Networking and cost effective marketing for small businesses

shaw 1When and why was Shaw Marketing Services set up?
I set up Shaw Marketing Services in 2008 when I noticed that most agencies on the Costa del Sol were too expensive to cater for the thousands of small to medium sized companies operating here. I realized that if I worked from home and used a network of freelance professionals to support me that I could provide a full-service agency experience which even the small companies could afford. Since then we’ve stayed very lean, converting our garage into an office and developing a great team of collaborators and partners to provide everything my clients need.

What different services do you offer?
We are able to take care of all areas of a company’s promotional campaign including; Marketing Strategy, Marketing Planning, Copy writing, Advertising planning, production & media buying, Public Relations, design, branding and Online Marketing including social media and websites.

Why do you think networking is so important for small businesses?
If you are a small business or entrepreneur you rely heavily on your own skills and personality to sell your product or service and usually have a very small budget for promotion. Networking is a low-cost way to generate awareness of your business. By meeting people face to face, they will get to know both you and the services you offer and trust that you will deliver what you claim. Trust is key, especially in transient areas like the Costa del Sol where people are wary of new companies. We set up a networking group when we moved to Manilva in 2015 to bring together the western Costa del Sol’s business community and there are lots of options no matter where you live. Networking also allows small businesses to build a network of business contacts that they can rely on for products, services, advice and friendship. This support structure is central to surviving in business.

What are the key pointers you suggest to clients when networking?
There are a few things you can do to make the most of your networking events. Firstly make sure you’re prepared with plenty of cards and also what they call an elevator speech, a concise description of your business so you know exactly how to introduce yourself. After that, go and speak to as many people as you can, making sure you are listening and learning about other people’s businesses not simply speaking about yourself. Think of a special offer for the members of the group to give them a reason to contact you and make sure you follow up after the meetings with emails or phone calls. After that, it’s a question of being patient, going regularly to meetings and building up a positive reputation within the group.

What makes someone good at networking where others fail do you think?
That’s an interesting question! I think there are natural networkers who are very sociable and enjoy meeting new people. For them it is easy to go into a room full of strangers and start talking to people. However, I think these people are in the minority and most people feel nervous at the start. If you can overcome your fears, you can be a great networker by being open, friendly and listening to what people say rather than focusing purely on your own company. People who just try to sell will fail at networking as they will not build the relationships and the trust required to make this work.

How important do you think social networking is for a small business?
Social networking has revolutionized marketing and communication and can be used to great effect by small businesses. It can allow you to create a high profile online for very small or no investment (apart from your time). When used correctly to build a brand, communicate with potential customers and drive traffic to your website it can be very powerful. However, nothing exists in a vacuum and in my opinion, social media and online networking should only be one part of your marketing strategy.

Networking is a low cost way of marketing your business, what other ways can a small business market themselves effectively and at a low cost?
There are lots of things you can do to market yourself on a budget which work really well together with networking. The first is to build yourself a brand which projects a great image of your company. Now this does need some investment to get it right, but once you have your name, logo, colour scheme and corporate identity in place marketing your company will become much easier. Now you have the brand, make sure you use it consistently to create a small package of marketing materials. I’d suggest as a minimum a business card, leaflet and website. If you have a company car or van or visit clients on a regular basis, definitely invest in branding the vehicles and getting branded t-shirts or uniforms for your staff. Branding like this is relatively inexpensive, but really works.

shawSecondly, you need to build yourself a database which logs all the company details of the people you meet, your clients and business contacts (making sure you’re complying with the data protection law of course). You can build these up slowly over time via networking and logging enquiries to any publicity you are undertaking. Make sure you get as much information as possible for each entry to give you options for email marketing, SMS marketing and Direct Mail. Once you have a database you can take advantage of email marketing, a very cost-effective way to communicate with your prospects. Consider producing a monthly or quarterly email newsletter, as regular email marketing strengthens brands, gains customer loyalty and encourages repeat purchasing.

Finally, organising small events is a great way to generate awareness, publicity and be able to communicate face to face with potential clients. Running informative seminars, charity fundraising events, or networking events can be central to a short and cost-effective promotion campaign. If you do it at your premises, make it simple and use PR to gain publicity, you can run these events very cheaply compared to the response you can achieve.

Why do you think that so many small businesses fail within the first three years?
Starting a business is tough and many people rush into it without the right planning, without an understanding of the rules and regulations and without the financial backing required. If you can start small and build up and make sure you have got the right information from the beginning you will be in a much better position to succeed.

I set up a marketing business in the midst of one of the world’s worst recession, but because I started without premises, was able to create my marketing materials myself and didn’t need staff, I could be patient and let the business grow through networking and survive on relatively few clients in the first year. If I can do it so can other women!

What for you, makes a successful entrepreneur?
I think you need to be creative, determined, optimistic, focused and have a lot of self-belief to be a successful entrepreneur. It also helps to have a great support network around you for when any of those elements fail you!

Do you think women make equally good entrepreneurs as men?
I do. Often we have more self-doubt than men, but this can help us be realistic and pick and choose our projects better. Of course, it is difficult to combine running your own business with having children, but with support and multi-tasking it is possible.

Do you think the Spanish system is sympathetic to entrepreneurs and small businesses? Would you like to see any changes?
Unfortunately, Spain is not an easy place to start a business, as Social Security payments are high and there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved with starting a business and trading. The government is trying to help businesses though, with excellent organizations such as CADE offering support for businesses in Andalucía. They can offer you advice, help with getting funding, set you up with investors or mentors and even offer free starter offices for 6 months in their buildings.

I think changes are necessary to modernise the system and make Spain prosper. I would like to see changes to the labour laws to make it easier to hire and fire people, as I believe this would make a massive difference to unemployment and also doing business. I would also like to see more flexibility to help businesses get started e.g. a percentage of your earnings rather than a flat fee for social security. This would make more people work legally.

What advice would you give to those thinking of becoming an entrepreneur or setting up their business?
Do your research into your idea and your market, speak to experts about the feasibility of your idea and make sure the numbers stack up. Start small and cautiously and build up slowly with networking, intelligent marketing and realistic pricing. Once you’re trading make sure you under-promise and over-deliver and your clients will be happy! There are opportunities in Spain for skilled people with good ideas, but being realistic is key.

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