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Stop! Avoid These 4 Mistakes Before You Put Your Small Business on the Map. While market saturation is often a deterrent for small-business hopefuls, it doesn't have to be. Here's how to compete.

By AJ Agrawal Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Bird + Stone

Imagine you're a first-time entrepreneur, excited about your product idea and optimistic about the state of the market for small businesses: Your product has been tested and is ready to go, and your launch date has been set, but you still have one tiny challenge ahead of you: your go-to-market plan.

Related: Plan How to Take Your Product to Market, Not Just to Potential Investors.

Okay, maybe the challenge is not that tiny and not limited to just one thing. And maybe, regardless of your enthusiasm as a small business owner, you've actually got a mountain of challenges awaiting you in an overcrowded market.

Yet, while market saturation is often a deterrent for small business hopefuls, it doesn't have to be. Yes, developing your go-to-market plan entails a ride down a a bumpy road that requires trial and error and a strain on your budget. But, you can succeed if you steer clear of several easily avoidable traps along the way:

1. Your plan doesn't promote a unique value proposition.

Regardless of which niche you are trying to enter, there's likely some existing competition waiting for you. Too many first-time entrepreneurs follow the leads of existing competitors and fail to differentiate their brands from the start.

They find it easier to follow a defined path set by other brands than to pave a new one. Yet, sticking to the status quo is a missed opportunity. After all, if you didn't believe you had something unique to offer, you likely wouldn't be launching a business in the first place.

You can't expect to siphon market share away from existing competitors if customers don't understand what makes your brand or product different. Determining your UVP from the onset is the key to developing a strong marketing plan. Just such a Unique Value Proposition is the way in which your brand will create a distinct value for potential customers. To create one, first answer three simple questions:

  • What is the problem your product is fixing, or the gap in the market your brand will assume?
  • What can customers expect from your product or service?
  • Why should customers purchase your product or service over a competitor's?

Once you have a firm grasp on the value your brand will bring to the market, you can create a solid marketing plan that will not only support your unique attributes but will also resonate with existing customers' wants and needs.

Related: Use These 5 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

2. You haven't mapped your customers' journey.

Once you've put into words what your product potential is, you can start to build a multi-channel marketing plan to promote that definition. Rarely does marketing success come as a result of winging it. Creating a comprehensive plan will help you set realistic timelines and budgets and will also keep you accountable.

The first area your plan needs to address is your customer base; because you've already developed a unique value proposition, you should have a good idea as to who your customers are. But, have you thought about what your customers' journey will look like? Clearly define each step along the customer sales path, from awareness through action.

At this point you might be wondering why it's necessary to map out your customers' journey before they take it. But, the better you understand the sequence of events in your unique sales cycle, the smoother you can make each step along the way for your customers.

By mapping out how your customers will discover your brand, what will ignite their interest, what will motivate them to explore your product and, finally, drive them to buy, you'll be able to create unique marketing initiatives that layer on top of one another and support each step.

Taking the time to dive into your customer personas and map out their probable journeys will save you from spending money on big marketing too quickly.

3. You haven't prioritized social media.

Social media may have been considered a nicety a few short years ago, but today -- regardless of your product or service -- it's a necessity. Too many small brands make the mistake of putting off social media due to a lack of budget or time, or fear of not being able to keep up with larger brands.

Even if you're not ready to devote large portions of your marketing budget to paid campaigns or influencer outreach, it's still necessary to build up your presence across social media channels. Why? Because in today's environment, social channels are often the first places consumers look to on their hunt for information about emerging brands.

In fact, today's customers often rely on social pages to look up reviews, promotions and basic company information like location, history and customer service contacts.

When local New York City matcha cafe, Cha Cha Matcha, first burst on to the scene, it could have taken a more traditional approach to social media marketing: creating profiles, sharing product shots and running a few paid ads.

The business, however, (named for a traditional Japanese tea drink) prioritized social media, particularly Instagram, because it saw a distinct opportunity to rely on the platform to initiate brand growth, rather than just support it. Cha Cha Matcha uses social media as a tool to build a lifestyle around its brand -- its social media pages are an extension of the fun and colorful brand it's built.

Cha Cha Matcha also knew that to make a splash in New York's restaurant scene, it would have to get creative with its photography choices and experiment with original angles and photo concepts. The light and playful quality of its feed has helped it distinguish itself from other restaurants that lean toward content with a more subdued aesthetic.

Cha Cha Matcha's pictures are ripe for regrams; and, often, people experience the brand through its feed before they ever walk through the doors.

4. You haven't shared your story with the media.

Yes, social media, word-of-mouth and traditional advertising tactics are necessary components to launching a small business. But you don't have to rely just on your own channels to communicate your new venture's value. When leveraged correctly, local media streams can be a fruitful tactic. Local outlets are always on the hunt for interesting community spotlights and entrepreneurial success stories.

So, entrepreneurs should take advantage of issuing press releases and launch invitations for media members. They'll be opening their doors to what could be a long and mutually beneficial partnership. Before inviting reporters in, however, they need to prepare themselves for media interviews by nailing down their story and preparing a few soundbites.

There's always a deeper story involved in building a business from the ground up, and small businesses shouldn't shy away from expounding on their unique origins. When jewelry company Bird + Stone first launched in 2014, it could have taken the typical route and promoted its jewelry collections through its media communications.

Related: The Ingredients of a Marketing Plan

But Bird + Stone's founders knew that what really set their brand apart was its socially conscious aspect brand; 15 percent of the company's profits are used to fund female entrepreneurs in developing nations through microloans. This altruistic angle immediately caught the attention of several mainstream media outlets, which subsequently boosted awareness of the brand following its launch.

It's always going to be difficult for small businesses and first-time entrepreneurs to compete with the likes of well-established market entities. But avoiding the common pitfalls described here will help you establish a solid presence in the market. By understanding your UVP and sharing that angle with the media, you're already setting yourself up to receive interest and traction.

Furthermore, putting your customers first and investing in social strategies will make audiences take notice of your commitment to offering sound product and service experiences.

AJ Agrawal

Founder of Verma Media

AJ Agrawal is the founder of Verma Media, a marketing agency that focuses on emerging tech, like blockchain and AI, and on cannabis companies.

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