Marketing tends to be seen by many business owners as a soft function, one of the first spending areas to be cut when times are tough. On the contrary, it is not only one of the most vital functions of a business, but, counter intuitively, the slower the business growth, the more your investment in your marketing effort needs to be.
By Eric Rutabana

Here some ideas to help focus your marketing effort:

1. Cut the waste, but don’t over-prune
You can be pretty certain that the Pareto principle applies to marketing efforts that are left to sprawl. In other words, 80% of your successes come from only 20% of your marketing efforts. You therefore have lots of opportunity to cut activities that yield no results if you have not been pruning your marketing activities. Be careful, however, because the results of your interventions in the marketing side of your business are not always immediately apparent.

2. Mine your existing customers
It is a well-established fact that winning over a new client generally costs six or seven times more than winning repeat business from an existing customer. Although some component of your marketing plan should always be aimed at gaining new customers, a strategy to sell more to your existing customers will almost always yield more results. Each time you make a sale to customers, make the experience pleasant and memorable for them to tell their friends and family about it.

3. Team up with a complementary business
Make a deal with a complementary business – an auto-electrician if you have a mechanical workshop, for example, or a card shop if you run a florist, to do joint marketing. You undertake to market the other business every time you deal with one of your clients, while they do the same for you.

4. Don’t compete on price
It is amazing how start-up business owners will often say they will out-compete existing, well established businesses by offering products at low prices. Most owner-managed businesses are too small to compete on price. Competition based on price is an unsustainable and deadly move for SME’s.

5. Repeat but de-clutter your message
It is very difficult to measure, but some studies show that it takes about seven contacts to convince a customer to buy. This obviously differs from industry to industry, but whatever the average, the principle is that it will nearly always take more than one pitch to convince customers. Therefore, don’t do one pamphlet, and then drop the idea because the results were poor. Rather plan a series of them and evaluate it after the entire campaign. Cut the message down to the bare essentials.

6. Get a web presence
If your business already has a substantial internet presence, skip to the next point. If you are not online yet, consider it. Even if you are happy with your customer numbers at present, you are limiting your potential as the world becomes increasingly wired.

7. Develop Seasonal and Special Promotions
Most customers and clients, tend to purchase in cyclical or seasonal patterns. It is advisable to work out a seasonal promotional calendar that is appropriate to your business. Always try to come up with unique and interesting ideas to cut through the general promotional clutter in both the trade and retail environments.

8. Emphasize consistent quality
Whatever your investment in marketing, the basis of your whole effort lies in the quality of your product or service. An important part of your marketing strategy is to choose the right level of quality for the type of customer that you want to target, and stick to it. Consistently staying on your chosen level of quality and communicating with the relevant target market is what is important.

The writer is the Chief Investment Officer of Business Partners International Rwanda SME Fund, a risk Finance Company for formal SME’s
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