Marketing is often a huge challenge for small business owners because of time, budget, and knowledge constraints. To make matters worse, marketing is essential to grow your business and keep customers coming. Here is a list of small business marketing mistakes and some ideas of how to fix them. For this article, I have done research online, drawn from my own experience, and talked with some small business owners who are unsure about how to proceed with marketing activities.
Some issues small businesses have with websites is that they do not see a need for them. “It won’t get traffic” or “I don’t have time to maintain it” or “I am not a web based business.” I doubt your business is paper based but I am sure you have a couple of hundred business cards sitting in a box somewhere. A website is like a super duper business card and is most effective when sitting around, kind of.
Ten or twenty years ago, a business could do fine without having a website. A local brick-and-mortar shop could advertise locally and build relationships with their customers to gain exposure through word of mouth. But that was before smart phones and free Wi-Fi. Now, people use the Internet to search for solutions even if they are looking locally.
A website gives your business an image of authenticity. Think of a website as a forward facing marketer for your company as well as a communication tool. An effective website is used to sell your business as well as keeping in touch with your customers .
A website can save you time. Think about all the questions you are routinely asked by potential and existing customers. By addressing these common concerns on your site, not only do you help potential customers make an informed decision, you also save time that would be spent answering the same question over and over again.
It is relatively easy to get a website running nowadays with Wordpress and website builders like Squarespace. You can get a modern and basic website up and running in a few hours. If you deal in crafts and handmade products, websites such as Etsy will allow you to have a page for your business and this works for some.
There are benefits and drawbacks to all platforms. For example, with Wordpress you will have much more control but you might need to hire someone to help you. Alternatively, you can invest a lot of time into learning CSS and HTML. Website builders simplify this process but also give you less control.
There is no reason your business shouldn’t have a website.
No Tracking or Reporting
So your business has a website and maybe you are already advertising and marketing and seeing some results. I mean, you get weekly emails and phone calls from potential customers so it has to be working, right? Maybe.
Even if you are doing everything right, it is still important to know what actions had what effect. By not tracking your marketing efforts you can’t see what works, what doesn’t, and what may work with some tweaking. Irregardless of what type of business you run, tracking actions is essential.
For websites and online advertising, the cheapest and fastest way is to hook your site into Google Analytics and Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools). This will give you data on your visitors and with some time investment, you can even measure what actions they took on your site.
There are more advanced options out there for complex tracking. Some of these tools display it in an easier to digest way as well. Google Analytics is free and is what a lot of other website tracking tools base their information on.
If you mainly work with offline sources of advertising, you need to track in different ways. To see where people find your business, use referral codes, cut out coupons and the like. Give a small discount to encourage the customer to bring in the coupon. A slight discount is more than worth it for both a new customer and the data.
Tracking is important because what does not get measured can't be improved. We have seen clients who had taken months of their time to do some direct marketing. They were convinced that their actions were growing their company's revenue. When we got on board and set up tracking, they found out that the results were much lower than expected. The marketing actions from the past month were actually losing the company money.
Without proper tracking, you don't know if you are doing a good job and you don't know where to improve. At Growth Labs, it is one of the first things we set up when we take on a new client. Without it, almost nothing we do will matter.
Resources: Learn how to set up Google Analytics for a Wordpress site.
Selling an Unproven Product
You have a great idea! Maybe it is something that has never been done before. Maybe it is about adopting a business you saw to another demographic or country. Maybe you want to try to monetize your expensive hobby. Whatever it is, before you start printing business cards and telling your family that you are now an entrepreneur, there are two things you need to assess.
- Do people want this product?
- Do people want to pay for this product?
The thing here is that just because you think it is a great idea doesn’t mean other people think it is a great idea. Secondly, even if other people think it is a great idea doesn’t mean they want to pay for that idea.
Figuring this out can take time but can be worth it. One best practice is to first build an audience, and online this is done by producing content. Once you have built an audience (which isn’t easy) you can use them to get information about what problems they have and how important a solution is to them. With this information, you can tweak or create a product or service to fit their needs. You should also have an idea of how much it is worth to them. At the beginning, don't be afraid to try some different price points to see where the sweet spot is.
The hardest part of this is stepping back. Take an honest look at your company and evaluate it. All the best marketing can't sell a product that no one wants. This might have been true in the past, but today we got a little thing we call the Internet. There is a ton of information that is easily accessed. Whatever your marketing says, people will know if it is a good product or not.
And if it's not a good product, there is no reason they need to buy it.
Action vs. Productivity
Doing something doesn’t always mean you are accomplishing something. It’s like when you are putting off an arduous task by doing menial things like taking out the garbage. It feels productive, but that big thing you need to do is still nowhere near getting done.
In small businesses marketing, this manifests in doing something without ever considering the purpose or benefit. The end result is generally feeling productive while achieving questionable results. To solve this, you need to start setting better goals. They should be SMART.
SMART goals are - specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. An example of a SMART goal would be:
To get 100 visitors from Facebook by posting Facebook posts that encourage people to visit our site for more information. These posts will highlight problems that our company can solve. Visitors will be required to go to our site to find the solution (Specific). We will measure traffic with Google Analytics tracking cookies (Measurable). Based on our 20 visits a week, we think we can get to 25 with some work (Attainable). We get a lot of traffic to our company’s Facebook page but people rarely visit our site where we sell our goods (Relevant). We plan to achieve this in 3 weeks starting on Monday (Time-based).
This goal is clear, measurable, based in reality, and specific. In 3 weeks, anyone looking at this goal will be able to see what was done and how effective it was. From this, we can adequately measure if the tactic worked or not.
SMART goals should also be achievable, so they do not discourage you from meeting your targets. We all want our business to grow but saying things like, "I want 20 more customers by the end of next week" isn't always good. There is a lot of pressure to succeed so we tend to set goals which are not attainable but are seen as pro-active. If you don't deliver 200% more than last month, you aren't working as much. These attitudes are detrimental to employees and the managers that set them. SMART goals also help keep this in check.
Be more mindful about how you spend your time and money marketing your business. Don’t rely on gut feeling or things that worked in the past but might not get the same results now. Try making decisions only after evaluating the data you have gathered and base your decisions off of that, no matter how painful it might be.
It can be difficult to take a step back and be logical about something you are so close to, but it can save you a lot of time and money down the road.
Not Targeting a Market
I was talking to a friend earlier this year. She wanted to start a photography business and I asked her who she wanted to sell photographs to. “Everyone, I guess”, she said.
Most products and services are not for everyone, and those that are - are boring (think toilet paper). The Internet has brought people from all over the world into the same mall space. This means more competing stores, but it also means much more people. Traditional advertising was about convincing people they needed a product. That doesn’t work as well anymore. People are more informed (thanks Internet!) and have become pickier.
Marketing has shifted towards finding people that have a problem you can solve. And then getting their attention. Market directly to them. Throwing your name and ads out there might get you a lot of visitors, but if none of them purchase your product or service, they might as well not exist as far as the bottom line is concerned.
Look carefully at your product and think about who needs it. Find people who are looking for answers that you have. Sites such as Quora, Reddit, HackerNews, and StackOverflow are good places to start depending on the nature of your business but there are many others. See what people are looking for, where they hang out, and go there.
A fundamental part of any marketing strategy, whether online or not, is developing your personas. These are customer profiles that give you a guide on what kind of people to target, how to target them, and where to reach them. You can't please everybody and you shouldn't try to.
Targeting the Wrong Market
What happens when you have worked hard on developing personas and then you find out that none of them respond to your marketing efforts? The pain is real. You have spent time collecting information, brainstorming, thinking, assessing and reassessing and then finally started targeting groups of people you were sure would respond.
Sometimes we target the people who we want to like the product, not the ones that actually do. When developing personas it is important to look at existing and past customers to get a thorough understanding of who likes your business and who doesn’t. Sometimes targeting the wrong market is worse than targeting no market, as you are putting in more time and effort without any return.
Why is this happening? There are three broad possibilities. You are either:
- targeting too broad market and no one is responding
- targeting people who are not interested
- targeting people who are interested but can't afford it
If you are targeting too broad a market, stop targeting poor performing personas in your marketing strategy. Even with thorough research you can get misled about a persona. It happens, don't stress about it. Just remember to exclude targeting them in your future marketing campaigns. Going forward, focus on those that do perform.
Sometimes our passion gets in the way of our product or service. This happens because we want to share what we do with the people we think need it the most. Think fitness instructors who target inactive people and travel companies targeting people without passports. We do this because we feel strongly that our service will bring a lot of value to these people. And it might, but none of them are interested in what we have to offer.
Instead, target people who you know would be interested in your service. A fitness instructor should target people who are interested in fitness. A travel company should target people who are interested in travel. Your product or service should target people who already are interested in what you have to offer.
But make sure they can pay for it. A lot of people would love to become super healthy or travel to the Caribbean for 4 weeks but that doesn't mean they can afford it. It can be a matter of time or money, or both! Not only do you need to go after people who would like what you offer, they also have to be able to afford it. Some companies will lower their prices to accommodate their target personas. This can be dangerous as it puts your company at a financial risk.
Focusing on New Customers Instead of Old Ones
As a small business, it is easy to feel that you need to have a constant stream of new leads in your funnel. You want to see those numbers go up, whether it is trial downloads or Facebook likes or what have you. The more people who seem interested in your product the better, right?
Unless you are striving for quick growth and scale, it is better to focus on your existing client base. Ever wonder why some companies are so quick to appease customers when they have complaints? Because it is proven that losing an existing customer is more expensive than acquiring a new one.
What we are talking about here is the lifetime value of a customer. Simply put, the idea is that a customer who is happy keeps coming back to your business. Over time, that one satisfied customer will spend more time and money at your business. The overall amount of that is the customer's lifetime value.
A new customer's lifetime value is low in contrast to a loyal customer. If you spend more time and money on acquiring new customers, you are reducing their lifetime value. Stop focusing only on acquisition, and think of some ways you can delight your customers and have them return.
There are many strategies for this, including:
- Provide content that you know your customers will love on your website
- Create additional or peripheral products or services that allow customers to stay engaged
- Provide amazing customer service and make your customers feel cared for
- For software, provide massive updates that includes features your customers requested and that they absolutely need
In addition to coming back to you, a happy, loyal customer is also more likely to spread the word. And even today, word of mouth is still the most powerful type of marketing.
As you market your business, do not forget about the following you already have. A business is not a business without loyal customers. They can be the strongest voice for your company and they deserve your attention.
Resource: Which is better? New Customers or Repeat Business? on Businessknowhow.com goes further in-depth on why focusing on old customers and getting new ones is the best way to go.
Not Following Up on Leads
People who have shown interest in you (usually by giving you their contact information) but have not yet decided to buy are called leads. Typically, when you go to a website for a company and want to access some information or a free trial version, you have to input your email address. Congratulations, you have now become a lead!
Leads are kind of a big deal in marketing because they show who is interested and more importantly, have opened themselves up to communication. Collecting leads is often an important metric in any marketing strategy. However, they don’t mean much unless you do something with them. Left unattended, a few will migrate to become customers but we can do better than that. We can help them make the correct purchasing decision and lead them gently towards the check-out page.
A quick and simple way is to set up some automated emails that trigger whenever a new lead comes in. There are a lot of theories about how to structure your workflows and how to nurture your leads but generally you want to give them value. What that means also depends on your target personas. What do they like that is relevant to your business? How can you gently guide them to purchase?
A simple way of looking at it is like this:
- First: Provide a solution to their problem
- Second: Show your expertise and build trust
- Third: Differentiate your company and tell them why they should choose you.
You want to spend this time qualifying them by finding out if they are a good fit for you. So if you lose leads along the way don’t fret. You want the people who are best for your business. Look at this like weeding out the riff-raff.
If your business doesn’t get many new leads on a daily basis, an automated system may not be feasible. Make time to follow up with them with a personal email or a phone call. Ask them questions to learn what their problem is and what solutions you can offer. Use this time to also find out more about them and what kind of person they are. Do they fit one of your target persona’s?
Building a relationship and leading them towards being customers will give you two things. Better returns on marketing and direct feedback on your comprehensive marketing strategy. Finally, it helps you find the people who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer.
Resource: Check out 16 Kick-ass Marketing Tools for ideas on how to automate part of this process and make it easier on you to keep in touch with leads.
Delegating Marketing Without Understanding
We are only on number eleven and small business marketing already sounds difficult to do right. Time to hire an agency!
Kind of. In a business/agency relationship, there has to be trust, understanding, and communication. When hiring a marketing agency, you need a basic level of knowledge. A small business owner can not achieve those three without understanding how marketing works.
Hiring an agency is not a do and forget kind of thing. They are not going to do their best work without your support. Reversely, you will not understand your company and market without theirs. Your experience and knowledge will lead them to do better work and their knowledge will help you determine your company's future. However, you can not achieve trust and communication if you do not know what they are talking about. And if you don't trust them, they can't give you results. It is crucial that you understand how your company’s marketing strategy works. The more you know about marketing, the better decisions you will make together.
When a small business owner hasn’t brushed up on marketing, generally two things happen:
- They let the marketing agency do their thing and give them little or no input and support. Usually this comes about when the business owner isn't interested in marketing but feels that it is "something they need to do". A year later, the business owner feels cheated when numbers haven’t improved. And they won’t if you don’t work with your marketing team.
- The business owner will agree on a marketing strategy and then later deny or postpone the support it needs. This can be because they don’t see the value, or it is too difficult for them to do, or they don’t have time. What happens then is that the marketing agency is only able to execute part of the plan and get part of the results.
In either case, hiring a marketing agency will most likely result in a loss. They work with their wings clipped and have no idea how you run your business. You need trust that they can do the job, understanding so you can help them and oversee what they are trying to do. Only then can you communicate with them effectively.
Sometimes marketing agencies are to blame as well. Not all of them work well with clients. If you haven't taken an active part in the marketing of your company, you will have no idea if the agency is doing their job. This is another reason you need to know the basics.
Sometimes the agencies just don't communicate well. You can’t control what an agency does, but what you can control is your side of the involvement. So make sure it counts.
Invested in One Big Campaign that Failed
Every business should have a mix of marketing tactics. You can focus your efforts on one main channel, but there still needs to be others. The online landscape is so big and there are so many ways for people to find you that using only one rarely makes a dent. Each additional channel requires additional time and we feel the magic number is 3. Three channels will provide diverse paths to your company and not be terribly overwhelming.
But you really need to use these paths and tactics earnestly. Plenty of small businesses have Twitter and Facebook pages, but when asked how they use it, they sometimes say, “We just have a profile because we just have to.” Or a company that spent their marketing budget on Adwords and didn’t get results might say, “Online marketing isn’t a right fit for us”.
Going big on one tactic is usually a bad idea. You don’t know if this tactic will work. Is it worth spending your entire marketing budget on something that might fail hard? A better idea is to choose three or four tactics/channels that you feel would be good at attracting the customers who want your business and then testing them.
Work on these tactics equally for about three months, making sure to track as much as you can. After those three months, evaluate the three tactics to see which one is performing the best. It is not necessarily the one that brings in the most leads and customers. Secondly, take a look at the efficiency of the tactic. If you are strapped for cash and time, a tactic with a good time spent to lead generated ratio might be more worthwhile than the tactic which brought in more, but will take even more time and money to sustain.
You want to keep yourself from burning out on marketing while still working with tactics that work for your business. Likewise, you want to make sure your marketing budget is well spent. As far as online marketing not being a good fit, please. Most of the world goes online every day.
Don't Ask for Customer Feedback
Customers should be key for any business and not communicating with them is a sin. The Internet has opened so many channels of communication and has made speaking with customers easier than ever. Whether you are an online or a brick-and-mortar business, you need to ask for feedback. Proper feedback gives you insight into who your customers are, how to improve your service, and may reveal opportunities.
If you run a brick-and-mortar shop, asking for feedback can be done by engaging in conversation, mailing (or emailing) anonymous surveys, or calling the customer after they have used your product or service (also works for online businesses).
If your business is online, you can send out email surveys, ask them questions before they download a trial or book, email them directly after they have had a chance to use your product, or go to business-friendly online forums and solicit advice and feedback.
The two most important times to connect with a client is when they first start considering your business, and when they are either a customer or have declined to go with your business.
At the beginning, you want to know who they are, what problem your business can solve, and why they specifically came to you. This will tell you more about your target persona, how you can best help them, and which marketing efforts brought them to you. (Word of mouth is a form of marketing!)
This helps give you better information about who you are marketing too, which channels are working, and why people seek your product. You might think you know the answers to these already but you will definitely be surprised.
If they become a customer, you want to know if their problem has been solved, if they had any troubles with the process, and if they can suggest any improvements.
You want to get information that you can use to make your sale and marketing process better, improve your product, and make sure it solves the problem of the people that come to you. Additionally, following up post-purchase is a sign of good customer service!
If they don’t become a customer, you want to know why. Was your service too expensive? Which needs of theirs did it not meet? Did they choose a competitor and if so, why? It can hurt asking for this information, but you lost someone who was interested. Finding out why enables you to look at your business from a different set of eyes. You might discover a problem that you never knew existed. Maybe your marketing is targeting the wrong people. Whatever it is, use that information to improve your business or process. Chances are if a lot of people turn away for the same reason, something needs to change.
Of course, maintaining an open dialogue with your existing customers is key. Don’t just send them packing and on their way after they purchase. Business is built on relationships and that includes the ones you have with your customers. And pro tip - happy customers tell their friends. Free marketing!
Resource: Check our list for 16 Kick-ass Marketing Tools for ideas on how to make collecting information from customers easier.
Don’t Act on Customer Feedback
Great, so you have lots of feedback. You have charts, graphs, even spreadsheets! But at the end of the day, instead of taking a look at the feedback, it goes into the bin.
Maybe this is because you don’t have time. Maybe you didn’t get enough responses to make it worthwhile. Maybe they are all wrong.
If you are going to take the time to gather feedback you have to make the time to look at it. Otherwise it is a wasted effort. Set aside one half-hour at the end of every month, at least, where you look at what people have said. You don’t need to act on it right away, just consider it.
You sent out 100 questionnaires but only got 5 back? Read them anyway. Most people won’t return a survey or respond to your calls for feedback and that is fine. They are busy, just like you, and sometimes it can be hard to explain themselves. Still, for every person that responds, there's a big fat chance that a few others share similar ideas. This is why any feedback is important. As I said, you don’t have to do something with it right away, but even just one response points out one area to improve. Now, if all five responses were the same, that is surely due to a problem that you may want to look into. Consistent feedback on the same point means that there is a big deal for the people who really care about your product. After all, they wouldn't be giving you free feedback if they didn't care.
After reading the feedback, do you feel like it is all garbage? Of course your website is easy to navigate and pretty. If they want to go with my competitor, let them. They are missing out. If they don't know how the app works, they need to learn how to read! Our customer service is great, I never fucking swear at people.
Hearing what is wrong with your product or service is hurtful and it is easy to dismiss any suggestions. If you find yourself doing this all too often, it is time to step back. I understand, your company is your baby. But you are too close to the problem. You need to step back and assess the feedback as objectively as you can.
As a small business, you need to keep in touch with your customers. They are your foundation and without it, the business fails. If the customers keep telling you what they need and you ignore them, they will notice. Larger companies and corporations can get away with things that small businesses get punished for because they have that extra layer of anonymity. A small business interacts with its customers every day, every week. They can’t afford to be dismissive.
Refusing to Do Something New
Even if your initial marketing strategy was successful, there will come a point where your marketing will flat line. It will reach a point where it sustains your business, probably, but will no longer create growth.
Like a can of Vegemite, a marketing strategy doesn’t seem like something that will ever go bad, but it does. Then it is time to find something new. This can be a new message, a new tactic, a new campaign or whatever. Point is, something has to change. To commit to that change, you will most likely have to do something new. It can be hiring new people to help you or shift your marketing budget. Usually, this means moving from the steady but stagnant to new and unproven. Shifting that budget can make your current marketing strategy fail when it loses the support it needs to sustain itself.
Yea, this is a tough call but it’s something that needs to be done. To help allay your worry, budget for this marketing shift ahead of time. Ideally, you want to maintain the old campaign as you work on a new one.
Also, pick a good time for it. If you have no customers in the pipeline in the foreseeable future and it’s looking tight for the next few months, it is not a good idea experiment. Hopefully, it is not too late to make a change, though.
What you want to do is look over your referrals, customer feedback, web page analytics. Basically, all and any data you have. You are looking for untapped areas that you can focus on. What avenues haven't you explored yet? Where has the target market shifted?
Sometimes this means changing your product to better fit new trends and developments. When your growth is stagnant, something has to change or your company will slowly fail. It is a risk you need to take for a chance at success. You will never be 100% sure of what will happen when your marketing shifts. But if it needs to and doesn't, that is a 100% guarantee of slow decline.
Not Focusing on Quality Content
You got a cool website, you got a blog, and you got some free offers to get people engaged. But these lead magnets don’t seem to do anything. No one is reading your blog even though you are promoting the crap out of it. You get a decent amount of daily visits but no one is really interested in your offers. Those that are don’t seem to return.
Content marketing, inbound marketing, new internet marketing - the concept is the same. Offer something of value in return for information (usually an email). People who are interested in your content will download it and now you can market to them directly. This is a very common and profitable tactic used by many businesses today. It’s a great way to demonstrate value, collect information about potential customers, open a dialogue, and attract people.
The key is quality content. Some sites can get away with publishing less than stellar stuff, usually because they have a huge following already or they have such a high volume of content that there are going to be some diamonds in the mud. These companies are playing the number game, a game most small businesses can't afford.
If no one is engaging with your content, then it might be because it is not good enough.
For small businesses though, it’s extremely difficult to create a sizable volume of content that gets released weekly. Realistically, you might be able to put out one or two blog posts a week, and maybe one offer every month or two. Consistently creating amazing content is extremely difficult, even more so under the constraints small business owners have.
While you may feel that it would be better to post something than nothing at all, this isn't true. Fluff pieces may get some clicks but as an "unknown" you really need to blow people away.
You should take your time on your next piece of content. Take a month or two in between blog posts, for example. Create something stellar and then furiously promote it. For small businesses, it is affordable to take some time between pieces of content as long as that content is amazing. A stream of boring or regurgitated stuff is worse than one really good, solid piece. It will also be much easier to promote something worthwhile than recycled.
Crap content won’t get people to your site, a solid piece of content will, and it will continue to do so for years.
Marketing takes time. Sometimes a month, sometimes six, sometimes more. Some small businesses get impatient with their marketing tactics. They move from tactic to tactic quickly without giving one of them a fair chance. Any marketing tactic will not have an instant effect. They all take time - dependent on tactic, proficiency, and budget. Pay per click ads might start getting results as soon as they start but they are also an easy trap. A more content focused approach will probably take a few months to a year to get going.
Just because you don’t get immediate results it doesn’t mean that it won’t work. Any marketing tactic you implement should be measurable so you can monitor and make changes as you go. There are many small changes you can make which can affect the results of your marketing tactic. A few tweaks can turn something lackluster into a powerhouse, which is why they deserve a fair chance.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Run 2 variations of PPC ads for the same ad group. After 2-3 weeks, look at the performance and shut off the one with the lowest click-through rate. Create a new ad that is different and also a variation from the ad with the good click through rate. Run these ads for 2-3 weeks and then compare again. Make sure you set Adwords to run your ads evenly. Here you are constantly comparing two versions of the same ad to find which wording resonates the best with your target audience.
- Measure the opening rate of your email marketing emails. Wait a week or two after your sent email and then get a list of every contact that received the email but did not open it. Change the subject and the intro message and resend the email to those contacts. It might be the same email, but you are tweaking the subject line to make it more appropriate for those contacts.
- There are many other small adjustments you can do to your marketing tactics. Don’t give up on your marketing tactics too quickly without trying to get them to work. Marketing takes time and patience - you are going for the long game here. Jumping from tactic to tactic to find the golden ticket will leave your business poorer and without effective marketing.
Not Frosty on Social
If you are a fan of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, you might remember a specific season finale where Gordon was trying to help a couple improve their restaurant but they were so difficult to work with Gordon walked out. People on the Internet soon found their Yelp and Facebook pages and started harassing them. No one deserves to get harassed on the internet, but their response to this just dug them a deeper hole and made them look worse than in the TV episode.
I haven’t seen it often, but it does come up from time to time in online forums as a thing to mock. A small business owner getting angry at reviews on their Yelp page and lashing out. There may be people who just want to annoy you. A customer might have had a legitimate problem that you fumbled in solving. Whatever the reason for the bad review or comment online, how you respond will be seen by hundreds if not thousands. Really take time to think about if and how you should respond.
Do not contact the web site to have the review or comment removed (unless it violates the terms of service or is hate speech. Asking for the removal of a thoughtful but negative review makes the situation worse). If someone had a legitimately bad experience that you weren’t able to rectify before they posted, address it maturely, calmly, and take responsibility.
No Documented Marketing Plan
Great, your business is doing advertising and marketing and things seem to be working. So far, you and your team have been going on gut feeling and you even have the data to back up your “strategy”. Your company is growing and you decide it will be a good idea to hire some new staff, maybe to take over the marketing so you can focus on the part of the business you enjoy the most - helping customers.
Your new hire seems perfect for the job, has marketing experience, and all their credentials check out. But four months later your marketing is doing much worse and you are starting to see your business suffer. You speak with your new hire to find out what’s wrong, why isn’t this working? Turns out your new hire doesn’t really know what to do and doesn’t know the strategy.
A common thing among small business owners is that they keep everything in their head. The marketing, the strategy, the business processes, the accounting. While it sounds crazy to be a one man show the truth is it can be hard to put everything in there on paper but it is extremely important.
Whether you are bringing on people or need to replace existing employees, without a well documented process these new hires will be lost no matter how good they are at their jobs. A well documented process is extra crucial when it comes to marketing. A marketing plan quickly shows new employees or consultants what your business has tried, how it worked, and how it fits into your company’s overall strategy. It also helps you out when you are determining the strategy and tactics for the future by keeping a log of all past actions.
Without getting too granular, a marketing plan generally has the following components:
- Target audience (personas)
- Who your competitors are and how do you stack against them?
- What makes your business/service/product unique from your competitors? (USP)
- Pricing strategy and why you chose to price your service/product that way
- Marketing budget and measurable ROI on past marketing strategies
- Marketing SMART Goals and tactics to achieve them
- Metrics and how you will measure the effectiveness of your marketing tactics
The idea behind a marketing plan is to set a clear direction for the future, evaluate past performance, and to educate anyone on what your overall strategy is, if needed. A well documented marketing plan will make any consultation or new hire for your marketing smoother, will help you plan future marketing strategy easier, and make sure that you follow best practices in your small business marketing.
Pricing the Product Wrong
How to price your services can be tricky. You have probably used some form of perceived value, minimum viable income, and a standard hourly wage to reach the price of your service. What happens sometimes is that a business will get good feedback on their product or service but most people don’t buy.
If you are getting good numbers in other areas (visits, social, interaction with content, downloads) but no customers, there are three main possibilities. One is that you are targeting the wrong market for your product or service. This means that you are attracting people but not the ones who need you to solve a problem. But, let’s assume you are targeting the right people.
Parting people with their money generally comes down to how they perceive the value of what you are offering. Either you need to make the case for why your product is worth X or you need to listen to your leads and see what the product is worth to them. The best way to find out if you are over-pricing your product is to talk with your leads. Ask them why they didn’t decide to purchase, what problem they need to solve, and how much the solution is worth to them. From here, you can get a picture of what kind of obstacle the current pricing sets for them. Even if you are getting good results, this kind of feedback is important to collect.
Now, if your feedback consistently mentions that your price is too high, there are a few things you can do. Of course, you can lower the price but before you decide to do that there are some other things to work on:
- Improve the product - Go back to your current customers and ask them how you can make the product better for them. Not only will this delight your current customers, but it will increase the perceived value of of your product. Ideally, you should be able to do this without increasing the cost of your product or it will defeat the purpose.
- Market better - Increase people’s perception of the value of your product. If they don’t see that your product is worth what you are charging, maybe you need to present it better. This can be anything from improving the sales copy on your website, reaching out and giving demo’s, and showing how your product solves your target audience's pain points rather than the features.
- Delight customers - this includes anything from providing good support to generating continuous value for your current customers. A company that keeps providing benefits gets the edge over competitors which are hands off after purchase and increases your product’s perceived value. Especially in tech industries where there are a lot of open source or freemium options, good, continuous support will give your product a unique difference that customers are willing to pay for.
The other pricing problem is under-pricing your product. Sometimes businesses feel they need to sell cheaply to attract customers but cheap prices come with negatives. First, it will be much harder to cover your costs if you aren’t pricing your product appropriately. Second, a low cost product may give the impression of cheapness and lower its perceived value.
First, find out if you are pricing it too low. Do you have a lot of sales and yet are unable to cover your costs? Are there any alternatives doing better and priced higher? If you feel you are under-pricing your product, you can try to raise the price slightly, in stages. A dramatic increase will send the wrong message, but an incremental one is safer. What you want to do is measure the effect of the increase and see if the number of customers changes dramatically.
If you are over-pricing the product, going down in (relatively) small increments will accomplish the same thing. What you are trying to do is to find the sweet spot between price and number of customers. The equation is # of sales * price = highest possible value and it creates a curve. More sales at a lower price is not necessarily more profitable than less sales at a higher price. Inversely, a few sales at a very high price is not more profitable than more sales at a lower price. You want to find the sweet spot of where the highest possible value is highest and you can only do that by measuring the response to changes in your pricing.
So before you start changing the price of your product, make sure you are able to track any changes in sales.
Not Focusing on Converting Leads
Your website should be your number one marketing and sales tool by working effectively 24 hours a day. If you are able to attract a lot of visitors and your conversion rates are low, it means that the website needs to be optimized.
There could be many reasons why this is happening, from a poorly designed user experience to incorrect pricing to ambiguity of what you are offering.
In a data drive environment, it’s all about numbers and metrics. However, some small businesses look at the numbers the wrong way. Instead of trying to convert more of their visitors into leads, leads into customers, they calculate their targets based on the number of visitors.
Here are some sample, made up, website statistics.
Visitors a day
Leads a day
Customers a day
We will keep it pretty simple for clarity. We have a 1% conversion rate both from visitors to leads and from leads to customers. Now, to meet your revenue goals, you will need to get 3 customers a day.
There are two ways of looking at it. Either we can get 30 000 customers a day, which statistically will result in 3 customers a day or we can work on improving the conversion rate. Improving the conversion rate seems more attainable (thank you, SMART goals) and it will strengthen a weak point in our funnel.
Millions of visitors don't mean anything if none of them are doing what you need them to. If your site gets 200+ new visitors a day but your conversion rates are extremely low, look at what you can do to help those that come. It is a sign of a problem that more traffic might not help solve.
Not Using Marketing Tools Properly
HubSpot, SEMRush, Moz, Google Analytics, MailChimp, Convertkit - the list goes on and on. There are a lot of tools out there to help businesses with their marketing and online activities. But none of them are magical. Just because you have hooked up Google Analytics or Yoast onto your e-commerce site doesn’t mean that your conversions will suddenly increase. These apps are not miracle workers, they are tools. Like all tools, they are useless if they aren’t used properly.
Deciding on a tool (or tools) to use can be difficult as there are so many options. Thankfully most of them come with some sort of free trial period so you will have the chance to try it out. Adopting a tool is a big step and you should make time to get yourself familiar with the tool before purchasing it. Ask yourself questions like “what can I do with this?” and “what problem does this tool solve for me?”.
The reasons you need to set aside time to really learn a tool and incorporate it into your process are to save money and to get the most value out of what you are paying for.
Most online marketing and business tools follow the SaaS model, which means that you are paying a monthly fee for it. If there is a tool that you rarely use or that you feel isn’t helping it might be a good idea to scrap it. Either it is not a good fit for your business or you do not have the time to learn it. Whatever the reason may be, it is a drain on your finances.
However, if you are serious about marketing (and you are, right?!) then you should at least use a few tools to your advantage. There’s a few useful all-in-one platforms, but they might be a bit pricey depending on your business’s expendable income. Instead, take a hard look at your current business and think of what one thing could either make it more efficient (such as sending automated emails, managing multiple social accounts, or finding keyword opportunities) or make the biggest impact on your business (heat map tools, analytic tools, A/B testing tools).
The biggest mistake though is purchasing a tool, not using it, and then getting angry when it is not getting results. Using some form of marketing tool is almost essential now when doing serious online business (and even if your business is mostly offline!) and most of them won’t break the bank.
Ignorant of a USP (Unique Selling Point)
I love it when big disaster movies came out in the late 90s and early 2000s because they always came out in pairs. Dante’s Peak and Inferno, Armageddon and Deep Impact. Emulating successful business you have seen might seem like a good idea but remember that there are a lot of similar products on the market and you really need to differentiate yourself.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do something no one has ever done before, you but you need to find that thing that makes your product different, even on a more surface level. One example I can think of is the board game Apples to Apples. You might not have heard of it before, but I am sure you have heard of Cards Against Humanity. It is the exact same game. The difference is that Cards Against Humanity is naughty and offensive. Therefore, their marketing and target audience was different and the experience of playing the game was different than Apples to Apples.
Changing the text on the cards to be gross and disturbing (coupled with marketing and a company image to match) was enough for them to be different and gain a big share of the market. Since then, other copies of Apples to Apples have been released that try to be slightly different, but Cards Against Humanity is still the most successful copy.
You see this too in McDonalds vs. Burger King, Coca Cola vs. Pepsi - they essentially have the same product/service but try to differentiate from each other in little ways to target a slightly different audience.
For your small business, think about how you can zoom in on a differentiation that supports your target audience. Maybe it is different messaging or image. Maybe it’s an additional tool to your app. The cool thing your business probably already has this quality, you just need to identify it and show it.
You have a website and you have catchy blog posts full of great content. Or you bought a great location with high foot traffic and you just know people will come streaming in once you open the doors. This rarely happens, especially with websites. The days of easy SEO are long gone. Just like with store locations, you really need to do some legwork to get traffic. There are millions of websites out there and search engines only show you 10 per page. There are thousands of new apps on the Apple store and on Google Play a day. Your store is most likely one of many similar ones in your area. There is a massive glut of business competing for everyone's attention in a very small space.
If this sounds dire, I apologize. But you need to do the legwork. Good news is that there are also ever growing number of ways to reach the people you want. Take some time every week to assess where people are coming from, where your preferred clients hang out and devise ways to target those areas. You don’t even need to do “marketing” initially, just reaching out to groups and other people you can work with and get some help from.
Setting up a business is the easy part. The hardest is getting it off the ground.
Ask yourself: What sets my product apart? Surprisingly few business owners I have asked can answer this without giving some cliche answers like “Because I care” or “We always give 110% and have great customer service.”
I don’t think this is because most businesses don’t have a USP, but because it can be hard to pinpoint. The world is so large and flat now that there is rarely more than a handful of companies that truly do something unique. I understand that but a USP does not have to be the thing that makes you more awesome than anyone. It is merely the thing that makes you different in a tangible way. “Great customer service” is not a USP because it is something that every business should aspire to do.
A USP can be any of the following (but isn’t necessarily limited to this list):
- A special feature that your competitors don’t have
- Close ties to a specific audience and niche that your competitors aren’t focusing on
- A different method from your competitors to achieve the same goal
- A competitive advantage over your competitors
- A different image for the same type of product
A USP is not something that makes you better, it is something that makes you different. Look around the stores and products you know and see how they sell themselves. Take Coca-Cola and Pepsi. They are more or less the same product competing for the same target - people who want a carbonated cola flavored beverage. However, their USPs are so distinct that they have fans that will argue over which cola is better.
McDonalds and Burger King are in a similar position. They both serve fast food hamburgers but Burger King’s USP is that it is grilled and fresh, whereas McDonalds sells happiness. Spotify and Tidal are both music streaming SaaS applications. Spotify’s USP is having your favorite music wherever and whenever you want. (They have recently started pushing Spotify’s discover feature, positioning themselves as the place to discover new music you will love). Tidal’s USPs where high fidelity music streaming and a service which supports the artists you love more than the other one.
Finding your company USP can be a very difficult task. We need to look at how your competition is defining their USP and how their marketing and image revolve around it. It can be hard to really differentiate yourself from others but it doesn’t have to be profound. Pretend you are a customer looking for a service that you provide. What will make you stand out to them? What will make them choose you?
This is about how you are different, not necessarily better, and it will help define your company to reach its target audience. A USP should efficiently target the people you want, bring in more customers, and be truly unique.
Grow Your Small Business
Man, we do make a lot of mistakes, don't we? I think I have done at least half of these mistakes at some point in my professional life. It's all good though, running a business is a learning process. And for a lot of us, the marketing part is the boring part. We would much rather be programming our apps, serving our customers, or just creating the things we love to create. But it is important, and we can learn from our mistakes if we want to. I do every week!
Hopefully you found this article helpful! Have something to add? Leave a comment below!