If you’re just starting a business venture, start now to plan how to reach your target demographic – the prospects most likely to purchase products or services from your new company.

As a start-up company, you can’t afford to make too many marketing mistakes. If you send out a direct mail piece and get a one-half of one percent response, was it worth the cost of designing and mailing that glossy sales piece to every home in your service area?

Only you can decide. However, you can avoid common marketing mistakes made by many small business owners (SBOs). Before you hire an ad agency, before you hire a marketing director, develop a marketing strategy that fits company objectives and, of course, your promotional budget.

Common marketing mistakes:

1. You’re trying to reach everybody. If your new business tries to be all things to all prospects, you may not be able to do any one thing well. Don’t try to meet the needs of every visitor to your store or website. Just the highly-qualified buyer with a need to buy and the money to make the purchase. Know the sweet spot of your target market. The prospects in that bull’s-eye want to hear from you.

2. Your business doesn’t have a website. Potential buyers today often use the Internet to find the make and model of a product, to conduct comparison shopping, to learn more about your service and product offerings – they want information, and they want it immediately. If you don’t have a website, the competition is going to eat your lunch. Even if you don’t know the difference between HTML and CSS, you can hire a site company to do the building for you or use one of the many available templates designed for do-it-yourselfers.

3. You don’t track sales results. How will you know what ads pull in traffic and which lay an egg? Marketing metrics aren’t always easy to measure, but there are tools you can use to determine how many visitors you get each day to your website, how many leave right away (the site’s bounce rate), page views, time on site. The more you know about the behaviors of site visitors, the better your company’s refinements. Example? If you see lots of abandoned shopping carts littering your company website, why did visitors start to make a purchase but stop? And how do you fix it so it doesn’t keep happening?

4. You don’t track competitor activity. If you own a car dealership, you want to track everything that happens on automobile row. When does the successful competitor down the street schedule sales? How do they advertise? If a competitor website has a search-by-preference module, your site should have one, too. Don’t let the competition get ahead of you.

5. You’re running a start-up in a crowded market. If you open a dog grooming business in a town that already has 10 dog grooming businesses, you’ll have a hard time attracting people who are used to frequenting your competition. Do your market research. Google the nature of your business with a zip code and address to see local website traffic. Those competing businesses have customer bases of their own, and trying to lure a happy, long-time customer away from a competitor is hard.

6. You outsource your marketing. A common mistake, but also an expensive mistake. The fact is, no marketer knows your target audience and the value of your products better than you do. You don’t have to be a copywriter or layout artist. Just get down the points you want to make and hand that outline off to a professional copywriter Do a rough sketch of each website page or advertising piece so the graphics team you hire can see what you have in mind.

7. You try to sell prospects, instead of helping them. Instead of tooting your own horn, focus on what potential customers want, and on how to help them get it. What problems are keeping them up at night? What can you do to help solve those problems? Offer solutions, and add value to their experience whenever possible.

8. You rely too much on technology. Technology is great, but not if it annoys prospects who want human interaction. Phone trees, chat modules, callbacks, smartphones for on-the-road employees – no doubt about it, technology improves productivity. But, it can also be a turn-off for prospects looking for your services. If I have to wait to speak to a customer rep, my call isn’t important to you, no matter how many times your recorded voice tells me how important my call is.

9. You design by committee. Chances are, Bob wants to do it one way, while Sylvia has a different take on developing a marketing strategy. If everyone around the conference table has a different idea, and you’re the one who chooses which strategy to follow, don’t be swayed by diverse views from your in-house team. In the end, as the SBO, it’s ultimately your decision.

10. You cut back during lean times. Often, marketing is the first budget item to get slashed when the economy turns soft. So you market less, offer fewer incentives, and decide you don’t need a marketing department. When there’s a downturn, don’t cut the marketing budget – add to it. It’s how you turn lean times into boom times. Pump up marketing efforts during slow times when you need to promote your business more than ever. If prospects don’t know about your big sale, they won’t be camping out in front of your store.