Starting a Business
Market and Sell

Market and Sell

This last step in our startup process is all about getting the word out about your business so customers come through your door (or perhaps to your homepage).

First and foremost, you’ll need to study up on your target audience to develop a marketing message that will resonate with them.

Once you’ve got a grasp of how to best express the “special sauce” of what you offer, make sure you maintain that message consistently throughout your marketing efforts. It should be reinforced repeatedly to build on your brand identity and to give people a clear reason to be interested in your business.

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To get you up the curve on marketing, we’ll first give you an approach to defining your target market. That will get you prepared for setting a strategy to move forward. We’ll provide an overview of the types of materials and a menu of marketing tactics to choose from – it’s up to you to pick the methods that apply best to your opportunity.

We touch on three essential marketing items in this step:

  1. Research & Strategy
  2. Marketing Materials
  3. Marketing Methods

Doing Market Research & Setting a Marketing Strategy

Just as you have to do intensive research for your business plan, you should also do a healthy amount of fact-finding in order to put together a well-oiled marketing strategy. If you do, your marketing effort will be much more methodical and effective.

To get started on your marketing strategy, answer the following questions:

Who is your typical buyer?

  • What’s a description of your target market? For example: “mothers, age 25-45, urban location, $90,000 household income, college-educated.”

How do your potential customers’ habits and behavior play into their purchasing decisions?

  • What are their “hot buttons”?
    • Specific pain points, such as
      • Time delay
      • Shipping cost
      • Credit card security concerns
    • Urgent offers, such as “This offer ends tomorrow at midnight ”
    • Getting a great deal
    • Being “first” to get it (people referred to as “early adopters”)
    • Being trendy (must have the latest and hottest)
    • Hand-holding and personal attention (relationships rule their pocket book

How do you know they want what you offer?

  • What related purchases do they make that give you confidence they’d be interested in what you offer?

How much are they willing to pay?

  • You’ve got to figure out the all-important matter of pricing. What price tag is best for what you offer? It basically comes down to a combination of what you need to make in order to achieve workable profit margins, and what prices your customers are willing to bear. Oftentimes, it’s a challenge to get these two numbers to match up. So, ask yourself:
    • What’s the right price, based on your costs and your estimate of the maximum amount your customers are willing to pay?
    • What form of payment will customers want to use?
    • For wholesalers, what terms of payment will they be willing to accept?

Where (and how) will your customers want to buy your product or service?

  • In-person or online? Via catalog or phone? From a trusted retail store?

How many people are in the overall market you’re going after? And how many of them are reasonably strong candidates to be customers?

  • In our book, StartupNation: Open for Business, (p.137), we talk about the common mistake of using Chinese math. “Chinese” math works something like this: “since I make a product for the Chinese people, and since there are a billion Chinese people living in China , the total market for my product is one billion people.” The flaw in this logic is that it’s extremely difficult to reach most of those people with a marketing message. How, practically, are you going to get through the rural rice paddies to let an average Chinese person know that you want to sell them something? And where are those people going to get the money to buy it in the first place?! Instead of using Chinese math, it’s important to segment the total market down into sectors that have the highest likelihood of purchasing what you offer. And while the number might not start with a “b” like “billion,” there still could be millions of very appealing people who are viable potential customers. It’s crucial that you don’t “buy into your own hype” as we like to warn. Get real with the answers to questions like this.

Why would your potential customers buy from you instead of your competition?

  • This assumes your target market already demonstrates a desire to use or purchase something like what you offer. Is this so? If not, educating your customer will be critically important in your marketing. And that can be very expensive and time-consuming.
  • You must know what your “value proposition” is – a crystal clear statement that anyone could understand but, most importantly, your targeted customer would quickly “get” about why they should be interested in what you offer.

What media has the greatest impact with your target market?

  • Your choices are as varied today as they’ve ever been. There’s everything from billboards at the roadside to animated online banners, from sandwich board-toting hucksters to direct mail through the mail slot, from online radio to cable TV, and from magazines to local classified ads. With this many options, or “noise,” as we like to call it, coming at your prospective customer, it’s more and more difficult to be sure your offering will stand out and get the attention you want it to. Just be sure you know to what they’re tuned in to so you can be confident your marketing efforts will get noticed.

With all of these questions answered, it’s time to start weaving a marketing strategy together.

The Right Marketing Materials

Once you have your target audience well defined, you’re in a much better position to know what marketing materials would be appealing and useful to your audience.

There are basic printed materials you should consider – things like business cards, letterhead and brochures. These kinds of materials are essential for your communication, networking and sales activities.

One way to make the most of the dollars you spend is to create materials that have information that will stay true and accurate for the longest possible period of time. Things change often in a young business, so when possible use “evergreen,” long-lasting information. Include inserts with the latest, greatest info that you print on your own.

Another key to developing good marketing materials without breaking the bank is to identify an affordable graphic designer and printer that will work with you. A local source for this can be a great help. Online sources are completely viable as well in this day and age of broadband internet access.

Marketing – a Menu of Methods

There are various types of marketing for you to consider. Below you’ll find an overview of:

  1. Grassroots Marketing
  2. Public Relations
  3. Affiliate Marketing
  4. Online Marketing
  5. Traditional Advertising

Grassroots Marketing

This is certainly the most affordable type of marketing. It consists of using resources you already have to spread the word about your product or service.

  • Distribute your marketing materials (business cards, brochures, flyers) at local businesses, schools, churches and community centers.
  • Give great customer service, and then ask customers to spread the word about your company and/or to write testimonials about their positive experience with your company.
  • Participate in local/community events.
  • Write an article and pitch it to local papers or niche publications.
  • Word-of-mouth – tell friends, family and acquaintances and ask them to tell 5 people. Talk about your business every chance you get.
  • Give out free samples of your product.

We give one form of grassroots marketing special attention – networking. Networking is a great, low cost way to connect with potential customers and strategic partners and spread the news about your business.

Chambers of commerce are great venues for this—they provide an ecosystem of members who are all looking for business, as well as sources of products and services.

Joining a chamber is extremely important to expanding your network, while at the same time, as a member you may be entitled to great discounts on services you might need, such as office supplies, telecommunications, health insurance, etc.


Chamber of Commerce directory
Find your local area chamber of commerce

Trade associations for your particular industry are another great networking resource you should consider. Oftentimes these associations hold events, offer industry-specific education and message boards online, and provide an opportunity for members to list their businesses on their website.


The ASAE Gateway to Associations Directory is a great resource for locating associations near you and is updated daily.

Public Relations

Download Example

Example Press Release (.pdf)

Use this example press release to help draft your own press releases.

Watch TV? Do much reading? Listen to talk radio? The news that you experience comes from a combination of reporters uncovering their own story themes and pitches sent to reporters by outside sources. As a new entrepreneur with a great business fresh on the scene, you may have a highly appealing story that reporters are interested in learning and writing about. And if they do write about your business, it can be a homerun opportunity for you.

We often refer to “the power of PR,” a phenomenal way to generate awareness about what you’re up to–virtually for free–that will touch potentially thousands or millions of people. Many entrepreneurs say their PR efforts have benefited them in ways they could never have afforded to pay for. Doesn’t that sound tempting?

The question for you should be whether you choose to do your PR in-house or, instead, use a professional like Rembrandt Communications. There are pros and cons to both strategies. As for doing it in-house:

Pros of in-house PR

  • Your passion is contagious and gets the reporter’s attention
  • You control the message more closely

Cons of in-house PR

  • You’re an amateur and your pitch to reporters may seem that way
  • You don’t have the preexisting media contacts that a professional has

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing involves hooking up with other businesses or organizations that share a similar target audience to yours. With affiliate marketing, you work out a mutually beneficial relationship through which you swap advertising or share revenues with the other organization, and reach more people with your marketing message.


  • LinkShare provides the technology to track, manage, and analyze the performance of sales, marketing, and business development initiatives.
  • Commission Junction provides advanced performance-based marketing solutions that help marketers increase online leads and sales, by facilitating strategic relationships between advertisers and publishers.
  • The Kolimbo Open Network offers programs for affiliates seeking additional revenue as well as merchants looking to promote their site across its network of affiliates.

Online Marketing

These days a website is essential. And depending upon your niche and your objectives, it can be a major part of your marketing initiatives. Creating a website can be made fairly simple by working with a company that specializes in helping small businesses create their web presence.

But how about getting the word out about your site, and getting visitors to come back again and again? It’s important to fill your website with content that’s effective. It’s what you say and how you say it that makes all the difference online. The content (words) on your site must be crisp and intelligent. What you say should grab a visitor’s attention, establish credibility, pique their interest and motivate them to action.

There are a number of ways to promote your business online, here’s just a sample of the most popular methods:

  • Online display advertising – the “granddaddy” of online advertising, involving the purchase of display space on a popular website. Everyone has seen ‘banner’ ads at the top of websites – despite reports of their demise, display ads are still popular for their reach and for the branding effectiveness of graphical ads.
  • Search engine marketing – this catch-all has two primary marketing tools under its umbrella; search engine advertising and search engine optimization. Both involve driving traffic from the hundreds of millions of eyeballs that scan search results on Google, Yahoo, MSN and other search engines, but the approach is drastically different – be sure you understand the distinctions.
  • Email marketing – along with online display ads, email marketing got a bad rap, mostly thanks to spammers clogging your inbox with offers to refinance your mortgage. But with new rules and regulations, and much stricter controls on spam, getting your message out through email is enjoying a revival. Email can be an outstanding customer retention tool, so you’ll want it to be part of your online marketing mix.


For help on Search Engine Advertising, check out Bing Ads, or Google AdWords.

Traditional Advertising

Traditional paid advertising includes the things so many of us are already familiar with (and encounter so often in everyday life). Think of things like billboards, magazine and newspaper ads, broadcast spots such as those on TV and radio, and even direct mail pieces that seem to clog your mailbox each day.

In the previous section we discussed online display advertising, which is often paid for on a “cost-per-thousand” impressions (“CPM”) basis. In other words, the people selling you the advertising space price their opportunity based on the specific reach of that advertising. The same pricing model applies to traditional advertising methods, where the reach of the advertising medium – whether it’s the size of a subscription list, listenership, or viewership – will determine the rate you’ll pay to reach that audience.

Advertising can do the following:

  • Attract new customers, prospects and leads
  • Encourage existing customers to spend more on your product or service
  • Build credibility, establish and maintain your “brand” or unique business identity, and enhance your reputation
  • Inform or remind customers and prospects of the benefits your business has to offer
  • Promote your business to customers, investors or others and slowly build sales

Should your business warrant advertising (and your pocketbook allow for it), it’s important to create an advertising plan and budget in advance.

Points to consider:

  • Who is in your target market and what mediums are grabbing their attention?
  • When obtaining rate card information, be sure to understand how many of your ad impressions are reaching your target audience vs. those who are not in your target audience. And ALWAYS negotiate published rates.
  • “Frequency! Frequency! Frequency!” Is the name of the game.  That’s why it’s important to create a comprehensive six-month or year-long plan before you even take out your first ad, so you know you can afford to advertise on a frequent basis.  Signing up for a frequency rate will allow you to spend less per ad, if you do this from the beginning.
  • If you are advertising in print publications, always ask your sales rep for the best positioning. A right-hand page, for example, may get many more viewings than a left-hand page.
  • Create advertisements that generate a response you can measure.  Examples include coupons which are redeemed in stores or include a specific web address that customers visit for redemption.
  • Make sure your advertisements stay true to your brand and are consistent with all other marketing mediums.

Inside our site, you’ll find all the easy-to-follow, practical information you could ever need to start and grow your own successful business.

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