March 30, 2023

How to develop a marketing strategy for your startup or small business

Brett Surbey
Content Writer
With Firstbase since:

What’s the most valuable currency a business can have aside from paying customers? 

Consumer interest.

Customers need to have an interest in your product or service – no matter how good your business idea may be. Otherwise, it will fall on deaf ears. After you have developed a strong idea to base your company around, you need to market it to your ideal customer. But how do you create a marketing approach that fits your product, audience, and brand image?

Step 1: Determine your parameters

Before deciding on the marketing medium you want to use, you need to develop an overall plan. A plan should outline the objectives of your marketing plan and what its limits might be (e.g. budget constraints). This is typically developed by setting specific goals, researching your market, and determining a budget. 

Setting specific goals

Setting goals is an essential starting point that will direct your entire marketing approach. Sure, you might have ideas of what to accomplish, but putting pen to paper will make you be specific.

While we’ve already mentioned consumer interest, you might have other goals in mind such as: 

  • Increasing conversion rates on your website by 10%
  • Letting 500 customers know about a new product launch 
  • Generating 50% more leads compared to the previous year

Notice how these goals are concrete. Having concrete goals allow you to pursue them effectively, rather than chasing vague aspirations. For one, you won’t know when they have been met.

At this stage, you don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty details of how to meet these goals. But, remember that goal-setting is a dynamic exercise.

Researching your market

Before you can effectively sell to someone, you need to know who they are and what they're looking for. Market research involves using internal and external data to gain a deeper understanding of your target audience: for example, what social media platforms they use, how much they're willing to spend, and what factors they'll consider when deciding whether to buy from you or a competitor. Here’s a rough example. 

Imagine you operate a remote accounting firm. After reading through customer reviews on your Google listing, you realize that there may be a misunderstanding about your services. Customers have repeatedly complained that your website mentions corporate records maintenance as part of your offerings, in spite of staff confirming that is no longer the case.  Your firm only deals with corporate year-end returns, not ongoing bookkeeping services. 

After recognizing this issue, you see two key points to add to your immediate marketing strategy. One, where to focus your efforts (clarifying your services). Two, what channel to use (Google reviews). 

Part of market research is also understanding if your product is viable in the current market. Researching similar offerings in your niche will provide key insights —  for example, where to focus your marketing efforts and how to make your products stand out. Maybe you can identify some features of your product that fill in a gap in the current market. 

Knowing if your marketing efforts can make a splash in comparison with competitors is a key insight to be aware of.  

Determining a budget

Understanding your financial capacity is crucial – else you will bottleneck your efforts. Before coming up with a marketing approach, sit down to establish financial boundaries for your marketing initiative as a whole.

If you’re wanting to create more leads through your website or grow your in-person presence at conferences, outline how much you are willing to spend on each approach. One way to do this is by reviewing your finances from the previous year.

Start by reviewing your retained earnings (RE) from the previous year to get an idea of your marketing capacity. It’s critical to maintain some liquidity and flexibility while also reinvesting earnings into growth. Let’s say you have $5,000 in RE, and you’ve determined that you will keep $1,000 of that liquid and reinvest the rest. 

Out of the $4,000 allocated, break down this amount to match the specific goals you made earlier. If you want to highlight a product launch, increase conversion rates on your site, and generate more leads, you’ll need to prioritize. One way to do so is by researching the return on investment for each goal you have.

Perhaps you expect your product launch to bring in large amounts  of revenue due to good launch conditions (timing, economic status, customer desire), for example. Knowing small details about your goals will allow you to really thread the needle with the funds you have – no matter how limited they might be. 

Note that you will likely work on these questions concurrently and continue coming back to them as you develop your marketing plan. For example, insights from market research may lead you to revise your goals. Try to strike a balance between setting concrete goals and staying adaptable as you gather new information.

Step 2: Determine your marketing channels

Now that you understand the direction and budget of your marketing efforts, you can efficiently determine the media to use. Some of the most common channels  include content creation, email marketing, social media, and word-of-mouth. 

Content creation

Content creation is the act of sharing ideas and information about your business or product through mediums like blog posts, videos, podcasts, and infographics. One of the benefits of content creation is its simplicity and ubiquity. With over 71% of small businesses having their own website, creating a blog post is not revolutionary or expensive. Because everyone creates content, coming up with ideas is easier than with other methods. 

From another vantage point, various online platforms have made short, low-budget videos a cost-effective marketing staple for companies of all sizes. Filming a quick video on your iPhone rather than hiring a full production team is well within the financial scope of a new business. 

On the other hand, content creation can be overwhelming given its broad scope. Trying to decide between video, blog creation, or podcasts can paralyze you before you begin. Here are some ideas to help you consider possible avenues: 

  1. Are you an engaging writer? Does writing about your business and field sound exciting? If so, you can bring the mind of an expert to your audience through a blog.
  2. Do you routinely attend business events in your area? Sharing your insights through a podcast would fit well. 
  3. Is your industry hands-on (e.g. construction, mechanical services)? Does it have the potential to inform others from a practical point of view? If so, filming your projects and providing advice for clients can position you as an expert – and someone to approach issues.

Email marketing

Email is one of the most powerful channels used by digital marketers. If you have a website in place, simply collecting client email addresses can get you an email list in no time. Once you have a collection of subscribers, sending them valuable content through a newsletter or promo is simple and effective. 

However, spamming your clients’ inbox with promotional content will only drive them away. It's crucial to offer value without there being any strings attached. This can be done by giving away a product or service, for example. 

Email accounts are already a standard business expense, so email marketing will have little impact on your overhead. Even email marketing platforms like MailChimp are relatively inexpensive, and easy to use, making them a solid choice. Moreover, they also offer automation for emails, so you can front load your work and let their programs do the sending. That frees up time for you to focus on higher-value tasks. 

Social media

A report from Statista shows that over 4.7 billion people use social media. If you aren’t using Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or another online platform to promote your brand, you’re missing out. While we already mentioned using video, there are other types to utilize.

Creating a Facebook page for your company, posting ideas, and responding to comments can generate discussion and create interest. This gives smaller companies a chance to show off their personality, and engage with customers on a personal level. 

AMA discussions are another good way to leverage social media. They give your business an opportunity to address common concerns and build good will with both current and potential audiences. Solving their current problems is much better than reacting to them later on (e.g. fixing an improper Google listing).

On more image-focused sites like Instagram, showing off your new product launch with high-quality photos and captions will draw viewers to your brand. Platforms like these give more creative startups freedom to express their offerings as they see fit. This gives you the opportunity to creatively exceed your competitors. 

While small companies often hesitate to invest in paid marketing, paid social media ads can be a highly effective way to grow your audience. With Facebook ads you can have your brand come up in a client’s feed or sidebar where they are more likely to see it when scrolling. Keep in mind that costs can add up quickly, so choosing keywords that aren't’ competitive (at least to begin with) is crucial. 


A customer personally recommending your business to a friend means more than a Google review or Facebook ad ever will. Why? Because there’s trust involved. Having customers spread the word about your business to those closest to them is almost always a high-converting marketing tactic due to the trust present.

Asking your customers for referrals should go in tandem with a satisfying customer experience. It's vital to create an environment where those you are referring to your product or service will have a high chance of seeing the value you're offering. 

Word-of-mouth outreach doesn’t need to be with potential clients per se, but with other business owners. By attending conferences, networking events, workshops, and other group settings, you can rub shoulders with businesses that complement your services. This allows you to both generate interest in new markets and learn from seasoned professionals.

Step 3: Measure and adjust your approach 

In order to fully understand your marketing successes and failures, you need to develop KPIs (key performance indicators) that contribute to your larger goal. For example, if you want to generate an overall 25% jump in ecommerce sales, you might advance that goal by increasing website traffic, average order value, and customer retention. 

Without key performance indicators (KPIs) in place, you run the risk of simply doing the same marketing techniques over and over again – even if they’re ineffective. Even if you reach your overall goal, you could fail to understand which specific elements of your strategy were successful. Here are some things to look for once you have implemented your new approach. 

Potential key performance indicators

Here are some possible KPIs for each marketing channel we’ve discussed:

Content Creation

  • Blog post views
  • Video views
  • Video channel subscribers
  • Bounce rates on blogs (how long do viewers read)


  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates (how often are links in the email being opened)
  • Newsletter subscribers (increase or decrease)
  • Conversion rates for advert emails
  • Forward rates

Social Media

  • Conversion rates for ads
  • Comment density
  • Likes on posts
  • Follows 
  • Direct messages

Word of Mouth

  • Incoming referrals from family members
  • New insights gained from fellow business owners
  • Networking invites
  • Conference invites 
  • Sponsorship opportunities

In addition to creating KPIs, it is also important to adjust them as necessary. Once you reach a certain number of newsletter subscribers you have, for example, you might want to focus more on conversion rates. Your marketing approach will change over time and so should how you measure it.

Adjusting your approach

The next step is to take the data you have found from measuring your KPIs and interpret it to understand your audience’s marketing preferences. You need to be willing to make adjustments to your strategy at any stage of your marketing journey. By measuring your key performance indicators and seeing what is and what is not working, you can put your budget to better use. 

This does not necessarily mean dropping entire programs due to lackluster results. If your emails are not generating enough leads, maybe you need to take a new approach to writing subject lines – rather than remove that channel from the equation.

Part of successful testing and adjusting of a marketing strategy is to not throw in the towel too early. Real marketing success takes time to create. 

Wrapping up 

We’ve covered a lot of ground when it comes to developing a robust marketing strategy for your small business or startup. Here are some key takeaways: 

  1. Establish your goals and budget before implementing ideas - Knowing what you want to get out of your marketing strategy, and what finances you have to support it, is paramount. This will allow you to choose mediums that are cost-effective and effective for your business (e.g. using video content for construction services). It's important to do the hard research work upfront so you clearly understand what you want your marketing trials to accomplish.
  2. There is no one way to market to your audience - People are complex. Remembering that there is no one-size-fits-all for marketing will allow you to be flexible with your approach. Using a combination of social media, content creation, paid ads, and media outlets might give you the widest reach. But, it’s key to connect with your customer.
  3. Be willing to adjust your strategy - You should consider reviewing your overall goals, budget, channels, and KPIs repeatedly to see what needs adjusting. There is no concrete timeline for doing this, but completing a strategy review once a quarter is a good idea. 

All in all, any successful marketing strategy will start with one thing: the needs of its audience.

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