From the top · 18 November 2015

James Caan’s seven-day startup guide: Day six – Branding and marketing your business the right way

You might have a great product or service, but it'll be useless if you aren't able to tell people
You might have a great product or service, but it’ll be useless if you aren’t able to tell people

“How do I market my business?” is a question I’m asked almost on a daily basis. People are obsessed with focusing on their marketing strategy because, at the end of the day, this is what inevitably leads to making money.

Planning your marketing strategy is a mammoth task because there are so many facets to it. It’s not as simple as “ah there we are, we’ve sent some tweets – watch the customers roll in!” it takes a lot of trial and error effort. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for marketing success – it boils down to hard work and dedication.

Before you start forking out on marketing collateral, devising copy for digitalised media and social media you need to be really aware of your target audience. As I discussed in day two of my startup guide, having a clearly defined target audience is an essential step in this process because understanding the type of consumer you’re targeting means you can tailor your messaging effectively.

For example, when you’re drafting copy for your website, always have your customer in mind. Don’t just reel off a load of market jargon to look good. People want to read something they can instantly relate to and understand within the first few sentences. Keep it relevant, relative and always ask for a second opinion.

One thing I learned when I was building my brand is that you should take advantage of everything and anything, especially when it comes to social media. I’ll raise my eyebrow to any business that doesn’t have a presence on social media – it’s an instant turn off. Embracing technology and innovative thinking are both central to achieving success – if I need to find a decent coffee shop in South East London what do I do? I quickly search for the best coffee shops in that area and the businesses with the best online presence are the first to pop up on my radar.

You should be consistently keeping up with your customers, you can’t get left behind because you’re not a social media expert. When I first started blogging on LinkedIn, do you think I knew what I was doing? I had no idea people actually wanted to read my thoughts on the industry. When I signed up for Twitter I had no idea how to use it but I forced myself to understand because I knew it was essential for my brand expansion.

The reason social media is so essential for your startup is because it doesn’t infringe on your limited budget as it’s free. It costs nothing to set up Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts so you don’t really have an excuse, your lack of presence can only be due to lack of effort.

People buy people, so your customers need to feel as if they can trust you, that you’re always happy to help. Because of this I always urge startups to build on testimonials; ask your customers for feedback and display these proudly on your website because people are more likely to buy something if their peers tell them it’s great.

This is always why you should also be networking your socks off. Nobody actually likes networking because it involves a lot of talking about yourself and how great your business is and we’re not so great at that but the way I see it is, if you’re not talking about your business then who is? Typically, entrepreneurs are used to going at it alone so often miss the opportunity (or even avoid the opportunity) to network and build relationships with key figures in the industry. Making an effort to network can open doors and develop your reputation in the industry.

You never know what is around the corner and networking is a great way to seek opportunities and make a lasting impression on potential clients and competitors. It will help establish your branding and enable you to scale your business through word of mouth. The only way a business can survive is by gaining customers, and a good customer acquisition strategy requires a lot of effort and relationship building.

Up next: Step seven in your startup journey is the last one and my next column (published on 25 November) will focus on pulling everything together to produce a final checklist.

And remember, if you have any specific questions for me then please don’t hesitate to get in contact with the Business Advice editorial team.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Renowned investor and business builder James Caan is currently the founder and CEO of Hamilton Bradshaw, a firm specialising in buyouts, venture capital, turnarounds and real estate investments. Prior to that, he was one of the longest-running investors on BBC television show Dragons’ Den, founded and exited recruitment business Alexander Mann and was the chairman of the government’s Start Up Loans initiative. His efforts were recognised when he was awarded a CBE for services to entrepreneurship and charitable services through the James Caan Foundation.

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