Being All Things To All People Just Doesn’t Work “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”
Mark Twain

Mark Twain is right.  No business can succeed without a marketing strategy. As important as marketing is, however, a lot of money is spent on the wrong kind of advertising and marketing tactics. In order to create an effective marketing plan, you need to identify your target customers. Unless you can define who your ideal customers are, you’ll find it difficult to design an engaging marketing campaign.

This semester I’ve been teaching a graduate-level program at Saint Louis University on entrepreneurial growth strategies. My students just completed their mid-term assignment which involved an analysis of a real business. Their grade depended on their ability to create a growth plan for the company. The business I chose has numerous market opportunities — all very exciting and interesting.  However, the challenge is deciding which will get the business on the track to success the fastest and the most economically.

That’s the same challenge many small business owners face in the early stages of their business development. But the bottom line is:  You can’t be all things to all people.  No matter how broad you consider the appeal of your product or service, not everyone will be interested in it. That’s why it’s important to identify the appropriate niche for your business—your sweet spot.

Finding your sweet spot

So how do you define your sweet spot? Take a look overall at your industry.  How big is the market?  What are the current trends? Then whittle down those numbers to determine how much of that market you might be able to capture.  Your target market consists of the customers you believe are most likely to buy your particular product or service. For example, if your small business produces speciality pet products , your ideal customer may be someone who has a household income of $75,000 plus, with 1.5 children and two pets. Armed with this knowledge, you can more accurately choose ways in which to disseminate your marketing message.

Once you’ve defined your sweet spot, you can identify when and where your ideal customers get information about products and services like yours.  You can also determine who influences their buying decisions.  Do they listen to their friends on social media?  Do they rely on local review sites?  Do they read certain publications or visit specific websites?  You don’t have to cast a wide net to engage your customer base because you can pinpoint where they are.

5 resources to help with targeting

If you don’t know where to begin to narrow down specifics about your target market, check with your industry or trade association.  There are also good online resources.

  • Research companies such as Dun & Bradstreet, Standard & Poor’s Investor Services, and the Risk Management Association all publish directories and industry surveys.
  • FedStats ( is a website that provides statistics from more than 100 agencies.
  • The U.S. Department of Commerce ( provides demographic statistics on American families.
  • Your local Chamber of Commerce and economic development council may have helpful demographic information for a local region.
  • Small Business Development Centers are an excellent resource to assist you in defining your potential target market.

Don’t waste your time and money in the wrong places.  Identify your target customer and develop the right advertising/marketing campaign to make your small business a big business success.

What are you doing to accurately target customers and expand your market opportunities?

Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.