For many smaller businesses, marketing can be a major headache. On one hand, it is needed to build customer awareness and boost sales but on the other, it can cost a lot of money – something that most small firms have only in short supply.

There are many business owners and managers who wrongly think that marketing is just another word for advertising and that anybody can do it. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, sound marketing is essential if a small business is going to succeed.

David Robertson, chief executive of Bibby Financial Services has devised the following top tips to help small
firms market their business successfully without it costing the Earth.

1. Go back to basics - think about what you actually want to achieve and define your objectives clearly. Make sure you target the right people in the right way to maximise results. It is imperative to focus on your
customers and really assess their needs in order to ensure that your product or service satisfies their requirements. 2. Get listed - consider placing your business in a directory, such as the Yellow Pages, local business directories such as the Chamber of Commerce or local web directories. It may seem obvious, but with a one-off payment each year you can target anyone who is directly looking for your products or services. Be clever about what you say about yourself, however. Look at existing listings to see what is effective and eye-catching. 3. DIY PR - PR is a great way of getting free publicity. Just because you can't afford a full service PR agency doesn't mean you have to avoid it altogether. Write your own press releases in the manner of a news story and
send it to your local papers and business magazines, whose contact details can often be found on their websites. 4. Be creative - creative services do not have to cost a fortune. Agencies that specialise in working with small businesses can be found in directories such as Yellow Pages and are often more flexible, as well as being cheaper, than larger agencies. In order to reduce the outlay even further, try sharing costs and creative ideas with other local firms you don't compete with who are in a similar situation. In addition, don't forget that many
publications will help you create the advert you place with them. Simply supply them with a logo and the wording you have drafted and they will often design it for you at no extra cost. 5. Improve your website - constructing a website can cost as little as a few hundred pounds but is a vital marketing tool. Customers now expect to see a website as much as they do a brochure, so if you don't have one, get one! However, a bad or out of date website is as bad as none at all, as it leaves your customers confused and frustrated. 6. Keep in touch - newsletters and emails are a very effective way of reminding your customers of your presence, as well as giving you the chance to promote new products or impart news about the company. However, be aware of recent changes to 'spamming' laws and only contact those by email who have specifically given you permission.

7. Encourage word of mouth – offer your existing customers incentives to recommend you to others. Send out a referral form with each delivery or invoice, making it as easy as possible for your customers to do so. Including testimonials from existing customers on your website and business literature will also improve the way new customers view you.

8. Try something new - the Internet is a fantastic resource for marketing, but due to its size you have to make your business stand out. Try using a pay-per-click service on a search engine. Each click can cost as little as a few pence, but targets those looking specifically for what you have to offer, making a negligible cost really worthwhile.

9. Show off – Trade exhibitions not only provide an ideal place to meet your customers and potential clients face to face, but you can also check out the competition. Looking at what works and what doesn't for others can help you avoid making expensive mistakes yourself. 10. Learn from your past – try to analyse which marketing tools were effective and which were unsuccessful and ask yourself why, in order to refine and improve next year's marketing strategy.

David Robertson adds: “With an increasing number of marketing mediums available, from traditional direct mail and telemarketing to online presence, creating a comprehensive but cost-effective strategy can be difficult. However, marketing is vital for companies wanting to boost their brand profile and improve their market position. The opportunity to reassess and re-evaluate the basic objectives of a company's marketing should not be ignored, as complacency will only result in lost business. You don't have to spend a fortune, but it could cost your business far more by avoiding marketing altogether.”