Evaluating your first year in business, and how well your marketing efforts did, can help you create an effective marketing plan that sets the stage for success in the years to come.
Assessing what you’ve accomplished
Ask these questions to check your progress and stay ahead of the curve.
1. What did you get right and wrong last year?
Some of your first-year marketing initiatives worked, and some didn’t. Find answers to the following:
- Based on your measure of success (increased sales, greater brand awareness, etc.), which initiatives delivered? Which didn’t?
- Who were your best customers last year?
- Where did the majority of your sales come from?
- Which business segments were you able to grow and which remained untapped?
- Of the untouched opportunities, why were they left on the table?
2. Were you leading or following the competition?
In the first year of business, your marketing efforts were largely focused on building your own brand and business. You were aware of what your competitors were doing, but you probably didn’t have the time or resources to focus on that aspect of marketing. Now is the time to look back and see how you did in comparison to the competition.
- Did your industry undergo changes last year that prompted your competitors to market differently?
- Can you do better than they did?
- Do you have the opportunity to grab attention from your competitors?
Now that you’ve established yourself, start thinking about breaking away from the crowd.
3. Did you maximize communication and marketing channels?
To make it through your first year, you almost certainly employed some of the top marketing channels, such as email and your website.
- Did you make optimum use of those channels?
- Were there others that you wanted to try but lacked the resources to do so?
- Can you afford to explore new channels?
Remember, trying new things can lead to growth. It’s important to do your homework before trying something new, however, and make sure you’re entering channels that will allow you to communicate effectively with your top prospects.
4. Is your brand identity well established?
During your first year, you were defining your brand identity — through logos, color selection, slogans, collateral materials, your website and more.
- Is your brand identity well established in your target markets? If not, why?
- What did you do that didn’t work, or what did you not do enough of?
- Were there branding initiatives you wanted to try but didn’t have the resources for?
Your second year may be the time to try new things as you continue to build your brand identity.
5. Is your website up-to-date and impressive?
Once you’ve established your business’s website, keep it looking professional by updating its content and its look.
- How well did you do this past year at keeping yours up-to-date?
- At the end of the year, is your home page still displaying grand opening information? Or, is it showing your most current offerings?
- Are important pages still under construction?
- Is your last blog post from the spring?
If your website has fallen behind, update it immediately and resolve to do a better job of keeping it that way in your second year of business.
6. Is your business listed on all of the online directories?
After a year in business, chances are your company name appears in a range of online listings, but unless you fleshed those listings out, they’re nothing more than a name.
- Are you listed everywhere you want to be?
- Do your listings include addresses and phone numbers?
- Are any listings incomplete or out-of-date?
If your business isn’t listed in a key directory, take steps to create the listing. Most of the top places to be listed don’t charge for a basic listing. You might find some are even worth paying for to get an expanded listing.
Marketing steps to consider now
Now that you’ve assessed your marketing performance in your first year, it’s time to use your knowledge to revise your strategic marketing plan for the next few years. You’ll want to include all the things that worked for you in the first year and expand your initiatives to include some that can benefit your business as it continues to become more established. Consider these ideas for second and third-year businesses:
Create a charitable partnership
During your first year of business, your budget was likely tight. Were you able to give as much to charity as you’d like? As your business grows, consider creating a partnership with a local charity. Aligning your small business with a charity is not only an ethical thing to do, but it can be a smart business move, too. People are generous by nature, and they want to do business with companies that give back to the community. Your focused, committed and visible support of a charitable organization communicates to customers and your employees that you care about your community.
Begin event marketing
Unless your business is a retail or food service operation and you held a grand opening, you probably did little to nothing in the way of event marketing during your first year in business. As your company becomes more established and expands its customer base, event marketing can be a great way to thank existing customers and generate interest among potential new ones. You may engage in event marketing in connection to your charitable efforts, participate in a trade show or stage an entirely independent event.
Launch a loyalty rewards program
Big companies spend millions of dollars and invest a lot of money in researching and creating loyalty programs. In many ways, the process is much easier for small businesses that tend to know their customers on a personal level. Yet the value you reap from a small business loyalty program can be every bit as significant as the benefit larger companies draw from theirs.
A study by COLLOQUY found that 3.8 billion Americans belong to loyalty programs in 2017. What’s more, seventy percent of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand with a good loyalty program.
Wrapping up the wrap-up
During the first year of business, most startups are too busy struggling to survive to consider a more nuanced marketing approach. You covered the basics and did them effectively, and hopefully you earned the resources and time to allow greater creativity in the years to come.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2015. It has been thoroughly revised for accuracy and relevance.