A definition of marketing: presenting your product widely in a way that makes people want it.
Whether your business is new or well-established, the very first step to marketing is recognizing it is necessary. Marketing is not a luxury; marketing is a vital part of any business.
For a small business, marketing is crucial. It is also very expensive if done badly. Not only does poor marketing cost valuable time and money, but the lack of results for weeks or months represents lost sales, which add up to actual lost income.
The most money a small business will ever lose is the money it didn't make because of preventable errors and wasted resources in bad marketing.
If you can afford it, hire a person or a marketing firm that has a proven track record of helping small businesses grow. (In theory, a good marketing person or firm will pay for itself in increased sales. Some do and some don't, so get references.)
A small business owner just starting out should take two primary marketing steps simultaneously, whether or not he can hire marketing help:
1) Get some kind of personalized marketing going, even if it is just an hour on the phone cold calling every day, or sending out letters, to individuals or businesses that might be interested in your product. This action works because you are the boss, and people like talking to the boss. It also helps you learn what people need and want, how much demand already exists for your product, and what approach gets people to respond best.
2) Start learning as much as you can about marketing, both in general and specifically as it relates to your field. Look at, watch, and listen to as much of your competitors' marketing as you can find. Even more important, read books about marketing. You can find out which are the best by searching for "best marketing books" on a search engine, and see what most people agree on.
Neither of these steps has to take a long time, if you actually do them. Each book will give you ideas and increase your understanding, which will help your ongoing marketing efforts. Within a week or two, you will feel much more confident about what needs to be done to market your product, and that confidence will grow as you learn more.
It is worse than pointless to start a marketing campaign without having some idea of how to make people want your product. The principles of quality apply to marketing as much as to any other endeavor: average or below average marketing does not stand out and will not succeed against high quality marketing.
An established small business needs to market as much as a new one if it wants to grow. While word-of-mouth is powerful, it is not sufficient, and it usually is self-limiting. In other words, word-of-mouth won't help you market to specific targeted markets, and it won't help market new or improved products.
The approach for an established small business is different from that for a new business.
1) Your previous and current customers are your best market. Most small business owners never really grasp that, and let their customers fade away. Retention of customers is a major key to growth. If your retention is poor (less than 95% of "retainable" customers), do whatever it takes to find out why, and fix it. Usually, some principle of quality is not being applied.
2) Learn more about marketing, as described above. Compare what you are learning to the marketing you have done in the past, both that which was effective and that which was not. This exercise should help you build even more effective campaigns in the future.
Don Dewsnap is the author of Small Business Magic, published by Oak Wand Publishing. Small Business Magic details the principles of quality necessary to business success, applying to all aspects of business from production to sales. The principles of quality are not well known, and almost never applied to their full potential.