Marketing for micro businesses

In my mind, a micro business is one with five or fewer staff.  Often they are operating with only two people – the original founders.  Owners of micro businesses have a particular set of challenges which, if not handled properly, will swamp them.  Long working hours, weekend working, patchy salary payments and no holidays would typically summarise their lifestyle.  Running their micro-business is, in many cases, their whole life.  It is not for the faint-hearted.

Of course, with so few staff it is difficult for owners to delegate tasks – there is simply nobody to delegate to.  Owners have no choice other than become a Jack of all Trades.  Their portfolio of skills will inevitably include sales and marketing, a challenge for those with no previous experience.

When it comes to marketing, it is essential for the business owners to develop complete clarity on their target market.  There is not enough time (or funding) to spend on marketing to the wrong people.

Micro businesses will focus on one of two types of market.  They will either focus on a tight geographical area or on specific prospect organisations across a wider geographic area.  Their marketing must match their focus and be directed onto one of these two targets.

The easiest to handle is the tight geographical area.  For example, if you run a landscaping company you will want to target people with gardens within a reasonable driving distance from your base.  There is little point looking at distant towns and cities, there will be sufficient opportunity closer to home.  If you are in a major city, then you may only wish to target some specific suburbs close to your base, so you don’t waste time driving backwards and forwards across town.

The aim is to avoid having to travel long distances to undertake work as the travel time and costs will add further (unnecessary) pressures to your business.

Your marketing must, therefore, focus onto the geographical area in which you plan to work.  You need to use community newsletters, leaflet drops and engage with local networking groups – anything with a local focus.  Your aim is to get known within the community in which you wish to work.  Word will soon get round that you are operating in the area and you will begin to receive enquiries from prospects.

As you will operate in a relatively small geographical area, you must assume that many of your existing customers and potential customers will know each other.  You can further assume they will exchange information – most likely through direct contact although some use of social networking messaging will occur.  This might be on a widely recognised site, such as Facebook, or through a simple community based system.

Either way, you want all your customers in this area to be positive towards you.  If they express negative sentiments towards your company, this will be seen by others and this negativity will influence their attitudes toward your company.  In a worst case scenario, it will limit the number of people willing to buy from you.

If you identify small community-based networking groups – engaging either online or through regular meet-ups – do what you can to get involved.  You might attend a meet-up and offer a free Q&A session where you attempt to answer questions relevant to your business – in our example, on garden design issues.

You provide this value for free in return for getting good visibility for your micro business.  You could encourage follow up questions by email to keep a dialogue with members of your target community.

Local newspapers, and sometimes local radio, will give you publicity in return for your contribution to a story or feature.  Selling into a small geographic community is quite easy once you identify the best ways to reach your target audience.

Let’s look now at how micro businesses can market to a well-defined niche covering a wide geographic area.  In my experience, the approach to marketing can follow one of two paths.  Firstly, if you can identify all the organisations you expect to buy your products/services then you approach them with some highly personalised marketing.

When I was looking to establish a presence in the UK electricity marketplace (having already achieved a good reputation in the oil & gas markets), there were a manageable number of potential prospects.  However these were geographically dispersed across the country.  We approached them with highly personalised letters and telephone calls.

Times have changed, so now it would be by email, SMS messaging and social media sites.  These are currently the best vehicles to convey your marketing messages.

Personalised marketing requires you to undertake some thorough research before launching into your campaign.  Avoid the temptation to make assumptions because if your assumptions should turn out to be wrong, it will be almost impossible to turn back the clock.

If you feel there are too many possible buyers in your niche market for you to either identify individually or research thoroughly, it will be much harder to focus your marketing onto individual buyers.  I suggest you either segment your target market further to generate sub-niches in which you can identify all the key prospects.  You can then approach them with personalised marketing as described above.

Failing that, just select from your large niche up to 200 prospects and target these first.  When you have more time and cash, expand your target by adding another 200.  This is not ideal but the limiting resource is your time, followed by available cash.  You don’t have the capacity to be over ambitious.

If you try to cover too much ground at once, you will be unable to sustain your marketing activities for long enough to achieve success.

ACTION IDEAS

  1. Get clarity on your target market sector(s).  Try to segment them to such a size that you can identify all the individual prospects.
  2. Plan and execute a personalised marketing campaign for each sector in which you focus on the real issues facing your prospects.
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