Marketing is one of the most important topics when it comes to small business success and growth and I’d even go so far as to say that a business needs to focus at least 60 to 70% on their time on marketing and even more for a start up business, if they would like to experience growth.
People often ask me how I define marketing. Marketing are all the activities you do that create exposure for your brand and bring prospects to your business. Even walking down to the shops and talking to people or taking the kids to the playground, chatting to other parents is marketing. Even if you are not specifically talking about your business, you are still marketing your personal brand.
Unfortunately a lot of small business owners don’t know how to market their business well and instead of having a stable and predictable income, they go through low tides and high tides just like the ocean, except that they don’t know when the tides are coming. A lot of people end up wasting a lot of money, time and energy without really getting any results. But don’t worry, there are many smart, low cost and innovative marketing strategies you can use to grow your business.
So in this chapter we will look at the 7 biggest marketing mistakes a small business owner makes and how you can avoid them. If you take on board and implement only half of these solutions, there is no doubt you’ll be ahead of the game. 1. Marketing to everyone
Most businesses I work with tell me that their target market is everybody. Big mistake.. (Unless they are a big consumer brand with a huge marketing budget.) For most small businesses it is extremely ineffective to advertise to everyone because no one will listen. It’s like yelling ‘everyone.’ in a crowd of people, no one would turn around (unless they want to see what’s going on). If you’d yell ‘Peter.’, the guy called Peter would turn around. It’s exactly the same with your marketing.
In order to save money and to be more effective, you must select a niche market. Think about who would really benefit from your products or services and target them specifically. This could be women, parents, young adults, doctors, business owners, sports people etc. Once you’ve defined your niche you will be able to target them much easier. If for example your target market is golfers, it would make much more sense to advertise in a golfing magazine rather than waste your money on an ad in the local paper. Or if your target market is mothers, you might want to advertise and partner with mothers groups, schools etc. 2. Not understanding your client and giving them what they want
This mistake goes hand in hand with the previous one. Most businesses don’t really understand their ideal clients or customers. It is very common for a business owner to just do a bit of marketing without first researching and really understanding the client. The problem with this is that the marketing will not be specific enough to speak to their target market and therefore won’t grab the right people’s attention.
Plus they are more likely to attract the wrong kind of clients, which can be very painful.
The better you understand your prospects, the easier it will be to attract them. And because you understand their needs and wants, you will be able to better serve them and stand out from your competitors.
There are a few different things you can do to research your target market. One of my favourite methods is to run a survey (there are some fantastic free online survey tools such as www.surveymonkey.com).
Find out what their frustrations, desires, wants and needs are and then sell them what they really want. 3. The spotlight is on you
Focusing on yourself rather than your customers. If you take a look at your website, brochures, flyers and other marketing materials, where is the focus? Are you mainly talking about you, your products or services and how good they are? Or are you talking about your prospects and the benefits to them?
I know you are very important, but the first thing your prospect cares about is themselves.
This one is easy to solve; Take a look at your marketing materials and change them if they are talking about you rather than the benefits to your prospect. It’s like shining a spot light onto them and focusing on their needs and wants, positioning you as the expert and someone who really understands them.
Let’s look at a practical example: Imagine you have a sore back and are looking for a chiropractor. One website you find is talking about how good they are. Another one specifically talks about back pain, the frustrations and limitations that come with it. Which chiropractor would you go and see, the one talking himself up or the one that seems to understand your problem almost better than you do?
Of course you can have a little bit of ‘I am awesome’ in your marketing materials, but a better way of doing this is getting other people raving about you via third party testimonials. 4. Who do you know and who knows you
Business (and life.) is all about relationships. I firmly believe that the better your relationships in business and life, the more successful you will be. A lot of business owners get this wrong and instead of focussing on building long-term relationships, they are after a quick sale. If someone is not immediately interested in their products or services, they are not interested in the person. Very sad, because they could be missing out on a lot of amazing opportunities. You just never know who knows who. What if you met the brother of a big franchise who could stock your products?
Focus on building relationships every single day. Be it when you are emailing, on the phone or meeting people in person.
If you go networking for example, instead of hoping for someone to buy your stuff, hope to make a good connection. It’s not about that one potential sale, it’s about growing your network. You will reap the rewards later.
The other thing is that a lot of potential customers need a little bit more time to decide to buy your products or services or maybe it’s just not the right time, but it might be in a couple of weeks or months. So invest in your relationships by being generous, giving information and tips freely and staying in contact with people. Grow your network and you’ll grow your net worth. 5. Vanilla vs Choc Chip – Not standing out
Another big mistake is to be vanilla rather than some exotic crazy flavour. What am I talking about? Even though vanilla is personally my favourite flavour it’s not one that stands out very much. There is a lot of competition, so a business has to stand out to be noticed and remembered. A lot of businesses choose to be vanilla because it’s less scary and easier to blend in nicely.
If you want to be seen, remembered and chosen by your specific target market, you need to do something; stand out. Be unique, take a stance in your industry and stand by it. You can do this by positioning yourself as different to your competitors, a different style business name, the colours you use or your marketing materials. Don’t just copy your competitors, do it better.
Take a look at Virgin for example, when Richard Branson first came up with his business name, it definitely stood out and by being unique, charismatic and a little crazy Branson still manages to stand out and get noticed. (Note: You do not have to be crazy and charismatic to stand out). 6. Inconsistency is uncool
Not being consistent with marketing and having no systems in place to market a business is one of the reasons for the ups and downs mentioned earlier. Unfortunately a lot of businesses don’t know any better. The problem with this scattergun approach to marketing is that the business won’t be able to forecast and have a constant flow of clients which can be tiring, frustrating and scary at the best of times. A lot of businesses seem to be run by the weather man; one day it’s sunny, the next it’s raining and the business owner has no control over what’s to come.
Inconsistency is also a common issue in regards to branding. If a business is inconsistent with their branding (e.g. the colours they use, tone of voice, font, images) people will not be able to create familiarity. A consistent brand leads to familiarity which leads to trust which leads to more sales.
There are a few things you can do to avoid the above mistake. Firstly, make sure your branding is consistent across the board.
Secondly, pick three to five marketing strategies that could work for your business and stick with them for a few months. Test and measure, improve on them, systemise them and get positive returns. If a strategy doesn’t work for your business, ditch it and chose another one. Once a strategy is working for you, stick with it and refine it. 7. No testing and measuring
Most businesses I come across don’t know if their marketing strategies are working. Why? Because they don’t test and measure their success. Lots of businesses run expensive ads in the newspaper without knowing whether that ad is giving them a positive return, potentially wasting a lot of money.
You have to test and measure everything when it comes to marketing. I know, it doesn’t sound very sexy, but it really isn’t that hard.
A few things you can measure are: your client acquisition costs, email opening rates, website traffic and where your visitors come from (Google Analytics is a great free tool), conversion rates, click through rates, social media analytics.
And don’t forget to always ask your new clients where they found you. That way you know which marketing strategies are working and which ones aren’t.
I know that if you avoid these seven mistakes, you will be well ahead of your competitors and growing a healthy and sustainable business.
I’d like to give you a little bonus mistake. Not seeking any professional support or advice. Remember, you are not alone. Educate yourself by reading books, listening to educational material, joining a marketing program or getting a mentor.
I am also a huge believer in outsourcing, but you do need to understand marketing even if you outsource, because there are way too many cowboys out there and you will avoid getting ripped off by understanding at least the basics.
By Franziska Iseli-Hall. This is a sample chapter taken from the SME's business survival guide, Business, Business, Business!. Available from www.mithrapublishing.com