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If You Build It . . .

Successfully marketing your business starts with creating a solid foundation.

Creating brilliant direct-mail campaigns and ad slogans is fun, but marketing is like building a house: When you build a house, picking out the wallpaper might be the enjoyable part, but making sure you've got a sturdy foundation is essential.

When it comes to marketing, the foundation of your efforts should take the form of a marketing strategy. Think of a marketing strategy as your marketing raison d'ĂȘtre--the position you want to hold in the mind of a very specific customer. How can you develop an effective marketing strategy? First, you must spend a little time and energy determining two crucial factors: who makes an ideal client for your business, and how your business is different from others in your industry.

If you're just getting started, you might not know exactly whom you should target or what makes an ideal client--that knowledge comes through trial and error. In the beginning, though, you need to give some thought to identifying a narrowly defined market that could respond to your products and services. I intentionally use the term "narrowly defined" to get you thinking about specific market segments or niches where you might be able to compete more effectively.

Prospective clients likely have many businesses in your industry they can choose from, so you need to do as much as you can to stand out. One of the best ways to do this is to concentrate on attracting small niche markets. For example, let's say you're a financial planner. There are several well-established firms chasing the same clients you're after. But if you target individuals who have recently sold their businesses, you may be able to develop a marketing strategy that would make you their provider of choice.

Once you find your market niche, the next step is to build your business around a core message--one that shows potential clients how your organization will serve them better than the competition will. To accomplish this, you must fully understand the market's unique, unmet needs and challenges. If you discover that there are common challenges or questions entrepreneurs face after selling their businesses, part of your marketing strategy should be to communicate your full understanding of these challenges and detail how you will incorporate them into your business's offerings. If you discover, for instance, that your market is frustrated with the services provided by larger corporate institutions, you should design service offerings that address those issues. You might even look for an associate who has sold a business and understands what it's like to go through the process. They may be able to provide you with tips on how to grab that target market and incorporate its needs as a core aspect of your operations.

Now, instead of pushing your message across a very crowded landscape and getting lost among the competition, you can use your targeted marketing strategy to convey a clear message--e.g.,"If you've recently sold your business, we are the obvious choice." It's a message that will be very compelling to individuals in your market. By singling them out and speaking to them directly, you'll lay the foundation on which you can build a solid business.

John Jantsch is a veteran marketing coach, award-winning blogger and author of Duct Tape Marketing: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide. Find out more atducttapemarketing.com.

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This article was originally published in the October 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: If You Build It . . ..

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