What does “marketing” really mean for a small business? For you, it might include events, public relations, trade shows or advertising. But for other small businesses, it might mean different things, like electronic newsletters, packaging, postcards — and even the hats, uniforms or name tags that employees wear.

In fact, think of marketing not as a single action but rather a combination of steps your business takes to identify, attract and retain profitable customers. As such, marketing is of vital importance to your business, so you want to make sure to do it right. And that means preparing yourself properly before you spend money on marketing.

 L-A SCORE counselor Charlene Belanger, former marketing specialist with a Maine television station, advises that, “If you play a sport, you already know that preparation is vital for success. Ditto for marketing your business. You must be able to identify clearly what sets you apart from the competition. Without this knowledge, you can’t market yourself properly.”

Belanger adds, “Before you proceed, verify the accuracy of marketing information. To prepare yourself for marketing, make a detailed profile of your ideal prospect. As you create your marketing message, aim it at the prospects and list the benefits they will receive. Be certain your message highlights the special knowledge and expertise you offer.”

Look for ways to make the buying process easier for your customers. What roadblocks can you remove? Simplify everything; eliminate potential interruptions in the sales process and make decision making as painless as possible for your customers.

Further advice from Belanger is, “Put your marketing budget in proper perspective. You might, for example, think of marketing as your ace-in-the-hole rather than merely a cost. Try to set a budget and a pace that lets you market continuously. Customers’ memories are short, and they are bombarded with thousands of messages and images daily. Your effort must be ongoing or people will quickly forget.”

Match your marketing to your primary market. If it is a local market, then that is where your focus should be. Consider whether a broadly focused effort, as in regional media outlets, might or might not be as effective as that provided in a neighborhood-by-neighborhood campaign.

A good place to find marketing help, in addition to local and area media sources, is www.score.org and also www.allbusiness.com. These sites, as well as others, offer authoritative information on all marketing topics from advertising, Internet marketing and research, to strategy, public relations and items specific to small business.

To learn more about starting and improving your small business, contact SCORE, a nonprofit organization of more than 10,500 volunteer business counselors who provide free, confidential counseling and low-cost training workshops. In the Lewiston-Auburn area, call L-A SCORE at 782-3708 for additional information and an appointment; in Rumford-Mexico call 364-3123; in Oxford Hills call 743-0499. Or contact SCORE at www.SCOREMaine.org.