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How to Start, Grow, and Market a Unique Small Business

Any small business that hopes to succeed in a crowded market must be unique and must do well at marketing. This article will provide you with information on how to start up, hone a unique concept, and market your small business to the masses.

Getting started

Every well-built business begins with careful attention to the basics—the equivalent of learning how to crawl before you start walking with a swagger. The groundwork is encapsulated in Square’s checklist for starting a business:

How to Start, Grow, and Market a Unique Small Business

  • Determine structure—Your business structure has legal and tax implications; a Sole Proprietorship is the simplest and quickest type of business to start but comes with the most liability; you’ll want to match structure to your business type; plenty of small businesses choose an LLC structure because of its liability and tax benefits
  • Craft your plan—Your business plan should look ahead as much as possible, asking questions about your competitors, how you’ll be unique, what type of marketing you’ll do, what funding you’ll need, where capital will come from, etc. (here’s a list of business plan templates)
  • Build your brand—In many ways your brand is about your aesthetic and what makes you unique; it’s your name, your colors, and your images; more than that, your brand should reflect the needs and desires of the people whose business you want—for example, you wouldn’t name a fine dining restaurant “Steak Shack” or something like that
  • Cover your butt—Follow the IRS requirements for starting a business, consult with an attorney if you’re uncertain about details, and get an accountant to make sure all your financial operations are streamlined and audit-proof
  • Draft your team—You’ll need absolutely essential individuals in order to keep you sane as you tend to the higher-level thinking for your business; you can continue to build out the team as the business grows

Nail the basic elements of getting started so that you can focus on that special something to make your business unique. You may want to partner with someone who can take care of the logistics. That way, you can truly dig into new earth for your concept.

Research

You won’t know what’s unique until you’ve looked into your niche. Check out the top performers. What do they have going that others don’t? Then, check out the next tier. Do some of these businesses have good ideas you could make great? Do you get any hunches about businesses poised to hit the next level? What are they doing well? What aren’t they doing well?

Look at branding elements. The top performers are constantly adapting their brand in various ways to take advantage of new trends. This is true now more than ever.

Make your brand adaptable

According to brand strategist and writer Rod Parkes, “The brand owner can no longer dictate the meaning of the brand—the customer defines this, and today’s customers cannot be so easily told what to think.” He points toward brands such as IBM and Microsoft, who had to adapt based on what consumers want out of technology in order to stay competitive. Believe it or not, at first Microsoft didn’t even think it was all about the internet.

Because the customer will determine your brand’s effectiveness, there’s a limit to how much research you can and should do. According to Intuit author Andrew Storrier, focusing on research and planning is one of the most common mistakes new businesses make. He emphasizes having a firm deadline for launch in order to help you make choices fast. Once your product or service is on the market, you’ll learn more about what works and what doesn’t.

But when you’re looking at successful brands, ask yourself, what is it about the core concept that helps them win? What hasn’t changed since day one? For example, once Nike found the swoosh emblem, it never changed.

Grow your business

Another mistake new businesses tend to make is focusing on revenue for revenue’s sake. In many ways, your business is only as good as your people and how you employ them. This is the main takeaway from a recent post from tech company Appnovation on how to be a hyper growth company. Focus on the “four pillars” of “human capital”:

  • Organization—place your team members in positions that optimize their talent
  • Acquisition—after a new hire, maintain a high level of communication and follow-up to make sure employees settle in nicely
  • Cultivation—as your brand continues to adapt, keep up training and keep challenging employees to cultivate their talent
  • Retention—your small business is uniquely equipped to retain employees through social initiatives, rewards for loyalty, and a high level of communication and transparency

Appnovation has experienced a 654% growth rate as a result of their emphasis on employees. It will be incredibly hard to adapt your brand and grow your business with high turnover rate. The longer employees stick around, the more equipped they are to represent the truly unique nature of your business.

Grassroots marketing for your business

We’re so obsessed with digital now, it’s easy to forget about good old-fashioned grassroots marketing. The trick is to combine both flesh-and-blood efforts with corresponding online campaigns. Here are two great ideas for campaigns you can take digital.

#1: The Event

Sponsoring a concert or other event, such as a marathon, is a great way to establish a positive, fun image of your brand. Red Bull does this very successfully with the Red Bull Sound Select “artist development” program. The Facebook page has nearly 43,000 likes, and you can bet the company sells plenty of beverages at the concerts.

Digital action: Videos

To go with your event, create a whole series of videos. Doing so will place you square in the middle of the wildfire that is video advertising: in 2014, Facebook saw a 50% increase in video views within two months. Facebook prioritizes video in its news feed. Don’t get me started on the live video factor. Facebook now automatically prioritizes live video feeds by default.

You can also pump out shorter video on networks such as Vine and Instagram. And don’t forget about YouTube. Creating a series of videos for these networks and capping it off with a live feed on Facebook and Twitter will blast your event, and your brand, into the stratosphere.

#2: The Influencer Review

According to author Robin Burton, “Marketing is about getting your product in front of people. And it’s about making sure they see your product in the light you want them to see it in.” She goes on to suggest finding YouTube influencers with thousands of views and sending them a sample of your product for review. This is a great way to leverage the power of influencers.

Of course, nothing guarantees influencers will “see your product in the light you want them to see it in”—but if your product or service is quality, the fact that they’re getting it for free won’t hurt. The resulting word-of-mouth will more than make up for what you spend.

Digital action: Content Marketing

Now that reviews are in, it’s time to create content based around them. There are several ways to go about this. You could write content for your site that cites positive reviews. Or, you could get permission to post glowing reviews on your site. And, you could do guest posting in which you reference descriptive, helpful parts of reviews.

With guest posting, you have to be careful, because no one wants to publish press-release-style, promotional content unless you pay them (or it’s a PR site). If that’s the type of content you want to publish, go ahead and pay them.

Make sure you push review articles and your posts on social media.

Other ideas for grassroots marketing include charity drives and art or photography contests. Whatever you choose, find creative ways to take it digital on your website and social media. Your customer base will expand exponentially.

Image: Photospin

Daniel Matthews is a freelance writer and musician from Boise, ID who specializes in small business, marketing, and tech. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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