MY experience of working with start-ups is that marketing is often their biggest problem. Many new companies believe that marketing is just about brochures, websites and advertising.
While these are part of marketing, really effective marketing is about putting your customer at the centre of absolutely everything that you do and every decision you make.
Quite simply, you have to follow a strategy that your new company is all about serving the customer, rather than maximising sales.
In order to succeed, you will need to acquire a 'thinking' rather than a 'doing' approach to business development and look at your customers as life-long customers, rather than merely 'once-off' sales.
Before you create any message in the market place, you have to ask your potential customers what they need, rather than assuming that you know what they want.
You must hear straight from the customers about their interests and needs. When you do this, you will be able to create your unique marketing message.
Before you go out to the market with your message, ask yourself a simple question: What business am I in?
To give you an example, I do not refer to myself as a mentor or business trainer when people ask me what I do. When asked, I say: "I work with companies to help them grow their businesses."
This is the essence of my business -- in other words, my brand -- and you have to be able to describe your own business in this way as this will form the core of your marketing message.
So when you know what you are all about as a business, how do you communicate your message?
There are four key elements of any marketing communications strategy. These are: direct marketing; internet marketing; networking and advertising; and public relations.
You have to do all of these, all of the time, in order to have any meaningful engagement with your customers.
Some businesses believe that the internet is the panacea to all their problems and that all they need is a good website and engagement in social media.
The truth is that internet marketing is just one channel of communicating with your customers and it does not make any sense to ignore the other three marketing channels. Let's discuss them briefly, so that you will understand what you need to do.
Direct marketing. This is either through a letter or flyer, depending on the business you are in. Used imaginatively, it can support your brand's values and can also be used to direct traffic to your website.
Internet marketing. Keep monitoring your website and define exactly what you are going to do around social media. Always follow the target.
Networking. Join business networks and establish a mutually beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients. Build your virtual network on www.LinkedIn.com.
Advertising and public relations. Try to get as much free publicity as possible. Write your own article and send to either newspapers or online websites that are looking for expert opinion articles and advice for their readers.
Advertise in a publication that your target is reading with a succinct message and always remember to use the words 'you' and 'your'. Measure and test the advert for success.
Marketing communications. This is all about testing and measuring. If you are not getting results, do not keep doing the same thing over and over because you will simply get the same result over and over.
Good luck in your business and remember to always keep the customer at the centre of everything that you do and every decision you make.
Dublin-based Bernie Tracey works with enterprise boards and SME companies. She recently wrote 'The Cheese Mall', which is available from her website www.beaconcoaching.ie.