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Finding your voice – 7 marketing tips for start-ups

When I started working freelance in 2014, I had one client who needed my help and was happy to pay for my marketing expertise.

Finding my voice began by talking openly and positively about case studies, blogs and communications for that client, in a networking group with other small businesses. What I was saying must have resonated well, because I began to get enquiries from other businesses. At that point, I didn’t imagine it would last! There are so many marketing consultants and agencies, yet I followed the marketing process to figure out who to work with and what to offer.

I’ve received a lot of generous help while launching 27 Marketing, which will help you when starting a new business and creating a unique voice for yours:

Seek local business support and go along to networking groups

The first marketing tip for start-ups is to find your local small business events and start networking. Attend at least one of the local business or financial planning courses for start-ups. It’s a great way to grow your network of contacts and hear more about the local business environment, so I’d recommend going along, even if you know the workshop or course topic.

There are many organisations who support new businesses and freelancers: Enterprise Nation, IPSE, Institute of Directors, Federation of Small Business, and local services like Business West. You’ll hear about other local events where you can build new contacts, and one of your ideal customers may even be in the room. Networking can be a challenge, but get out there, and be ready to adapt what you say about your business as you develop.

Launch and test your services, stay flexible about refining them

A bit obvious: your first customers are the key for any business – you need revenue to get started. However, these early customers also have the power to help you shape your products and services, so be open and ask for their feedback.

I quickly found that I could offer two distinct types of services ‘marketing done for you’ where I write regular news, blogs and communications, and ‘marketing planning help to change direction’ which evolved into a Marketing Booster for micro-businesses. Looking at my competitors also helped me shape my services and differentiate them. There are many other marketing consultants out there who are extremely adept at analysing strategy and data to allocate marketing campaign budgets. Whereas my clients trust me with their most valued relationships – calling their customers to write up their case studies.

After testing, the next step is to define your services clearly, so they are easy to understand and buy.

Set your pricing in line with the market, yet high enough to re-invest

When setting your prices, look at what your customer needs, what value your service offers, and what they are willing to pay for it. Defining a set of ideal customer profiles will help you figure out more about them. However, in the early days it’s essential to be clear on why you want to reach that type of customer and which part of the service they benefit from most.

One client came to me to discuss her services, where we spent a half day reviewing how the needs of her customers unfold. We soon spotted her business wasn’t charging for the most valuable part of her service – the aftercare they receive and post-event assistance to achieve their objectives. Her business provides a unique service, because she researches and adapts it for every organisation she serves, and repeated work with those clients proves the value. Implementing a price increase to cover the extra preparation work and follow up, means she has room to re-invest and grow the business.

Note any recommended business books, plan to read them over time

I love reading, so it’s a pleasure to discover interesting books, but with a new business, you’re short of time and reading may be on your list of distractions! When starting a business, you’ll hear many different book recommendations, so it’s easy to get swamped and feel like you’re not learning quickly enough.

Remember though, your business will have a unique way of operating – it’s up to you which tried and tested methods to include in your plan – and if you’re starting small, you need a realistic timeline for studying books and implementing actions. Recognising that is an important part of finding the flow of your marketing, and a voice which genuinely reflects your business.

To help you refine your products and services and fast track your marketing, I highly recommend reading Watertight Marketing, by Bryony Thomas. And if you are near London or Bristol, make plans to attend the Lunch and Learn sessions at least once. Watertight Marketing covers the whole process for marketing in such a practical way, anyone can understand it and more importantly, act upon it.

Write your website content, but use professional photographs and web designer

In the early days for a micro business, it’s expensive to hire a professional copywriter. Unless you’re aiming for perfection, (or can find a writer who will advise you on your marketing at the same time) you can go live with your own words on the site. Once you’ve launched and tested it for a few months, then look to improve it – focusing on the key words and phrases which will help your ideal clients find you.

However, do bear in mind, the images, fonts and design on the site matter a great deal to your new brand. After attempting to create my own website by learning WordPress, I’d strongly recommend hiring a web designer to develop it, and investing in some professional headshots and brand photography. Note: My photos are all taken by Lidia from Visuable.

Get your publicity working for you, with a plan to amplify your voice

The fastest way to generate publicity is to build direct contacts with journalists who are interested in your field of expertise. You can amplify published articles through your blogs and social media, and by speaking publicly at events. Before you set out, plan your tone of voice and how you are going to keep your publicity working because it takes time to create new stories and pitch them to journalists.

Don’t sweat too much about the flow of your social media. While it can be very effective, plenty of businesses operate without social networks, although it’s easy to believe otherwise! Once you have a story to share, you can outsource or schedule most of the work to engage with your clients. I took part in some great local training courses with Sarah Cook Social Media to understand the different platforms and decide which suited my business. These also helped me grow my local network.

People buy from people, and the people who love you most will help!

When you first start a business, it’s easy to forget that your friends and family can help you grow. I relied on my local business networks and didn’t ask for much help from my existing connections. I quickly changed that approach, when a chance conversation got me back in touch with a former school friend. She runs another small business, and we’ve spent many hours working on our plans together. Recommendations can and do come from the people who know you and love you. Or they come from the school playground, your sports club, and your local community. It’s all about making sure people understand what you do and can explain it in their own words.

This became much easier for me once I switched from saying I was a marketing planner, to highlighting that I could ring other people’s customers and write up their case studies. I do get enquiries via friends from businesses where I know they need a different type of marketing resource. I usually try to help these find the right person, explaining that my focus is on businesses who sell services to other businesses.

In the face of ominous statistics that 1 in 3 small businesses fail within 3 years, it is worth planning your business around the time you have, the approach you want to take and the activities you want to do. If you want to lead a larger organisation, you need clear goals in the plan and good mentors along the way. Every business started out as a name on a notebook at one point, and your success will come from measuring the things which matter most to you.