Business marketing is no ‘Field of Dreams’

Mark Lankford, Associate Director of Butler County SBDC based at The Hamilton Mill, City of Middletown and Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.
Mark Lankford, Associate Director of Butler County SBDC based at The Hamilton Mill, City of Middletown and Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

Today’s question actually comes from a variety of clients and other people I meet. “Where are my customers? I’ve built this great business … why is the store empty and the phone not ringing?”

These business owners have fallen into the “if I build it, customers will surely follow” trap. The fact is, you have to work hard at getting noticed, and even harder to get consumers to buy from your business.

LEARN MORE: Free services offered by the Butler County SBDC

All small business owners should reflect on their operation in the following areas, and adjust accordingly:

First, is your business even necessary? Is it solving an unmet need or relieving some sort of consumer "pain." Are you trying to break into a market that is already saturated with providers? Does your business offer a strategic advantage or a signature product unavailable anywhere else? Did you start your business because you thought it would be fun, or did you actually research the market carefully and make sure your idea was feasible? Depending on your answers to these questions, going further might not even be necessary.

Second, are you out there selling your business? What networking groups have you joined? Have you joined any Chambers and attended their events? How well does the public know you? Being an introvert is not a good way to keep your business in the public spotlight. Get out there and mingle! Not a people person? Become one. You are not going to make connections being a wallflower. All entrepreneurs are salespeople by default — so act like one!

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Third, pay close attention to branding and company image. Are they consistent? Do you have a PROFESSIONALLY created logo, or did you use the one your cousin made for you for free? How much study did you put into the color scheme? Is there anything about your company image that might be alienating or polarizing to some groups? Many small business owners overlook simple image helpers such as coming up with a great tag line. If I asked what local Chevy dealership has "…Lower Prices, Lower Rates" or what entertainment item store has "all the fun" I bet you could tell me right away. Creating a professional image for your business is a marketing must.

Fourth, budget for a serious marketing plan. I don't mean paying $10 to boost a Facebook post. If you are depending solely on Facebook for marketing, you aren't really marketing at all. Search out your target market, and find the best way to reach them. If it's "soccer moms," the best way to reach them is where? On the soccer field sidelines. Don't fall into the "laundry list" or shotgun approach trap. If you pick the wrong media, you will be wasting your money. If you are not sure, consult a professional. Be prepared to budget a serious amount of your revenue towards advertising and marketing. The worst thing a business owner can say is "I can't afford to advertise and market my business." If you do nothing, how do you ever expect to grow?

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This monthly column aims to help small-business owners navigate the resources available to them. Have a question about starting or managing a business? Email questions to for possible inclusion in an upcoming column.

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