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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

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.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

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

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

Quality marketing materials on a budget

Many small firms produce marketing materials in-house to save money. But if your DIY brochures, business cards, stationery or website don’t look professional, it can do more harm than good to your brand. So, it's essential to get the look and feel right. How can you produce top-quality business marketing materials on a shoestring?

"There are three things that need to look good – your business card, your website and anything else that encourages people to visit your website, such as a newsletter," says Carrie Bendall of Inspire.

"You should only design your own marketing materials if you can make them look professional," she adds. "A badly designed website, for example, will put customers off."

Something that has proven to be a useful marketing tool for many companies, and which won't break the bank, are neon signs. You can find custom neon signs for sale which can be hung up inside and outside of your business. The more effort you put into presenting your business, the more it will pay off.

Get the right look and feel

Your business card, website, newsletter or marketing brochure creates the first - and frequently lasting - impression of your business. If they look too home-made, people may assume that you are not prepared to invest the effort required to earn and keep their custom.

Well-designed materials, on the other hand, say you care about how your business is perceived. "Anything with your name or logo on conveys your brand, so it’s essential to get the look and feel right," says Bendall.

You may want to design some of your own marketing materials, and you could use an entry-level software package such as Publisher to produce a straightforward newsletter, a reasonable-looking business card or a smart product specification sheet. For anything more advanced than this, you will probably need to spend a bit more on graphic design software such as Adobe InDesign.

You can easily create a basic, three-column newsletter, but if you want something slick you should employ a professional. "Usually, businesses need the help of a designer, just as they need an accountant to help with finances," says Bendall.

It might better to spend this money on a professional designer to help you create your image and to build a set of templates for your marketing materials which you can have updated for minimal cost later on.

"You should see marketing as an investment rather than something you should do on an absolute shoestring," Bendall explains. "Involving design experts will help your firm stand out from the crowd."

Employing a marketing expert does not need to cost the earth. "You should spend roughly 10% of your turnover on marketing," Bendall explains. "A basic three-page website only costs the freelance designer's time. Big marketing agencies charge more as they have more overheads."

Finding the right designer

Employing a professional does not mean spending a fortune on a fancy agency - a freelancer will do the work much more cost-effectively.

You can find designers by attending local networking events or searching online directories or using websites such as Freelanceuk.com, Peopleperhour.com and Upwork.com. Alternatively, ask other businesses for recommendations.

"Approach several designers before you choose one, because even if you get on with someone they might not understand your brief," warns Bendall. "Try to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve and who your target customers are."

Creating the copy

Once you have generic designs for materials, you may feel comfortable adding text yourself. "Sometimes the best web content, for example, is written by the business owner who is passionate and knows how to talk to their customers," says Bendall.

"However, writing is a skill, too, so you may need to use a copywriter to write it or tweak what you’ve written," Bendall advises.

Copywriters' rates vary, but you should budget for around £250 a day.

Printing your marketing materials

With modern laser printers, it is possible to print professional quality full-colour newsletters or leaflets in-house. If you are not confident printing your own business cards, online printing companies such as Moo.com offer a cost-effective service. If you are printing a large run, a glossy brochure or a poster that really needs to look good, however, consider going to a professional printer.

This can be surprisingly cost-effective, especially with a longer print run. A thousand copies of a full-colour A5 leaflet, for example, are unlikely to cost much more than £100-150. Try to use a local firm with whom you can build an ongoing relationship.

Whatever route you take, be sure to pay attention to the quality of the final product. "Choose a design that stands out," concludes Bendall. "It’s worthwhile spending time on it, as the more professional your marketing materials look, the better your return will be."

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