Danielle St. Cyr
Overcoming Small Business Marketing Challenges
Running a small business comes with a host of challenges, and one that many small business owners struggle with is marketing. There are always so many demands on your time, and the marketing jargon can sound like Greek. But there are some great and inventive ways to overcome some common marketing pitfalls, so read on for some tips!
Every small business has to work twice as hard as the big guys to get leads, but there are some ways you can get noticed without spending loads of cash. One way is to become a speaker. You can offer your services to conventions, to educational institutions, to local business organizations, or to other kinds of community clubs. This positions you as an expert in your field – after all, you are the one giving the lecture on the topic, right? It has the added benefit of plastering your name (and your company’s name/logo) front and center on any promotional advertising or collateral for the event at which you’re featured, which is like free advertising for you! Another way to generate leads is through forming strategic partnerships with other businesses in your area that have complementary services. If you have a photography business, it makes sense to form a partnership with a local bakery that makes cakes for special occasions – when one of you gets a customer, you can recommend the other to the customer and give a rave review.
Keeping customers can be an issue too. Many small businesses have a core group of loyal customers, but when you get a new customer, you need to make sure you add them to your fan club. One way is through a loyalty program. This doesn’t have to be fancy, with keychain fobs and barcodes; it can be as simple as a business card that you stamp or punch when a customer makes a purchase. Make sure that what you’re offering as the “reward” is actually a reward – very few people are going to spend $100 to get something that costs $5. Another simple but surprisingly effective technique is coupons. People love to save money, especially in these economic times, and saving that 15% might be what gets you the second sale. And don’t underestimate the value of being responsive – according to a survey from Microsoft, 69% of customers think that customer service is “very important” in determining their loyalty to a brand. Excellent customer service will make first-time customers loyal repeat customers who will promote your business via word-of-mouth.
Something that many small businesses forget to really focus on is branding. Your brand is everything about your business that makes it unique and special, and it’s shown in your logo, your website, your brochures or flyers, the colors you paint your physical location, even the tone of voice you use on social media or in email. You want someone to look at something from your business and immediately be able to identify it as coming from your company. This means everything needs to be carefully thought out and decided before you start. If you have a quirky coffeeshop, with pictures from local artists on the walls for sale, and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, you’ll want to carry that over into your marketing. Brand consistency is incredibly important. This means that if you have everyone in the shop help out with social media, you’ll need to have a discussion on the tone of voice and kinds of words to use so that all of the posts look like they are coming from the same identity. And while there’s nothing wrong with having a look at what your competitors are doing for ideas, you definitely don’t want to copy them too closely. Not only will people notice, you’re not strengthening *your* brand.
You need to spend all of your marketing energy where your customers are – and that means you need to find out where they are! Doing a bit of research about your target audience will show you exactly how you should be spending your time and money. Don’t be afraid to ask some of your customers how they found you. Find out if they spend time on social media, or like to read email newsletters, or get the local paper. You can use this information to make an educated guess about what other potential customers might be doing and where they are. Then use that information to precisely target your audience. There are lots of social media channels and ways to market, and it would be crazy for a small business to try to be successful with all of them. Just because something is new or trendy doesn’t mean it is right for you and your business! And remember – marketing takes time to work. Hopping from one social media channel to another or to email marketing or print ads because you don’t see results in two weeks is foolish, and a waste of time and energy. Make your best guess, and stick with it for a few months. If you’re still not seeing results, then you can re-evaluate. But nothing happens overnight!
There are lots of ways to spend big bucks in marketing, but you can begin your marketing journey with the things that are free – like social media, blogging, and sending out email newsletters. While all of these things take time and effort, they don’t take any money. It’s a great way to test the waters and find out the kinds of things your audience likes before you start investing your hard-earned dollars. There are also some low-cost options, such as making videos (just need a good phone and a good light, and someone to edit), podcasts (need someone to edit, and possibly a small fee for your guest), and webinars (fee for the technology platform you use and possibly for a speaker). These are great ways to create content that can be shared across lots of platforms for little expense, and they also position you as an expert. If you do have a bit of money you can invest, you can use pay-per-click (PPC) to advertise on search engines or social media (you can turn this on and off as your budget dictates), or put a print ad in your local newspaper.
The biggest marketing concern of many small business owners is the lack of time. It can take significant time to do marketing well, and to learn the technology and platforms, and to add that on to the stress of running a small business sometimes seems unsurmountable. Always remember – your time has value too, and it’s not wise to spread yourself too thin. The marketing won’t be effective, and the rest of your business may start to suffer. But there are options, if you feel you just aren’t able to manage the marketing yourself right now. You can hire a virtual assistant, or a freelancer, or a marketing agency that works on a per-project basis to get the marketing tasks done that just keep slipping off the pile.
Marketing can be complex, but it shouldn’t be scary, and there are lots of ways to get started as a small business owner. Following the guide above, you should be able to take your first steps into marketing for your small business and have great success. And remember, we work both on a subscription basis and a per-project basis, so contact us today if you want a helping hand to get your marketing off on the right foot!