Marketing a Start-Up Business

By: Eric Giltner, Senior Area Manager
Grand Forks Area Office
North Dakota District Office

Starting a small business is a daunting undertaking for entrepreneurs. Decisions regarding the quality, pricing, and range of products and/or services offered, distribution channels, and the level of customer service provided to customers are just a few of the many that must be made in determining the business model. There is also the question as to how the new firm’s offering will be accepted by the targeted customers in the marketplace. The key is devising a marketing plan centered on creating “awareness” of the new offering in the eyes of the targeted customer base. What should go into a marketing plan for a start-up business? There are five key areas to address to increase the chance of a successful entry into the marketplace.

  1. A Marketing Message that Creates a Brand. If done properly, the new start-up’s market research has shown there are enough potential customers in the area who would be attracted to the products and/or services offered by the new business. A marketing message needs to be crafted to communicate to these individuals that their needs will be met through the purchase of goods and services from the company. This message is essentially a promise or guarantee to the customer. As more and more customers are satisfied with the firm’s offering, a brand is created.
  2. A Business Name that Sells. The business name chosen should be memorable to customers and descriptive of the new offering (brand). A new auto detailing business named “Johnson Enterprises” might make an aspiring entrepreneur’s parents proud but what does it say to the customer? Nothing! “Quick-Silver Auto-Detailing” is both memorable and descriptive. The words “quick” and “silver” invoke positive reactions from potential customers with the promise of prompt service and a shiny finish to the old car!
  3. A Robust Personal Networking Effort. It’s hard to create awareness sitting behind the work desk or sales till. New business owners need to get out and meet people in the business community and beyond. Joining service clubs, offering to speak at school career days, and participating in chamber events are just a few of the options available for networking. Effective networkers always have well-designed and informative business cards available and a verbal “sound bite” prepared stating who they are, what they do, and why they make a difference.
  4. A Careful Internet and New Media Plan. Many consumers use the internet in making a buying decision. A new business needs a web site that is informative and interactive with social media. It also must be designed and managed to enhance search engine optimization. This is needed to increase the chances that when someone from your targeted market area searches for your offering your business site is listed near the top.
  5. A Budgeted and Monitored Advertising Plan. New business owners are rarely astute at selecting the right advertising media for their offering. One of the problems is there are so many advertisers competing for the attention of the new business and they are all offering promising outcomes. Take a good look at how competing businesses use advertising, especially the successful ones, and use this as a starting point for creating an advertising plan. Remember to evaluate each advertising effort. You can ask customers how they found you or use special codes to reveal which advertising method worked. For example, an ad in the newspaper will ask customers to call and ask for extension three to receive the advertised offer. Of course, you don’t have an extension three, but you now know the ad worked!

A good marketing plan will create awareness about the promise of the brand you eventually hope to create for your business – and this promise is simply that you have the right solution for your targeted customer’s needs!


Eric Giltner has been a Business Development Specialist and the Grand Forks area  manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration since 1998, having formerly been assistant to the dean of the UND College of Business and Public Administration. Eric received his B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and his Master's Degree in Business Administration from the University of North Dakota. He can be reached at eric.giltner@sba.gov.

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