By Scott Knox, Managing Director of the trade body Marketing Agencies Association (MAA)

It’s tough when you are starting out. Few people have experience in every business function. So as well as running around setting up the operation and financial parts of their business — they may also be working out the best way to manage marketing and communications.

The good news is there are some brilliant resources out there to help you get your business on the right track. From trade bodies and business magazines, to entrepreneur networks like Start Up Britain and free events like the upcoming Marketing 4 Start Up Britain event which will see some of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs and top marketers give their advice to budding entrepreneurs.

Here is a run down on the biggest marketing errors made by SMEs and how to avoid them:

1)Know your customers

We’ve all received untargeted marketing collateral that is completely irrelevant, which usually ends up straight in the bin. So its surprising businesses continue to pour money down the drain by blasting out generic messages to everyone. To achieve decent ROI, all marketing whether it’s for the biggest global brands or the smallest organisation, must be relevant and targeted to the right people. Taking the time to ask your existing customers to tell you about what they want, what they value from your business and what puts them off working with you, may take a little time but it will pay dividends in the long run.

2)Trying to do everything — and not doing any of it well

Chances are if you are a start-up you will have limited funds for marketing (and everything else). So you must make sure you are choosing the right channels to produce the best response. Think carefully about where your customers might be looking for information to inform their purchases. Unfortunately there is no simple answer for whether a business should choose DM over social media, or PR over print advertising. It can be a mistake to spread yourself too thin by attempting to market your business through every outlet, but by selecting a few channels that resonate best with your target audience you are more likely to achieve a good return on investment.

3) Not paying attention to your brand and consistent messages

Having a consistent brand is all about creating a business identity that resonates with your customers. It can be easy to dismiss the role of brand in the early days of an enterprise but in fact understanding what message you want your customers to get from your company is vital for consistency. A professional image should be built around both the visual and abstract values of a brand. This should then feed into all forms of marketing from your website and business cards, through to a print ad or DM.

4) Trying to do everything yourself

By necessity you will probably have to do some marketing on your own for your business, learning as you go. But as you grow it may be worth strategically investing some of your budget into external marketing resources. You don't need to employ someone on a full time basis to handle this, often smaller marketing agencies will be able to offer you flexible solutions and work with you on a project basis. Take time to talk to a few agencies and get independent recommendations and advice, so you know you are working with the right people for your business.

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