How to Market Your Small Business

Bullhorn making noise. Represents marketing and promote your business.
Author: Kody Wirth

Kody Wirth

Kody Wirth

9 min. read

Updated February 21, 2024

Let’s talk about marketing. 

On the surface, marketing your business may seem complex, fickle, hit-or-miss, or expensive. It’s also essential, especially for a new business trying to connect with customers for the first time. 

Effective marketing is not just ads and promotions but research and testing that helps validate and refine your market position—ideally leading to greater sales. 

So, how do you achieve those results, especially if you’ve never done marketing before? By starting with the basics—your goals and your customers.

This guide will introduce you to the fundamental marketing concepts needed to create a solid marketing plan.

Why you need to market your business

The benefits of marketing your business are:

  • Visibility: 

In a world flooded with businesses, standing out is crucial. Marketing helps put your business on the map, making it easier for potential customers to find you.

  • Credibility: 

Consistent experiences establish trust. When people trust your business, they are likelier to buy from you.

  • Growth: 

Marketing helps you attract new customers, retain existing ones, and expand your reach.

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What to do before marketing your business

Creating a strategy, establishing a brand, selecting suitable activities, and figuring out your visuals take time and effort to be effective.

And you’ll struggle to do any of it if you jump right in. That’s why this step is at the end of our business startup guide. While you should think about and plan how to market your business well before launch, it should be the last thing you finalize and execute.

Why? All the research and planning you do to make your new business successful will inform your marketing efforts. While you should check out every step, here are the key ones to review:

You need to know who your customers and competitors are. Without that knowledge, who you target and how you position your business will be a wild guess.

  • Validate your idea:

A good idea on paper is not enough; you need to determine if there is actual customer interest. To do that, you have to get out and talk to real people and get their feedback. This early dialogue can be a gold mine; you should review it when developing your brand and messaging.

  • Business model:

How will you sell your products or services? If you don’t have an answer, you’ll struggle to choose marketing activities and bring in meaningful sales.

  • Pricing:

Your price point is more than a dollar figure—it represents your position in the market, what you believe customers are willing to pay, and how they want to pay for it. Without a price point, you won’t be able to accurately message value to customers or test different ways to present it (such as offering coupons). 

  • Finances:

Most importantly, you must have your finances—precisely a sales and expense forecast. These forecasts will help you decide how much to spend on your marketing efforts and determine if specific channels, branding, or campaigns are pulling their weight.

Start marketing your business in 7 steps

1. Set marketing goals

A marketing goal is a specific and measurable objective tied to your larger business goals. If your proposed marketing ideas do not contribute to business performance, they aren’t worth prioritizing. 

Additionally, if you launch a marketing campaign without a clear goal, you’ll struggle to measure its impact. You’ll be throwing money away, hoping that it leads to business growth. If you’re unsure what marketing goals look like, here are a few examples:

  • Increase brand awareness by x%
  • Attract # high-quality leads over the next 3 months
  • Acquire x% new customers
  • Increase website traffic by x%
  • Increase revenue by x%

You’ll notice that these goals are specific, not just broad aspirations. The goals you develop and use need to be even more granular. 

At a minimum, you need to specify the:

  • Metric(s) to measure
  • Timeframe
  • Marketing channel
  • Team or person responsible

Ideally, you’ll also have some reasoning behind why pursuing a specific goal is important.

As a new business, you may wonder, “What should my marketing goals be?” While it depends on your business and current situation, you’ll likely focus on growing awareness, acquiring new customers, or increasing revenue. 

Tip: If you’re struggling with your marketing goals, revisit the business milestones and sales forecast from your business plan. These make up your roadmap for initial business growth and should inform how you’ll use marketing to meet these goals. 

2. Finalize your market position

Your market position refers to the impression of your brand in customers’ minds compared to competitors and alternatives. Common positioning strategies include:

  • Fulfilling specific customer needs
  • Pricing higher or lower
  • Reaching higher product/service quality
  • Targeting a specific use

The best way to solidify your position is by conducting market research. Your goal is to identify your ideal customer and speak with them. Get to know their likes, interests, pain points, and their impression of your competitors. Only then will you be able to establish a position that meets their needs and makes you competitive.

Once you have a position in mind, whether that be cheaper, better, faster, etc., you need to document it. 

Ideally, you’d do so with a positioning statement which is part of the marketing and sales section of your larger business plan. But it can also be represented within your mission statement or value proposition

In any case, get your position down in writing with as detailed and short of a statement as possible. Knowing your intended place in the market will make the next step, creating your brand, much easier.

3. Develop your brand identity

You want your product, service, and business to be recognizable and memorable. You need to establish a public image that resonates with your target audience to accomplish that.

As with every marketing step, building your brand starts with your market research. You need to understand:

  • Customer preferences: What visuals, messaging, and brands do your customers connect with?
  • Legal availability: What brand elements are already claimed?
  • Competitor positioning: How do your competitors position themselves? What visuals do they use and what do they promise to customers? 

Hint: Knowing your market position should simplify this process.

Once you have this information, then you can start building your brand. While you should check out our full branding guide for more in-depth information, these are the components you’ll need to finalize:

Dig Deeper: 9 steps to brand your small business

4. Select the right marketing channels

Marketing channels are the specific outlets or platforms you use to connect with and convince potential customers to purchase your products or services.

Some common marketing channels include word of mouth, social media, email, online advertising, PR, and traditional marketing like billboards, flyers, and television commercials.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet channel to invest in. Instead, you must focus on promoting your business in places your customer base frequents. That alone should narrow down your options.

You should also revisit your marketing goals. Depending on what you’re hoping to accomplish, specific channels may prove to be more effective.

Dig Deeper: Check out our full guide on marketing channels to dig into potential options.

5. Set your budget and allocate resources

You need to establish an initial budget for any marketing initiatives and define what resources you’ll allocate to them. Part of successfully setting your budget is defining your return on investment, the pricing of your product or service, and forecasting what you expect initial sales to be. 

You must ensure your strategy is sustainable and set a baseline for success. Be sure to outline specific costs and expenses that must be accounted for in your marketing plan and the personnel that will be spending their time running a given strategy.

To better understand how much you should spend on marketing—check out our guide on startup finances for step-by-step guidance on calculating startup costs and building forecasts.

6. Establish an online presence

You must have an online presence even if you run a brick-and-mortar business. Being online increases your visibility, builds trust, and provides a direct avenue to engage with customers.

The four core ways to carve out an online presence are:

  • Building a business website
  • Creating social media accounts
  • Generating and showcasing customer reviews
  • Creating a Google My Business account

Establishing your business online should be one of your marketing goals

You want to have some control over what customers see and can find about you online. By at least having a website, you’ll have a platform that you own and can represent your brand how you see fit.

Being active on social media, collecting reviews, and updating online listings like Google My Business will help reinforce the brand identity you display.

Dig Deeper: How to set up an online presence for your business

7. Track your performance

You don’t want to execute marketing campaigns mindlessly. As beneficial as marketing can be for a small business, it can also be a waste of money if done poorly.

At a minimum, you need to set milestones with expected results and review periods. If you’re running multiple marketing initiatives in a given period of time, this may be moments where one ends and you kick off the next. Or, it may simply be when you measure expected sales against actual results and determine if a given strategy is worth pursuing, pivoting, or killing.

No matter what these milestones are, you need to have them in place as a rough outline for yourself, your employees, and any third parties needing to review your marketing plan. 

Don’t forget to revisit your broader business milestones. While you will likely have specific metrics and goals for each marketing initiative, you don’t want to lose sight of your larger business goals.

Dig Deeper: How to track marketing ROI

Additional small business marketing resources

Marketing only goes so far

Marketing can be a powerful tool for new businesses. But for it to be beneficial, you need to have a well-structured business. 

If you skip key steps like identifying your target customers, selecting a business model, or figuring out your finances—you’ll struggle to get results from your marketing efforts.

So, revisit those startup steps before you dive deep into creating a logo or try to figure out the intricacies of Facebook ads. You’ll be more prepared to market your business and have a better chance of crafting strategies, branding, and messaging that will connect with your target audience.

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Create a professional business plan

Using AI and step-by-step instructions

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Content Author: Kody Wirth

Kody Wirth is a content writer and SEO specialist for Palo Alto Software—the creator's of Bplans and LivePlan. He has 3+ years experience covering small business topics and runs a part-time content writing service in his spare time.