Starting a new business is fun, but it takes careful planning to do it right.

As a marketing consultant, I’ve spent the past 20 years helping small business owners backtrack and fix some of their most faulty foundational issues to better help them grow. And many of them say they had wished they had called me sooner.

The good news is that while these small business mistakes are common, they’re completely avoidable. Here are some of the key steps that my most successful business clients have learned to take when starting out:

1. Write a marketing plan

Most entrepreneurs write a business plan but forget to include key marketing research and strategies. An effective marketing plan includes:

Research your competition.

This will help you better position your company as far as what makes you unique and how to price your products – both part of developing your unique selling proposition (USP). Ultimately, a plan that shows what sets you apart from your competitors and why your product is better will be key to your success.

Research your target audience.

Who is most likely to purchase your product? Look into market segmentation, and develop different content for different segments. This will help you better understand your customers so you can target them in your marketing more effectively.

Create marketing strategies and goals.

How will you attract your buyers? Your strategies may include direct mail, email, public relations, social media, content strategy, couponing, webinars, events, blogs, partnerships, and other activities that will help attract and maintain customers. An open house or “launch” event is a good start; include press releases and news stories.

Optimize your social media.

Get your name on the Internet in as many places as possible – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and any other social media channels you can imagine. From there, give your followers content and photos that give them something with value (i.e. tips, advice, or something fascinating)! Don’t just sell to them. Finally, post on as many channels as you wish, but remember to use the same mailing address, URL, and phone number, as search engines will reward you for being consistent.

Develop a monthly marketing budget.

Test different strategies to see what’s working. If something isn’t working, stop and try another strategy. Stay in budget. Research what your competitors are doing. Get new ideas.

Track your progress.

Use Google Analytics to get access to URL tracking codes, then use them on every page of your website so you can track to see which pages are getting the most attention. Track your growth and improve where you’re lacking.

2. Set up a search-friendly Internet business.

Some web designers may be great with HTML but are not SEO specialists. That’s a big problem, because without some very important components (proper URL, relative keywords, or H1/H2 headings), a website can be poorly ranked by Google and other search engines and thus will not show up on an internet search with your competition. Avoid this mistake by asking your web designer to do the following:

Know your search engine keywords.

Find out what your customers are searching to find you (Hint: it’s usually not your company name if they don’t yet know you). There are many tools to help you come up with the keywords for your pages, including Yahoo Keyword Tool and Google Adwords keyword planner.

Use those keywords all over your website.

Each page on your website should have a title heading in large bold letters with keywords and use the keywords in the content at least three ties. Also remember to put the keywords on your web pages’ back end SEO titles.

Purchase and use keyword URLs to expand your reach.

URLs with keywords are more likely to be found on search engines and make a huge difference. For instance, “www.davidsflowers.com” is a business owner’s URL. But by also owning “flowersmidwestcity. com,” that seller could also capture the interest of someone in Midwest City, OK searching for “Flowers, Midwest City.”

Another example from my own experience: When I added the “marketingconsultantreno.com” URL and made it redirect to my business website, I received a call to consult for Nascar who would never have found me otherwise

3. Launch with a full online presence.

When small businesses don’t set up their complete online presence correctly the first time, their websites don’t show up in organic searches and the competition gets all the business. That’s why your website should be listed on all channels at once to optimize its SEO ranking.

When you’re ready, publish and test your website. When it’s working perfectly, set up your social media and YouTube pages, and list your site on Yahoo Business and other online business directories like Yellow pages and Yelp (good customer ratings help improve your SEO ranking).

One more tip: Google likes you to use Google products. So by setting up, verifying and populating your Google Plus page with different and unique content and keywords, you can help improve your chances of showing up in the directory listings.

4. Utilize a shipping and inventory management software.

Find software that helps you manage your business more efficiently.

Quickbooks, and other order management and inventory management software can be very helpful in growing your business, because you eliminate countless hours of manual entries and mistakes. Software like Teapplix offers built-in multi-channel inventory management, order management, shipping automation and Quickbooks integration. You also save on shipping with USPS discounts. When searching the internet for the right solution for the marketplace your products are on, try searching for inventory management and shipping software.

The takeaway

Find software that helps you manage your business more efficiently.

By planning smart and avoiding common mistakes, you can increase your website visits, and in turn, sell more products. Use this guide to ask your staff the right questions. Become your own customer and test your website experience, from Google search to checkout. Then move forward with what is working and get rid of what’s not. Best of luck and happy marketing!

This article is by Debra Ward of Teapplix. Teapplix automates, organizes and manages shipping, inventory tracking and QuickBooks integration for small and medium-sized businesses operating on eBay, Amazon, Buy. com and other eCommerce platforms.

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