When it comes to marketing an online service, running several test paths simultaneously and being vigilant about analyzing results are the most important tactics small businesses can take to develop long term plans. WhenSMBs don't have access to market research, trying things out on a small scale serves as an initial sales effort while also building valuable research data used through the next testing cycles. Eventually patterns and customer profile will begin to emerge and an understanding of how to evolve marketing with changing times and cycles will take root.
Here are some pointers:
1) No matter the medium - telesales, email, key words, traditional media ads, etc. - it is important to test each one with varying ad copy, landing pages, pictures or layout to see which gets the highest amount of action. Understand that when first starting out, there is a fair amount of trial and error that goes into each one. This is costly in terms of time and effort but it is an investment. Pinpointing the target is key prior to spending money on any given approach to market entry.
2) Set a call to action. When first launching, the focus should be on proving the concept. Nobody is going to care about the brand unless its a service they want to use. Brand building develops over length of time + use of the service/product.
3) Set a goal or cut off point to know when to end a test. If its a time period on an ad, or a conversion rate reached - set something that triggers an analysis of the results. The key here is figuring out what works to avoid wasting money, time or effort on things that don't work. It is important to understand the limits of each effort.
4) Create a schedule so that while one campaign is running, work has already begun on the next. The key is to market consistently so there is never any dead air coming from the business.
5) Be methodical so that each test can be evaluated. Setup a tracking spread sheet with columns for "medium," "dates," and "performance." Measure performance based on the call to action or other metrics (unique visitors, etc.) for creating comparable data.
With planning, vigilance, metrics and a desire to keep trying new ideas - the marketing formula will come together and produce results.