Seven marketing tips for start ups

Attending the BETT Show last week got me thinking – as a small start up, how do you cut through the noise and get noticed? Here are seven suggestions.

Last week I spent a day at the excellent BETT Show in London, one of the biggest education technology trade shows in Europe.

While the exhibition hall was dominated by the big edtech companies – Microsoft, Capita, Smart Board, Lego (yes, really) – what interested me most were the 100-plus start up companies attending. Many were founded by teachers (ex- and current) whose inventions were often born by turning frustrations into opportunities.

It got me thinking: as a small start up business in a crowded market, how do you stand out and get the attention of your target audience? Here are seven ideas I jotted down on the way home.

Offer a referral incentive. Recommendation and word of mouth are important in any industry, and teachers and school leaders especially seem to depend on colleague feedback. Why not offer current customers an incentive to recommend your product? For every new customer they send your way, your cliennt gets 10% off their next order, or a free upgrade, for example. If they value what you do, they should be happy to help spread the word.

Give a free trial in exchange for testimonials. Testimonials on your website and in your promotional material lend credibility. When starting out, it’s worth asking teachers and schools you know to try your product for service for free in exchange for an honest review. If it’s positive, you can use it to promote your product or service. If it’s not as glowing as you hoped, it’s valuable feedback on how to improve your offering.

Utilise influencers, especially on Twitter. Getting the word out can be a challenge in a crowded marketplace. Of all the social media channels, school leaders seem to be most active on Twitter. If you’re targeting a different industry, LinkedIn or Facebook may be where your audience spends the most time. Regardless of the channel, once you set up an account for your business, research who are the influencers in your field, follow them and join the conversation. If what you say and do resonates, they should help spread the word to their followers.

Enter award competitions. Awards build credibility and provide exposure. The BETT Awards for education is an obvious one, but there are many others. Even if you don’t win, the awards dinner and ceremony can be a good place to mingle and make new contacts.

Seek out opportunities to exhibit at education conferences. It can be hard to get heads’ and business managers’ attention when they’re in school. They’re likely to be out dealing with a million and one issues, rather than sitting in an office. Conference exhibitions give you a chance to talk to school leaders when they are less distracted and more receptive. One caveat: To make the most of your exhibition investment, make sure you have in place a marketing plan that makes the most of opportunities leading up to, during, and after the event.

Make sure your branding looks the part, including your website, logo and business cards. Your visual branding says a lot about your company. When done well, it reassures potential customers that you are professional, credible and dependable. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but it’s worth finding a graphic designer who will take the time to understand your business, your audience, and what you want to achieve. I know several who have experience in the sector.

Have a marketing plan and review progress regularly. The risk of not having a marketing plan is that you end up spending time on marketing activity you enjoy or that is most comfortable, but isn’t necessarily the most effective. It’s worth enlisting the support a professional marketing consultant who understands the education market and can help you put in place an objective, realistic, and achievable marketing plan that delivers results.

If you’d like to find out how we can work together to create and deliver a marketing plan for you that will increase revenue, please email me. I’d love to find out more about your business and chat about your ambitions.

Creating an effective marketing strategy Part 1

Nearly all not-for-profit organisations need to undertake some degree of marketing activity to achieve their goals. Creating an effective marketing strategy helps to ensure that this activity is targeted, effective and value for money.

First, let’s look at the difference between a marketing strategy and a communications strategy, as both are important.

In business terms, a marketing strategy is about promoting and selling products or services. It includes the full marketing mix, including deciding where to sell (in person or online) and to whom (targeting by socio-economic group or geographical area).

A communications strategy focuses on getting the right information and messages to engage important groups of people, including current and potential customers and other stakeholders. Its aim is often raising awareness and building a positive reputation. 

Many organisations (especially not-for-profits, including schools) adopt a hybrid of the two – a marketing communications (or marcomms) strategy; the communications activity needed to effectively promote your product or service to your target market.

Preparing to Write Your Strategy

Before writing your strategy, take some time to analyse your starting point – what you have done previously and the external factors that may impact on what you decide to do. You don’t need to spend hours on your analysis, but a basic understanding of your starting point will help you to write a more effective strategy.

Existing materials

A good place to start is reviewing your existing marketing material, including your website, social media channels, prospectus, newsletters, staff recruitment materials, your logo and even the signage and banners outside your building. This is the face you are presenting to the world.

Do the materials have a common visual theme, linked through colours, photos and the tone of language? This help create a strong identity. Do they look professional? This instils confidence in the organisation and its leaders. Do they reflect your ethos and mission?

Past activity

Then note down the activities you have carried out in the past 12 to 24 months. How do your target audiences find out about you? How do you communicate with them? This might include supporters, customers, stakeholders, staff, the community, volunteers, service users, pupils and parents.

Do a quick assessment of what activities or communication channels worked well and which didn’t. Are there activities you should do more of? Or less? If the honest answer is that you don’t know, consider what metrics or feedback you could have used to judge effectiveness. You can feed these into your new strategy.

Competitor analysis

Next, have a quick look at what other similar organisations are doing to promote themselves. Do they advertise? Where? How does their website or prospectus compare to yours? What image are they using? How are they working with other providers – or feeder schools?

You shouldn’t start doing something just because others are – there’s no guarantee it works for them – but an understanding their approach should inform your own.    

SWOT analysis

Most leaders will have used a SWOT analysis at some point – outlining strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats. For informing your marketing communication strategy, you don’t need huge amounts of detail; it should act as a reminder of those factors that may have a bearing on your recruitment.

Your marketing communications strategy should then capitalise on the strengths and opportunities and minimise the threats and risks.

What makes you different

Whether your aim is to improve staff or student recruitment or increase fundraising, you will need to give people a reason to choose you.

Businesses talk about their ‘unique selling point’ (USP), what makes them different from their competitors. This is true for not-for-profits and schools as well – there will be elements that set you apart. It might be your ethos, the range of opportunities or services you offer, or the partnerships you have access to.

Be clear about those elements that, combined, make you different, and make this the focus of your marketing messages. It will help you to stand out and give people a reason to choose you. 


Finally, determine how much budget and staff time you have to put towards your marketing activity. You will need to make some commitment of both money and time, but be realistic in what you can do.

There is no point putting together a wildly ambitious marketing communications strategy if you don’t have the resource to make it happen. It is better to focus on a few key things and do them well, than to embark on lots of activity that either falls by the wayside or doesn’t have a positive impact.

If budgets are tight and you don’t have someone with marketing expertise on your staff, investing in a few hours’ time from an external marketing and communications consultant to develop your marcomms strategy can be an effective use of resources in the long run.


We’ll be at Small Business Derby at Derby Town Hall on December 2nd between 10am – 5pm for talks, workshops, exclusive discounts, networking and more! SmithGadzik helps organisations achieve better results through highly effective communications and marketing. @smallbizderby #derby