Having run my own business for a while now, I have been fortunate enough to work with a cross-section of people, companies and industries. From my own observations, I frequently come across six common inaccuracies and assumptions that small business operators make when it comes to marketing. Surprisingly, the themes don’t change across industries, but they all result in lost income and unnecessary expense and if you’re on a shoestring budget such mistakes can be devastating.
If you are one of the small business operators who would like to do better than the average competitor, then this article is for you. Here are my six common mistakes that many small business owners make and switched on operators should avoid.
No Marketing Plan
Can you easily locate an up-to-date plan of how you are going to market your business over the next six months? Failing to plan or planning to fail?
While planning a marketing strategy is often thought of as something reserved solely for big business, it is equally applicable or even more critical for small business. Unlike bigger companies where a strategic error may not be as critical, a mistake made within a smaller company can put it out of business.
It is amazing how opportunities open up and become clearer during and after the marketing planning process. I recently completed a marketing plan for a fashion client where we identified both long- and short-term goals. To get some immediate ‘money in the bank’, we decided to have a sale to clear out a number of items that were sitting in the client’s showroom, taking up space as well as restricting working capital.
The sale was highly successful and the small business owner was very pleased to have a few more thousand dollars in the bank account! I realise that this may seem quite an obvious thing to do, but it is often difficult to think of new ideas to promote your business and generate sales when you are the person involved in it, all day every day. An external supplier’s point of view and fresh perspective can make the world of difference.
By failing to plan is planning to fail. By going through the marketing planning process a business can define, refine and fully communicate the product or service for itself, its team and for its customers. By doing so, a business can understand the strengths of what it does and how to apply these into real business situations.
Not Knowing Who Your Target Audience Is
Can you define specifically for each product and/or service in your business, who your target audience is?
All of the savvy and smart marketing decisions are based on knowing and specifically understanding who your target audience is. Be as narrow as possible in your definition – having fewer people to market to can be a strong advantage.
For example, if you are a gym your overall product offer is fitness. At various times of the day, however, a gym attracts different types of clientele – during the day your clients may be mums and retired people, whereas the afternoon and before work times may be more suited to young professionals. Both groups are using the same equipment and perhaps have similar motivations; however, each group has different needs and hot buttons when it comes to using a gym.
Marketing campaigns should be created for each target audience group and tailored to their individual requirements where possible. As demonstrated above, one size does not fit all.
No One Assigned to Marketing
Can you identify one person in your business that is responsible and accountable for marketing?
If everyone is responsible for marketing in your business, then no one actually is. Marketing by committee also does not work. While it is important to take into account various points of view, at the end of the day marketing is best assigned to one person who can be wholly accountable and responsible for the marketing function in your business.
Does having one person responsible for marketing work in big and small business? Looking back on a job I held a number of years ago as a marketing manager, I was the sole person responsible for marketing in that company. Though at times it was frustrating and isolating, I only realised what I had achieved in my role when I left that company. The evidence was in the fact that they ended up hiring three people to do my old job!
As a small business owner you may not have the luxury of being able to afford to hire a full-time senior marketing person. Nonetheless, it is important to make someone responsible for marketing regardless of whether that is a junior marketing assistant, yourself or an outsourced marketing supplier.
No Tracking Mechanisms
For each marketing campaign you have, do you have mechanisms in place for tracking results? In the era of digital communication, tracking campaigns will no doubt continue to become easier and more cost-effective. If there is no way to track your results easily and cost-effectively, do you really want to make an investment in a campaign where the results are based on gut feels?
My suggestions for ways to measure campaigns include:
- Unique URLs (website pages) – tracked through programs such as Google Analytics
- Use of virtual numbers for large campaigns
- Coupon codes, and
- Specific offers only available through one campaign
No Consistent Brand Templates
Do all of your business and marketing tools do justice to your logo and follow a style guide template?
The question is: does your branding appear consistently across all of your business and marketing tools. Things to check are business cards, invoices, letterhead, websites, blog pages, Yellow Pages, advertisements etc… It is very easy over a period of time to develop numerous templates in your business. The receptionist creates a fax form, your salesperson creates a sales follow-up letter and your accounts person creates a debt collection template, all of which have your name and logo on them, but may in fact look completely different.
Creating a strong and consistent brand template and following a strict style guide helps all the people in your business use your brand correctly. I recently worked with a client on creating a style guide as the imagery of the business had changed over a five-year period.
While all the changes were subtle, they became quite noticeable when observed from start to finish. Having a clear and consistent brand that is used correctly across all aspects of your business subtly tells your customers that your service offer is reliable and you are a strong, organised business.