By Petra Cook, Chartered Management Institute
"I live in a country that lacks most of the infrastructure to run a successful business. I run a small home business and I'd like to know how best I can market my business to a global market on a shoestring budget."
-- Ademola, Lagos, Nigeria
In a world dominated by corporate giants it can be extremely difficult for small businesses to compete, particularly if the infrastructure in your country is weak.
However, there are many advantages to running your own business and if you can get your strategy right, it's possible to be successful.
Working from home allows you to save on costs by eliminating the overhead of separate premises. It allows you to have more flexibility in your working hours, and greater control over your working environment.
It is important that you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your business, so that you can look for opportunities to build on, and also overcome any potential threats.
Doing so will help you market the business effectively by targeting the correct people and conveying the right messages about you, your products and your services.
Such a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis might help you begin this process and should focus on several factors.
For example, identify your unique selling point (USP) and make it the main point differentiating your offering from that of your competitors.
Ask yourself whether your offer is in a growth sector, whether future demand will increase, remain stable or decrease and about the nature of the competition -- what do your competitors supply?
Think in terms of the specialist skills, knowledge and capability that you have, or what you could do to challenge the existing market leaders. Can you offer an obviously superior service or product for the same or slightly more money?
It is now relatively cost effective to develop a Web site to promote your company this can be an effective way of raising your profile and publicising your services.
It doesn't have to be a complicated or expensive process but since much business is now generated via the Internet it is a channel that should not be ignored.
It might also be helpful to strike up a partnership with a larger business, perhaps enabling you to use a desk in their offices once a week. By creating a symbiotic relationship with another business, you may then have access to more resources while they may benefit from your expertise.
If you have the opportunity, perhaps you could also attend local events, as they can prove valuable for networking and developing contacts.
If possible, try talking to others working in your field to find out how they make the most of the infrastructure. By asking about their marketing strategies you may learn new ways of implementing yours.
Find out as much as you can about your customers as possible as this will put you in a stronger position to respond to their needs and compete.
A small business will always have bigger competitors but this doesn't mean you can't compete successfully. Create your own niche market by being able to offer a tailored service or unique product that exactly meets your customers' needs.
Your size potentially gives you much more flexibility to be responsive to your customers since you can build strong, personal relationships and spend more time working with them.
Most importantly, base your marketing decisions on accurate information about your costs, keep a careful eye on your product mix and stick to your business plan.
This way you stand a good chance of success. Try not to fall into the trap of attempting to compete on price alone and remember that, while profit requires sales, sales don't necessarily equal profit.
-- The Chartered Management Institute shapes and supports the managers of tomorrow, helping them deliver results in a dynamic world. With 74,000 individual members and 500 corporate members, the Institute helps set and raise standards in management, encouraging development to improve performance.