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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.

Social media

Social media is a core networking tool and an essential part of the marketing mix for businesses of any size. Getting started with social media is as easy (if not easier) for a small firm as it is for big companies with large marketing departments and budgets. So it really does level the playing field.

Many small firms are finding that a presence on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn or Facebook opens up new lines of communication with their existing customers as well as bringing in fresh new business opportunities.

But the digital world has not replaced other forms of marketing communication. Instead, businesses now have to ensure that they engage with customers wherever they would like to be found, both online and off.

When it comes to social media, where you focus your activity depends entirely on where your customers and prospects expect to find you.

First steps with social media

Creating your profile is a vital first step. Unlike big businesses that rely on a logo or a corporate identity on social media sites, as a small business owner you can present a friendly and personal face to the world. Use a professional photo and make sure you convey what's special about you and your business without sounding too salesy.

Once you are up and running, you can focus on building up followers and finding key influencers that can help raise your profile.

Employing a social media consultant

If you are thinking of working with an outside consultant to establish your social media strategy, think carefully about what to ask to ensure you find the right person for the job. It's also worth researching how other companies like yours are using social media. Check out what your competitors post, and how often, and notice how they engage with their followers.

Learn the rules of the game

Social media can be a risky business. Make sure you protect your brand and keep within the law. It's also worth drawing up a social media policy for your firm so that all your social media conversations are on message, no matter which member of the team is posting content.

Make your social media work harder

Once you've got into good social media habits, you can set fresh objectives and try to improve your results. This could include anything from boosting your connections to getting more out of groups on LinkedIn. Social media tools can also help you to manage and measure your day-to-day activity on sites like Twitter.