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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?

I'm too reliant on a single customer

 

Reliable customers are the lifeblood of every business. But putting all your eggs in one basket of one or two big clients can be a risky strategy

Finding loyal customers can feel like winning the lottery - it means predictable cashflow, secure profits and a platform for growth. However, having the lion's share of your business tied to another company also means your fortunes are tied to theirs. If their business flounders, so might yours; if they change tack or another supplier undercuts you, you could find yourself out in the cold without sufficient alternative sources of revenue.

Even if your big customer maintains their custom, they can disrupt your cash flow by paying late or exploit your dependence on them to push your prices down. Furthermore, as you direct more resources towards your big source of income, you are likely to neglect other customers and see them melt away.

Manage the risk of over-reliance

Despite these reservations, you would be foolish to turn down such a lot of business. The key is to manage the risk attached to servicing the client, and to use the extra revenue to make your business more secure.

You should have financial protection in place, for instance. Always do credit checks on customers and enforce contractual penalties for late payment. Make sure contracts with your own suppliers are secure too.

Try to avoid borrowing to buy new equipment or to employ more staff to meet your customer's needs. A better option might be to lease equipment, to employ freelance staff or to subcontract parts of the work to another supplier - at least until you feel secure enough to make long-term investment in your business.

In the meantime, work closely with your customer to secure their long-term business. This could mean suggesting ways to fill gaps in their offer, anticipating trends in their marketplace or exploring joint ventures. Network strategically with their staff, so you know what's going on in their business and can anticipate their needs.

Expand your customer base

Using your big customer as a springboard for developing your business is a good strategic move. But make sure that whatever investment you make in your own business results in an improved offer to other potential buyers, too.

One way of ensuring you don't take your eye off other opportunities is to take someone on specifically either to look after your major customer, or to source new business elsewhere. You should also use your extra income to fund marketing activities and open up new sales channels; but be sure any expansion is carefully managed.

As far as possible, use your customer's reputation as a lever to win new business by asking them for references and referrals. More radically, you could align your interests more permanently with theirs by offering them a portion of your business. This will bring an influx of cash into your firm; but it will also erode your independence.

Keep each client's trade in proportion

Some business experts suggest that allowing any customer to take more than 20% of your business is too great a risk. You need to determine for yourself just how much is too much - but whatever you decide, make sure that you keep your cash flow secure and your sales options open in order to survive the ups and downs in your relationship.

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