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Smart Marketing 101

It’s hard when you run a start-up to navigate the tricky waters of advertising and marketing, particularly if you’re not at the point where you can afford an agency or a dedicated staffer to develop and implement a focused strategy. If we just described your challenge, here’s how to swim not sink when you’re launching your business.


It’s hard when you run a start-up to navigate the tricky waters of advertising and marketing, particularly if you’re not at the point where you can afford an agency or a dedicated staffer to develop and implement a focused strategy. If we just described your challenge, here’s how to swim not sink when you’re launching your business.

Effective marketing is more than advertising, logos, or a pretty website. Effective marketing begins with you. It’s your job to create an environment that attracts great staff and great customers. Your core values, brand positioning, and attitude are what ultimately determine how well your business will do. Be open, flexible, positive, interested, and most importantly, customer-focused. Walk through your store, office, or service and pretend you’re a customer. What do you see? What do you like? Most importantly, what do you need to do to get you to the point where you’ll purchase? How easy can you make it for your customers to buy from you?

It is vital that you hire the right staff. They must be passionate, engaged, and positive. They need to know their work is valued, and they need you to ensure they’re as informed about the product or service they’re selling as you are. They are your brand ambassadors, so choose them wisely and nurture them well.

With you and your staff fully committed, we turn to the customer. Many business owners attest that what helped them grow in the early years was their customers and the word of mouth they generated. Your customers are gems. Treat them well and give them a product or service that will truly benefit them along with top-notch service, and they’ll tell all their friends, who will tell their friends, and on and on. If you understand how important your customers are, they will do your marketing for you.

How do you get that ideal customer through the door? Through your story. What makes you different? What makes your product different? Share your story and put a personal face on your business.

Obviously, you’ll have a website, but you need more than that. Engage with your customers online through social media channels. They’re the perfect way to play that old-fashioned game of telephone on a global level.

Be aware—this form of communication is not free. To do it properly, someone needs to be actively engaged in tweeting, blogging, pinning, and so on all day, every day. If that’s you, make sure you choose the channels you can maintain momentum on. A neglected Facebook page is a sad and sorry sight.

You also need to be mindful of how you use social media to promote your business. It can’t be all sales all the time. Social media can be a great way to reward customers, answer questions, share useful information about your products and how they improve your customers’ lives, and more.

Don’t forget about your community and giving back. Donate products or services to local charities for fundraising events. Consider hosting one yourself for your favorite charity and including your customers in the process like the furniture store that asked local designers to create pink chairs and then auctioned them off for cancer research. Your customers and the community will appreciate it. Everyone loves a community partner.

Network like crazy too. Go to the business chamber of commerce events and meet your peers—they’re also your potential customers. Keep your eyes open for events whose attendees could be your customers or good people to know. Be seen and heard as much as you can and get to know as many people as you can.

Now you’ve laid the groundwork. You’ve attracted a loyal following, both online and through happy customers. You’ve refined your products or service to align more with what your customers want. You’ve made some great sales, and you’re ready to start making some real money from a much broader customer base. That’s when your advertising strategy kicks into high gear.

It’s important to set aside an annual budget for advertising, figuring out how much you can afford to spend based on the return you want for your investment. The usual investment ranges between 10 and 20 percent of your total forecast or past annual sales. That could be $10,000 or $100,000. Whatever amount you deem feasible, decide what the results of your advertising buy will need to be to make that investment back. Do you have to sell two cars, one house, 50 light-bulbs? Now you’ve got a budget and an expectation of return.

Next, decide on the appropriate media. There are so many options and so many ways to go about it. I liken all the choices out there to a crayon box full of colours. You don’t have to use all of them. Only use the ones that work for your brand, budget, and customer.

Ideally, you’ll want a combination of some or all of web, outdoor, radio, television, and print. Avoid going with one to the exclusion of all others. It’s important that you research the various options available to you to see how they fit with your message and your market and how you can use them to reach your target. Don’t throw stuff against the wall and hope it sticks. Try to be as strategic as possible.

Synergy is also key. Everything should work together in a consistent and efficient way. If you understand how to use the various media, you’ll be able to create a complete jigsaw puzzle of a campaign with all the pieces fitting nicely. (Be aware, though, of fracturing your budget to the point that the investments you do make in the various media are too small and ineffective. Each one has its own cost-to-effect ratio, so don’t spread yourself too thin.)

There’s a lot to consider and learn when you’re planning your advertising campaign. To minimize the intimidation you may feel, see it as your opportunity to excite and infuse your potential customers with your passion for your brand and business. Brainstorming ways to do that can be creative, interesting, and enjoyable. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be overwhelmed. Do your research. Write down your magic number, open your mind and your chequebook, and go for it!

About the Author

Amanda Wilson is a marketing and communication specialist. Her wide and varied career encompasses journalism, public relations, television commercial production, arts marketing, and advertising sales. She is well versed in crafting engaging campaigns that drive revenue and awareness for brands and is known for her authentic, honest strategies fueled by the selective and appropriate use of marketing tools. Learn more at



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