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One of the biggest challenges facing new businesses is attracting attention. When you've got few customers and a non-existent reputation, it's difficult to capture the spotlight.

For small businesses, one of the biggest challenges is what to do and where to focus limited marketing resources. If they pick the wrong channels or spend too much on a particular marketing program, it can easily mean the difference between thriving and disappearing.

So what's a small business to do when trying to navigate the rocky shoals of marketing?

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Mike Garrity, a marketing veteran and CEO with CommunityLend, an online lending service, says the most important decision is to focus on a particular market segment where you believe customers will embrace – and purchase – your product or service. You need to take into account demographics, location and disposable incomes.

Then, he says, you need to determine where people within your target audience get their information (such as newspapers, search engines, Facebook, friends, or book clubs), and what kind of messages will resonate with them.

"I'm a big fan of small marketing pilots on a few fronts at the same time to see what your response looks like," he says. "Then rinse and repeat. My experience also says to stay away from agencies and the more expensive traditional media until you are really clear on the "who and what," or you are apt to spend too much unwisely too early."

CommunityLend, which is pioneering the online lending market in Canada, launched less than a month ago so the company is exploring a number of different marketing options to spread the word about the its services, as well as the concept of online lending.

So far, Mr. Garrity says there have been encouraging signs from some of the online campaigns running on search engines and relevant websites. CommunityLend is also keeping a close eye on Twitter, and it is quickly responding to anyone who mentions the company.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences .

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