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By Nhada Larkin, published on HeraldSun.

MARKETING is vital for small business so it's important to get the most bang for your buck, writes Nhada Larkin

Clever marketing can help small businesses attract and retain the perfect customers and ultimately help grow the business significantly.

Carys Foster, senior marketing manager with Deloitte Australia, says in order to develop an effective marketing strategy a company must have clear core values, and know what the brand stands for.

Marketing "can give you a clear direction for your brand proposition to ensure you are consistent with how you communicate and behave with customers," she says.

"Ultimately it should help you to grow your business in the right direction."

Some effective marketing methods for small businesses on a tight budget include customer referrals, recommendations from family and friends, joining an association or group that appeals to your target audience, a loyalty scheme, alliances with surrounding businesses and entering industry awards.

Consultancy Marketing Eye says small businesses usually need low-cost marketing solutions that supply quick and profitable results.

"Given this, the online environment is the ideal place to seed your marketing campaigns, or connect with potential customers," says its chief marketing officer, Tegan Addinsall.

"Simple social media initiatives can get big responses if targeted at the right time to the right market segments.

"Search engine optimisation is also a simple way of entering mass consumers' choice sets and with relevant content placement it is an easy solution.

"The best methods really depend on what you are trying to achieve with your marketing, but the general rule of thumb is receiving maximum returns for your spend."

There are a number of ways to work out how much to spend, she says.

"But the simplest is cost per new customer or sale - estimating what the sale is worth to your business and of this amount, a percentage which is a reasonable acquisition cost."

Deloitte's Foster says small businesses also need to consider that marketing is not just about money, but also time.

"Seemingly free marketing such as Facebook and Twitter need to be monitored, updated and responded to quickly," she says, adding that it is vital to try to measure the effectiveness of any marketing efforts.

"For example, if you decide to do an advert in a local paper, have a word that your customers can use if they respond to this via phone or email - this can help you to decide if the cost was effective in attracting business."

When founder and director of swimwear label Zealous Swimwear, Hollie Piper, launched her business in 2011, she used social media to market her business extensively because it was cheap and suited her target audience.

"Before I launched any product to market and before I had any images to show, I set up all my points of contact such as social networks and a website with my contact details and logo," says Piper, who is a member of micro business community FlyingSolo.

"I set up a countdown clock to indicate when I would be revealing my product and I also used a short customised video to create excitement."

Piper has offered her chlorine-resistant sports swimwear to elite athletes for free in an effort to get her brand more widely known, and now has Commonwealth and Olympic Games competitors such as Katie Goldman wearing her suits in most competitions.

"There are many things you can do like that, that don't cost a lot of money," she says.

"I think it's really just being a bit smart in how you do things - you don't have to do things the conventional way."

Source: Marketing key for small business success

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