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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

Attract customers through online directories

Online business directories can be a low-cost way to drive potential customers to your website. But which ones you should be advertising in, and how do you convince browsers to choose your ad above the competition? Emma Allen explains

"Online directories help you reach audiences who are browsing in that particular index or directory, as well as improving your search engine rankings," says blogging consultant Mark White of Better Business Blogging. "They can be a low-cost method of increasing sales."

Choosing which directories to advertise in

So how do you know what sort of directories you should advertise in? Until a few years ago, online directories, such as Yell.com or Yelp, tended to be index-based, simply listing the name and the contact details of the business.

Costs for these can be reasonable, and many smaller, local index-based directories are often free to advertisers - although well-known, national sites are likely to charge a couple of hundred pounds a year.

Bigger "stand-out" adverts will cost extra, and being listed in multiple sections will also bump up the price.

While using these sorts of directories can be worthwhile for search engine optimisation (SEO) purposes, advertising in this way will not necessarily attract new customers. "Business names can be one amongst hundreds on a page, so it's highly competitive and it can be very difficult to stand out," explains White.

"If it's free you've got nothing to lose, but you may feel that optimising your own site or spending the money on targeted advertising, via Google Ads for instance, may be more productive," he adds.

Ratings and reviews in online directories

However, White believes that directories that enable customers to post reviews of businesses, or that offer simple ratings systems, are important.

"Browsers have moved towards more social types of websites that combine business listings with reviews, enabling people to share their experiences," he explains. "Rated People and Checkatrade are two example of sites that combine a searchable, local directory with consumer reviews."

It is essential to consider your target audience when choosing where to get listed. "If you're going for a national or global audience, it's unlikely that local directories will be much help," points out White.

"On the other hand, if you're trying to attract local users, local online directories may be worthwhile and are unlikely to cost much," he adds. "Or you could choose a sector-specific site, for more targeted results."

Writing your directory listing

When it comes to writing your advertisement, always ensure that you communicate as much as possible about your business. Some sites may require only your business name, which will act as a link to your website, while others may offer more space.

Make sure you clearly communicate what problem you can solve for customers, and why they should choose you instead of a competitor. "Try to put yourself in the position of the customer," suggests White. "If your unique selling point is 24-hour service or a quick response time, for instance, make sure it's promoted clearly."

Lastly, it's important to track web traffic to measure the effectiveness of your listings. "Don't rely on directory figures, especially if you're paying to advertise," says White. "You can use Google Analytics, which is free, to track where visitors to your site came from, to see if it's worthwhile."

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