marketing campaign by updating the messaging or benefits that are communicated. In some cases the feedback will give reason for more product development but only when required as this can be costly and reduce profits in the short term which can lead to liquidity issues.
This 5-step approach has already overcome some of the challenges faced by business owners and marketers and when implemented properly it encourages focus, evaluation and action to continually improve the business. Allowing SMEs of all sizes and backgrounds to have a clear insight into the most successful marketing activities with the best ROI. However it will not hold all the answers and should still form part of an overall marketing and business strategy.