Marketing for SMEs

When asked about the top three challenges experienced when starting their businesses, 32% of SME owners identified marketing challenges as something they had to overcome. To get some expert tips on how to harness the power of marketing to support growth we spoke to Alasdair Inglis, founder and MD of Grow. Alasdair has worked 1-1 with over 150 fast growth businesses and taught marketing workshops to over 3,500 entrepreneurs.

Conferences and trade shows, are they worth it?

There’s some debate around whether digital marketing has made trade shows obsolete. But businesses large and small, still spend a lot of time, effort and money running and attending them. We asked Alasdair how business owners can extract value from trade shows.

You first have to decide whether trade shows will work for you – there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer so the type of business you run is important. “There are a couple of important things to consider when making a decision about whether to attend conferences and trade shows” Alasdair advises, “trade shows are beneficial, particularly if you own a business that’s expanding or exporting internationally, because you get buys and contacts from all over the world.”

But Alasdair urges SME owners to remember the costs. “Trade shows are also expensive. Staff have to man your stand, travel and possibly stay in hotels. Attending a show is quite an investment,” His advice for getting the value: “You’ve got to maximise.”

So you’ve decided to go the trade show route, but just how do you go about making the most of the opportunity? “You’re going to have a lot of competition so make your stand look professional. Even though you may be starting off small remember that if you gain one long-term client from your visit, you’ve made your money back.”

Presenting yourself well is important, but think about how your company can go the extra mile to bring attention to your brand. “Make yourself stand out; see if you can differentiate yourself. Have something like a particular offer on the stall for that day or give away gifts for business cards.”

So, you’ve arrived, your stand looks fantastic and you’re having some great conversations. You’re doing well but there’s one more thing to remember, the need to follow up after the show. “Get customer contact details. You’re not looking to turn up to beg for sales. Think about giving your prospects something useful in exchange for their information, such a report or free trial.” Alasdair’s key takeaway, “always follow up on good conversations.”

Making the most of your event

Like attending a trade show, running an event can also bring great rewards, but there’s a cost involved and “from a marketing standpoint, it’s easy to waste time and money”. Alasdair gave us the following quick tips for running a successful event – one that will bring the right kind of connections and support your plans for growth.

  1. Make sure your marketing collateral is decent.
  2. Negotiate rates. You’ll often hear sales staff saying that a given event is sold out but you may well be able to get a better deal closer to the time.
  3. People can take a while to warm up, but get them talking and they often won’t stop. Use ice breakers. Get people talking at your event and you’ve got a successful event on your hands.
  4. Have an offer available on the night – a limited number of things you can give away. Expose people to your brand and your product or service.
  5. If you’re presenting, keep your slides light on words. Use images and videos to engage your audience.

Getting the most out of networking

Tips for getting the most out of your networking:

  1. There’s value in the basics. Make eye contact, smile and speak with confidence.
  2. Be sure to listen to your potential customers or business connections. Finding out what they need is the perfect way to know how you can add value with your product or service.
  3. You’ll be surprised how much you know about your company, but some preparation on the key selling points of your product or service will make you feel much calmer on the day.
  4. Make it easy to exchange contact information. Have business cards ready and follow up good conversations with an email to keep the connection alive.

In addition to our basic tips, Alasdair added some interesting insights into how the power of networking can be harnessed to develop your product. “Particularly for early stage businesses, it’s important for instant feedback on your product or service and seeing how your audience responds.” You can start to identify what your customers find exciting about your product from your networking conversations. You then know which elements of your product and pitch to develop based on the reactions of your customers and contacts.

He also had some important thoughts on the part reciprocity plays in expanding your business through networking. “You may not be talking to a customer, but represent yourself well and the person you’re talking to may know someone who’ll be able to help you reach your business goals.”

Think about the ways you can help other people advance in their business. It’s an excellent way to forge strong connections. “Don’t be a business card ‘shover’, get opinions from experts in areas of business you really need help with at the moment. Can you solve someone else’s problems? There’s definitely long term pay back from thinking of the bigger picture.”

Finally, make sure you follow up. “Simply following up on interest is something that can set you apart from the majority. You’d be surprised the amount of people that have great conversations and don’t bother to follow up.”


If you don’t consider yourself an artist, when it comes to the task of producing creative work, it’s easy to think you don’t have anything to contribute. But the creative process is just that – a process. Whether you’re making your own adverts or employing a person or company to do it for you, following a process is necessary.

This is where you can take ownership of your company’s advertising. Strategy is an essential way to reach good ideas.

With a simple survey, your customers will tell you what makes your product or service worthwhile to them. You also know your product, service and company best. Your copywriter or agency would love to know your product as well as you do. And you know what impression you want to leave with your audience after they see your advert. If you’re paying to have advertising materials made for you, give your creatives as much information as you can.

In fact, when it comes to paying for your business to be seen, Alasdair points to the power of digital marketing and advertising. Because ROI is essential when you have limited funds, things like pay per click advertising and social media marketing make your company visible to interested people.

>Back to top