Whilst there are many great marketing, advertising, design and digital agencies in Northern Ireland (and the UK and Ireland as a whole), there are many more start-up businesses who simply can’t afford to appoint one. Yet, they still need to engage in some form of marketing to get their business off the ground. So what’s the solution? Put simply, it’s a recipe that requires a mixture of creativity, commitment and common sense.

“It Takes 3 Years to Build a Business!”

Let’s start with the ‘common sense’ bit. The ‘build it and they will come’ concept is a myth. It takes more than a business person with a business concept, a logo, a website or even a physical store to make a new business a successful one, and given that a large percentage of start-ups are sole entrepreneur businesses (like my own) it’s important to be realistic about what is achievable, particularly in the first few years as time and resources are not infinite.

I often hear it said that ‘if you survive the first 2 years, you’re over the worst of it’ or ‘it takes three years to build a successful business’ –
there’s a lot of truth and experience in these statements so don’t be disheartened if things take a bit longer than you expected to come together. This article is not just for new business owners, but for anyone thinking about starting a business or ‘freelancing’ and individuals who’ve already ‘been there and got the t-shirt’. New businesses really need people like you to mentor them along the journey!

Build Brand Awareness to Build a Business!

If no-one knows about your business, they can’t engage with it so use every opportunity available to you to make people aware of your business and what you have to offer, then keep doing it. So how can you do this cost-effectively?

1. Utilise Your Contacts. Family, friends and former colleagues know you as a person and will want you to succeed – hopefully they’ll refer you to others they meet in their everyday lives too. Ask them to spread the word about your new business.

Networking Connection Nexus

2. Join Networking Groups and Attend Events. There are many affordable business networking groups around. Join a few and let new people see how passionate you are about your business. Many create opportunities for you to have a speaking slot, a business listing on the organisation’s website and to publish your news stories on their website and social media platforms – all at no additional cost.

3. Create a Network of Partners. They can be other professionals who offer complementary services or even your ‘competitors’ who may turn out to be your biggest brand advocates and sources of work. Be open to the possibilities all around you, even ones that may not be obvious from the first interaction.

4. Exchange of Services. Explore ways to help each other to grow without money changing hands. This can be invaluable, particularly in the early days when funds are limited.

5. Create Case Studies, Reviews/Testimonials & Enter Awards. Build up content that demonstrates your skills and experience to help you to generate leads and sales.

6. ‘Givers Gain’ so ‘Pay it Forward’. Volunteering can be a great marketing strategy for your business but be careful to balance this time alongside your paid work.

7. Read Business Media. I know there’s never enough hours in the day but taking some time out each day to read is worth it. You’ll learn from others experiences and find out about opportunities you’d otherwise miss.

8. Utilise Social Media. There’s so many channels you can use to learn, build your audiences and distribute content cost-effectively. Social Media Marketing takes a lot of time, plenty of trial and error, and commitment to invest a little money into advertising but you can achieve a lot if you choose a few relevant channels and master them over time.

9. Be a Guest Speaker. Many new business owners are probably cringing at this point and saying ‘I couldn’t do that’ but believe me you can! No-one expects you to be brilliant at it the first time, second, third or even fourth time, and it does get easier.

10. Be a Blogger/Guest Blogger. Write articles for your LinkedIn profile, industry publications and websites or for your website blog or e-newsletter (if you have these set up). Share your expertise and give your audiences great content that makes a difference to them.

11. Get a Mentor(s). Find a person or people you feel comfortable with to bounce ideas off. You’ll learn a lot from conversations with someone with a bit more experience than you. Also research local mastermind groups to join. These offer structured and ongoing support to keep you focused on moving your business forward.

12. Find out about Funded Business Support Programmes. Support is often available if you know where to look and your local council or enterprise centre is a good place to start. These programmes enable SME’s and start-ups to access free or low-cost support from a consultant they typically couldn’t afford to pay for, as costs are subsidised by the organising body. I’m a digital marketing mentor and it’s been a great opportunity for me to grow my business by helping others to grow theirs!


13. Eat the Frog! This is a bestselling book by Brian Tracy which encourages us to learn to focus on the most important tasks and ensure they get done. Often these are the toughest tasks as they’re new to us, but they create great learning experiences.


14. Differentiate. One of the best things about starting your own business is that you are your brand and you decide what your brand stands for. Find ways to showcase this and don’t be afraid to be a bit different.

15. Check the Stats – it’s easy to get swept away in the ‘rat race’ when you start a new business, but remember to start with a plan and take time out to review your progress against your initial expectations and goals. Things will happen along the way that may cause you to change your direction and sometimes this can be a good thing. In terms of digital marketing, check your website or social media analytics. Talk to your customers and know what matters to them. Ask for feedback and keep learning and challenging yourself to do better. Also, don’t give up without seriously considering the pros and cons of the alternatives.

If you’re wondering where the creativity and commitment come in, they’re in your DNA! Utilise this advice as a checklist, be creative in developing each strategy to suit your business and commit yourself to achieving your personal, business and marketing goals. You don’t have to do it all, but you do have to do something!

This article was first produced as a guest blog on Digital DNA. If you are interested in finding out more about Digital DNA, visit www.digitaldna.org.uk