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How to create a marketing plan for your small business - build a brand, target customers and set prices that will maximise sales.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

Customer care

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop a loyal customer base and improve relationships with your customers.

In a competitive market, it can be tempting to chase new business. However, to boost revenue and profitability in your business, your best bet is to focus on customer retention and build up customer loyalty.

Loyal customers come back time and again; they will also promote your business through word-of-mouth recommendation. By building a long-term customer base, you can reduce the costs of looking for new customers and improve your bottom line.

Good service helps turn customers into ambassadors for your business - they will buy your products and services regularly and give you valuable feedback on your performance as well as supporting you through good times and bad.

To turn a satisfied customer into a repeat buyer, you need to offer great service based on a deep understanding of your customers' needs. Price and product are important, but it is service that gives you the edge over your competitors.

Customer satisfaction

Good customer service is about managing the perceptions of your customers and giving them a positive experience of doing business with you. Are your staff friendly and professional? Are your products and services up to scratch? Do you deliver what you promise?

Getting this right is vital. To create satisfied customers, you need to establish a relationship with them and create good rapport. Then you need to exceed their expectations at every turn.

Every business makes promises to its customers, whether tacit or implied. Make sure you are delivering results. A good rule of thumb is to under-promise and over-deliver.

Customer relationships

Even the smallest business needs to plan and control its customer communications. Customer relationship management (CRM) is not the preserve of big corporations. To succeed, every business needs to take a customer-centric approach and build good relationships with their customers based on trust.

You have to work at customer relationships. Never take your best customers for granted. Keep communicating with them so you can respond as their needs change and reward them for their loyalty.

Unhappy customers don't usually complain; most just go elsewhere. Others not only complain, but demand action and possibly compensation. Most businesses handle complaints badly. Set up a customer complaints procedure and respond promptly. Resolve the issue so that you don't make the same mistake twice and tell the customer how you have dealt with it.

At the same time, don't wait until someone complains to make improvements. Encourage continuous feedback and be proactive about improving how you do business. Regular customer contact is vital and customer satisfaction surveys are a good way to find out how your business is seen by others. Regular surveys should elicit real responses, so ensure they can express their feelings in words as well as by ticking boxes.

Loyalty schemes allow you to focus on your best customers. These customers buy more and are more profitable than those who may only respond to discounts. What's more, highly satisfied customers are more receptive to cross-selling and up-selling.