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

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

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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?

Six top tips for giving your business credibility

Paul Reddington is the managing director of Spike Photography Ltd, a Nottingham-based photography company.

When he set up his business in 1991, he focused on business customers rather than consumers. It was important to the business that he presented a professional image to attract and retain their custom. Here he shares his top tips for appearing more professional.

1. Choose the right business set up

"I adopted limited company status, which gives the appearance of being an established firm. It's essential to make a good first impression," says Paul. "I didn't want to call my business Paul Reddington Photography, because it says that I am one guy working on my own. Spike Photography is generic, it sounds more professional."

2. Get the right phone number

According to Paul telephone numbers give away more about your firm than you might think. "If I just gave out a mobile phone number, customers will view it as a sign that I'm a one-man band. So I've got a landline number. I considered using an 0845 number, as this can give the impression that you are a big firm, but it was more important for me to have a regional dialling code to attract local customers."

3. Make it easy for customers to contact you

"I've used a telephone answering service in the past and they answered in the name of Spike Photography," says Paul. "It cost around £1 per call, which is cheap compared to a personal assistant, and they even offer a secretarial service to make your appointments. An answering service also means that if you work from home, you get rid of background noises, such as children running around. That doesn't sound very professional."

4. Get a business address

"If you can't afford to rent a permanent office, consider hiring a temporary serviced office if you need to meet a client, rather than inviting them into your living room. You could even look at using a virtual office, where you just rent an address and use a mail redirection service. You can give the impression you are based wherever you like," says Paul.

5. Build a business website

"A professional website is very important. It's your shop window, so you need to dress it appropriately. It's essential to get the basics right, such as getting a .com address rather than .net," advises Paul. "The wording of the site can also make a difference to how you are perceived. My site says 'We at Spike Photography' rather than just 'I' - it all helps give the impression you are a large firm."

6. Think and act like a bigger business

"I try to think big from a company viewpoint," says Paul. "But, remember you need to build a personal relationship with your customers. We give the impression we are a large firm that has been around a while, but don't forget the personal touch. It's all about the relationships you build."

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