Most people don’t go into business for themselves because they like marketing. But if you want to stay in business, you need to develop a competency at it. Here are some of the most common mistakes I see as small businesses go to market.
- Sending the wrong message: You can go broke trying to saturate the market with messages about what you want to sell. You make money by offering what the target market wants to buy. It’s not always the same thing. For instance, you may think you’re selling commercial snowplowing service, but is that what your customers want? Or are they buying liability protection and legal compliance? Thinking about it that way might change the way you describe your service.
- Doing just one thing: In an environment saturated with marketing messages, you’ll rarely succeed by looking for the one technique that works like magic. Such silver bullets are rare. Instead, good marketing means doing some of everything – advertising, social media, promotion, community relations, etc. – and then optimizing these activities over time to deliver the results you need without overspending time or money.
- Not budgeting: If you wait until you have the money for marketing, you may never get there. Businesses need to market all the time. By building a reasonable marketing expense into your budget, you’ll know how much you can afford to spend and you’ll have a good basis for measuring results and fine-tuning your activities over time.
- Skimping on design: I’ve seen people try to save a couple hundred dollars on a $10,000 advertising program by having a friend or relative put together the creative. If your logo, ad, website or direct mailer looks amateurish or misses the mark, the only thing a large budget will do is make you look bad to a lot more people.
- Mixing business and pleasure: Your company Facebook page is an extension of your business. It should be separate from your personal page. And if employees feel it’s OK to use the company page to post pet pictures or – heaven forbid – their political opinions, you are losing customers already. Business strategy should govern what gets posted to your social media feeds, and direct access to those feeds should be limited to one or two people who clearly understand your vision.
- Impatience and inconsistency: Any given activity needs to be cultivated and given time to work. Your target market needs to be trained to look for your communications and respond to them, and this takes time. If a marketing activity isn’t working, you need to replace it. But pulling the plug too soon wastes time and money. When you start a program, get some expert input to decide on some realistic objectives and a reasonable time frame to meet them. Then see it through.
- Copying the competition: If your marketing consists of doing whatever you see competitors doing, the best you can hope for is to do a little worse than them. It’s good to have healthy respect for other businesses like yours and pay attention to how they market. But nobody ever looks comfortable in someone else’s clothes. So if you aspire to your own success, develop and stick to a game plan that’s right for you, rather than the people you compete against.
- Competing on price: There is only room for one lowest-price provider. Unless you’re willing to take the thinnest profit margin while serving the most difficult customers, communicate some other reason people should buy from you. Then it’s enough that they know your prices are competitive.
- Going without a website: No matter what business you’re in, a website is as important as a phone number. It’s the difference, for example, between being a gutter specialist or just some guy with a ladder. Many people won’t even do business with a company unless they can preview it online. Even a simple, low-cost website makes you easier to find and says you’re fully invested in the business.
- Making a big splash rather than a steady drip: You can spend your entire budget in a day. But what about all the people who were home sick? Or traveling? Or just too busy to tune in to your message? Small businesses generally don’t have the cash flow for a giant media blitz, but they can afford to reach a well-targeted audience day in and day out. Such a campaign has the side benefit of delivering a few customers at a time, rather than bringing in more than you can handle all on the same day.
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